TEXT OF STATEMENT BY DR. DOYIN OKUPE, SENIOR SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT ON PUBLIC AFFAIRS ON THE OCCASION OF A PRESS BRIEFING ON PRESIDENT GOODLUCK JONATHAN’S ADMINISTRATION’S WAR ON CORRUPTION
GENTLEMEN OF THE MEDIA
I welcome you to this important briefing on an equally very important subject matter.
Since the present administration under President Goodluck Jonathan took charge of the affairs of this country, it has worked assiduously not only to transform the lives of Nigerians but also enhance the image and prestige of the country abroad.
A lot has been achieved in the intervening period with the transformation agenda of the administration. Despite these achievements, there is unbridled cynicism on the part of some individuals who have taken it upon themselves to mislead Nigerians by making unfounded and baseless allegations against this administration.
The purpose of this campaign of misinformation and disinformation is to blind Nigerians to the sure and steady progress President Jonathan’s administration has made in the eighteen months that it has been in power, to improve the quality of governance and deliver on the promises it made to the people.
In the main, the strategy of these cynics, ‘latter-day saints’ and emergency activists has involved peddling falsehood on the true state of the government’s war on corruption, among other issues of national importance. They have posited that contrary to what government would have Nigerians believe, that the present administration is not pulling its weight in the war against corruption. They have even gone as far as suggesting that President Jonathan lacks the political will to engage corruption head on.
We seem to be living in a socio-political atmosphere of cynicism where theatrical actions, showmanship and other grandstanding are misinterpreted to mean political will in addressing a situation. This government does not believe in just arresting people for the sake of drama or playing to the gallery nor does it harbor the idea of deploying the anti-corruption agencies as tools to witch hunt political opponents, which were undisputable familiar practices in the past.
In this briefing we will show clearly the efforts the Jonathan administration is making to stamp corruption out of national life.
All over the world, governments seriously desirous of tackling the menace of corruption usually adopt a holistic strategy which encompass some or all of the under listed benchmark:
- Enacting enabling laws, which clearly define what corruption is and spell out punitive measures
- Establishing an executive agency, which is transparent in its operations and is subject to the rule of law
- Creating by law, the enabling environment for whistle blowing (FOI).
- Enhancing the judicial process such that existing laws, processes and procedures do not hamper the dispensation of justice
- Plugging all socio-economic loopholes within the system by eliminating bottlenecks and increasing access to social goods and services
- Gradually reducing incentives for corruption prevailing in society through institutional reforms, combating poverty, developing manpower and empowering citizens.
- Putting up efficient and effective well co – ordinate policies and programmes to combat poverty, create wealth, develop manpower and empower the youth through job creation.
Going through the benchmarks enumerated above, it is clear to all that the first two measures were already in place by the time the Jonathan administration came into being and the steps being taken by President Jonathan confirm that he is systematically addressing the remaining five, while under his tenure he did strengthen the EFCC, ICPC operational framework.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT
The signing of the Freedom of Information Act into law by President Jonathan in May 2011 represents a watershed in the anti-corruption crusade in Nigeria. This piece of legislation, which had been virtually stalled by successive administrations since 1999, was signed into law by Mr. President to usher Nigeria into the league of countries where transparency in governance is entrenched and citizens are granted unfettered access to information about government activities.
This is the fulcrum upon which good governance rests in all known democracies and it is noteworthy that the present administration took the bull by the horns to lay this very important foundation for the war against corruption in Nigeria in the early months of its inception and 24 hours after the bill was presented to him by the National Assembly.
You will agree with me that without a legal framework for whistle – blowing, the fight against corruption would be meaningless.
Before the Jonathan administration came on board, the pension funds administration regime was one the major channels through which public funds running into hundreds of billions of Naira were misappropriated by corrupt officials.
Problems associated with the pension management system include embezzlement, falsification of records, Ghost pensioners, obsolete administrative structure and denial of pensioners their due entitlements. This was what necessitated the setting up of the presidential pension Reform Task Team. Since June 2010, the activities of this important task force resulted in the following:
v Detection and deletion of over 73,000 Ghost/Fake pensioners from the Head of Service/police pension office.
v Recovery and saving of over N225 billion from two pension offices.
v Capturing biometric details of over 170,000 pensioners.
v Stoppage of a monthly theft of over N4 billion from the National treasury.
v Reducing fraud by saving a monthly sum of over N500 million Naira through the police monthly pension releases, which represents 50 percent of the erstwhile N1billion monthly disbursements.
v Discovery of over 50,000 unpaid pensioners and immediate payment of their entitlement.
v Discovery of over N2.7billion fraud by the Nigeria Union of Pensioners.
v Seizure of about 200 properties including choice hotels and cash worth billions of Naira from corrupt public officials.
v Arrest and on-going prosecution of pension fraud suspects by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
v Introduction of a more efficient tamper-proof pension funds management system.
You will agree with me that the looting of our common patrimony through the pension payment scheme had been in existence for decades without any major step taken to expose this ill and combat it. It is therefore noteworthy that President Jonathan courageously tackled this problem, which is in keeping with his promise of tackling corruption in the public sector. I must add that the Pension Reform resulted in a reduction of recurrent expenditure as a sum of N74billion was factored into the 2012 budget from funds recovered by the Task Team.
FERTILIZER MANAGEMENT REFORMS
In view of the largely agrarian character of our local economy, procurement and distribution of fertilizer under a government subsidy regime was a major channel of corruption before the Jonathan administration came on board. You will all recall the various fertilizer scams witnessed in the country especially in the last two decades. This ugly trend has however been arrested by a well thought-out policy of the Federal Government as part of Mr. President’s Transformation Agenda.
Before now, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development procured and distributed fertilizers to farmers. The government system was corrupt, undermined the private sector, and did not deliver fertilizers to genuine farmers, but to political farmers and the fertilizers were exported. Only 11 percent of farmers got the government-distributed fertilizers due to corruption and rent seeking. This created a bad image for Nigeria. With the intervention of Mr. President, the corrupt system, which has been endemic for over 40 years, was totally dismantled by September 2011. Fertilizers and seeds are now sold by the companies directly to farmers, not to government. This has eliminated the middle men and rent seekers from the system.
It has removed racketeering and enhanced farmers’ access to the commodity. What government did in this area was to leverage on the expanding public access to mobile telecommunication devices to facilitate quicker access to fertilizers. This has increased fertilizer access to 94% from the previous 11%. Our fertilizers no longer find their way to neighboring countries while the term ‘fertilizer scam’ is gradually being removed from our National lexicon.
This radical reform as well as other measures will ultimately boost the Agricultural Sector, lead to more job creation and attract foreign investment.
POWER SECTOR REFORMS
This is another area where Nigerians ought to appreciate the efforts of the Goodluck Jonathan administration in reducing incentives for corruption and ensuring better service delivery.
Having in mind that this is one sector where input hardly justified output and in view of the fact that the power sector has been variously mentioned in the various corruption index reports by international agencies, President Goodluck Jonathan gave a great push to reforming this sector in a radical manner. The unbundling of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria into 18 successor companies and the open processes of privatizing them are the hallmark of all modern government transactions, which Nigeria had bought into being. With the involvement of the private sector in this very important industry, the Nigerian power sector is being made internationally competitive and less open to corruption. The sanitization of this important sector encouraged the Exim bank of the United States of America to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Federal Government which will provide an investment window of 1. 5 billion dollars to the industry.This is the first time such a quantum of funds is being committed to any single project in Africa by the US Exim bank.
OIL AND GAS SECTOR REFORMS
The fight against corruption in the oil and gas sector of the Nigerian economy is perhaps the most fundamental of the current administration’s effort at combating crimes against the Nigerian economy.
You will all recall that in line with global best practices and the principal aim of the Nigerian Extractive industry and Transparency Initiative (NEITI), President Jonathan recently forwarded the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to the National Assembly for passage into law. Furthermore, the fuel subsidy regime, which had been a conduit pipe through which huge funds were siphoned from the National treasury, has been subjected to forensic scrutiny by various agencies and committees set up by Mr. President in the last twelve months.
It is of utmost importance to note that the report of the Aig- Imoukhuede Presidential committee on verification and reconciliation of subsidy claims and payments led to the arrest and arraignment of a number of individuals and firms by the EFCC. What further proof of political will is greater than the fact that sons of the present and former chairmen of the president’s political party are among those currently being prosecuted before competent courts of law over oil subsidy related corruption charges?
It is also on record that the president, upon receipt of the House of Representatives subsidy probe panel report, forwarded same to relevant security agencies with a firm instruction that there must be no sacred cows in the prosecution of culpable individuals and corporate entities.
The on-going implementation of this and the determination to do the same for the reports of other committees like the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force, the Dotun Suleiman committee charged with fashioning a corporate governance code for transparency, good governance and global best practices in the NNPC and oil companies, and the Kalu Idika Kalu committee on how to improve commercial viability and efficiency of our refineries, will undoubtedly result in the saving of huge sums of money hitherto stolen by corrupt public officials.
These are initiatives, which had not been taken by any previous government and for which President Jonathan ought to be commended by every patriotic Nigerian.
By the time the Petroleum Industry Bill is passed into law, Nigeria would have successfully broken the jinx of being a nation where global business rules and practices are flouted with impunity. Estimated annual earnings of 680 billion dollars would be added to our Gross Domestic product. Crude oil theft and other sharp practices are also being combated with much vigour by various security and regulatory agencies on the president’s instructions.
The electoral system in any nation is a mirror of what values are held sacrosanct by the government and people.
We are all living witnesses to the monumental fraud, bribery, violence and other forms of corrupt practices, which pervaded the Nigerian electoral process before the last general elections.
It is to the credit of President Goodluck Jonathan that this important process has been sanitized in a manner unprecedented in our political history.
The reform carried out in this sector is responsible for the conduct of elections assessed by local and international observers as credible, free and fair. The President, as you are all aware has upheld the sanctity of the electoral process by refusing to compromise global standards in any manner. He has come out to congratulate winners of elections and promised to work with them even when his political party had lost in such elections.
For instance, under the old electoral dispensation, Governors like Adams Oshiomhole and Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, who belong to opposition parties, would simply have found it impossible to be re-elected. But thanks to the reforms instituted by this administration, which apart from increasing the funding of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has also through its other agencies, enlightened the Nigerian electorate on their rights and obligations, the wishes of voters are now supreme.
He has given the national electoral body a free hand to carry out its statutory duties without any form of direct or indirect manipulation. It takes a man who is committed to eradicating political corruption to do this in view of the apparent desperation of some politicians to capture power at all cost.
I also want to address your mind to a similar courageous anti-corruption initiative of the Jonathan administration in the on-going reform of the Nigerian ports.
Opportunities for bribery, documents forgery and other sharp-practices in the Nigerian ports have been substantially removed through a number of measures introduced by both the Ministries of Finance and that of Transport.
A Presidential committee on ports reform and monitoring has worked assiduously to reduce congestion in our ports. As of today, these efforts have resulted in the shortening of the time required to clear goods at the Nations ports from 4-6 weeks to less than 7 days with the ultimate goal of a 24-hour goods clearing policy. The reform in this sector is, among other things, aimed at:
v Improving efficiency and transparency in ports operations and management in line with international best practices.
v Reduce charges and promote competition.
v Facilitate the development of the transport sector.
v Eliminate ports congestion.
v Reduce government’s financial burden.
The various initiatives of this administration to combat fraud and corruption may not eventually yield much result if jobs are not created and opportunities given to people to make a living in legitimate ways. This is why monies saved from the partial removal of petroleum subsidy in January 2012 is being injected into infrastructural development and job creation under the Subsidy Re – investing Programme (SURE – P). The programme, which is being chaired by a distinguished Nigerian with impeccable record of integrity in public service will result in the creation of 50,000 jobs under the Graduate Internship Scheme in the next one year.
Let me seize this opportunity to clear a misconception about the nature and activity of this committee. The SURE-P committee is not like the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund of the Abacha regime. The committee was put together carefully, being made up of Nigerians of impeccable character and proven integrity. Their role is to ensure the judicious deployment of the funds accruing from the partial removal of subsidy on petroleum products so that Nigerians can track where the money goes. They do not originate projects, rather they fund projects already identified by various Ministries, Departments and Agencies of Government. Therefore, the question of probable project duplication does not arise.
The Youth enterprise with innovation in Nigeria, YOUWIN programme, is creating wealth making opportunities for young Nigerians by helping them to develop and execute business plans. The second phase of this scheme which was launched by Mr. President in September is providing opportunities for six thousand young graduates selected in a very transparent and value driven manner.
In the Agricultural sector, there is an aggressive job creation drive which is targeted at creating about 3.5 million jobs by 2014.Specially targeted in this programme are youths between age 18 and 35. This will also increase local production of food and raw materials, guaranteeing food security and resuscitating agro based local industries. The soundness and transparency of this initiative has attracted global partnership of international agencies like the World Bank, USAID, DFID, African Development Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
With increased power out-put resulting from ongoing reforms in the power sector and increased interest of investors in the sector,small and Medium scale industry will thrive and prosper thereby creating more jobs for our teeming youths. This will create an economically stable polity and enhance the attainment of the 7th benchmark in effectively tackling corruption.
LEGAL AND JUDICIAL REFORMS
One major area which has been focused by critics of the present anti-corruption process is in the area of securing convictions of suspects accused of economic crimes within a reasonable time frame. This has also been a major concern to the president.
You will recall that on the occasion of the swearing in of Justice Aloma Mukhtar as Chief Judge of the Federation in July this year, President Jonathan admonished the new CJ to consider the creation of special courts and designation of special judges to adjudicate on corruption cases. In addition, the President as the head of the Executive Arm of government has also initiated a reform of the criminal justice system as a means of plugging loop holes often exploited by counsels to delay trial of persons accused of corruption.
A major step in this direction is putting together of the Administration of Criminal Justice (ACJ) Bill 2012 by the office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice.
The bill, which is currently before the National Assembly, seeks to ensure that the system of administration of criminal justice in Nigeria promotes speedy dispensation of justice, protection of the society from crime, and protection of the rights and interests of the defendant and the victim.
When passed into law, it will therefore eliminate incidents of frivolous injunctions, interlocutory motions, adjournments and other abuse of court processes by counsel employed by suspects in corruption cases.
I want to add that the set of laws and procedures involved in this reform have not been reviewed in almost fifty years.
Most of these reforms will require either constitutional amendments or a review of existing laws, which may take a little time in view of the intricacies of our democratic process. The President is nevertheless committed to ensuring that necessary reforms are carried out in our judicial system to add fillip to the fight against corruption.
Permit me to state that from the foregoing that in the annals of this country no government has shown greater courage or commitment to tackle corruption that the administration of Goodluck Jonathan.
Arising from his efforts, which has exposed corruption in both the public and private sector, the cynics and mischief makers in our midst are accusing Mr. President of presiding over corruption when in actual fact he should be commended for exposing it like no leader before him.
The recent KPMG report, which these cynics have gleefully quoted as having said that Nigeria is the most corrupt country in Africa, actually had something positive to say about the Jonathan administration’s war on corruption, which unfortunately, they have deliberately kept from Nigerians. That report notes that in the last once year the number of fraud cases in the country for the period under review fell from 520 to 503.
For those who consider the difference insignificant they would do well to consider the difference in terms of amount saved this country. KMPG says the value of fraud in naira terms decreased from N495 billion to N300 billion, a whopping N195 billion difference.
The audit body also corroborated the statement made last week by Ibrahim Lamorde, Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that legal bottlenecks were frustrating the war on corruption when Olumide Olayinka, Head of Risk Consulting of KPMG Nigeria said:
“The general belief in Nigeria is that the legal system is not effective enough. There have been a lot of cases involving the banking and the Oil & Gas sectors or government that lead to prosecution. The current noticeable trend is that many cases either end with a plea bargain or are simply closed without any conviction”. This is the major area which President Jonathans reform in the judicial sector is meant to address.
Clearly, the war on corruption is being engaged head-on and systematically with the requisite political will and vigour and it will take the commitment of all and not just President Jonathan and his team, to see it to fruition. I therefore enjoin all stakeholders in the Nigerian project to support these initiatives and reforms as a sure route to a successful war on corruption in public offices .This was the same route, which nations that have successfully reduced corruption to its barest minimum took.
I thank you for your attention.