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OPINION

Looted Funds And Nigeria’s Public Accountability Gaps

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By Dakuku Peterside*

Nigeria lately has been lucky, though, for the wrong reasons. Money has metaphorically been falling from the sky when the nation is in severe economic distress and needs every dollar to meet its obligations. First, it was the series of Abacha loots. From the United States alone, approximately $332.4 million were recovered. Between March 2021 and May 2022, €6,324,627 was recovered from foreign countries, according to the former Justice Minister, Abubakar Malami. This is among recoveries from other countries. The latest is from unknown persons and unidentified sources in Jersey, a Channel Island. The funds worth $8.9m are believed to be proceeds of corruption disguised as government-sanctioned contracts in 2014 for arms purchases but diverted to shell companies. The silent heist in Nigeria is not executed with masks and guns but with pens and deceit. The nation is robbed of her promise with the bleeding dry of public funds. In the dance of corruption, Nigeria’s public funds are the unwilling partner, waltzing away from the grasp of those who need it the most. The key actors are those we entrust with our commonwealth.

These alleged looted funds, though were never declared missing before being recovered now,  raise a lot of fundamental questions and concerns about our public finance management and accounting systems. To the best of my knowledge, our government has never declared any fund missing, our auditors never raised any red flags about some money that cannot be traced, and nobody has been prosecuted on account of public funds traced to foreign countries. Since there is no justification for this kind of unaccounted fund that escaped our public finance gatekeepers and National Assembly oversight, the proper inferences to draw are; whether there is a failure of our public finance management system, official fraud, or we are simply a criminal enterprise posing as a responsible Sovereign.

This issue is not peculiar to Nigeria though. The United States, the bastion of democracy and policeman of transparency, once invited Ernst and Young to audit the Pentagon as its Department of Defence is called. The auditor, mid-way into the exercise, concluded that the financial records of the Pentagon were riddled with irregularities to the extent that a reliable audit was simply impossible. However, the US case is a different context; some funds were untraceable, leading to significant changes.

The Nigerian case is hard to understand. Almost all recovered looted funds can be traced to government officials under the guise of legitimate transactions but end up in private accounts abroad.  Yet nobody is punished, not even the civil servants who are the enablers and the contractors who serve as conduits are called to account.

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Each time news of the discovery or recovery of looted funds breaks, we are happy. However, the painful realisation that each recovered loot speaks to the gaps in our governance accounting and audit reporting system is yet to dawn on us. The brazenness with which government actors loot public funds, inspired by the conviction that there will be no consequences, erases any hope of a pause in official corruption.

Lack of effective internal control, non-tracking of financial transactions, absence of proper and regular audit trails, and weak oversight have combined to rub us of any sense of financial discipline and responsibility. This explains why no alarm or red flag is ever raised about the misuse of public funds. The criminal prosecution of the immediate past Accountant General of the country, whose office administered the state treasury, for alleged fraud depicts the depth into which we sank in official corruption.

Failure of governance often goes hand in hand with corruption and lack of accountability. Nigeria’s weak institutions and governance structures generally lead to a lack of stability and hinder the government’s ability to address corruption and public theft issues effectively. This theft of public funds and failure of governance have had severe consequences for Nigeria’s social and economic development. It has resulted in enduring poverty, inadequate public services, a weakened economy, and a loss of public trust in government.

Another peculiar thing about Nigeria’s official corruption ring is that no tangible effort has been made to address the gaps in the public accounting value chain and our procurement regime and execution monitoring frameworks that serve as enablers. It sends the signal that it is an embedded culture that is generally acceptable. This is a big dent in our reputation and a significant negative in requesting assistance from multilateral agencies and the global community.

It ought to concern our government that it is the vigilance of other nations’ financial systems that have helped in the recovery of vast sums of looted funds from Nigeria. There is an urgent need to bring our financial systems surveillance in line with international best practices.

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Like elsewhere, the theft of public funds in Nigeria is a betrayal of the dreams of our people, a crime that shackles progress and strangles the hopes of a nation. Theft of public funds in Nigeria isn’t just an economic crime; it is a theft of education, healthcare, and infrastructure, leaving the people to pay the price for the greed of a few. When public funds vanish into the shadows of corruption, the light of opportunity dims for every Nigerian. We must stand united against the theft that darkens our collective future.

Nigerian citizens who are supposed to be victims of looted funds are either indifferent or complicit by default. Citizens’ activism and demand for accountability on institutions and government officials and a more open government is almost non-existent. Tolerance for corrupt government officials is relatively high for various reasons.

Theft of public funds and failure of governance are serious issues that can have significant consequences for a society. Addressing the theft of public funds and failure of governance requires a holistic approach that involves legal, institutional, and societal changes. It is an ongoing process requiring sustained efforts from domestic and international stakeholders.

We must overhaul our financial management systems and procedures to track and monitor public funds at every stage. We must deepen the adoption of technology for financial transactions and reporting. Government must embrace digital technologies and e-governance initiatives to minimise the manual handling of funds management, reduce corruption opportunities, and enhance transparency and efficiency in public service delivery. This is more important not only to checkmate the continuous looting of public funds but also to stop the re-stealing of the recovered stolen funds from abroad.

We must strengthen our anti-corruption institutions, such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC). These institutions must ensure that existing anti-corruption laws are rigorously enforced. This includes prosecuting individuals involved in corrupt practices regardless of their status or influence.

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The government must demonstrate a strong political will at the highest levels of government to stop the theft of public funds at all levels of government. Leaders must set an example of integrity and accountability, creating a culture of transparency throughout the government. They must strengthen internal and external auditing processes to ensure a thorough examination of government expenditures. Independent audit bodies can be crucial in identifying irregularities and holding officials accountable.

The government must establish effective mechanisms to recover stolen assets domestically and continuously through international cooperation. This includes cooperation and collaboration with the international community, international institutions, and other countries to trace and repatriate funds from abroad, share best practices, receive technical assistance, and coordinate efforts against transnational corruption.

We must adopt a multi-dimensional and multi-stakeholder engagement approach to make any meaningful improvement in tackling public funds theft. Civil society organisations, the media, and the public must actively monitor government activities and expose corrupt practices. This can help create a checks-and-balances system. Citizen activism, advocacy, and public awareness campaigns can help shed light on corrupt practices and push for necessary reforms.

The return of looted funds is not just a financial recovery but a wake-up call to take necessary steps towards rebuilding Nigeria’s integrity, public sector financial control mechanism, audit reforms, and securing a brighter future for all Nigerians. As looted funds find their way back to Nigeria, it is a testament to the global commitment against corruption. We must ensure these resources are invested in projects that benefit the people and strengthen the nation. Repatriating looted funds is more than a legal process; it is a moral imperative. Nigerians are watching and will hold the government accountable for using these funds.

 

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OPINION

The Scourge Of Rising Inflation

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By Dakuku Peterside*
An increasing number of Nigerians are being driven into poverty, not by choice, but by the current political and economic climate, shaped by stringent macroeconomic policies. These policies, such as subsidy removal, devaluation of Naira, and increase in electricity tariff, have had unintended consequences. For instance, removing subsidies has led to a significant increase in the cost of living, while the devaluation of Naira has made imported goods more expensive. These factors, combined with the high level of insecurity, have affected food security in Nigeria and created a perfect storm of economic hardship. The signs of this unavoidable reality are readily apparent. The interventions to prevent this descent into poverty are either ineffectual or remedy the condition too slowly.
An unprecedented rise in inflation has destroyed households’ disposable incomes and pushed many families into poverty. Spiralling inflation is having a devastating impact on all, but especially on households in the lower rungs of the working class, who in their millions are joining the already over 133 million multidimensionally poor Nigerians struggling to earn a living because high inflation has eroded the value of their income. As shown by the NBS Consumer Price Index of April 2024, published in May 2024, the headline inflation rate rose to 33.69% in April 2024 compared to March. The headline inflation rate was 11.47% higher in April 2024 compared to the previous year. During the same period, inflation in urban areas was higher than in rural areas. Even worse, the food inflation rate in April 2024 was 40.53%, increasing by 15.92% compared to April 2023. What does this mean for the ordinary citizen? More money can purchase fewer goods and services.
We cannot dismiss the direct correlation between rising inflation and rising poverty in Nigeria. A household with a monthly income of N300,000 in April 2023 would have lost 33.69% of its real purchasing power if it earned the same amount in April 2024. This means that the same amount of money can now buy significantly fewer goods and services, putting a strain on the household’s budget. Imagine this household struggled in 2023 to make ends meet; how will it cope with less than 33% of its value in goods and services this year? It is little wonder many Nigerians are in despair and are calling on the government to tweak its policies and salvage the situation before it is too late. Families in the earning bracket mentioned above are even better than many whose total income is less than N100,000 if both parents in the household earn minimum wages per month.
The government intervention so far, with the best of intentions, has yielded little result as inflation continues unabated. The monetary policies of increasing base interest rates to above 22%, improving the cash reserve ratio by banks to above 40%, and constantly engaging in the money market to mop up excess liquidity have yielded less than the expected result in curbing inflation. More is needed, and my little knowledge of street economics shows me that the Nigerian economy often defies some fundamental economic concepts that work in developed countries because of our economy’s informal and unregulated nature. The Nigerian government must creatively use other bespoke and practical fiscal and monetary measures to tame our raging inflation.
Paradoxically, there is compelling evidence that inflation continues to rise because of critical government policies. Instead of providing more concerted anti-inflationary measures, the government has added more inflationary steps to the economy. The government cannot confront inflation while imposing limitless taxes, tariffs, and charges on the things that people spend money on daily. The impact of excess tax is on everybody, but the burden is more on people experiencing poverty whose purchasing power has been eroded by inflation. The government cannot tax itself out of our economic predicament. Increasing personal income tax is one way the government reduces disposable income to curb demand-pull inflation, but the inflation in Nigeria is not because of an increase in household income, but caused by cost-induced factors. So tax on people whose income has not increased in the past year is a recipe for hardship.
Other factors also imperil government efforts to curb inflation. Imported inflation has been the bane of Nigeria, given the number of raw materials and goods imported into Nigeria from countries with high inflation rates. This is not helped by the new exchange rate regime that has seen the Naira fall to its lowest value in a generation. The government has been trying to control the erosion of the value of Naira to no avail. The increasing cost of energy has pushed some businesses to pack up. These factors have exacerbated the rise of inflation, and unless the government starts tackling them, it cannot effectively win its fight against runaway inflation.
The consequences of inaction are severe and far-reaching. The system requires a set of anti-inflationary measures to relieve the people and companies so that livelihoods can improve, and real incomes recover from shock to encourage people to live and save. Savings and prosperity will fire up investment, production, supply, and consequent demand. If inflation worsens, the economy will, at best, go into stasis, further regression, and possibly depression. More manufacturers will quit, and unemployment will worsen with even more crime and insecurity. The picture I painted above is not far from us.
Recent statistics about the hunger level in Nigeria occasioned by food inflation are alarming. There is a deteriorating food security and nutrition crisis in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe (BAY) states this lean season between May and September 2024. According to the Government-led Cadre Harmonise analysis released in March this year, in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states, some 4.8 million people are estimated to be facing severe food insecurity, the highest level in seven years. Children, pregnant and lactating women, older persons, and people living with disabilities are among those who are most vulnerable. About 2.8 million of these people need urgent interventions.
The prices of staple foods like beans and maize have increased by 300 to 400 per cent over the past year because of a cocktail of reasons. Inflation is outpacing the ability of families to cope, making essential food items unaffordable. Furthermore, the report stated that “malnutrition rates are of great concern. Approximately 700,000 children under five are projected to be acutely malnourished over the next six months, including 230,000 who are expected to be severely acutely malnourished and at risk of death if they do not receive timely treatment and nutrition support.”  The Acting Representative of UNICEF Nigeria argues that “this year alone, we have seen around 120,000 admissions for the treatment of severe acute malnutrition with complications, far exceeding our estimated target of 90,000”.  These statistics are for only 3 states in Northeast Nigeria. Imagine what it will be like for the whole 36 States in Nigeria. There is real fire on the mountain!
This rising hunger is not peculiar to the Northeast. From my knowledge of street economics, hunger and poverty is pervasive across all six geopolitics zones. Increasing poverty is directly linked with more severe economic outcomes. Increasing poverty can result in a more divided society, Issues with housing, homelessness, limited access to healthcare, nutrition poverty and poor living conditions that have a detrimental effect on one’s health. Children living in poverty have less access to education, which will reduce their chances in the future. More families facing poverty will experience conflicts, stress, and domestic violence. Poverty can set off a vicious cycle in which the effects of it act as catalysts for additional episodes of poverty. Increasing inflation and poverty are bad omens that blow us no good. They are bad for our economy. They are bad for our people. The government must pay attention to these factors and be more sensitive in our economic policy choices.
Only some anti-inflationary measures that comprehensively capture the macroeconomic dimensions and provide solutions may work. Poverty alleviation measures are barely temporary and, at best, work in the short run to cushion the effect of heightened inflation and food insecurity. The government should provide solid medium- to long-term solutions to tackle these problems. They should re-evaluate some of their policies to see whether they are inflationary and jettison them to allow good policies to thrive. We can only imagine the unintended consequences of allowing poverty and inflation to fester. The increasing inflation and poverty are creating desperation among a portion of society, which is increasingly becoming despondent and seeing itself at the fringes of society. The implications of this are plausible. Many ordinary citizens are burdened by poverty, hunger, and severe inflation, which have made their lives miserable. The government must take action to alleviate this scourge and help Nigerians lead meaningful lives.

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OPINION

New Approach To Combatting Terrorism In Nigeria: Truth Alliance And The Path Forward

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Terrorists

By Ahmed Mustapha*

Three weeks ago, a high-level UN counter-terrorism summit in Abuja concluded that a new approach to fighting terrorism was needed across Africa.

As the head of one of Nigeria’s largest NGOs dealing with this problem, I strongly agree and hope that the conclusions of this meeting will herald new and exciting approaches to reducing the risk of more violence and its terrifying consequences for the people of this country and the Continent of Africa.

The summit gathered one month after the brutal kidnapping of over 100 students from Kuriga, Kaduna State.  Even more recent kidnappings show how the terrifying reality of violent extremism remains in Nigeria. Both provide a stark reminder of the ruthless tactics of terrorist or violent extremist groups who target innocent civilians, using suicide bombers in markets, places of worship, and crowded venues, further exacerbating the region’s humanitarian crisis – all to further their cause.

As the summit discussed, the terror unleashed by Boko Haram, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), and their likes has led to widespread displacement, with millions forced into refugee and internally displaced persons (IDP) camps under dire conditions. The social fabric of entire communities has been torn apart, with trust eroded and countless families mourning the loss of loved ones.

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But there is hope.  Our pioneering work to reduce the risk of violence and rehabilitate those who leave these groups and the tireless works of other groups like us give points to a new way forward.

Our work in affected communities is heralding great results and pointing to a new wave of defections and surrenders from Boko Haram for those fed up with the hypocrisy of its leadership, the brutality of its actions and the cruel manipulation of those whose job it is to recruit people into their ranks.

That is why a group of stakeholders, CSOs and concerned citizens formed the ‘The Truth Alliance’ – a network committed to unmasking the truth behind violent and extremist groups and empowering communities to resist tyranny and violence. Through education, outreach, and collaboration, the Truth Alliance strives to build a safer, more resilient society for all.

In a campaign tagged ‘Time to Tell the Truth’, the Truth Alliance has come together to expose the truth behind how violent extremist groups draw young people into their ranks. Their message is simple: these groups manipulate, they deceive, they control, they kill, and they destroy the hopes and dreams of people, their families and the communities in which they live.

In a new report, the Alliance has highlighted what we call “the significant revelations about the internal conflicts and growing disenchantment within Boko Haram.” We believe the group’s cohesion and operational effectiveness are weakening, illuminating the underlying vulnerabilities within its ranks.

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The personal testimonies from young insurgents who defected in April provide a disturbing glimpse into the group’s operations and the brutal reality that reveals the truth behind their recruitment practices, which contradict the group’s recruitment propaganda.  This manipulative recruitment strategy targets the most vulnerable, often deceiving them with twisted interpretations of religious texts.

The report also describes how Boko Haram, infamous for its brutal campaign of violence, has long engaged in atrocities, including mass kidnappings, indiscriminate killings, and the exploitation of children as soldiers. However, the growing number of surrenders and defections from Boko Haram indicates a loss of control and diminishing morale among its members.

If we act fast, these internal fractures are critical vulnerabilities that could provide opportunities for regional security forces to capitalise on. This could potentially accelerate the group’s decline and herald exactly what the summit asked for—a new scale of effort to tackle this enduring and terrifying problem facing the people of Nigeria.

*Mustapha is the spokesperson for The Truth Alliance and can be reached via info@truthalliance.org.ng

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OPINION

Manchester City Beat West Ham  To Become First Team To Win English League Title Four Seasons In A Row

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With Manchester City needing a win to be sure of holding off Arsenal, who started the final day two points behind but with a better goal difference, Phil Foden put Pep Guardiola’s side ahead after just two minutes.

The England star added another before the break and although Mohammed Kudus pulled one back, midfielder Rodri restored the home side’s two-goal cushion with a shot from the edge of the area after 59 minutes.

City survived a late scare when West Ham had a second goal ruled out by VAR for handball.

However, their victory was never seriously in doubt

The win completed a staggering run of 19 wins and four draws since their last defeat in the league, at Aston Villa on 6 December.

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City have now won six out of the past seven Premier League titles. Last term, they joined Huddersfield, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United, twice, in winning the top flight three years in a row.

Now Guardiola’s team have achieved something no other side has managed since the English league was formed in 1888, 136 years ago.

On 25 May they will aim to become the first side to complete the domestic Double in successive seasons when they face Manchesterter United in the FA Cup final at Wembley.

Foden has already collected the Football Writers’ Association and Premier League Player of the Year awards. Few would argue against a clean sweep when the Professional Footballers’ Association eventually confirms theirs.

At 23, Foden now has six titles to his name. He is still a long way behind Ryan Giggs, who holds the record with 13.

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However, it is worth noting Giggs did not achieve his sixth until he was 26 and while the Welshman was 39 when he got his last, given City’s current dominance, Foden is likely to keep chipping away at that total in the short term.

Guardiola feels there is further improvement in the England international, but he has already developed his all-round game, makes better runs with and without the ball, and his close control is sublime.

James Ward-Prowse must have felt he was chasing shadows as he closed in to make a tackle when Bernardo Silva provided Foden with a square pass. But with one touch, Foden ghosted away from the West Ham man before delivering the perfect finish.

There was no real evidence of nerves in the crowd before kick-off. City had not lost at home all season and they had a 100% winning record against West Ham on home soil since Guardiola arrived in 2016 .

The visitors had nothing to play for, manager David Moyes is leaving and top-scorer Jarrod Bowen was ruled out with tonsillitis.

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But any home anxiety that did exist was rapidly swept away.

Foden’s second – his 26th goal of the season – wasn’t long in arriving as Jeremy Doku delivered a slide-rule, square pass through a crowd of bodies to the edge of the six-yard area. Foden was calmness personified in a frantic situation and found the net with a first-time finish.

Only a bit of bad luck and West Ham keeper Alphonse Areola prevented West Ham being completely swept away in the first half hour.

The France keeper turned away De Bruyne’s vicious free-kick, repelled Doku twice and also denied Manuel Akanji. Rodri, Erling Haaland, acrobatically, and Josko Gvardiol all missed the target from reasonably close range.

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