Author: Ebuka Onunaiwu
Corruption in Nigeria has been described by many people, in many ways, with different adjectives. One prominent adjective that has however been consistently “systemic”. We often hear statements like, “Corruption in Nigeria is systemic”, or “Nigeria suffers from systemic corruption”. For many like me who have often wondered what this means, this basically posits that corruption is part of the Nigerian system and, therefore, manifests across all its institutions, regardless of the years of complaints voiced both locally and internationally by citizens and other concerned stakeholders. Fortunately, the current administration has chosen to take a different – and certainly more inclusive – approach to tackling this menace by introducing a tactic that has made its way across news rounds more frequently in the past days: whistleblowing.
The origin of the word whistleblowing dates to the 19th Century, when law enforcement agents, referees in a football games or other sports, and the public used whistles to alert people to an occurrence. However, this contextual meaning is said to have been assigned by a United States activist named, Ralph Nader. While we may not be able to determine exact dates, whistleblowing was introduced in Nigeria, we do know that is has been a long existing policy in both private and public institutions, but its functionality has been more effective in the private sector, until now. With the new whistleblowing policy introduced by the current Ministry of Finance – which gives a percentage of recovered ‘looted public fund’ to the whistleblower – whistleblowing in the public sector has certainly gained quick popularity.
As at March 2017, the Ministry reported that it had received a total of 2,351 tips on cases bordering on embezzlement of government funds. To state actual amounts, the federal government has been able to retrieve a total of N73 billion in funds from tips from whistleblowers, broken down accordingly: $151 million (N46 billion) from a fake account; N49 million at the stop-gap Kaduna Airport; N8 billion of looted funds, $9.777.8 (N3 billion) recovered from a former Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC); N15 billion from an apartment in Ikoyi, Lagos; and N448,850 million from a plaza in Lagos.
It is imperative to categorically state that the monies listed above represent our collective fund as a nation and could have been used to address any of the plethora of challenges plaguing us as a nation in the past and even now. These stolen funds could have been pumped into our ailing health sector to reduce the high maternal mortality rate, or to construct – at the very least – 4,500 healthcare centres at N15,000,000 each, or to purchase 10 radiotherapy machines which can help combat cancer that kills about 80,000 annually in Nigeria.
Alternatively, these monies could have been used to spark productivity in the agricultural sector in form of small loans N300,000 or N1,000,000 to about 240,000 farmers, or upgrade 73,000 Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs). The opportunities these funds could have afforded us are innumerable. While we cannot guarantee they would have ‘saved us’ completely, these monies in the hands of responsible and ethical leaders would have created great value, complete with a ripple effect on other industries for years to come.
Generally, this policy has been widely applauded by majority of the Nigerian citizenry, as a positive step towards combating corruption in Nigeria on the one hand, and a source of income to the nation on the other. There are, however, many others with strong reservations about the sustainability of this approach, and more importantly, the ultimate use of the retrieved funds, more so because of the level of distrust in current leadership of the nation. Till date, plans relating to use of funds, and even punishment to be meted out to looters, remain largely unanswered questions that have piqued all out interests. We will, therefore, be watching to closely to determine what really is next.