- ‘It’s the reason Nigeria is crawling at 56’
- Our leaders stole economy into coma – Economists
With the economy in dire straits and the country facing massive institutional challenges and infrastructure deficit, development experts have said that the nation would not have been in its current poor economic state but for the culture of corruption and financial malfeasance prevalent among its leaders at virtually all levels.
The professionals, drawn from different leanings, while reflecting on the state of the nation ahead of the nation’s 56th independence celebration, were specifically critical of the colossal plundering of the national till over the years by persons who had power thrust into their hands or were elected by Nigerians into positions of leadership at both the federal and state levels.
Of particular reference by respondents, who spoke with The Point, was the massive misappropriation of funds drawn for various developmental purposes by past presidents and heads of state, and persons who served in different capacities under the respective administrations, from the immediate past administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, dating back to former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s first time in office in 1979.
For instance, a collation by The Point of funds purported stolen or misappropriated by the nation’s leaders, their appointees or proxies in recent history, from the administration of former head of state, General Ibrahim Babangida (retd.) to the Jonathan era, put the value at about $1.647trn.
The implication of the massive theft, according to economists, is that over the years, a lot of facilities have been left to decay, social institutions have been broken and infrastructure is comatose, reducing productivity and stunting economic growth across various facets of national life.
In terms of infrastructure, for instance, statistics from the African Development Bank, estimates Nigeria’s core stock of infrastructure to be only in the region of 20 to 25 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product, compared with 70 per cent for other middle income countries of its size. This dip, the AfDB noted, had left the country with a gaping infrastructure deficit of $300bn.
An examination of the nation’s infrastructure landscape shows that one main challenge facing the economy is that of poor social infrastructure and institutions. A large chunk of roads are in bad shape, electricity supply is erratic, access to potable water by majority of citizens is limited and basic healthcare is almost non-existent.
But going by the views of analysts, who spoke with our correspondents, Nigeria would not have suffered from any sort of infrastructure deficit had past leaders spent funds accessed for that purpose judiciously.
Under the immediate past administration of Dr Goodluck Jonathan alone, he was alleged to have personally ordered for over N3 trillion (about US$15 billion) from the Central Bank of Nigeria to support his re-election and other self-seeking projects under the guise of an intervention fund for national stability. Nigerians, according to stakeholders, still await definite reports on what the funds were used for.
On another hand, his Aviation Minister, Stella Oduah, reportedly accessed funds for airport remodelling and infrastructure upgrade. But the bulk of the funds were allegedly diverted for personal use. Jonathan’s Petroleum Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, was at a time allegedly arrested in London in possession of over £13billion, purportedly siphoned from national coffers, while she was in the process of acquiring a massively expensive apartment at One Hyde Park in London.
In the same vein, his former Chief of Naval Staff, Usman Jibrin, was recently arraigned alongside Harbour Bay International Limited by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for allegedly buying a house worth N600million from the account of Naval Engineering Services, without the said purchase contract being captured in the budget, while in office. The EFCC had said that the documentation for transfer of ownership of the property was done such that a private company, owned by the family of the first defendant (Vice Admiral Jibrin), became the buyer.
Such was the level of misappropriation under President Jonathan, a political analyst, Mr. Adeniyi Sobowale, said, referring to Jonathan’s years at the helms as the years of the locust.
But he is not alone. In varying degrees, former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida (retd.), Late General Sani Abacha, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd.), Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, and the Late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s administrations also had startling revelations.
IBRAHIM BADAMASI BABANGIDA
It is not in doubt that Nigeria inherited most of its economic challenges from the administration of Babangida due to the humongous looting of the treasury that characterised the administration, estimated at about N11 trillion. A report by Financial Times, culled from a confidential report of the World Bank, showed money laundered under the Babangida regime as follows – London: £6.25 billion, Switzerland: $7.41 billion , USA: $2.00 billion, Germany: DM 9.00 billion.
An American investigative writer, Jeffrey Robinson, also wrote that “of the $120 billion siphoned from Nigeria’s treasury into offshore accounts by dishonest politicians, $20 billion is allegedly traceable to Babangida, who presided over the affairs of the country between 1985 and 1993.”
Further findings showed that the Gulf War oil windfall is Babangida’s often-referenced loot. A Pius Okigbo panel discovered that about $12.2 billion of the $12.4 billion accruable from the Gulf War excess crude oil sales was frittered or was unaccounted for, through nebulous or phantom projects that could not be traced.
With this and others, the World Bank and other international sources of information put his total loot from the treasury at over $35 billion.
LATE GENERAL SANI ABACHA
Under Abacha, findings showed that no less than £5 billion was looted from the treasury. This amount got him listed as the fourth most corrupt leader in history by international organisations.
Since his demise, several sums of money have been reportedly recovered by the Nigerian government. In 1998 alone, reports have it that the late former head of state laundered over $2 million.
GENERAL ABDULSALAMI ABUBAKAR
The government of General Abubakar was short and focused on transiting the country quickly from ‘militocracy’ to democracy.
But the major $182 million Halliburton scandal implicated his administration.
CHIEF OLUSEGUN OBASANJO
Former President Obasanjo was accused of several misappropriations of funds, including over $900 billion and another N1.4 trillion, as alleged by the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties.
Apart from this, various corruption scandals broke out under his presidency between 1999 and 2007, including one of international dimension, when his vice-president was reportedly “caught with a US Congressman stashing cold hard cash in freezers.”
In addition to this, the KBR and Siemens bribery scandals broke out under his administration. The scandals, which have been serially investigated by the FBI and led to international indictments, indicated that high-level corruption took place during his administration.
Some other acts of corruption tied to the Obasanjo era include the Transcorp shares’ scandal that violated the code of conduct standards for public officers, and the presidential library donations on the eve of his exit from power.
LATE UMARU MUSA YAR’ADUA
Though, he served a short time in office, the administration of the late Yar’Adua witnessed the scandal of the ‘missing’ $20 billion, which external auditors have embarrassingly been requested to help Nigeria address.
DR GOODLUCK JONATHAN
According to economists and political analysts, corruption flourished under the Jonathan administration, “who let politicians and their cronies fill their pockets with impunity.” Large sums of money were used improperly multiple times, with about N3.98 trillion (US$20 billion) allegedly going missing and N398 billion (US$2 billion) of military funds allegedly shared among highranking officials of the administration.
The financial corruption was not limited to the Federal Government alone. Both the state and local governments were also guilty of embezzlement, misappropriation and diversion of fund, award and inflation of contracts, among others. According to a report, at the state government level, a number of former governors between 1999 and 2007 were alleged by EFCC of financial impropriety.
For instance, James Ibori was arraigned on a 170-count charge of laundering over N9.1 billion; Orji Uzor Kalu of Abia was arraigned on a 191- count charge of money laundering, criminal diversion of public fund, official corruption, involving funds totaling N5.2 billion and was also accused of using his loot of N3.1 billion to fund SLOK Airline and two banks in the Gambia and Sierra Leone, in addition to owning houses in London and the US.
Alamieyeseigha was arrested on 40 counts of corruption and money laundering. In July 2006, British authorities returned about one million pounds ($1.9 million) of the alleged illicit gains that he stashed in British banks.
The report added that one important area where financial corruption was more noticeable was in the area of road infrastructure. Since the birth of the fourth republic, majority of federal roads across the six geo-political zones were awarded by successive governments at huge sums. But till today, none of the roads have been completed. For example, a report of the CBN on the survey of highways in Nigeria revealed the total number of roads to be constructed throughout the six geopolitical zones between 1999 and 2001 but was not constructed as a result of outright embezzlement. The report showed that less than 10 per cent of the funding request made by the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing for road maintenance was appropriated.
It revealed that, despite the total funds released for road maintenance across the country between the years, which were N509.29 million, N742.72 million and N779.84 million respectively, most of the roads in the Southern area and Northern zones were in very poor conditions.
Among those notable roads are Owerri-Onitsha roads, Enugu-Onitsha road, Owerri-Umuahia road (all the south-east zone): Lagos-Ibadan road, Ibadan-Ife road, Benin-Lagos road and Ibadan-Ilorin road (all in the South- West); Kano-Kaduna road, Kastina- Funta road (all in North-West); Akwanga Markurdi road, Ayungba-Markurdi road (all in the North Central); and Bauchi-Gombe road, Bauchi-Ningi, Bauchi-Tafa-Balewa-Langtang roads (all in the North-East).
POLITICIANS, ACTIVISTS CALL FOR PROBE
Worried by the horrible situation in which the country finds itself, ostensibly because of what they described as wanton greed of the past leaders, leading politicians and activists in the country have called on President Muhammadu Buhari to swiftly probe the past leaders, adding that only the correction of their past misdeeds can help reposition the country.
The National President, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, and Presidential Candidate of Young Democratic Party in the 2015 presidential election, Alhaji Yerima Shettima, told The Point that Nigeria’s past leaders ruined the country as a result of their selfish personal interests.
Shettima said, “It is sad that we find ourselves in this condition today. Even our transition to democracy since 1999 has not been any different. The late Gani Fawehinmi raised a fundamental issue before his death. He said that successive governments had not been bothered about accountability of the previous governments. That, according to him, has been the root of our problem in this country. “If this government wants to be sincere in tackling corruption, then the fight against corruption should start from Abubakar’s administration; they should revisit the Halliburton scandal. Several persons were being tried for corruption, why is it so difficult to invite Obasanjo, Abubakar and the rest of them about this issue of Halliburton?
“We cannot be successful in the corruption fight in this country by shielding some people and bringing some people to book. I think it’s high time we began to look at ourselves as stakeholders and begin to channel a way out for Nigeria. When our leaders have stolen so much money, they begin to distract us, using religion and ethnicity, so that they will cause more confusion and continue to exploit us.”
Shettima bemoaned the fact that most of the past leaders who had stolen from national coffers, were always still seen by the new president as elder statesmen, when in actual fact, they are a group of failures.
On his part, Senator Lekan Balogun, a former senator, in a conversation with our correspondents, said Nigeria’s past leaders’ misdemeanors were fueled by selfishness rather than national interest.
The Ibadan high chief said, “It is quite unfortunate that we are in the situation we find ourselves as a result of selfishness of our past leaders. However, with proper thinking and positioning, we can still get things right. We cannot dispute the fact that they are all indicted in the problems we are facing today, but that of course is not the end of things for us as a country.”
To Prof. Francis Fagbohun, a professor of politics at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, “if not that Nigeria is a blessed country, the country would have crashed by now. Looking at the current issue of corruption, embezzlement and all that, it is only the Dasukigate that seems to have seriously been tackled. Other pandora boxes have not been opened.”
He said, “Sincerely as Nigerians, we have not been able to do well for ourselves as a nation. If we had independence in 1960 and 56 years after, we are still here, then something is definitely wrong with us. But I’m an incurable optimist, we have gotten it wrong but I don’t believe that the situation cannot be remedied.”
The National President of the Civil Liberty Organisation, Comrade Kenny Bakare, also added his voice to the call for a quick probe of the past leaders.
“I believe the past leaders should be investigated for their misdeeds in office. But we must not limit the probe to the Jonathan era alone. They should do the same for others because he was not the first president,” he said.
ECONOMISTS HIGHLIGHT IMPLICATIONS OF LOOTED FUNDS
Building a vibrant economy or restoring growth to a sluggish economy, however, requires judicious use of resources to ensure long-term growth and prosperity.
Reports from development agencies have established that a nation enjoys higher standards of living if the workers can produce large quantities of goods and services for local consumption and extra for export. In its 2010 reports on “Doing Business in Nigeria 2010 through Difficult Times,” the World Bank ranked Nigeria 125 out of 182 economies surveyed in the Global Doing Business Report.
And in its 2008 Review of World Development, the United Nations Development Programme ranked Nigeria 157 out of 177 in Human Development Index. The country was also among the “Least Liveable nations.’
Economists have expressed the belief that Nigeria must invest in advanced technology and rebuild its institutions and infrastructure. Otherwise, the economy will not return to the path of productivity.
In different chats with our correspondents, they opined that the Nigerian economy could be stabilised like the economies of developed countries around the world if the looted funds by past leaders are retrieved and put to judicious use while putting in place a system that will prevent further misappropriations.
Prof. Pat Utomi, an economist, maintained that though, he could not ascertain the exact figure of funds misappropriated over the years, most of the nation’s problems would have been fixed were the funds available for national use.
He also added that Nigeria’s problem was more of intellectual capacity than the lack of financial capacity.
“Nigerian problem is not money, but intellectual capacity and passionate commitment to big ideas that are clear. Leadership helps bring people together. Nigeria has failed to achieve because of what I called ‘hunter mentality’ of the class of 1966, who have been recycling themselves in government for over 50 years. Their actions with their ideas are what led us to where we are today.”
A former Commissioner for Health in Ekiti State, Prof. Olusola Fasuba, said, “If Nigeria gets the looted $1.647 billion, infrastructural deficit in Nigeria would have been a thing of the past. By now, we would have had good health care facilities, good roads, stable electricity and created employment opportunities for the youths.”
He, however, advised the present administration not to bother about recovering looted funds from past presidents, especially the ones that served long ago, because government might not be able to get evidence to probe them.
For him, President Buhari should focus on the recent ones, like the immediate past president and make sure he recovers all the money looted under his watch, including the one allegedly looted by his wife. The houses seized by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, he said, should also be sold for the benefit of the country.