Updated: March 1, 2021
You have to live in Nigeria to understand the pains of ordinary people. Most Nigerians live on less than a United States dollar a day, in a country blessed with natural resources, such as oil and gas.
Nigeria also has what is known as ‘epileptic’ electricity, meaning there is virtually never stable electricity in Africa’s most populous nation. It comes and goes, then comes and goes, and then goes, and does not come back for several hours, or days, or weeks, or months.
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Most people spend the little money they have trying to provide electricity for themselves with noisy generating sets. They also try to provide basic necessities such as food, water, or even sanitation.
In addition, insecurity is rampant. On Friday alone, hundreds of students were abducted in the President’s home state of Katsina.
Police spokesman Gambo Isah said gunmen, armed with rifles, attacked the Government Science secondary school in Kankara town, Katsina state, late on Friday, and took away many students.
“Search parties are working with a view to find or rescue the missing students,” a police statement said.
Reuters news agency quoted a parent and school employee as saying that roughly half of the school’s 800 students were missing.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Saturday condemned the attack and charged the army and the police “to go after the attackers to ensure that no student gets missing or harmed”, the presidency said in a statement.
Those are just some of the daily troubles Nigerians face. And then, there is corruption. While ordinary Nigerians struggle to eat, stay alive and enjoy the comfort of a bathroom, corrupt government officials crisscross the planet on private jets acquired with stolen money.
They have houses around the world, send their students to the best universities in the United States, and elsewhere and get access to the best of the best.
The latest case of corruption involves the ministry of petroleum. Activists are angry that 116 million naira ($300,000) was spent by the ministry to buy biros, letterhead and toners in 2015, and are demanding to know how much has been spent between then and now.
On Sunday, the Nigerian Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) urged President Muhammadu Buhari and Mr Timipre Sylva, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources to use their leadership positions “to urgently probe how N116 million ($300,000) was spent by your Ministry to buy biros, letterhead and toners in 2015, and to disclose the amount spent on the same items between 2016 and 2020, and if there is evidence of misuse of public funds, refer the matter to appropriate anti-corruption agencies for prosecution.”
The Office of the Auditor-General for the Federation had last Thursday before the Senate Public Accounts Committee revealed that officials of the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources spent N116m to buy biros, letterhead and toners in one year, and alleged “contravention of the Public Procurement Act 2017 by the Permanent Secretary.”
In the letter dated December 12, 2020, and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization said: “The Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], the UN Convention against Corruption and African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption require the government to ensure that Nigeria’s resources are used effectively and efficiently, and in a manner consistent with the public interest.”
SERAP said: “An effective and efficient ministry ought to keep careful track of how it spends public money, and put in place a system to eliminate corruption, mismanagement, unnecessary, inefficient, or unreasonable expenditures.”
According to SERAP: “Transparency and openness in the spending by your Ministry would ensure the public trust, efficient, effective and competent delivery of public goods and services. Openness in the spending by your Ministry will also strengthen the country’s democracy and promote efficiency and integrity in government.”
The letter copied to Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN, read in part: “Any allegations of misuse of public funds may constitute serious misconduct that impairs the efficiency of your Ministry, and undermines public confidence in the ability of ministries, departments and agencies [MDAs] to provide essential public goods and services to Nigerians.”
“SERAP is concerned that the allegations by the Office of the Auditor-General raises serious violations of anti-corruption legislation, the Nigerian Constitution and international anti-corruption standards.”
“Public officials and MDAs should act and take decisions on the spending of public funds in an open, transparent and accountable manner, and submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.”
“A democratic government accountable to the people must be as transparent as possible and must not withhold information for self-serving reasons or simply to avoid embarrassment.”
“We would therefore be grateful if you would indicate the measures being taken to probe the spending of N116m on biros, letterhead and toners in 2015, and disclose the total amount spent on the same items between 2016 and 2020 within 14 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter.”
“If we have not heard from you by then as to the steps being taken in this direction, the Registered Trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel your Ministry to implement these recommendations in the interest of transparency and accountability.”
“The Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources has a legal obligation to conduct an effective investigation into any allegations of breach of anti-corruption legislation and international standards, including those relating to the spending by the Ministry on biros, letterhead and toners between 2015 and 2020.”
“Our requests are consistent with the government’s repeated promise of transparency, and in keeping with the requirements of the Nigerian Constitution, national anti-corruption legislation, Freedom of Information Act, and Nigeria’s international obligations, including under the UN Convention against Corruption, and the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption.”
“According to our information, the 2015 report of the Auditor General for the Federation shows that officials of the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources spent N116m to buy biros, letterhead and toners in one year.”
“The breakdown of the expenditure showed that the ministry spent N14.5m to purchase Schneider biros, N46m to print the ministry’s letterhead and N56m to procure toner for its photocopy machines.”
“According to the Office of the Auditor-General, ‘the contract for the supply of Schneider biros worth N14.5m was split into smaller packages of less than N5m each and was awarded to four different companies in order to circumvent the permanent secretary’s approval threshold of N5m.’”
“’The contract for the printing of the ministry’s letterhead worth N46m was also split and awarded to 11 different contractors. The contract for the supply of toners worth N56m was split and awarded to seven different contractors.’”
“The Office of the Auditor-General has also reportedly told the Senate Public Accounts Committee that the permanent secretary has failed and/or refused to “explain this contravention of the Public Procurement Act 2007.”
Activists in Nigeria are working hard to hold government accountable. But in a country as corrupt as Nigeria, their open letters and court cases often take years to resolve.