Nigeria’s fight against corruption-A must-win war!

Rafat Salami, Abuja

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Conversations are ongoing within Nigeria’s media space – mainstream and on the web, as to the effectiveness of President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption war in the last 4 years, are as diverse as the interests that shape the country’s polity.

The tempo of discourse on the matter increased a notch after media reports credited Mr Ibrahim Magu, the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, as saying that Nigeria had suffered losses of nearly N1.3 trillion to corruption, between 2011 and 2015; a loss orchestrated by 32 entities – corporate and individuals.

This, simply translated, means Nigeria is hemorrhaging, not only from the artery but also from many veins that require urgent clipping.

On one beautiful Sunday, I hung out with a brother. During the conversation that ensued about his job and the challenges he was facing, he said corruption and the persistent attempts by some Nigerians to compromise him as the Director of the organisation, was quite unbelievable. Even when not solicited, they were willing to give kickbacks. His narrative of the experiences he had encountered in the course of his duties, was quite illuminating.

As Director in a Nigeria-based oil servicing company, he is required to talk to vendors, hotels and contractors. When he assumed office, the contractors of the company would come to collect cheques for their services but an incident drew his attention. One of the contractors complained that his cheque had not been issued for months. On hearing this, he launched an undercover investigation into the claim by the contractor. It turned out that the officer whose schedule it was to give the duly signed cheques to the contractors had refused to release them. His practice was to hold off on release of the cheques until something was given to him. He would simply inform the contractors that their cheques were not ready.

Upon confirmation of his findings, he moved the corrupt man from that Department and later fired him.

My brother went on to narrate yet another experience in his office. He said:

“Another officer had an unscrupulous method of ensuring that vendors gave kickback. His method was so crude that if deployed to another unit, he would sabotage the task in that unit, in ways that the system would return him to the unit where he was in direct contact with vendors. He lost his job when I found him out.”

Then there were corrupt practices regarding retention of hotels. He told me of a situation where the owners of the hotels where the staff are housed would come to him to give him packs and souvenirs. On each occasion, he turned them down. He told them that the only reason the company was retaining the hotel was because the staff were happy with the services provided by the hotel but once his staff weren’t happy, his company would quit patronising the hotel. The hotelier was still not satisfied with that so he made other efforts. Again, the Director dismissed him and stopped picking his calls. It was then the hotelier got the message. Well, the hotel is still in business 2 years later.

One day, he said it just occurred to him that he had not heard from the manager and no complaint from his staff. not even the usual complaint about dirty bedsheets or broken door knob. He was curious so he asked a few people. He got the following response. ‘Oga, haa the hotel manager don dey try for our people o. anytime we go there, we dey get free drinks and other things.’ So that sealed it. The freebies were enough to keep the business in play.

Perhaps the most hilarious experience yet was the contractor who called him on a fateful day to say he was at the gate and had brought a live goat for him. “Goat?” He asked disbelieving. He was in a fix. Now, how do you turn down a ‘gift’ without offending the giver? He immediately told him he doesn’t eat meat, only fish. He had hoped that would discourage the contractor. Well, the contractor left and two weeks later, he returned with an intimidating fish, saying: ‘Oga I bring fish for you, your favorite?’

“My favorite,” he asked? How is it my favorite? He had forgotten the ‘Goat gift’ incident. A quick mental check and he remembered. Well, he asked the drivers and staff to collect the fish but he never took it home.

Culturally, Nigerians are very appreciative people. They want to ‘appreciate’ and ‘thank’ their benefactors, while still wanting more favours or wanting to maintain their business link.

The Director recalled how a contractor wanted him to inflate a contract. He even asked him to build in his own commission, to which he responded with a stern warning. The Director told me he has more bonus for making his office work than for shortchanging it.

More importantly he said he was conscious that the same persons who come in seeking opportunities from him for instant enrichment would probably document same for use if things stopped going their way.

His point: “Nigerians are ready to compromise any system. They will do anything. They honestly don’t believe they can get things done themselves without greasing palms.”

We went on to discuss the just concluded general election and why some Nigerians wanted to travel out. The conversation began with the processes for procuring international passports. I was reminded that though across the country, there was said to be a shortage of passport booklets, which in turn had created a huge backlog of people requiring international passports, in reality, what was happening was a corrupt enrichment scheme.

Officially, a person seeking an international passport booklet is supposed to pay not more than N20,000. Today, the cost for procuring one goes from N25,000, if you want the passport within 48 hours, or N35,000 if you want the booklet on the same day. Yes. You still can get your passport same day if you can pay the additional sum.

The story I was told went thus:

If you cannot walk into the passport office, you will make a call to a number recommended by someone, transfer money into the contact’s account, he sorts out things, tells you when to come to the passport office and on the appointed day and time, he is waiting to receive you at the gate. You are then given a royal treatment, you skip the usual long queues, your biometric is captured, and voila … your passport is ready, depending on how much you paid the contact man in the passport office. On the flip side, they are all very trust worthy, there has not been a single case of anyone who lost money through this process.” My narrator quipped.

He went on to narrate his first hand experience. While on a queue in one of the passport offices, a man came in dressed in a suit and tie, very polished and was worried that he made payment online and was yet to get any booking for his biometrics capture. The officer who attended to him, cynically asked him “did you pay to me? Did you see me when you paid? He went on to tell the bewildered Nigerian: “I am only trying to help you so please step aside let me attend to the next person.” With a wave of hand, he reportedly sent him to another officer who began to ask him questions. Well, before the end of the day, the man had removed his suit, his tie, folded the sleeves of his shirt, dropped his heavily accented tone and begun to speak the “language’’ of the locality.

Now he was in business. Well, my narrator from his space on the queue, could not hear how the conversation went but from the mutual laughter and banters, he knew an agreement had been reached and the ‘been-to’ (someone who travels abroad regularly) was likely going to get his passport speedily.

I will not venture into the Civil Service oo. Chai. That is in another climate. Where I work in Voice of Nigeria, I get inundated by requests from people who want to undertake an internship. I keep telling them, VON is a government agency and has a policy of admitting all those who apply for internship whether you know anyone or not. The only exception will be if there is no space and in that case, no level of lobbying would guarantee acceptance. They do not seem to agree that it is possible. I recall that when I did my internship in 1997, I took my letter and went to PRTV Jos in Plateau state and I was accepted, without knowing anyone. Whatever happened to confidence of people? Or have we simply come to distrust the system so much that we are not willing to see beyond the corruption-skewed ways?

Moving to the corruption in another sector that has left me hollow — the education sector.

The video of a young pupil-Success, went viral after she was supposedly sent from school because she had not paid some fees. The girl in the video, had angrily said she would prefer to be flogged than to be sent out of school, as she walked away, she vowed “to teach the school that she is also stubborn.”

Now the head teacher of the school – Eboh Primary School, Sapele, has been suspended by the Delta State government, through Mr Chinedu Ebie, the state Commissioner for Basic Education, “over alleged illegal fee collection.”

The fee in question was N900 ($2.5). What it highlights again, is the level of extortion taking place in schools, especially in public schools where primary education is supposed to be free. Government in 1999 launched the Universal Basic Education (UBE) programme with the goal of providing “free, universal and compulsory basic education for every Nigerian child aged 6-15 years.”

Again, what appears to be non-committed and staggered unsustainable funding has left many schools in dire need. The school where Success attends is a testament of the derelict state of education infrastructure across the country, despite the huge funds infused over the last four years, especially at the state level. It was only after the story broke that the state government began to renovate the school. If public schools have an excuse, what about private schools? My search for schools for my children gave me a first-hand experience of the rot in the private schools that have helped to water down the quality of education that our children receive.

The most upsetting to me, is the issue of ‘private lesson’. Many private schools in Abuja have this thing they call private lessons. The parent is expected to pay a certain amount, outside the school fees, which is paid cash and not into the school’s bank account. The child is then expected to stay an hour longer in school to receive extra lessons, which are to help the child’s chances of passing exams. The contradiction in the extra lesson matter comes in the fact that a child who is brought in to start a new session can not have been assessed before hand, to identify his/her strength or weakness, enough to determine whether or not the child will require extra lessons. Meanwhile, parents are still expected to pay lesson fees for such new entrants? This is just extortion, plain and simple! One parent told me in confidence that his children were persistently not doing well, until he began to pay lesson fees. The ‘lessons’ were later discovered to be sessions at which the teachers provided ready-made answers to exam questions, force the students to memorise or familiarise themselves with both the questions and corresponding answers, so that they have an edge to pass exams in flying colours.

I have never paid for a lesson and do not plan to enroll my child in any school where I have to pay for lessons. As parents, we must assist the government in this fight against corruption! If teachers cannot do their work assiduously and diligently, then they do not deserve the responsibility and trust to tutor my child.  It makes absolutely no sense to keep my child for an extra hour after classes have closed to receive an extra lesson that ordinarily, my child should have received during the officially stipulated work hours.

Still about schools, at the Epitome model Islamic school, I heard of parents who snuck things into the school for their children in boarding school. The parent was reported to have contravened the school regulation by smuggling a phone which she inserted into a dictionary and gift wrapped. It was a clear case of Nigerian parents helping to compromise the laws of schools.

One of the schools I believe has the high level of discipline and enforcement of its regulations is the Capital Science Academy in Kuje. In that school, students are barred from bringing in any type of edible because the school says it feeds them 5 times a day. All the child is expected to do is bring his/her toiletries and not more than that. It was a good idea to me and I enrolled my children. But the first visiting day threw me aback. Parents did not only bring canned foods for their children, they brought things I believe could last more than a month. They brought them in big bags. I tried to understand what was going on. The next visiting day was the same but on PTA, the then principal Mr MCloed, told us that those items will continually be seized and donated to IDPs. The children themselves confessed that the flaunting of school rules by parents was continuing unabated.

As a matter of fact some parents are reported to have co-opted the staff of the school. They pass on the contraband to the staff, especially the hostel parents or keep the items in the residence of the hostel parents, who then give the items to the children. On visiting day, staff are seen milling around the parents, greeting multiple times in ways that are suggestive.

I recall when my son was in Capital Science Academy, he told me of a security guard who had asked him to appeal to me to buy him a phone. The demand for the phone continued and each time I called the school to talk to my son, it was the first thing he would ask of me. I found that odd and upsetting so I  began to investigate. Other parents later confirmed to me that some of the staff had also requested for phones from them. When you buy them the phone, your child would not have to wait in line to speak with you on weekends when the lines are open for five hours. That was odd to me. What is wrong with our children waiting in line to pick calls? I thought it was a way to teach our children to wait turns. Not many parents agreed with that. The information and regulation about how the school will be administered and what the expectations were, had been given to us at the time we enrolled our children so why circumvent the law when you agreed to it?

This ‘Change’, this necessity to reverse corruption in Nigeria, undoubtedly must necessarily begin with each and everyone of us! A lot is already being done under this administration to curb official corruption. These are now being properly documented. A lot more must continue to be done to nip corruption from its embryonic stage.

What has been your experience? Share your story with us;send your experience to vononlineunit@yahoo.com with the title ”My Experience with Corruption’‘. Let’s keep talking on Nigeria’s anti-corruption measures! This is one war we must win, for our national and individual survival.

Ime Njoku