In a move that can be described as both crucial and timely, President Muhammadu Buhari, this week, directed officials of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to go after Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) that have yet to enroll on the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) and government e-payment platform.
The president gave the charge at the National Summit on Diminishing Corruption in the Public jointly organised by the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).
The president’s directive is crucial if only for the fact that he has reiterated the desire of his administration to check widespread corruption in the country’s higher education institution, especially university, which prides itself as a vanguard in the fight against corruption.
It is also timely because some universities are threatening to shun warning given by the government to get enrolled into the IPPIS because the system has not taken care of some of their peculiarities such as visiting lecturing, sabbatical and adjunct staffing and others too numerous and equally too flimsy to mention.
The president said his directive on IPPIS is intended to halt the padding of personnel budgets, diversion or misappropriation of capital budgets and other forms of corruption perpetrated in universities, who, through the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), have vehemently resist IPPIS for no good reasons.
To highlight how timely and crucial his warning are, the president said: “I am aware that the Commission recently conducted system studies and review of many MDAs to evaluate systems and processes relating to transparency and accountability in personnel and capital spending through which you successfully blocked over N9bn from being diverted from 2019 personnel budget.”
Of course, that action taken by the ICPC, like the president said, was a proactive one meant to prevent occurrence of corruption. “I have directed that all agencies of government must get on the IPPIS in order to eliminate the padding of personnel budgets,” he said.
Additionally, the president spoke on the vex issue of constituency projects corruptly used to be undertaken by members of the National Assembly. Lamentably, the president said that N1 trillion was expended by the federal government on such corrupt projects without results.
“It is on record that in the past 10 years N1trn has been appropriated for constituency projects yet the impact of such huge spending on the lives and welfare of ordinary Nigerians can hardly be seen,” he said. “I am, therefore, delighted that through the effort of ICPC some contractors are returning to site to execute projects hitherto abandoned.”
It is regrettable that, often times, the legislators had to tinker with the budget in order to insert what they call constituency projects. The constituency projects are any community project inserted into the budget by legislators.
But, in reality, they represent the means through which resources are siphoned for private use by the legislators in collaboration with some government officials.
Interestingly, similar projects meant for communities in the budget, initiated by MDAs, are not seen as constituency project and, therefore, are hardly funded. Of course, we all know that resources meant for execution of projects are limited while the projects are unlimited.
No doubt, the arrangement where sometimes silly constituency projects are prioritised in the budget at the expense of others is not proper. And a situation where a legislator lays claim to ownership of a project in his constituency is a jeopardy.
It would be recalled, in this respect, how two senators, from Ogun State, Gbenga Kaka and Buruji Kashamu, engaged themselves in a verbal war over the ownership of constituency projects in the area with one of the senators erecting sign boards at the sites of the projects.
Of course, there is also the issue of who should implement constituency projects. Is it the legislature or the executive? The claim that lawmakers don’t get cash for any constituency project and that once lawmakers suggests project, the execution of such projects is the prerogative of the executive branch is unbelievable chiefly because it is an open secret that some legislators are also the contractors selected to execute their nominated projects.
Although constituency projects are advertised as required by law, lawmakers have devised ways of ensuring that only companies fronting for them or those belonging to their cronies get chosen to do jobs.
But why, in the first place, should projects be designated as constituency projects? Whether or not a project is nominated by a legislator, once it is in the budget, the legislator in whose constituency it is located ought to show patriotic interest in such projects.
In an ideal situation and with a proactive oversight strategy in place, legislators are better placed to act as a check on the execution of projects. But if, like it happens in Nigeria, lawmakers get themselves involved in the process of project execution, they can easily get compromised and become incapable of carrying out their oversight functions.
In fact, same goes for the universities whose members of staff, especially lecturers, are supposed to lead from the front in the country’s fight against corruption.
Therefore, for the legislators and ASUU, this is the best time for stocktaking and reflection to act in the interest of the country, not selfishly.
The president, on his part, it’s heartwarming to hear him say that the ICPC has his support and the support of this government to do what is right, hold to account contractors, complicit public servants and project sponsors who divert funds meant for constituencies.
Thankfully too, the president said that his administration would continue to support anti-corruption agencies to recover ill-gotten wealth and prosecute offenders.
Buhari and reorganisation at the Presidency
President Muhammadu Buhari, this week, explained that the ongoing reorganisation at the Presidency is aimed at enhancing service delivery to Nigerians.
Speaking shortly after his arrival from London, the president said it is unfortunate that the recent disengagement of some political appointees from the presidency was given ‘‘ethnic and political’’ interpretations.
“35 people were sacked in the Vice President’s office. We just created some ministries and we reorganised and people are giving it ethnic and political dimensions. It is unfortunate,” he said.
Yes, it is unfortunate but it is also surprising to hear the president say that his government’s action of reducing the size of government in order to cut cost and enhance efficiency was given ethnic and political colouration mainly because it has always been so.
Actions, no matter how lofty and patriotic in Nigeria, are viewed from the realms of religion and ethnicity but that cannot be otherwise chiefly because in Nigeria political favours are usually acquired or dished through those channels.
Thus, it is easy for those who lose their positions, regardless of the circumstances, to quickly rally members of their community and claim victimisation as reason for their ouster when in reality they do not, in their action or responsibility, represent the community but themselves.
However, reducing the size of particularly the Presidency and enhancing efficiency in its affairs should go beyond the reduction in the number of personnel. The elimination and reorganisation of some of the unnecessary programmes and agencies should be part of the goals.
What is needed is a Presidency without bloated workforce, compact, effective and efficient in service delivery and a one that despises misspending the people’s money on especially the appointment of aides and comforts. What will help in that respect is, like the president has said, for staff to work harder, be accountable to the people and the nation and try their best to explain why government does some things or carries out some actions as doing so is essential in order to close some kind of communication gaps that often times gives rise to fake news and manipulations.
But, importantly, in order to make any kind of reorganisation meaningful and appreciated, whoever is responsible for government property should realise that public property is not personal and must be managed in accordance with the law.
Ideally, all Nigerians should, like the president, members of his administration and few others outside, despise and shun corruption and always act in the best interest of the country because this is the only way to develop as a people and country.