Awaiting Buhari’s billionaires
PERHAPS, when some people complain about the difficulties of doing business in Nigeria, they only mean private enterprises. They may mean starting manufacturing businesses with the attendant challenges of surmounting the daunting challenges of poor electricity, defective road network and insecurity. They may not have in mind doing business with public institutions.
For if their focus were on doing business with government, then they only need to blame themselves. They are justified if they make themselves objects of self-excoriation for not knowing what others have mastered. For doing business with government is the surest path to easy money. For Nigerians who are not involved in this business of easy money-making, they only hope that President Muhammadu Buhari would make good his promise to enthrone accountability and prudence as the watchwords in governance. All the citizens need do now is to wait and see how the administration of Buhari would block this easy access to public funds by a few Nigerians.
But this must go beyond official espousal of a resolve to block all leakages of government funds. For such espousal does not deter smart Nigerians who are used to easy money in government. These are bent on circumventing the insalubrious conditions for stealing public funds reportedly being erected by the president.
Now, public officials are attempting to prove that the famed body language of the president is not really potent after all in curtailing the whimsical appropriation of a public office as a means of self-aggrandisement. Perhaps, they are only trying the resolve of the president. In just about five months that Buhari allowed civil servants to run the government, some daring ones stole so much from the treasury. The Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) is now probing a permanent secretary after discovering N292 million in his account. Eight others are being investigated for similar financial misdeeds. But these are even mild.
Consider the mindboggling allegation of the Senate that some contractors acting under the nebulous rubric of facilitators for the transfer of funds to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) under the Treasury Single Account (TSA) scheme have paid themselves N25 billion as a commission. The government may deny that no TSA funds have been lost to some idle middlemen. But the disparate figures from the government, the Senate and the CBN do not lend credence to the position that there has been a strict adherence to the dictates of transparency in the management of the TSA. The government bristles at the suggestion by the Senate that N25 billion from the TSA has been diverted and insisted that no kobo has been lost. But it is curious why it failed to also fault the CBN’s claim that the amount in question is N8.6 billion and that it has asked the contractors who collected the money to refund it.
If the purpose of the TSA is to save every kobo for the improvement of the citizens’ well-being, then idle middlemen would not have been needed in the first place. This is especially so since this is a job that the CBN in collaboration with the ministry of finance could have done to avoid incurring unnecessary expenses. If at the time the TSA started under the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, the CBN had not developed the software for the transfer of public funds domiciled in commercial banks to the CBN, why did the Buhari government not make the apex bank to accept the responsibility of introducing the software before directing the transfer of all government funds into the TSA? It is only now that a controversy has arisen over the TSA that some CBN officials are saying that they would use their own software for the funds’ transfer.
Nigerians are not deceived by the plenitude of the versions of the truth about the alleged abuse of the TSA. Idle men would keep on emerging to collect funds for government and take a hefty portion of whatever they gather. Or how does a government that was bankrolled by a few wealthy people pay its debts? How to settle these political debts would remain one of Buhari’s gnawing personal burdens as he tries to roll out projects and programmes to improve the citizens’ well-being. For these political creditors would not endorse any project of Buhari that would not immediately bring financial reward. They want the gain on their investment; they are investors in a hurry.
Or how else do they regain their investment before the replication of the frosty relationship between godfather and godson? Or have they gazed at the crystal ball and become confident that this presidency would run its full course and there is still enough time to reap? So Buhari and his party may make promises about investing in agriculture, a long term project. They may think of how to invest in education, a longer-term project. But the challenge is how he would contain the avaricious breed who bankrolled his election and who are eager for quick returns.
The sense of urgency with which these contractors recoup their political investments is perhaps already known to Buhari. They are the ones who take charge of collecting taxes for their states. And as soon as the funds come in, they take their own share before they get to the state treasury. And this is despite the fact that there are people who are officially assigned to collect such revenues for the state.
It is good that the permanent secretaries are being probed and the government is insisting that TSA funds have not been lost. But this does not negate the fact that every president creates his or her own billionaires at the expense of the state. This they do by directly empowering their cronies financially or through a lack of diligence or deliberate neglect. Perhaps, Buhari may turn out to be really an exception. But one way he must demonstrate this is to bring to justice those found culpable of mismanaging the nation’s resources.
Thus beyond expecting his officials to just read his body language and shun corruption, Buhari must be diligent in guarding the commonwealth. The only option he has is to be negligent or deliberately create billionaires and make those who are already billionaires richer and widen the rich and poor gap instead of bridging it for which he was elected into office. After all, billionaires are needed to fund his next election.