• Thursday, June 13, 2024
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BusinessDay

We are all corrupt …. revisited (2)

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Last week, I delivered the first instalment of this series on corruption. This extended and revised version is based on two articles of the same topic I had written in August 2010.

The motivation this time is simple. President Muhammadu Buhari has vowed to “kill corruption before it kills Nigeria”, so I want to help him. Following this, I took pains to point out last week that, by focusing only on those that dipped their hands in the public till, the President is inadvertently presiding over other aspects of corruption that have greater implications for Nigeria’s future prosperity.

My point of departure was the statement credited to the Minister of State for Petroleum Ibe Kachikwu that “the President will allocate oil blocs to Niger Deltans in any future allocation exercise”.  I expected the President to have pooh poohed such an idea because it is the greatest symptom of elite corruption in the country – sharing Niger Deltan and Nigeria’s resources amongst themselves, cronies, supporters, family and friends. Concluding, I suggested that all those that benefitted from previous allocations should be made to pay windfall taxes and going forward, all oil blocs should be auctioned.

My argument today is similar to that made last week, expanding the notion that we are all corrupt because the foundations of corruption are based on injustice against all Nigerians, perpetuated by the elite and the powerful. And the only difference is the degree of that corruption, which is dependent on the level and manner of the expression of the power we possess, often conferred by the state.

Now, in the Nigerian constitution, specifically the Land Use Act of 1990 that governs all lands in Nigeria, including that of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), vests all land comprised in the territory of each state solely in the governor of the state. In the case of the FCT, popularly known as Abuja, the powers are vested in the President, who delegates it to the Minister of the FCT, currently Alhaji Muhammad Musa Bello. This means that the law vests all the 8000sq km of the FCT land mass in the President at any point in time.

This power is extensive and discretionary. It can be used and has always been used selectively, and therefore violates the letter and spirit of that law that says that the land should be held in “trust for the use and common benefit of all Nigerians”. Except in Nigeria, what else is corruption? In the past and it is still the case, all categories of elite including political office holders (usually the first thing they pursue when they arrive Abuja), publishers, editors, friends, cronies, supporters, and hahahahahaha, girlfriends have all collected their allocation for “the use and common benefit of all Nigerians”. If the current Minister has thus allocated lands, and I reckon he has, the President has inadvertently presided over corruption.

I suspect that many will argue that it is the norm. I agree. However, it was the President that sought to be subjected to higher levels of ideal. That requires that he understands that corruption in Nigeria is not limited to dipping your hands in the public till, but that some of the laws of the land are equivalent of a licence for corruption. And there is no greater epitome of corruption than the law that vests such extensive pecuniary powers on an individual, including the President.

It does not end there. Through the Abuja Geographical Information System (AGIS), the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) has done a fantastic job of ensuring that the transfer of property is fairly secured. This is to the extent that all properties are electronically identified and recorded and thus fairly straightforward to confirm a genuine and original allocation. However, there is a missing feature that is catastrophic. It is the record of transfer between parties that depicts who owns what and what.

What are the implications of this? First, officers in land administration can, and I believe it happens, allocate plots of land to themselves using fictitious names, to friends, and cronies, without any trace of accountability. Second, recipients, after fulfilling the very limited processing requirements, can sell at the market price, often much higher than what was paid in processing the allocation. Third, the land can continue to exchange between parties, with the same original papers, with increasing prices without the State (FCT) collecting capital gains tax.

There is no doubt in my mind about three things. First, that President did not start corruption in the country. Second, that he means to fight it. Thirdly, however, he has not done anything to destroy the foundations of corruption in the country. For instance, imagine that all properties are registered and ownership identified, it will afford us the opportunity to know all those who own properties in the capital, and I believe your guess will not be far from mine.

In conclusion, the current practice is secretive, selective, discretionary, and arbitrary, and never has it been for the used for the common benefit of all Nigerians, both in the past and the present. There are no greater foundations of corruption than a system that has all these features. Therefore, if the President seek to fight corruption in the true sense of the word and connotation, the fight must be extended to destroying its foundations that make government officials rich overnight, even without “stealing”. I thank you.

 

Ogho Okiti