Rebasing Corruption, By Minabere Ibelema
If you are a sceptic, you may want to skip reading this column. It requires that you suspend belief for a while and just go along.
Early in April, Nigeria became the largest economy in Africa by rebasing the GDP. That was said to place the country in a more vantage position to attract foreign investment. What if we double up on that advantage by also rebasing corruption?
In rebasing the GDP, Nigeria added aspects of economic productivity that were not being counted. Rebasing corruption would entail an opposite process: to remove some hitherto included transgressions from the definition of corruption.
Where rebasing the GDP made us the largest economy, rebasing corruption could make us the least corrupt, perhaps in the world. With the largest economy and lowest corruption, Nigeria would become a magnet for international investment. Even businesses that had long shunned us would come flocking in.
A stroke of brilliance, wouldn’t you say? Alas, the credit shouldn’t come to me. It should go to Ekpo Nta, the chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission. Though Nta didn’t propose the idea, he planted the seed.
The ICPC boss said recently that the embezzlement of government funds is theft but not corruption. As The PUNCH paraphrased him on May 19, “Nta noted that most Nigerians, including the educated, did not quite understand what constituted corruption and stressed that it was wrong to classify theft as such.”
“Stealing is erroneously reported as corruption,” Nta is quoted as saying.
As a lecturer in journalism, I appreciate the importance of fine distinctions in usage. I stress to students, for example, the importance of distinguishing between persuade and convince, robber and burglar, and damage and destroy.
Even then, I couldn’t help wondering whether the ICPC boss doesn’t deserve the rebuke he got from readers who posted comments to the story.Good intentions aside, his excising of theft from corruption has the effect of rebasing the latter.
Classifying theft of public funds as corruption is rather universal. To make this point, readers of The PUNCH story posted definitions from various dictionaries.They all concur that corruption encompasses all misuse of public office for one’s pecuniary benefits.
What the ICPC boss is saying, of course, is that taking ownership of public funds (theft) is different from enriching oneself through such acts as bribery, kickbacks and inflation of contracts (corruption).But then, theft of public funds often relies on the same disguises as the grafts for which the learned barrister would have us reserve the term corruption.
When public officials embezzle money, they don’t usually do what armed robbers do, which is to grab and run. Rather, they cook the books, as U.S. journalists like to say. That is, they make false claims of expenses, which their subordinates then conceal with accounting subterfuge.
Now compare this with instances of spending more on projects after the contractor has paid honourable officials the difference between the real and inflated costs. In both instances, public funds are siphoned. It is just a matter of the mechanism.
For European countries, the kickback form of corruption is of the most concern. A European Union study published in February estimates that up to 25 per cent of procurement expenditure is lost through inflated pricing and kickbacks. For Nigeria, my guess is that the “cooked book” mechanism is as haemorrhaging as the procurement method, perhaps more so.
I couldn’t tell from the article why the learned barrister finds the distinction between embezzlement and corruption so germane at this time. I am not aware of any further elaboration, as is warranted by a matter about which Nigerians feel so sore.
Of all the possibilities, none is theoreticallyas profitable as the rebasing of corruption. Problem is that while the rebasing of the GDP has been globally accepted as valid, our rebasing of corruption will be fodder for comics.
And that raises the question, why bother with the distracting distinction?
Military’s request for more money
The Nigerian military are asking for more funds to improve their capacity to combat Boko Haram. And they want their funding to bypass the usual budgetary allocation process.
“It is our humble appeal that government could evolve other means of funding and supporting military operations other than the normal budgetary allocations,” The PUNCH quoted Maj. Gen. Abdullahi Muraina, the Chief of Accounts and Budget (army), as saying.
“A special operation fund could be included in defence budget and placed under the control of the Chief of Army Staff.”
Given the evident failures of the military to react promptly enough to Boko Haram attacks and to even protect the troops, it is evident that much upgrading is needed. But given the resounding issue of corruption in the military, they have a lot to do to persuade the people that the problem is primarily insufficiency and routing of funds.
Isthe U.S. copping out on Boko Haram?
Talking of capacity building, the Nigerian military continue to take a battering in the U.S. press. The New York Times had this damning headline in its May 24 issue: “Nigeria’s army holding up hunt for taken girls.”
I was quite startled by that headline, which suggests that the Nigerian military were blocking international rescuers’ access to the girls.
But the real point is encapsulated in this summation: “That the hopes of many across the globe rest on such a weak reed as the Nigerian military has left diplomats here in something of a quandary about the way forward. The Nigerian armed forces must be helped, they say, but are those forces so enfeebled that any assistance can only be of limited value?” That’s pretty damning stuff.
But then in a summation revised out from an earlier version of the story, the Times report that even the U.S. military doubt that they can rescue the girls.
“(U.S.) military leaders worry that they might be ordered to send in commandos to undertake a mission they regard as unacceptably risky,” the Times reported. “(The) United States has not sent troops, and is unlikely to do so, in part because the girls are not believed to still be in one place, and because of the risks in attempting such a large-scale rescue over a vast expanse.”
It all raises the question, are Americans denigrating the Nigerian military over a task their military cannot perform?
Do not hesitate to leave your opinion in the comment section below.
To contact Abusidiqu.com for Article Submission and Advertisement or General inquiry, send a mail to email@example.com