Opinion: Latest tunes from Kemi Adeosun’s whistle By – TUNJI AJIBADE
Work to improve on a government policy is never one of our strong points in this clime. The normal is that the longer a policy lasts, the worse it becomes, losing bite, losing steam, until it becomes irrelevant. Then, we make another policy, and let it go through the same cycle. So, it’s good song to the ear when it’s announced that a review of an ongoing policy is to be undertaken. The people behind it say it’s to make it better. Whistle-blower policy. The Finance Minister, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, said something about it early April and it caught my attention. That time, she was at a workshop organised by the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption to evaluate the whistle-blower policy and asset tracing.
I think I shouldn’t move on without commenting on the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, and this, for the first time. I do this because some of us aren’t interested in the politics of who’s in power. My concern is ever about how a policy has served our people. PACAC’s mandate is to promote the reform agenda of the government on the anti-corruption effort, and to advise the present administration in the prosecution of the war against corruption and the implementation of required reforms in Nigeria’s criminal justice system. I had followed its activity since it was set up. Not a few are the stones thrown at it. To its credit though, the body has some names that have been closely linked with integrity. Some of them are men who would only say it as they see it, and if anyone says they are overdoing it, they could walk away and return to their professions. No nonsense. It’s what I would do without blinking, any day. For those are men who are keenly aware that a man’s integrity is all that he has. Once he loses it, he loses all. Some of such men in PACAC had been targets of criticisms since their appointments were announced. They remained standing though, and in April they came out to evaluate the anti-corruption battle at a workshop they organised. The committee hasn’t achieved much of what it has the potential for. But, for me, it’s one body that gives one hope, giving a sense of substance to our battle against thieves in high places.
As expected, at the PACAC workshop, Adeosun played the proverbial lizard that jumped down a tall tree and nodded vigorously, praising itself since no one else praised it. “The Federal Government has recovered directly, as a result of tips received from whistle-blowers, the sum of N7.8bn, $378m and £27,800,” Adeosun announced. She didn’t stop there. The outing was an opportunity to make the administration look good and she used it to the fullest. Adeosun said since the whistle-blower policy was introduced in December 2016, the Federal Government had received 8,373 enquiries and 1,231 tips. Out of these tips, a total of 791 investigations had been carried out while 534 of those investigations had been concluded. And as a result, a handsome sum has been recovered from looters. She notes that President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration views the policy as being successful, but there is still work to be done. I take note of this. Work to be done. Adeosun added that the whistle-blower policy was aimed at improving institutional governance, strengthening mechanisms for the fight against corruption and supporting the implementation of open government partnership principles in advancing anti-corruption reforms. She also stated that the government would focus more on tight control measures that would make it difficult for a few people to take away assets that belonged to the entire country. That’s it, a new tune from Adeosun’s whistle, a point that I’m particularly interested in.
I suppose when one is a chronicler of the times, one’s view would be somewhat different. More so if one’s aware of information that can blow minds regarding the level of looting that is taking place in this nation. The current administration had yet to be sworn into office when I personally concluded that the looting was much, but if the incoming government would recover some of our assets, and the channels by which they flowed out were blocked my day would have been made. PACAC says it makes recommendations to the government on these issues. That some make such recommendations is worthy of note, and that some members speak about what many are silent about is worth noting too. A few months ago, PACAC’s chairman, Prof. Itse Sagay, advocated stiff punishment for counsel, particularly Senior Advocates of Nigeria, who had turned obstruction and frustration of proceedings on high-profile corruption cases into an art. Sagay said punishments for SANs must include denial of the right of appearance in such high-profile corruption cases.
There was another occasion when Sagay said the bill seeking to grant amnesty to looters in the House of Representatives was disgraceful. He added that the sponsor of the bill, Mr. Linus Okorie, should be punished. Early 2017, he had said corruption was omnipresent in the country with all segments being affected. He specifically mentioned some agencies which he said were enmeshed in corruption. These were allegations that the bodies mentioned were unable to deny, most of them keeping quiet because someone who had the ears of the President was talking. This is relevant in any fight against a problem that’s so endemic.
This pattern has been followed by the finance minister who appears to be ever on the same page with PACAC. Obviously, Adeosun has been enthusiastic about implementing the recommendations made by the body with regard to how to get back looted funds, and erect barriers against more looting. One could hardly imagine a scenario whereby a finance minister works at cross purposes with the President’s wise men on anti-corruption. Adeosun’s old whistle hadn’t lacked a few of the tunes present in the new one though. Back in December 2016, she had said the Federal Government was set to recover about N450bn operating surpluses that were not returned by 33 Federal Government agencies from 2010 to 2015. That had followed an audit carried out on the agencies in compliance with the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007.
As the minister announced this, she added that some of the agencies had started returning various sums, saying that N640m had been received from the Nigeria Shippers Council, for instance. She noted that the total independent revenue generated between January and October 2016 was N272.03bn but there was a projected increase to N811.03bn as recovery of amounts owed continued. She said the audit revealed that there was a lot of non-remittances and under-remittances of operating surpluses and that some agencies were operating without an approved budget. There were also overstating of budget and spending above budgeted amounts, failure to reconcile accounts and existence of irreconcilable differences. The audit also showed that there was under-reporting of revenues, failure to submit audited financial statements, payroll fraud and exaggeration of payroll costs, over-payment of staff salaries and abuse of personnel grants. She didn’t stop there. She said there was unapproved monetisation of medical and other allowances, all of that perpetrated by those who were in agencies where they should serve the people; we haven’t even come to politicians. So, if the reader thinks I’m rather enthusiastic about PACAC and what the finance minister says she’s doing, that’s one reason.
Adeosun even noted that the audit findings in the agencies were so serious that the decision was taken that some of the reports should go to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for prosecution purposes. Now, if one placed all of that against a comment once made by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the reader might just have an idea why I should take note of the latest tunes from Adeosun’s whistle. Treasury looters are the greatest assaults to the collective human rights of Nigerians, Mohammed had said, noting further that such looters had reduced the average Nigerians to nothingness and humiliated the country. We all have what we want to say against each administration, but, to me, if public funds are recovered while efforts are made to restrict access to other looters, I wouldn’t want to lose sight of it. Punch