Which is worse? N400bn bribery or $15bn+ theft? – Henry Boyo


The recent publication of the National Bureau of Statistics’ survey titled, “Corruption in Nigeria: Bribery, Public Experience and Response,” triggered extensive public conversation regarding the consolidated over N400bn bribes reportedly paid nationwide between April 2015 and May 2016. The 2017 report estimated that a total of 82.3 million bribes, with an average of about one bribe of N5,300, was paid by every adult Nigerian in one year.

The NBS findings further explained “why Nigerians considered corruption to be the third most important problem facing the country, after high cost of living and unemployment”. The survey found that “the payment of bribes to public officials was the most familiar and widespread form of corruption, directly experienced, and the one that most affects the lives of ordinary citizens.”

The NBS research revealed that bribes were mainly paid to either speed up procedure, receive preferential treatment or to avoid the cancellation of commercial use of public utilities. It also revealed that the frequency of bribery was worse among police officers (46 per cent) and prosecutors (33.6 per cent) while judges and magistrates were 31.5 per cent. Other notoriously deviant public agencies for bribes were immigration (30.7 per cent), car registration driving licence agency (28.5 per cent) and customs (26.5 per cent).

The high incidence of bribery in these public institutions may indeed not come as a surprise, since it is almost inevitable for Nigerians to escape the overt or covert demand for bribes any time the legitimate services for which these agencies were created were required.

The highest bribery ranking of the police is, arguably, largely attributable to the evidently poor service conditions, including delayed payment of staff salaries. However, bribery will increasingly flourish in ALL sectors if inflation continues to spur further increase in the cost of living while wages remain largely static.

Although N400bn bribes, according to the NBS, was the equivalent of $4.6bn in dollar purchasing power parity, N400bn presently represents just over $1.3bn, at today’s exchange rate!

Undoubtedly, $1.3bn is still a princely sum, and as the report suggested, was equivalent to 39 per cent of the combined federal and 36 states education budgets in 2016. Nonetheless, even if bribery was much less, it must still be unequivocally condemned as economically distortional, self-serving, anti-social and oppressive.

However, the NBS revealing beam on the relatively paltry proceeds, from bribery, may be seen as a distraction of public attention from the elite class of clearly more insidious oppressors, who siphon billions of dollars and naira from our commonwealth, into their private custody annually. Consequently, rather than focus on the mini-mouse of bribery, Nigerians would be better served in terms of urgency and priority, with an in-depth study and exposition of the suspiciously huge scale, design and definitive outline of frequently errant persons, corporations and the specific public sub-sectors that have become “kingpins” with their “me only” mindset, when they steal billions of dollars of public money, often, under contrived “pseudo-legitimate” umbrage every year. The NBS should be encouraged to urgently embark on this survey.

Incidentally, in an interview published on August 24, 2017, in The Guardian newspaper, the President of the Nigerian Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply, Diekola Oyewo, noted as follows: “The magnitude of corruption that we are seeing today tells you that nothing less than 50 per cent of national budget must have gone into private pockets.” According to Oyewo, “my understanding is that if a budget is made, and allocations are made, and these allocations are not appropriately used, they call it misappropriation.”

If the preceding perception of the NCIPS president is a fair assessment, then it is possible that out of the N7.44tn 2017 budget, well over N3tn (that is $9bn, at present exchange rate, and probably double, if the NBS purchasing parity valuation is adopted) will be stolen. This humongous theft becomes clearly overwhelming when similar “booty” from the 36 states and several federal and state Ministries, Departments and Agencies are also captured. Obviously, the N400bn ($1.3bn) from the 82.3 million bribes certainly pales significantly in comparison to tens of billions of dollars stolen from the public treasury by a small sub-set of voracious “locusts” annually.

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Incidentally, an investigative report in Saturday PUNCH of June 25, 2016, revealed that the “Federal Government and 10 other states lost N538bn to thousands of ‘ghost workers’ between 2011 and 2016.” Of this amount, the “Federal Government paid N220bn to 103,000 ‘ghost workers’ between 2013 and 2015; the balance of N318bn was paid by 10 states.”

Furthermore, at a presentation on May 2, 2016, in Ibadan, of a book titled, “The Challenge of growth and development,” Vice President Yemi Osinbajo sadly noted that “when you look at the sheer amount of money that has been embezzled, you will find that far too much has been lost.” According to Osinbajo, “it was discovered that the total amount of money lost to corruption, in particular, to the provision of security equipment, in the military, is closer to $15bn.” That amount, the VP observed, “was presently more than half of Nigeria’s foreign reserves.”

The VP’s obvious concern on this brazen impunity was reiterated on June 7, 2017 at the Christopher Kolade 5th Annual Lecture, when Osinbajo again lamented that “in our investigations into defence spending, we discovered $15bn unaccounted for, with no guarantee that we will ever be able to recover it.” Regrettably, the VP failed to identify the reactionary villains responsible or how this stupendous amount was released or appropriated. Furthermore, earlier, at a news conference in Abuja on December 8, 2015, the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, had also revealed that N1.34tn ($6.8) was lost to corruption between 2006 and 2013.

In yet another report, titled, “Nigeria loses N610bn yearly to agencies’ biometric duplication” in The PUNCH newspaper of August 23, 2017, an expert and author of a book on “Digital Transformation”, Jacobs Edo, advised as follows: “I may not be able to tell you what the country is losing as a result of poor digitalisation, but I can tell you that our findings show that about $2bn is lost annually as a result of the biometric duplication that we see everywhere in Nigeria.” For example, according to Edo, “some of the agencies of government have their servers in the United States, and they send money outside Nigeria in order to support the service“. The digital guru therefore advised that “one single agency could set the biometric (data) of every citizen in Nigeria and distribute the data to other agencies that needed them”. You may have guessed the silent undertone in the preceding statement to mean that so long as anyone, personal or corporate, directly benefits from the bloated $6bn forex outflow, Nigerians may be forced to endure the oppressive burden of sourcing $6bn annually to pay for this financially reckless triplication in servers.

The above reports from senior government officials, on corruption, may actually be the tip of an iceberg, and Nigerians cannot therefore rest assured that the government is committed to funding improving social welfare and providing job security with reasonable living wages for all.

Incidentally, the Treasury Single Account has been largely celebrated, as a potent weapon against treasury looting, but in reality, while the TSA undoubtedly facilitates the appraisal of the cash positions of different government MDAs, in line with stipulated schedules, in practice, however, it may only delay the process of extreme treasury looting. Instructively, nonetheless, seasoned practitioners of the art of looting are invariably patient dogs.

Nigerians are clearly very disappointed at the relatively paltry values of loot so far recovered. In reality, however, probity would require a new mindset from our political leadership. Nonetheless, clearly, such rebirth will probably be at odds with the more primitive motivation for seeking political office in the first place.