The President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration has made the fight against corruption a top priority and, since its assumption of office in 2015, re-affirmed its commitment to wrestle the monster of corruption.
Thus, this week, the President flayed what he termed as the tendency of some local government chief executives to encourage corruption at the third tier of the government system.
The President believes that such a tendency inhibits development at the grassroots where the majority of the people are found and engage in mostly farming and other small-scale economic activities.
The President spoke when he hosted the members of the Senior Executive Course (SEC) No. 44 (2022) of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Jos, Plateau State.
After he has listened to comments on the presentation of Course 44, themed ‘‘Strengthening Local Governance in Nigeria: Challenges, Options and Opportunities,” the President said: ‘‘I found it necessary to digress after reading my speech and this digression is as a result of my personal experience.
“… if the money from the Federation Account to a state is about N100 million, N50 million will be sent to the chairman but he will sign that he received N100 million. The governor will pocket the balance and share it with whoever he wants to share it with.
‘‘And then the chairman of the local government must see how much he must pay in salaries and to hell with development. When he pays the salaries of the big man, the balance he will put in his pocket. This is what’s happening. This is Nigeria! It’s a terrible thing; you cannot say the person who was doing this is not educated.”
Corruption at the local government level takes various forms including contract fraud, bribery and kickbacks, ghost workers, security vote slush funds, favouritism, outright embezzlement and even some ostensibly legal activities. Deeply ingrained, adaptable and often quite innovative, these forms of corruption mirror those used by state and federal officials.
The kleptocratic capture of local government is orchestrated by governors, tolerated by state legislators and perpetuated by its local beneficiaries. These elites habitually rig local governments’ elections. In fact, in the majority of the local elections held over the last decade, the state governor’s party achieved a clean sweep.
Therefore, irked by this unhealthy and corrupt situation, the President urged public officeholders to be guided by their conscience and personal integrity wherever they find themselves.
However, while the President is right to lampoon corrupt practices at the local government level, the fact is, corruption pervades all levels of government in the country, causing a massive strain on public resources and eroding citizens’ trust and confidence in the system.
Successive governments have devised numerous ways of tackling this threat, particularly since the country’s return to civilian rule, passing legislation and setting up anti-corruption agencies with a mandate to independently investigate, prosecute and prevent corruption.
Though frequently overlooked, the country’s local governments are disproportionately important. If they function well, they would be best positioned to meet people’s basic needs and to build their resilience to cope with everyday challenges.
In reality, however, no local government in Nigeria works for the people. Instead, every household is its local government, sourcing its basic needs such as water, electricity, education and healthcare however it can. Exhausted by local government kleptocracy, a system in which those who govern steal from the governed, Nigerians understand that they must fend for themselves.
As the President said, local government administration is fundamentally corrupt, flawed by design and not fit for purpose. State and local elites use it to enrich themselves, build patronage networks and manipulate political outcomes.
Monumentally wasteful, local governments have provided barely any public goods and services despite gulping over N16.4 trillion in national petroleum and tax revenues between 2011 and 2021.
At the same time, state governments have spent an estimated N93.5 billion annually for overseeing local government affairs, a staggering amount to simply administer other administrators.
The corruption-induced failure of local government inflicts severe grassroots-level socioeconomic damage and makes it harder for communities to cope with rising poverty, worsening insecurity and the creeping climate change. In both impoverished rural areas and the country’s rapidly growing cities, rapacious local governments are unable to meet their constituents’ basic infrastructure, healthcare and education needs.
Agreed, corruption is not the only reason for local government dysfunction, but it is the root cause. It also underpins other failures such as over-centralisation, democratic erosion, outside interference and inadequate resources as well as mismanagement, unaccountability, and waste. These challenges cannot be addressed without taking into account how corruption fuels them.
Therefore, corruption, at the local government level is a problem that must be addressed. Corruption at that level fuels democratic backsliding, communal conflict and poverty. By hurting governance outcomes at the subnational level, local government corruption is quietly hobbling the country’s economy.
On Osinbajo’s Vietnam outing…
In faraway Vietnam, Vice President Yeni Osinbajo stressed the need for massive foreign investment in the country, saying that Nigeria is the best and most natural destination for investment in Africa.
Osinbajo said so during a meeting with the Vietnamese President, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and urged the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to leverage the cherished friendship with Nigeria to gain entry into Nigeria and Africa’s vast markets.
Nigeria has the largest economy and population in Africa and it is projected to be the third-largest population in the world by 2050.
Rightly, Osinbajo called on Vietnam to deepen the existing diplomatic relations it has with Nigeria for economic development, especially in the areas of agriculture, telecommunications and oil and gas.
According to him, Nigeria remains the most intuitive place to do business and despite the economic slowdown in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s GDP growth has been positive for the last seven quarters.
“Apart from being the most populous country in Africa, Nigeria also has the continent’s largest economy, accounting for over 20% of continental GDP,” he said.
“The Nigerian private sector has undertaken large path-breaking investments in the country in agriculture, manufacturing, petrochemicals, finance, telecommunications and the digital economy. Our people are renowned for being energetic and tech-savvy, with over 60% of the population below 25 years of age.”
There is no gainsaying the fact that Nigeria is endowed with an unquantifiable amount of mineral deposits and a ready market of over 200 million people. Not many countries in the world can boast of that. Only six countries have more population than Nigeria. They are China, India, the USA, Indonesia, Pakistan and Brazil
That is a very huge economic advantage that would attract any producer of goods and services.
However, Nigeria needs a very strong infrastructural base to go with a robust Ease of Doing Business policy and an environment that is devoid of systemic corruption.
Of course, other factors make the Nigerian environment very hostile for legitimate businesses to thrive. For instance, according to a report on a popular online news website, “The cost of transporting a container from Apapa port to Ikeja, Lagos, has increased from ₦300,000 as of 2018 to ₦1.6 million or more in 2021. This represents an increase of about 400% at the minimum. On the other hand, the cost of trucking the same container from Ikeja to Kano has only hovered around ₦600,000 within the period under review.”
This is so because people would encounter countless uniformed men on the road, waiting to fleece them of whatever they think they are entitled to.
Therefore, while the issues raised by Osinbajo on the investible climate in Nigeria cannot be controverted, there remains plenty to be done by the government to make the country an irresistible nation as far as investments are concerned.
The government should do the most fundamental of its functions – provision security for lives and property, put infrastructures in place, and watch foreign investors fall on themselves in a bid to grab a piece of the abundant investment opportunities in Nigeria.