President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan (left); Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila
Top officials of federal ministries, departments and agencies are allegedly enriching their pockets by repeating the same items of expenditure and deliberately duplicating projects in their annual budgets, reports SUNDAY PUNCH
THE duplication of some projects and items listed in the nation’s annual budgets budget has no doubt been going on for a long time without a whimper of protest from any quarter until it was recently exposed.
Many who had wondered how a top civil servant earning about N200,000 salary per month could afford to lead a luxurious life now know better, following recent revelations by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission.
The ICPC raised the alarm in October 2021 that two civil servants own over 300 houses in choice areas all over Abuja and just a month after, the agency said 257 projects were duplicated in the 2021 national budget usually prepared by civil servants.
Various non-governmental groups had also described the repetition of items of expenditure in the nation’s annual budget of the ministries, departments and agencies of government as nothing but corruption. They had wondered why the purchase of computers, furniture, and renovation of office complex always found their way in the MDAs annual budgets.
The ICPC Chairman, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, on October 28, 2021, said the agency recovered 301 houses from two public officers in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The revelation came at the recent inauguration of the House of Representatives ad hoc Committee on Investigation of the Operations of Real Estate Developers.
The ICPC chairman said while 241 buildings were recovered from one of the suspects at different locations within the FCT, the remaining 60 were recovered on a large expanse of land at another location.
Owasanoye, who did not disclose the names of the affected civil servants, lamented the alarming rate at which corrupt public officers were using real estate investment as a vehicle for hiding ill-gotten wealth and money laundering in the country.
Speaking on the theme of a summit, ‘Corruption and Cost of Governance: New Imperatives for Fiscal Transparency’, the ICPC chairman also disclosed in November that the cost of governance in the country had perpetually been pushed up by corrupt practices. He cited some of the corrupt practices to include illegal recruitments, unilateral and illegal increase of salaries and wages, procurement malpractices and budget padding by some government establishments.
According to him, the commission also uncovered a syndicate of corrupt individuals within the service, corruptly employing unsuspecting Nigerians, issuing them fake letters of employment, fraudulently enrolling them on the IPPIS and posting them to equally unsuspecting MDAs to commence work.
He said the ICPC was already prosecuting one of the leaders of the syndicate from whom several fake letters of recommendation purportedly signed by the Chief of Staff to the President, ministers, Federal Civil Service Commission and other high-ranking Nigerians were retrieved.
Also on December 1, the ICPC boss raised yet another alarm that 257 duplicated projects listed in the 2021 federal budget had been uncovered by his agency. He put the total value of the projects at N20.138bn
The ICPC boss said, “ICPC review found that 257 projects amounting to N20.138bn were duplicated in the 2021 budget leading us to submit an advisory to the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning which promptly acted on it to prevent abuse.
He said, “Our findings indicate that the same malady of corruption afflicts executive as well as zonal intervention programme’s projects, thus undermining government projections, escalating the cost of governance, and denying Nigeria value for money.
“These maladies include poor needs assessment that disconnects projects from beneficiaries; false certification of uncompleted contracts as completed, deliberate underperformance of contracts, incessant criminal diversion and conversion of public property by civil servants, to name just a few.”
The ICPC boss described as mini-wars, the ties between boards and managements of some establishments. He said, “A number of MDAs have mini-civil wars going on between the boards and managements and sometimes within the board. These squabbles revolve around abuse of power prohibited by ICPC Act and unreasonable demands by some board members for privileges.”
Giving facts and figures of the commission’s Ethics Compliance scorecard of MDAs, Owasanoye said only 34 per cent of the 360 establishments scaled above the average mark.
Reacting to the development, an Abuja-based real estate practitioner, Femi Akinsanmi, confirmed that most of the buildings in the FCT, including shopping complexes, high-rise structures, estates and mansions in choice areas were owned by corrupt civil servants serving or retired.
He said, “A story was once told about how four top directors of a federal ministry cleared N400m from the nation’s purse by fraudulently inserting frivolous, non-existing items in the budget. The ministry’s officials were said to have inserted the purchase of 200 umbrellas which they criminally renamed (aquatic cover) and 200 shovels renamed (earth excavators) with a cost of N400m. Tell me how these people would not buy the entire Nigeria with their ill-gotten wealth?”
The Senate has, however, said the National Assembly lacked the powers to stop the federal ministries and agencies from repeating similar items in their annual budgets. The red chamber admitted that there were widespread condemnations against the budgets of ministries and agencies, which always made provision for computers, furniture and other sundry items in their annual fiscal proposals.
Lawmakers playing executive role by adding new projects to budget – Ubani
Corrupt project duplications in budgeting
But reacting to the development in an interview with our correspondent, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Barau Jibrin, said the Parliament could not stop such practice. He said the federal lawmakers could only reduce the practice through aggressive oversight.
Barau said, “It is a delicate issue. There have been some suggestions and lamentations from different quarters about the recurrence of items of expenditure every year. The best way to go about it is through proper oversight on the side of the National Assembly members as well as putting in place certain mechanisms within the MDAs to make sure that the items are not frivolous.
“However, the heads of MDAs argue that the said items are perishable and can get worn out and written off. I think they don’t get written off at the same time in all the agencies. While it may become unusable in one agency or office, it can still be good in another office. So, we may not be able to get to the root of the matter except through oversight. We may not blame all the heads of MDAs in respect to the annual occurrence of items of expenditure in their yearly budgets. We just need to do proper oversight.”
He explained that some of the agencies actually needed the items to enhance the running of their daily activities, hence the National Assembly could not deny them.
An online medium had on October 19 reported that the Nigerian government would spend a whopping N19bn on computer software in 2022, according to the budget proposal for the year submitted by the President, Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) to the National Assembly in October.
The amount, according to the platform, was spread across nearly 200 offices, and is bound to be a lot higher as it does not cover computer and software expenditure by the armed forces and dozens of government offices whose budgets are not submitted as part of the whole to the National Assembly. According to the report, Some offices that were not listed in the government’s general annual budget document included the Central Bank of Nigeria, Customs Service, NNPC and Federal Inland Revenue Service.
The PUNCH had also reported that the FIRS, planned to spend a whopping N2.04bn on computers alone, and another N1.3bn on “office stationery and computer consumables.”
Also, The PUNCH had reported that a civil society organisation, Centre for Social Justice, revealed that the 2022 proposed budget of the Federal Government was littered with frivolous items to the tune of N227bn. The report said a pullout of the frivolous items from the budget by the National Assembly would address the growing level of deficit as well as improve public infrastructure across the country.
The CSJ, in its report titled, ‘Frivolous, inappropriate, unclear and wasteful estimates in the 2022 Federal Appropriation Bill’, said Nigeria’s revenue was simply inadequate to fund fundamental expenditure.
The Lead Director of the CSJ, Eze Onyekpere, while presenting the report of its Citizens Wealth Platform to journalists in Abuja, also said Nigeria would save about N2tn from abolishing fuel subsidy.
Lending his voice to the matter, the Chairman, Rivers State Civil Society Organisation, Enefaa Georgewill, said it was illegal for any citizen to own property not commensurate with his earning, adding that the law enforcement agents, especially those of financial crimes, should interrogate such civil servants and prosecute them if found wanting.
He further said, “On the issue of duplicating projects annually, especially where evidence abound that such funds are released every year, I think it is condemnable and it is part of the gamut of corruption that has enveloped the Nigerian space. But what is worrisome is that members of the National Assembly who are representatives of the people, who are supposed to question and be on the part of the people have more often than not taken sides with civil servants and even members of the executive in the country.
“You find out that they are equally all part of the corrupt scheme. Of course, the Minister of Niger Delta (Godswill Akpabio) had during the Niger Delta Development Commission saga openly accused them (National Assembly members) of being involved in contracts. One begins to wonder why members of our National Assembly whose primary duty is to make laws will start getting involved in contracting, which is purely the job of the executive. It goes further to show that the hands of our National Assembly are in the cookie jar.”
Speaking further, Georgewill urged Nigerians not to allow a group of persons to toy with their future and be prepared to put an end to the mismanagement of their commonwealth.
“The only hope left is that 200 million Nigerians cannot sit by and watch less than one million people in government to decide their fate and in cases, where evidences abound, openly steal the future of their children. Nigerians should wake up from their slumber by way of protest, by way of going to court to contest all these, by way of neighbourhood rallies and by way of engaging the press.
“It is only in this country that this level of impunity will be displayed and over 200 million Nigerians will be watching. This can’t happen anywhere. The resources, as even alleged by the Minister of Niger Delta, that are coming into the Niger Delta is even more than what is used to develop Dubai. Meanwhile, the same Nigerian politicians are trooping to Dubai. If those persons in Dubai had eaten up their children’s future, would this crop of Nigerian politicians travel to Dubai? Even on simple ailments, Nigerians travel to Dubai to get good healthcare.
“Nigerians must participate in governance, and this is not just by contesting elections and voting people into political power. Part of modern governance, part of followership, part of citizenship is to engage those you have elected. Citizens should be able to recall, name, shame and protest against politicians who they have voted, but are not doing well, especially in this case of civil servants having properties they cannot explain by virtue of the salaries they earn and duplicity of projects and our National Assembly members that are saying they cannot stop them through budget defence. Nigerians must wake and stop this evil,” the human rights activist added.