It is no news that corruption is a big problem in Nigeria. The menace is walking on all of its four legs in every facet of our national life. It is also no longer novel that billions of naira in pension funds, security funds, oil subsidy funds and so many others end up in the deep pockets of public servants. Last week, the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index Report 2012 ranked Nigeria as the 35th most corrupt country in the world, out of a total of 176 countries surveyed.
This is not surprising either. Nigerians are used to having their country rated among the most corrupt in the world. The surprise would have been if Nigeria had been rated among the countries with low level of corruption at a time that trillions of naira are being stolen by fuel subsidy scammers, ghost workers, fake pensioners and the like.
The foregoing is to say that corruption is no stranger on the Nigerian landscape. It is our regular bedfellow that we wake up and sleep with every day of our lives. But last week, Nigeria went even a notch higher on the corruption ladder with the report that the problem has contaminated the very “source” of our Naira itself, the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company (NSPMC). The latest news is that the nation’s mint, which is expected to be above board on corruption issues, is enmeshed in a N2.1 billion scam as newly printed N1000 notes amounting to that figure were reported to have developed wings in the facility.
The House of Representatives, last Saturday, condemned the development as it said it was shocked that such amount was missing at the Mint. The Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Mr. Lamido Sanusi, was reported to have launched an investigation to ascertain the actual amount that is missing and asked the NSPMC Managing Director, Ehi Okomoyon, and its Head of Security, Emmanuel Bala, to go on compulsory leave while it investigates the scam.
Chairman, House of Committee on Banking and Currency, Mr. Chukwudi Onyereri, said the chamber has opted to invite Sanusi to explain the incident and clear the conflicting information on the amount that is missing. The MD of the Mint has put the amount at N1.5 million while Media Adviser to the organisation, Mr. Obi Adiele, put it at N900,000. He also confirmed the security breach in the NSPMC and the arrest of one of the security operatives with N900,000 in Lagos two weeks. An investigative audit has been set up to find out what really happened and its report is expected to be ready in January next year.
This report of Smart Alecs stealing newly minted notes at the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company is embarrassing. This is a case of criminals carrying their nefarious trade to the source of Naira itself. All over the world, mints are among the most secure facilities, even more than the banks and prisons. This is because this is where money is printed and any overproduction of currency and illegal release of money to the economy can distort and collapse the economy. This is the reason why countries that are broke cannot just go to their mints to print more money.
Countries that have tried that in the past regretted it as the value of their currency collapsed like a pack of cards. But in Nigeria, anything can happen and anything goes. Huge sums can be stolen from the mint and, in spite of all assurances to the contrary, the heavens may not fall on the perpetrators of the crime. This is the scenario that we have been witnessing in many sectors of the economy. Pension funds are stolen and the culprits come to the courts beaming with smiles and confidence, and nothing happens thereafter.
The best that is heard from the president is that a small fraction of what they stole was recovered from the suspects, as if this was enough to deter similar crimes in future. The scam at the mint is a serious dent to Nigeria’s image. It has further reinforced the image of the country as irredeemably corrupt. The explanation that the amount that was stolen is not up to N2.1 billion is no defence at all. Even if it is N100 that was stolen at the mint, it is too much as the mint should be secure and immune to theft. It is good that this scam is being investigated.
The investigation should not end up like the regular scam probes that end nowhere in the country. It is a serious one that should be used to send a strong message that corruption and stealing will not be tolerated at the mint. The very infiltration of the mint by this scam shows the level to which corruption and stealing of public funds have attained in the country. This is the first time that such scam is being reported. Hitherto, what we have been hearing are cases of rough Naira notes earmarked for destruction finding their way back into the economy through unscrupulous low-level officers charged with the burning of the notes at the mint.
But, this stealing of newly minted notes is the height of public corruption. Let the investigation into the stealing of the money be speedily concluded and persons responsible for the scam brought to book. If the persons responsible for this crime are not seen to be brought to justice, the inevitable conclusion that will be arrived at is that Nigeria is a country of anything goes. It will be a big blight on the image of this administration and President Jonathan’s much-touted war against corruption.
It is important not only to determine the breaches that made the theft of the new Naira notes possible, such breaches must be seriously guarded against. The mint must review its operational strategies and processes to make sure that such breaches do not happen again. The relevant authorities must not pay lip service to corruption on this matter. They but must move swiftly to correct the impression that this government is only sloganeering with the fight against corruption in the country.
Prof. Okonjo’s ordeal
My heart goes out today to the Finance Minister, Dr.. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, whose mother, 83-year old Professor Kanene Okonjo, was kidnapped by unknown gunmen on Sunday afternoon in front of the palace of the traditional ruler of Ogwashi-Ukwu in Aniocha South Local Government Area of Delta, Prof. Obi Chukwuka Okonjo, who is her husband. Her kidnappers have been reported to be demanding a ransom of N1 billion, as if the keys to the national treasury or the mint are in her custody. I can imagine the trauma both the Minister and her mother, who is a retired professor, are going through. The kidnap of Professor Okonjo is symptomatic of the sorry state Nigeria has descended to. It is wicked to kidnap anyone, worse still, an 83-year old, who may not be able to withstand the rigour of captivity. The fear that has been expressed that the kidnap may be related to threats that the minister reportedly received from suspected fuel subsidy thieves has only worsened the situation. This kidnap is yet another wake up call to the relevant authorities to beef up security in the country. It is bad that people would just be kidnapped and held hostage, without serious effort to stop this problem that has persisted for some years now. Let government beef up security all over the country, as provision of security for the people is the primary responsibility of the government. A government that cannot ensure security of the citizenry is not worth the name. I sincerely hope that the lady would be released quickly and that government finds a permanent solution to the kidnapping sprees in the country.