Grimot Nane Zine

The Important Lesson from #FasholaGate: Faceless, Nameless and Objectless

Usually, corruption scandals in Nigeria are typically “nameless” and “faceless” after the fact. The best’ name and face’ a member of public or even a prosecutor usually gets are that of an individual(s) who acts as a ‘representative’ for any given scandal that covers if not ignores the names and faces of the numerous other individuals that co-participated in the act. Is such not like dying for the corruption of all one’s followers? However, it is one primary reason why corruption persists in Nigeria.

Namelessness and facelessness in corruption or misgovernance can be a very insidious thing. The ‘face and name’ in governance needs defining in terms of the ‘object’, which is, in this case, a specific act of corruption and full details. Many Nigerians can give countless instances of acts of corruption, but not many can triangulate a face, name and object to it in concrete terms to those case. BudgIT, the Lagos the analytical firm that exposes the Lagos State N78.3 million website contract can, therefore, be said to revolutionary in its disclosure of the case to the public. Civil society anti-corruption groups are also taking this innovative approach to disclosing cases of corruption.

Ex-Governor Babatunde Fashola’s N78.3 million website scandal puts a distinct name and face to a particular and outrageous act of corruption. Fashola was not alone in whatever corruption he might have indulged in during his eight years as Governor. How about the commissioners, the heads of agencies, the assemblymen, senior civil servants, consultants and contractors who benefitted handsomely from corruption under Fashola? Is Fashola going to be the ‘sole representative’ of Lagos State corruption, to be “crucified” at the stake of anti-corruption? At the same time, co-participants enjoy impunity and further their political careers (and corruption) unobstructed? And how about Fashola’s predecessor?

James Onanefe Ibori, ex-Governor of Delta State is in jail for money laundering of Delta State’s income in the United Kingdom. The hundreds of other individuals that co-participated in corruption during Ibori’s tenure have won elections as governors, senators and other elected offices. Some of the co-participants have also continuously been in high office by way of political appointments. If Delta State public officials were thoroughly prosecuted for corruption in Ibori’s time, the political terrain would be very different today due to the large number of key players that would be in jail. Ibori was the ‘representative name and face’ for Delta State corruption, and all the other crooks are running free. Yet, it is hard to present substantive cases of corruption against Ibori’s name and face in Nigeria.

Godwin Nwaobi, an economist, noted that in the early millennium (circa 2000-2003) Vincent Azie undertook a very excellent audit of government expenditure. It was so good, Olusegun Obasanjo sacked him for performing far better than expected as Auditor-General of the Federation. A serving Representatives was reimbursed over a billion naira for his wife’s medical treatment in the USA. Over a billion naira! This Representative had no ‘face or name’ in the public eye even though he received the payment. The name of alleged Representative in question is withheld because no formal evidence of the fact has been viewed. Surprisingly such dealing at the National Assembly did not make “scandal status”. There was an object but no face and no name. Such is typical in Nigeria.

The proceeds from corruption in the highly avaricious ‘forms applications’ industry are also secretly shared by nameless and faceless government officials. University entry forms, school certificate examination forms, passport application forms, job employment forms etc. generate billions of naira in surpluses for their respective departments/agencies every year. Still, they are “swallowed” very quietly. No significant scandals come from such fraudulent activities which milk mostly the poor and the average man for the carefree free-flowing benefit of the rich, and it is getting worse.

The masses react to announcements of major thefts of public funds that are without faces and names or without serious/concrete proof (though readily available) or without serious prosecution (though easily possible) with the resignation “them don chop our money again“. Those who rob the country blind love the namelessness or facelessness associated with their crimes.

The judges that constitute the judiciary in the separation of power and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) officials are known shockingly to prefer dealing with cases of nameless and faceless corruption to those with names and faces. Submit a petition in a given agency to a given court or the EFCC with sufficient evidence without a name and face; they will be unto it in no time. Submit the same case with the names Mr A, Mrs B, Chief C and Dr D, the reluctance to investigate the case will be tempestuous.

Debo Adeniran, the Executive Director of Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) has publicly affirmed, emphatically, that several petitions were written to the EFCC to probe the mega debts built up by Fashola’s administration in Lagos State but they were routinely ignored. Such corruption supporting behaviour by the EFCC has seriously undermined the energetic anti-corruption activities such civil society groups, but the tide appears to be changing.

As earlier stated, it appears the most viable engines for making corruption in Nigeria have visible names and faces are civil society or independent anti-corruption groups. These include BudgIT, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) Socio-Economic Rights Accountability Project (SERAP), Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC) and others.

Under President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, it appears ‘nameless and faceless’ corruption is a thing of the past. Or is it? Confidence in the legal system and EFCC are rock bottom. Judges are emerging as some of the most corrupt public officials in Nigeria and EFCC officials are probably far ahead; between them, they keep corruption “nameless” and “nameless” and even “objectless”.

Anti-corruption no easy O!

Grimot Nane

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