Every passing day, Nigeria seems to sink deeper into a cesspool of a very corrupt nation. Every sector stinks. Public officials, civil servants, big and small, and even judges, are caught in the web of corruption. It appears that to collect bribe has become unofficially legitimate.
And now, there is a growing fear that Nigeria may lose the membership of the powerful Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global anti-graft watchdog.
The greater worry is that if corruption is not tamed (and of course, there is not yet any genuine commitment by government to do so), the cost of doing business in Nigeria, according a recent World Bank report, could become unbearable. It's looking pretty much so.
Last week, the stunning revelation by the Senate that top officials of at least 13 Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) had been colluding with 'outsiders' to run illegal cash-for-job rackets in their organizations made headline news. It became an inglorious mirror from which the international community sees Nigeria and its officials.
It was not as if the report was unexpectedly shocking. If you are a job seeker or have relatives looking for employment in any government ministry or agency, that was a too familiar story. The pervasive nature of the scam is what really disturbs the mind. The MDAs indicted by the Senate investigation are only those the legislature was able to beam its searchlight on.
Of course, there are many more, we hear, including even banks and oil companies, where syndicates allegedly run the show for top managers in those companies. The MDAs uncovered by the Senate include the Ministry of Interior, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), National Examination Council (NECO), the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and the Nigeria Meteorological Institute (NMI).
The rest are Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) and its sister organization, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) as well as the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). Just pause and ask: which government ministry or agency is left?
The much we have heard of this monumental fraud perhaps came to light because of the deluge of petitions from victims. That much was disclosed by the chairman of the Senate committee on federal character and inter-governmental affairs, Dahiru Awaisu Kuta.
The truth is that no nation that thrives on corruption survives for long. This makes the cash-for-job scam a serious matter. However, the snag is: who can clean the mess when the ‘cleaners’ themselves are as guilty as the accusers? Can the National Assembly, once described by The Economist as an "irresponsible House and one of the world's filthiest arenas of politics", do anything to stop this national malaise when some key officials of the two chambers have been caught pants down several times over corruption allegations?
Which is why the legislative immunity bill before the House of Reps should be condemned in its entirely. Indeed, from 1999 till date, any one living in Nigeria is unshockable about some events at that hallowed chamber. It is because bribery has become the currency of influence.
For instance, at the heat of the Constitution amendment 2000 and alleged tenure extension of the Obasanjo presidency, a member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Nasiru Dantiye, claimed matter-of-factly, "my price shot up like crude oil price in the international market. It increased from N50 million to $1 million (US dollars)."
Some lawmakers at that time admitted publicly that they collected their own financial inducements from a particular bank in some hotels in Abuja. Again, it is hard to know how either the government or the National Assembly or both, can check corruption in view of government's inability to create jobs for the jobless or create the enabling environment that can lead to wealth creation.
According to statistics, unemployment is increasing at 24 percent annually. This year’s projected rate is over 25 percent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Every promise by government to stimulate the economy through empowerment of micro-enterprises and reduction of unemployment has not gone beyond rhetoric. Those charged with ensuring the realization of these promises turn round to form syndicates that fleece money from job seekers. Nigeria, it must be said, to use the words of renown novelist, prof. Chinua Achebe, "has became sicker than many of us had thought".
It is the result of weak leadership. Consider the revelation last year by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloma Muktar that judges now collect bribes before granting bail. When judicial officials who play key role in justice administration indulge in such obnoxious act, an integral part of the nation's fabric is shamelessly caught off. But government must find a way to deal with worsening unemployment. It portends present danger of unpleasant consequences.
If unemployment statistics is a true reflection of the biting reality of the Nigerian situation, the cash-for-job scam is indicative of many troubling issues in our nation. First, it is a pointer that government programmes on employment creation are yielding little or no results or that the jobs are meant for those that have 'connection' to those in power.
For instance, a few days ago, the Minister of Trade and Investment, Mr Olusegun Aganga unveiled government plan to create "5 million jobs in 2015" through the National Enterprise Development Programme (NEPED), with a princely N10 billion voted for that. Like most things that this government has promised and didn't deliver, the 5 million jobs may only exist in the imagination of the government and its officials. And when 2015 comes the rest of the country will move on to something else.
That is the paradox of Nigeria and its leaders. The situation of joblessness is less as a result of our institutions of learning churning out unemployable graduates. It is more the result of lack of a deliberate, well-thought out policies that can grow the economy. The fear here is that as the rate of unemployment increases, poverty level also rises, and that means a time-bomb in the horizon.
What, therefore can be done? What's government doing to curb the ogre of corruption? In other words, who can save Nigeria? None of these questions has a clear-cut answer to the problems facing Nigeria. Last week, at the National Assembly, tempers flared with allegations that the wealth of Nigeria has exclusively been cornered by few for the naked advancement of their own interests at the expense of the country and the vast majority of the citizens amid abject poverty in the land.
A report by National Bureau of statistics last year shows that about 71 percent of Nigerians live in relative penury. This represents about 112 million out of the estimated 167 population. The stand-off in the senate over the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) has widened the fault-lines between the North and South. According to Senator Ita Enang, chairman, Rules and Business Committee Northern elites have cornered about 83 percent of oil blocs in the country.
Each time a contentious issue arises in either arms of the National Assembly, it brings us closer to seeing how fractured our polity is, a pointer that many interest groups will rather prefer to destroy Nigeria’s inheritance than share it. But, few really care about the critical issues such as unemployment and corruption that threaten the very existence of the country.
Rather than set the pace for redressing the disturbing trend which these social vices pose, matters of personal aggrandizement take precedence. Our political system could be paralysed and the economy in a free-fall if government takes its eyes off the current problems on corruption, unemployment and rising poverty. Each of them has a linkage that reinforces the other.
The highlights of Nigeria's poverty profile shows that the North West and North East have the highest poverty rate in Nigeria in 2010 with 77.7 and 76.3 percent respectively. Yet the national wealth is concentrated in the hands of few from these two geo-political zones.
Any surprise why the Boko Haram insurgency has become more intense in these two geo-political zones?