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REGARDLESS of what the President Goodluck Jonathan government may say, the United States’ position on the thriving culture of corruption in Nigeria gives a fair representation of opinion about the subject, both within and outside the country. While Jonathan claims that the extent of corruption in the country is exaggerated, the US government and other concerned individuals are of the opinion that the monster has not been tackled with the deserved seriousness.

In the US Department of State 2012 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices released recently, the country’s Ambassador to Nigeria, Terence McCulley, reportedly told the Nigerian government to demonstrate more courage and conviction in the crusade against graft. This, he said, was the only way to “send a clear signal that the country is indeed committed to good governance, to the security of its citizens, and to its rightful place as a significant actor on the global stage.”

Although corruption has always been perceived as pervasive in the country, corrupt acts have, perhaps, never attained the height of brazenness and impunity that has been witnessed in recent times. A probe by the House of Representatives, following a mass protest that greeted the 2012 New Year’s Day fuel price increase, exposed a massive fuel subsidy fraud that cost the country a loss of over N2 trillion. Three other committees were also instituted to probe the scam. While all the reports exposed extensive fraud and theft of public funds, nobody has been successfully prosecuted and jailed in connection with the pilfering, more than a year after. All the government officials under whose noses the heist was pulled off are still trotting the landscape unchallenged.

Massive looting of pension funds has been witnessed on an unprecedented scale. Hardly a day goes by without newspapers reporting one government official or the other helping himself or herself to billions of naira belonging to pensioners. The pension funds theft is even more pathetic because it is happening at a time when pensioners, out of sheer exhaustion associated with old age, have been slumping and dying in endless queues, waiting for stipends that may never come. Yet, Yakubu Yusuf, a confessed pension fund thief, to whom was traced part of about N23 billion stolen pension funds, was let off with a slap on the wrist. Not unexpected, the sentence of a N750,000 fine in a judgement by Abubakar Talba of an Abuja High Court, sparked off national and international outrage.

Unfortunately, the government’s effort to end the pension fund theft has also ended in a fiasco. A certain Abdulrasheed Maina, the Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team that was set up to bring sanity to the administration of pension funds, ended up being enmeshed in allegations of corruption. Despite priding himself on recovering over N150 billion of stolen or diverted pension funds, he was said to have fixed some of the money in the name of his younger brother that was yielding over N100 million monthly. He was also accused of using N1 billion to conduct biometric verifications for retirees both in Nigeria and abroad. Maina was alleged to have fled the country when the Senate ordered his arrest for shunning its investigation, but is now walking the streets a free man.

These are just but a few of the brazen acts of corruption and what looks like official complicity in efforts to shield the perpetrators. Another good example is the state pardon granted to the former governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, a fugitive from justice who jumped bail in England, where he was under arrest for money laundering. The case of Farouk Lawan, a federal lawmaker who allegedly received $620,000 bribe to strike out the name of businessman Femi Otedola’s company from the list of firms implicated in the oil subsidy fraud, only went on trial one year after, following a threat by Lagos lawyer, Festus Keyamo, to take over the prosecution from the Attorney-General.

But instead of acknowledging the existence of rampant corruption, the President, while addressing Nigerians during his recent visit to South Africa, said, “People’s perception about corruption in Nigeria is over-amplified than the corruption that happens in the country.”

In asking Jonathan to crack down on corruption, McCulley, quite rightly, identified its deleterious effects on the growth and development of the nation. He said, “Corruption in Nigeria diverts financial resources from building roads, hospitals, schools, and otherwise investing in infrastructure that would serve business, attract foreign investment and create jobs.”

Without a doubt, Nigeria has been in a state of arrested development over the years as a result of rampant corruption in high places, which has led to over $500 billion of public funds being stolen in the past 40 years. At a point, before the formation of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Nigeria was ranked the most corrupt country in the world, according to the corruption perception index of the global anti-graft agency, Transparency International.

It is not enough for the President to say that his government is fighting corruption; it must be seen to be doing so. For instance, Jonathan can start by declaring his assets publicly and also ensuring that all his aides do the same. The two anti-corruption agencies must be strengthened and allowed the freedom to do their job unhindered. Those who have so far been implicated in the oil subsidy fraud, the pension fund stealing and oil thefts, which have already led to reduction in Nigeria’s daily output, must be brought to book. Only then will Jonathan be seen to be fighting corruption; only then will others intent on defrauding the country be discouraged from doing so.

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