The Ongoing Probe And The Government Image: Getting Tarnished Or Tarried?

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

Preliminary investigation of financial operations of the various Ministries, Department and agencies (MDA) in Obasanjo’s regime has so far established facts indicating elements of economic crime and corruption. Fake bills of construction work for a fake project littered almost inside all the cubicles of the past regime.

It still amounts to misappropriation of public money. In our view, withdrawing money from the government funds for personal purpose implied misappropriation. Even though the permanent secretary had deposited back the withdrawn amount in the funds, using the government funds for personal reasons leads to misappropriating them

Are the government officials more important than public integrity? Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu questions the haste with which so many ongoing probes in the national assembly have let the culprits off the hook.

Isn’t this a case of deliberate manipulation? A seemingly clear instance of public fund embezzlement and money misappropriation has conveniently been converted into a statistical jigsaw puzzle. Taking the logic out from the controversy, the government’s probe is reducing the issue of public accountability into a fiercely contested debate on whether or not the tests conform to the western norms on probity. Diverting peoples’ attention from the core issue, the government has instead put the lavish life of the past regime before the wellbeing of its people.

A cartoon in a national daily aptly sums up this leadership reported `approving’ more fund to the barren PHCN companies. A fuming shift-operator is shown sharing his anguish: `I’ve lost a few electricity endorsement contracts – looks like politicians are doing a better job for the companies’. By the time Mr. Arizona-Ogwu could contend that his statement on the government’s probe was misquoted, the cat was already out of the bag. The term `clean chit’ has helped the MDAs refurbish the citizens lost faith in accountability and fair governance. If this wasn’t enough, the setting up of a 15-member Ad-hoc Committee inside the upper and the lower chambers of the national assembly to suggest `suitable appropriation standards’ for disbursement of public money has further diluted the impact of the EFCC’s shocking revelation on diverted public money in recent regime.

Whilst the ongoing probe hasn’t contradicted EFCC’s findings, it has shockingly argued that indeed the diversion of public money in the MDAs was within prescribed limits. In doing so, the government has clearly abdicated itself of any responsibility towards its citizens. The MDA’s too have absolved themselves of any responsibility in the process. Transferring the blame to high levels of incompetence and in cost control, the culprits are busy reviving their sagging image.

The opposition and the critics have been suspicious of government’s stand on the issue and smell a deeper conspiracy behind it. By sidestepping the issue of the citizens’ wellbeing, the government has favoured the growing menace of mismanagement in the country, currently estimated at a whopping US$ 18.3 billion. Has the governance system been misappropriated by MDAs? Why else did the government take an unreasonably long time in making public the methodology and the results of the tests conducted at transparency international? Curiously, the government held back the data but made public its intention of giving a clean chit to the culprits despite the fact that some MDA were found to have embezzled money – less than what the EFCC had reported but clearly above the quoted graft limits.

In doing so, the government has helped scuttle the debate over the core issue of consumer transparent and accountable regime. Shockingly, the debate has now shifted to the validity of the EFCC findings vis-à-vis the ad-hoc committees report and the constitutional benchmark on public management norms. The apparent similarity of opinion between the government and the officials has confused the citizens a great deal, to the favour of the culprits only.

The fact that the government took exceptionally long to make public the results of its investigations on the quality of governance uncovers the value its attaches to the issue of the right and freedom of information. Holding back information on critical issues of human wellbeing is seen by many as gross violations of fundamental rights. In a sense, the government has given the culprits the right to sap the hapless citizens, albeit slowly.

By providing unprecedented immunity to government players, the government has unfolded the sheer lack of accountability within the system. In the absence of suitable legislation to reprimand errant culprits the scale of the human tragedy could indeed be unparalleled should widespread economic sabotage occur through stealing public fund! With rural engraftment of the past regime and other relief packages on the rise, the threat from uncontrolled starvation may indeed be grave.

However, the manner in which the government has handled the case thus far indicates that it has been oblivious to the scale of the potential threat. The argument that indeed corruption levels in MDAs are alarmingly high and even without participating most of us would probably imbibe higher levels of assorted deprivation is no justification for the embezzlement of earmarked fund. Elsewhere in Europe and the US the same democracy conforms to stringent standards despite the MDAs being heavily corrupted.

The fact that the issue was brought to light by a non-governmental organization exposes the double-speak of a representative government that vouches for the interests of its people. Even a plethora of Auditor-general of the federation, the security agents and legal institutions in the public domain has failed to meet their primary obligation towards the people.

Notwithstanding the double standards of the MDAs, the fact that the issue was brought to light by a non-governmental organization exposes the double-speak of a representative government that vouches for the interests of its people.. The hypocrisy of pro-people governance lays exposed. To save itself from any further embarrassment, the government has promised to include the EFCC under ‘due processes’ rule such that any corruption can thus be dealt with legally. However, the fact that this were to happen 47 years after independence and that too under social pressure is indication enough that all is not well the way the legislature and the executive has been functioning in the post-independence era.

To expect that the power, aviation, road and NNPC probe controversy will force the government to introspect its inherent weaknesses will be far from reality. However, to bring about any perceptible change in the system the burgeoning middle class will have to wake up from its political and economic slumber. Can the collective conscience of the middle class be shaken to respond to the market onslaught on our lives and culture?

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