By Ogochukwu Ikeje
ABOMINABLE acts are grabbing the headlines in Nigeria but the country cannot by any stretch of the imagination be described as one of abominable people. Thankfully, vice does not define us. It soils our image but it does not make the country. I consider that perhaps our greatest strength. Even as crime and corruption grow, the country still brims with exemplary people. Thus, in the valley of hopelessness, there is hope. When decent Nigerians are subjected to the most horrible and dehumanising search at an international airport, right down to or beneath their undergarments, we must cheer up. Those compatriots are only paying for the sins of a few countrymen and women.
Two reports captured those atrocious acts. One appeared on February 3, the other on February 22. Both were on corruption, the sort that has chained the country to the ground since its birth. The first report was on pension scam, the second on oil theft. Sometime ago, Mr Abdulrasheed Maina, chairman of the Presidential Task Team on Pension was quoted as saying a pension racket was making over N3 billion monthly before his team was set up.
And that is at the expense of taxpayers and the federal government. Maina said the pension racketeers sent a bloated number of pensioners to the government. This suggests that the cartel inflated the number of retirees forwarded to the authorities which released a payment sum far in excess of what they were supposed to release. And this happened perhaps for years before Maina’s team came on stream.
N3 billion is a tidy sum by any standard. Collected over months and perhaps years, you can imagine what the pension scammers have been taking home, and what they have been denying the government and taxpayers. That amount of money can provide clean water for a thirsty community. It can rehabilitate 10 dilapidated primary schools. It can provide good health centres for five communities whose people are dying of the commonest and preventable diseases. But the money has not been doing anything of the sort. Rather, it has been going into the pockets of pension cartel members for months and years, according to Maina. Yet, the scam is not new. Nor is the ordeal of pensioners strange. Is the fate of retirees not public knowledge? Do senior citizens not keel over and die on the verification queue or while waiting to collect their entitlements? Some too old to walk have ridden to the screening ground on the backs of their children or neighbours. Some have died without getting anything. It is a study in how a country should not treat its people, especially the seniors. It is a sad story that cuts across ministries and agencies, a bitter ordeal relieved by retired military and police personnel as well as railway and other retired civil servants. Now consider the fact that while these compatriots who served their fatherland with their best years and energies have been gnashing their teeth in their twilight,
some smart fellows have been growing richer and fatter off pension funds.
It is a familiar corruption story that is by no means restricted to pensions. It is everywhere. Fictitious characters collect pension just as much as the dead vote. We discovered in 2007, for instance, that American boxers voted and helped to elect our president that year. And from their graves, the dead also exercised their rights and partook in enthroning the Commander-in-Chief of their choice among the living.
Another unfortunate development was reported, this time concerning some dreadful activities in the oil sector. Multinational oil firm, Royal Dutch Shell reportedly said Nigeria is daily robbed of 150,000 barrels of oil by thieves who breach the pipelines and siphon the product. Shell also appeared to question the running of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) which regulates foreign oil firms on behalf of the government.
The multinational company said Nigeria pumps out 2.4 million barrels per day but can increase the output to four million if we can manage to overcome oil vandalism.
Like pension scam, oil theft is familiar. So is the tale of contracts awarded and re-awarded at staggering sums. Indeed, scams and scandals have not been in short supply and are well documented to our grief.
What has been missing is a determined government to deal decisively with sleaze. What the country needs are those institutions promised last year by President Goodluck Jonathan to get the country up and running.
That firm government may tarry. It may be some time before those great institutions take root. Abominable acts that continue to bleed the country and tarnish its image may endure still, but the good of the land will eventually overcome the bad someday. We are not a country of rogues.
By Ogochukwu Ikeje