Lootocracy And Edo Development
By LEO ATAKPU
There are so many challenges to development in Nigeria; one of them is how to entrench good governance. Since the return to civil rule in 1999 there has been mindless stealing of public funds by the ruling class at the expense of a vast majority of citizens, most of who live in desperate conditions. The actors have built up mansions in major cities across the country and overseas.
There are two governors from the South-South who reportedly built an oil refinery worth several millions of dollars in South Africa, one of the biggest in that country and entrusted it to a white South African businessman. Afraid of the consequences of Nigerians knowing their pillaging of resources, they hid their identities from the official documents of the refinery. When the fortunes of the company rose, posting mouth-watering profits, the white man decided to commit suicide and willed the refinery to his son. Our thieving governors ran to South Africa to commiserate with the young man and used the opportunity to push for the securing of their illicit investments. The young man blew them away and told them to go “I know you not.” All that investments went with the wind. No indigene of their states benefited from that foolish investment.
Much more, the roads being governed by the two governors were in serious state of dilapidation, erosion was devastating almost all parts of the states, electricity supply remained epileptic, water supply infrastructure built all over the two states by a previous military administration and which was flowing well before their foray into the political turf was left to rot and decay, sewerage management was non-existent, youth unemployment figure soared and the Niger Delta crisis grew worse while this stupid investment in South Africa went on.
As a journalist, I have never hidden my disdain for bad governance and stealing of public funds. In 2005, following the obvious looting of public treasury in one of the states, and the public display of such wealth by a serving governor his, relations and cronies I put my pen to paper and published an article entitled “Of State Governors and Thifryngytis.” Expectedly, the article drew the ire of the state. On the day the article was published, I was invited by then General Manager of The Observer on Saturday issued a query and was asked to reply immediately. In few hours, my response was ready. The following day Sunday; I was invited again and issued another letter that my response was unacceptable to management as management claimed “I embarrassed the state government with my article when the paper got to them in Abuja.” The following day, Monday, I was invited along with my boss and were handed indefinite suspension letters.
Two days later, I got a call from my General Manager summoning my boss and me to the office of the commissioner for information. In that office, I was asked over 30 questions in two minutes: Who used you? Who is sponsoring you? Can you substantiate your claims...This and that? But interestingly, after all the bashing and tongue-lashing, we were set free by the commissioner-led panel. We returned to our duty posts and by the following weekend, I had another stinker entitled “Let Biafra Go” in my column; “The Other Side.” The material was collected when it was about to be filmed by the General Manager who ordered that everything relating to the article should be deleted from our computers. He invited me to his office and instructed me to stop writing articles. He informed my boss to dislodge my weekly column. And as the Great Benin Monarch, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Erediauwa would prefer entitling one of his treatises, I replied: “I remain Sir, Your Obedient Servant.” Today, I remain vindicated as the long arm of the law has embraced the affected governor.
But Nigeria is one country where people don’t learn from history or the mistakes of others.
The facts that keep tumbling out on a daily basis from the Assets verification Committee set up by the new Edo State Government has given serious room for worry as it becomes increasingly clear that the 18-month rule of the immediate past government was spent stealing the state blind by a few public office holders. The committee was told how over N2billion was looted in the Edo State Urban Water Board. The committee is being told how several million of naira were moved in cash by officials of the board, with highly placed public officers who were supposed to hold those offices in trust for the people behind the scene.
It is more of a pity when viewed from the point that the money was the money which accrued to the state from the Paris Club debt relief gain. The federal government is channeling such monies to alleviate poverty in the country so as to be able to meet the Millennium Development Goals. At the moment, access to water and sanitation has remained a tall order in the country, so meeting the MDG 7 target 10 which is halving the number of those without water by half by 2015 has been a priority of the federal government. At the moment, following the assessments carried out by different groups Nigeria is said to be off-track in meeting the UN Millennium Development Goal for water. With the revelations at the Assets verification committee it is clear why Nigeria will not meet the targets, why the urban poor in Edo are being cut off from potable water supply.
Despite the huge amount of money that went to the Urban Water Board, practically nothing was released for the reactivation of the urban water facilities across the urban areas of Edo State by the board. Only last week, the Onojie of Ekpoma, HRH Zaiki Anthony Ehizojie Abumere told the visiting Edo governor that “Water, the basic need of life, remain our greatest problem in this part of Edo State”, yet the Urban Water Board officials were withdrawing billions of naira in cash and sharing the monies among high government officials.
The lesson from the Urban Water Board sleaze is that if the Assets Verification Committee searchlight is beamed on other Ministries, Department, Agencies (MDAs) for just the last 18 months, all Edo citizens would hold their mouths open in bewilderment for days for the revelations that will come out. Bad governance is not only suffered by the poor. The rich also cry from the wickedness of stilling from the public till. I recall one experience. A former Commissioner for Health, Mr. Godwin Ovbiagele slumped during the state executive meeting, he was promptly rushed to the Central Hospital Annex in GRA just behind the venue of the meeting. The hospital was meant for “big men”. Ovbiagele was on the fat side and a workaholic and an intelligent one at that, and they needed just oxygen to revive him. They combed the entire hospital they could not get oxygen, they rushed to the main Central Hospital complex. They crossed the road to the Children medical centre, no oxygen.
After some hours the man died. If they had oxygen in that hospital, Ovbiagele would not have died. But here was Ovbiagele who presided over one of the juiciest ministries in the state. The administration received several millions of dollars from the World Bank to boost healthcare delivery in the state outside the regular huge annual budgetary allocations to the ministry, and we were being told in the media that Edo State health care has been greatly improved and was on its way to eldorado, yet when the commissioner slumped, there was no oxygen anywhere in the hospital to save his life. This is a typical case study of the disincentive of corruption and bad governance. Now that he is dead will he use any money kept in any bank account?
Ovbiagele is not alone. There are so many Ovbiageles in our society. We look for money and steal money as if we require using it in our graves. Some of us are living the lives for our children and grand children under the guise they don’t want them to suffer. Some go to the extent of writing examinations for their children. What a pity for our society.
Besides this example, the rich in Benin and other parts of the state use the same road with the poor, they suffer the same impact of erosion and many more.
There is no way a society where there is massive looting of public funds anywhere in the world that can develop. So, there must be an end to stealing of public funds if Edo State must develop. The ancient city has the track record of a pace setter, even in the days of Bendel. In the present democratic rule, Edo is already showing the light with the landmark legal battle to regain a stolen mandate, a feat yet to be achieved by any other state in the country. It is getting clear that those who stole the mandate in Edo were indeed, incurable crooks! They are Thieves!!
Despite, the activities of the Independent Corrupt and Other related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) it seems there have not been enough enforcement of laws against looting of public funds. There have not been enough deterrence in the country because despite the huge oil windfalls, improved taxes, poverty is worsening by the day.
One wonders what public office holders enjoy in rendering other citizens poor by their stealing culture. Professor Omololu Omatola, a retired University don notes that “over the years researchers have taken the study of corruption into a broader term by dividing it into many parts. These are as follows: political corruption, bureaucratic corruption, electoral corruption, social corruption and economic corruption.”
He further states that “Lootocracy (government by-looting of state treasury) is a type of corruption that occurs when theft of public assets by officials charged with their stewardship takes place.
“It is a corruption normally associated with government officials pocketing of tax revenue or fees with collusion of tax payer in effect combining theft with bribery, corruption of lootocracy type can also involve embezzlement of public property such as cars, furniture, office equipment from government or state cooperation treasuries using all sorts or tricks or extend advances to themselves that are never repaid or draw pay off fictitious “ghost” workers.”
Professor Omatola concludes that “Lootocracy thrives most in senior level of bureaucracy when auctioning and selling public assets or allocating public properties. Under this form of abuse of public offices, political associates, clients and friends are rewarded handsomely.”
The 18-month rule of people who styled themselves as “Edo for Excellence” is now being proved beyond reasonable doubts that they were leaders and apostles of”“Edo for Lootocracy.”
It is, however, heartwarming to note that since the commencement of the Comrade Adams Oshiomhole-led administration in the state, he has made it clear that he is committed to the entrenchment of good governance and one approach he has adopted is the fight against graft.
Again, Edo is holding the torch for others to emulate. We believe that what is happening in the state is not only putting past public office holders on notice as the long arm of the law will soon catch up with them, but it is a clear message that all those currently working with the comrade governor risk going to jail if they perpetrate corruption or lootocracy.