By Moses Yahaya Awodi
The fight against Corruption in Nigeria is probably as old as Nigeria itself. Buhari or Obasanjo is not the first Nigerian leader to cry out against corruption. When Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu led a group of majors to topple the government in January 1966, in the first Military coup, he cited “the ten percenters” as one of his reasons for the coup. The first Republic, according to him was full of people who added 10% of a contract sum to each contract for themselves.
When Murtala Mohammed came on board, in 1976, he said he removed Gowon because of corruption and he was out to eradicate the cankerworm from our National life. He did not live long enough to actualize his dream of a corruption-free Nigeria. Muhamadu Buhari and his deputy, Tunde Idiagbon, in 1984, gave birth to WAI (War against Indiscipline). To them, corruption was only a part of a more deep-rooted malaise – Indiscipline.
Obasanjo with the advent of EFCC/ICPC was again attempting to cure the disease of corruption which has continued to plague Nigeria. All previous attempts, including his own, have so far failed abysmally. For corruption is alive and well in Nigeria, as we all can see. There have been three systems of government since independence – Parliamentary, Military, and Presidential. It appears as if, progressively, corruption has worsened with each succeeding government. Corruption became worse under the military than under the parliamentary government it replaced. And this presidential system has again proved to be worse than the military it succeeded.
In other words, we have grown from bad to worse with each succeeding government, regardless of their efforts at fighting corruption. I believe, all these previous efforts have been made against the effect of corruption NOT the cause. And as Chief Obafemi Awolowo said over and over, you do not fight a disease by fighting the effect. You fight a disease by fighting the cause. All these previous efforts, including the EFCC/ICPC one, have failed because they attempt to fight the effect not the cause of corruption. And until we fight the cause, we will continue to fail in our efforts to fight corruption in public life.
Our present system, whereby we wait for all the looting to be made before we pounce on the criminal is actually medicine after death. That type of system is bound to fail, even before it starts. To rightly fight corruption, the crime must be stopped before it is committed. Once the looting has taken place, the fight has already been lost. And that is what has happened all these years.
If we must fight the cause and not the effect then we must first of all identify the root cause of corruption. I want to identify three main areas of our National life that have been fertile grounds for corruption. If we can successfully tackle these three areas, then corruption will have difficulty germinating.
These areas are:
Our system of government
Our System of Government
We have operated the parliamentary, the military and the presidential forms of government for nearly half a century. Those of us old enough to have witnessed the operations of these systems would acknowledge that our presidential system of Government has been the most corrupt of the three. The figures associated with corruption under the presidential system are simply mind-boggling.
The parliamentary system was plagued with what Nzeogwu called “the ten percenters”. That was how far corruption ate into our national life. It was limited to contracts and further limited to 10% of the contract sum, and limited to politicians (i.e the political head of the particular ministry where contracts were being awarded). The civil service was virtually corruption-free.
All those holding political offices were elected. Both at Federal and Regional levels, the ministers, in-charge of various ministries were ALL elected officials. No one could be a minister if he/she was not first elected into the federal/state parliament. AND each region had its own constitution which was based on a parliamentary system.
In other words, Nigeria had five constitutions – one for the Federation (Federal) and the remaining four; one each for the North, West, East and Mid-west. It was based on the British system of government which, of course, is still operational in Britain.
The following most industrialized (G7) countries operate the parliamentary system of government: Canada, Japan, Germany, Italy & Britain. India, the largest democracy and arguably the fastest growing economy today operates the parliamentary system of government. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this system of government – either for us or for anybody for that matter.
When Murtala Mohammed, in 1976, inaugurated the constitutional conference that fashioned the 1979 constitution, he specifically ordered Chief Rotimi Williams to fashion it along the American model. And the 1979 constitution, which has metamorphosed into the current 1999 constitution, was born. But the question is: Is the 1979 (later 1999) constitution really after the American model? Let us look at the differences:
In the United States of America, there are 51 constitutions. One federal and one each for the 50 States that make up the federation.
Each State in America has its judicial system that starts with the lowest courts of the state up to the Supreme Court of the State.
Each State has a State police that enforces the laws made by that state’s legislature.
Each State has two chambers of legislature – the State Assembly and the State Senate. All these, apart from the Federal House of Representatives and the Senate of the United States.
I have in my library, a copy of the American Constitution (12 pages), that of the State of California (200 pages) and that of Vermont (20 pages) – including their amendments over the years. Our 1999 constitution is 160 pages.
So, when we say that we have fashioned the present presidential system of government after the American model, we are not being sincere. Nothing can be further from the American model than our present concoction. The 1979 constitution (and its offshoot, the 1999 constitution) is a system of government NOT known anywhere else in the world.
We are the only country in the entire world operating our present system of government.
The tragedy about Nigeria is that we cannot even copy correctly. If we threw away the parliamentary system in favour of a presidential system – American model, then we ought to have copied correctly.
It is unthinkable for the president of the United States of America to have a hand in the impeachment of a State governor using the instrumentality of a Federal body like the EFCC/ICPC. That type of situation can never arise in America.
Our present system allows for a State House of Assembly to make laws for the state but expects the Federal Police to enforce such laws. Square peg in a round hole. How can one make laws without an agency to enforce them? The Governor of a State is supposed to be the chief security officer of the State. YET, the commissioner of police (Federal) does not report to him. He reports to his boss, the Inspector-General of police (Federal). The State has no means of fighting corruption because it has no law-enforcers of its own. Meanwhile, the main spender and arguably the most corrupt official, the governor, has immunity from prosecution. And the states and their LGA puppets control about 50% of our national resources.
How can a State succeed when it depends on another government (federal) to enforce its laws? Our present system of government should not be called the presidential system of Government – American style. Our system has no name. It is a somersault of all known systems of government and IT IS THE ROOT CAUSE OF CORRUPTION in the land. When a system is meaningless, then anything goes. And that tragically is what is happening in Nigeria.
If we must operate the Presidential system (and I do not know why we should) then we must operate the PROPER presidential system.
Each State should have its own constitution. Each State should have its State police. Each State should have its judicial system right up to the Supreme Court of the State.
Our present constitution which doubles for both the States and the Federal Government is actually an AMALGAM OF ABSURDITIES AND INCONGRUITIES.
It can never work here, and it can never work anywhere else for that matter.
We call ourselves the FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA. There is nothing Federal about us, and we are the farthest away from a Republic. The issue of the role of traditional rulers in our national life must be addressed. If they must exist they ought to exist COMPLETELY out of government influence and interference. Their people, whose cultures they preserve have ways of sustaining them. They existed before the advent of modern government and they can continue to exist without government. The days of Indirect Rule are over. The LGA’s have taken over their role.
As for Religion, even when our somersaulted constitution is clear on the place of religion in our life, governments (State and Federal) still spend billions each year financing pilgrimages. Mecca and Jerusalem are just cities located in the Middle-East. One can get to them just like one can get to any other city in the world. Why involve government?
The point is, our present system of government, if indeed it can be called that, is all upside down! Nigerians travel to other countries and they see how those countries are run. Yet as soon as we step on the Nigerian soil, all hell is let loose. We begin to wallow in our planlessness fueled by a non-functional system of government.
When there were loud cries after June 12 for a Sovereign National Conference, the cries were legitimate and genuine. We simply need to sit down and talk. The last time Nigerians really sat down for talks were all pre-1960 when the 5 constitutions were fashioned along parliamentary models. How can anything be wrong with talks? We certainly need to talk. Our present constitution is meaningless. It was just hurriedly put together by a drowning and outgoing military government. Let us sit down and fashion out a meaningful one for ourselves. Should it be presidential or parliamentary? And if presidential, then the real presidential, not the concoction we presently carry about.
Nigeria needs a workable constitution as a sine qua non for a corruption-free country. Nothing short of that will do.
During the first Republic (1960–1966), every senior civil servant in government, federal or Regional had three documents on his/her desk.
A copy of the Budget for the financial year in question
A copy of financial regulations
A copy of Civil Service Rules
These three documents were revered.
The budget, as the name implies, gives a comprehensive detail of government expenditure for the financial year. After a budget bill had been passed by parliament and signed into law, the document became a holy grail. For seven years (1960 – 1966) these yearly documents for each of the financial years ran the governments (Federal and Regional) almost on Auto – Pilot.
Each government agency or department knew exactly what would come to it and it did – religiously. Usually, the budget is divided into 2 categories of expenditure: Recurrent expenditure and Capital Expenditure. The Recurrent is for operational costs, that is the cost of running the government on a day – to – day basis for the financial year: salaries, allowances, transportation, Health, fuel, electricity, telephone, vehicle & building maintenance, stationery, sports, even leisure for staff of the department. The Recurrent expenditure is non-negotiable. For, if a government cannot pay for its operational costs, it has no business being a government. The civil servant was sure these monies existed for these allowances.
Even the most junior civil servant knew there was always money for the recurrent expenditure. A day, each month of the twelve months of the financial year was always marked as salary day and it never failed. Other allowances and recurrent expenditures were implemented as and when due.
Those of us who attended government boarding schools in what was then the Northern Region remember very clearly how the budget system worked. The principal made sure he educated us on the allocation of funds for the financial year to run the school; funds for food, fuel, teachers allowances and salaries, sports, recreation, drama, educational tours etc. We knew if money was available for a particular project before making a request to the principal because, if funds were not available for such a project the request was futile.
And the principal did not have to go to Kaduna for the money. It came to the school AUTOMATICALLY as and when due. Government was designed to run on AUTO-PILOT. That was the best way to tame corruption. Get each fund TAGGED and make it public. Any misuse can easily and quickly be identified and checked.
Nigeria was not always like this. There was a time, not too long ago, when the country was ALMOST corruption-free. Some of us still remember with nostalgia those good old days. But then, there was a clear and definite adherence to the Budget. Once passed into law, the Budget becomes a law. And breaking any part of it is a criminal offence. Maybe, a branch of EFCC/ICPC should be created and called The Budget Police. This branch will monitor and prosecute budget offenders, thereby halting looting.
Waiting for the looters to loot before rounding them up is a lost battle. We saw this in Abacha’s case. I wonder how much of Abacha’s loot finally made its way to the shores of Nigeria.
The budget was tailored to make looting almost impossible because, virtually all the funds were allocated almost to the last Kobo, down to the minutest detail, and made public. Not much was left free for looters.
The second document available to senior civil servants those days was the financial regulations. This gives further details about how the funds allocated in the budget is to be disbursed. The two documents actually make a whole.
For instance, beyond a certain sum (say N10,000.00) the head of the department (like principal of a school) could not spend single-handedly. It would probably require a standing departmental tenders board. Everybody knew the rules and violation was a serious offence. In any case, the Treasury would not pay if violation is reported by the internal Auditor. And since everybody knew the rules, these things ran on auto-pilot. No stress. I am talking about what obtained in Nigeria in the sixties.
Once upon a time, things worked here. It was not always as it is now. And since some of us are still alive, let us RECONNECT to the good old days before it is too late. Soon, and very soon, we would lose those who can reconnect and then the real tragedy for the country will begin. But it is not too late. We still remember how it was done and it can still be done – in our life time.
The third document on the desk of the then senior civil servant was the civil service rules. This document stipulates the conditions of service of the civil servant. If a man or a woman was going to operate this near-perfect system of Budget & Financial Regulations, he/she ought to know the conditions under which he/she can operate. The duties and responsibilities for the civil servant are clearly spelt out here. And so are his benefits.
Today, I wonder how many permanent secretaries have a copy of these three documents on their desks. Not to talk of the Directors and those below. Some may manage to have a copy of the Civil Service Rule while others may still have a copy of the Financial Regulations. But certainly, nobody has a copy of the budget of any financial year on his desk. And that includes the Governor who signed it into law.
We watch helplessly as laws (budget) are being violated year in year out by the highest officers of the land, backed by immunity. And we wonder why Nigeria is in this mess. What else did we expect?
I know it is the soldiers who rubbished all these documents after taking over power in 1966. But then we cannot put all the blame on soldiers. When the civilians came in 1979, nobody remembered the good old days from which most of them benefited. And since 1999 nobody has remembered those days either. But it is not too late.
With these three documents on the desk of every senior civil servant, religiously implemented, and a workable constitution to back them up, corruption will be a thing of the past.
All I have written so far will mean nothing to a population with 20% literacy rate as it is with present-day Nigeria. When the people are not educated, their rights are easily violated. And that is really the beginning of corruption, which is the violation of the rights of people by looting what belongs to them.
Education should not merely be a ministry. It is far more than that. It is, as the heart is to the body, that Education is to a country. It is the most important aspect of a people. Making it just one of the Ministries belittles it considerably and that is pretty unfortunate.
The United Nations recommends that a country should spend NOT less than 26% of its budget on education. In 2004 Nigeria allocated about 2% of its budget to Education. You can now begin to see why there is so much money left idle for looters.
If our National & State Assemblies had adhered to the United Nations recommendation by legislating 26% of the budget for Education, our story would have been different. The reason there is so much looting is that there is so much idle funds flying around.
In those good old days, boarding schools were the in-thing. You could really not consider yourself a secondary school student if you went to a day school – which was rare in my part of the country (Northern Nigeria).
I attended a boarding senior primary school (1960-1962), a boarding secondary school (1963-1969) including the Higher School (HSC) and a boarding University (1970-73), all Government schools, when there was no oil in Nigeria. And many people of my generation have the same story to tell. Then the soldiers came and the story became different.
First, they took over all schools (Mission and Private which were then also boarding). Then they abolished boarding facilities (to free money for looting) and then the schools became what we now have-shadows of their former selves.
How did the governments of yesteryears maintain those boarding schools EFFECTIVELY even when there was no oil? And most of the present looters enjoyed those schools. How callous!
The abolition and/or bastardisation of boarding facilities in our government schools is probably the greatest tragedy that befell us as a nation since independence. Boarding schools served as avenues for national integration. The difference between boarding and day schools is like the difference between day and night. The difference is CLEAR. We must return to those good old days. States must re-establish boarding schools. The advantages are too numerous to count.
Balanced diets for children at their tender ages
Sports (inter house) and the spirit of sportsmanship
Debating and world affairs societies that promote self-confidence
Boys Scout/Girls Guide & Red Cross/Crescent societies that teach lessons in sacrifice. Man-O-War Bay, etc.
Early leadership experiences (room prefect, house prefect, school prefect, etc.)
Extra curriculum activities like Drama, Writing and music that define early career choice
Lessons in etiquette & social behaviour
Housekeeping/Domestic science lessons that define responsible adulthood
All these and more are what is today lacking in present-day government day schools. The products of day schools are simply not comparable to those of boarding schools. No basis for comparison. We must return to the days of good, functional and functioning government boarding schools WHATEVER the cost. If we could do it during the days before the oil boom, we certainly can do it again – even better, with oil. And the time to start is now.
Rather than sell off Federal Unity schools, we should be thinking of making them functional. Indeed we should be thinking of establishing more of such schools NOT abolish existing ones. The governments that built those schools were not stupid. They expect our generation to improve on them NOT abolish them.
As for University education in Nigeria, enough has been written about their sorry state that not much more can be written here. The case for the University is more straight forward. Having been established by law, all that needs to be done is to RUN them according to the laws that established them. Which then takes us back to the issue of budgeting earlier discussed. Once each University budget is incorporated into the Federal or State Budget as the case may be, the budget law becomes sacrosanct. You disobey it at your own peril.
There was even a time in the not-to-distant past when all government Universities were closed for 2 years at a stretch. I do not know of any country anywhere in the world where such a thing can happen. Yet, it happened here before our very eyes and yet we are wondering why we are backward.
Where else were we expecting ourselves to be? Forward? Like other countries? No! You plant cassava, you harvest cassava. You plant orange, you harvest orange. That is natural law. We are backward because we have put education at the back burner of our national life.
When the Regions were operating their separate constitutions pre-1966, the region that gave the most attention to education during the period has emerged today as the most enlightened region of the country. I am referring to the Western part of Nigeria. In virtually all professions-Law, Engineering, Medicine, Teaching, Architecture, even music, those from the western part tower above all others. In virtually all these professions, their number is more than the rest of the country put together. They are now enjoying the fruits of some efforts put in place some fifty years ago.
Education should not just be a Ministry, it should be the heart of our national discourse. Without it, no country, repeat, no country develops. There is just no short-cut to development. There was nothing wrong with our system of education pre-1966. It is still being operated in Britain, Ghana and India & in most commonwealth countries. Let us go back to it:
4 years in Junior Primary
3 years in Senior Primary
5 years in Secondary
2 years in Higher secondary (HSC)
3 years in University
All these 6:3:3:4 or 9:3:4 or whatever we have recently concocted will not work. Let us return to what has worked for us before and is still working for others. There is no need to re-invent the wheel. We have been beating about the bush for too long (nearly 50 years). It is time to return to our roots.
Education is the surest way to fight corruption before it takes root. First, it is more difficult to loot the resources of an educated populace because they know their rights, and secondly, with so much money (26% of budget) allocated to it, there is less money left idle for looters.
Until recently no Nigerian head of government since independence has had any University education. It has all along been a case of the blind leading the blind. M.K.O Abiola would have been the first, but they would not let him. Unfortunately, Yar’Adua and Jonathan were products sponsored by just one man. And these failed because the followership is intellectually barren. Any wonder then that we have been groping in the dark for almost half a century. We are just where we should be.
With a leadership so intellectually barren, where else could we have found ourselves? And with a population even more intellectually barren, ideas have no place to germinate and grow. And countries are built on IDEAS not money. Any wonder then that the United States has more Nobel laureates than the rest of the world put together. Education is the KEY.
To fight corruption, one has to fight the cause NOT the effect.
To get us out of this vicious cycle of corrupt governments, we must settle for workable constitutions both for the Federal and the State governments. If we settle for the presidential system (American-style) then we must settle for the presidential system (American style). We must however acknowledge that ONLY America operates that system. I doubt if we have the intellectual capacity and capability to operate it. But if we insist then it must be the presidential system (American style), complete American style-no more, no less. What we have now (1999) is not American and is not working and won’t work. It CANNOT work.
The parliamentary system has many advantages:
All those in power (Ministers, etc) in government are first and foremost elected. There is no question of a gubernatorial loser emerging as a Minister at the Federal level. Someone who was rejected by his own people emerging as a Minister which in the Nigerian context wields more power than the governor who defeated him. This cannot happen in a parliamentary system.
The government (Federal or State) is a subset of the parliament. In other words, no additional overhead cost.
Power is not in the hands of any particular one person. The Prime Minister is merely first among equals in the cabinet. There is no room for primitive warlords (governors) to make wild appointments that undermine the Civil Service and its near perfect system.
There is no room for lobbying to pass bills or approve persons for Ministerial posts. Such persons are already members of the house.
Overhead costs for running government are greatly reduced under the parliamentary system. The civil service is strengthened in the process.
No immunity for anyone so budgets were religiously implemented.
All key political office holders sit together in the same chamber – the parliament, all elected. Unlike a situation, like now, where the most powerful executive body (FEC) is made up of mainly unelected members. How can any meaningful discussion take place between a man and his appointees?
Having said all of above, whichever system we finally settle for (presidential or parliamentary) must be decided by the people. Hence the need for a National Referendum. The people must decide how they want to be governed. Any system without an active participation of the people is already a corrupt system and it will breed corruption.
We must bring back the important role a budget plays in the life of a country. The Budget is not just a ritual, as has been the case these nearly 50 years. The budget, once passed becomes a LAW. It is to be implemented meticulously, rigorously and even religiously. Stiff penalties must be prescribed for violators. That is how other countries, which have made progress, treat their budgets. Budgets are serious documents. And they are complimented by the Financial Regulations and the Civil Service Rules.
One of the most developed countries of the world, Italy, has changed governments more frequently than the number of years since World War II yet, because of a virile civil service, the country continued to develop. It shows that it is the Civil Service that actually runs governments. And the documents, the Civil Service relies upon are Budget, Financial Regulations and the Civil Service Rule. We did it before and we can do it again. Corruption was tamed using these instruments.
With these three documents firmly in place and religiously adhered to, the business of government can run on auto-pilot, almost corruption-free. They were after all, designed to promote efficiency and check corruption.
If the leaders are not educated and the led are just as ignorant, no system of government, no matter how good will help. Education is therefore the key to progress. Anything less than the 26% of the Budget on education, prescribed by the United Nations, is not good enough. Education is more important than ALL the other ministries put together.
Let us therefore seek first the kingdom of education and we shall discover that all other things will be ours.
Corruption can be tamed. We cannot fight it AFTER it has happened. We must fight it BEFORE it rears its ugly head. And the instruments of our warfare are:
A workable constitution
Respect for the Budget and the instruments of implementation.
A sound education for all.
That is my recipe for a corruption-free Nigeria.
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