Nigeria’s Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, on Monday said N100 billion and a separate $289 million were embezzled by officials of the Goodluck Jonathan administration, a few weeks to the 2015 elections.
Mr. Osinbajo made this known while speaking at the 7th Quarterly Business Forum (QBF) held at the State House, Abuja.
The Vice President, who spoke to a cross section of stakeholders in the Nigerian business and economy circle, said the strategic alliance contracts signed by Mr. Jonathan government with the NNPC and NDPC were used to embezzle money by the promoters.
“So for example,” Mr. Osinbajo said, “I’m sure many of us are familiar with the so called strategic alliance contracts with the NNPC and NDPC. The promoters of the companies made away with close to 3 billion US dollars, almost a tenth of our reserves at one point!
“There is no way if someone made away with that amount, a tenth of your reserves, that there won’t be a major economic shock! If we don’t deal with it and talk about it, how do we really discuss our economy in any real honest way with a view to ensuring that these things do not happen again?”
“In one single transaction, a few weeks to the elections in 2015, the sum of N100 billion and $289 million in cash were embezzled by a few. When you consider that in 2014, when oil prices were an average of $110 per barrel, only N99 billion was spent on Power, Works and Housing, and in one day, N100 billion was issued and people essentially shared it and N99 billion was spent on Power, Works and Housing. When we talk about our economy, we talk about it like it is normal but it is abnormal by every standard, completely abnormal. Nobody should talk about the economy when you have these huge leakages and corruption; corruption that makes what you allocate to capital and infrastructure nonsense.”
The Vice President said it was important for the government to liaise with the private sector, given its importance to the economy.
Speaking on what went wrong with the Nigerian economy, Mr. Osinbajo said the seed of economic woes the nation faced was planted by the corrupt deals of the former administration.
“There are several issues, many of which have been well articulated in all earlier presentations,” he said.
“But I want to talk about what I think is probably the biggest problem but which we, for some reason, hardly talk about when discussing our National economy. This is grand corruption in the public finance space!
“Sometimes, the way we talk about the Nigerian economy, it appears like it is the economy of say Norway or Sweden, where all things are equal. Even when we refer to what has taken place in our economy, we almost sound as if this is a normal business environment, a normal public finance environment but that is not the case. I don’t think that any considerations of our economic development can be properly or honestly done without fully analysing the role of grand corruption in the public finance space.
“So despite record high levels of oil prices, very little was invested in infrastructure and record levels of leakages were recorded, especially in the past few years. This is the fundamental issue in our economy. Corruption affects everything, it even affects judgement as to what sort of infrastructure to put in place or whether to even put infrastructure in place or whether it would be completed. It is so fundamental that we cannot even think of our economy, without thinking of what to do about it.”
The Nigerian economy slipped into recession in 2016, a development analysts attributed to the fall in oil prices in the international market.
The nation escaped recession in the second quarter of 2017 after improvements were recorded in oil prices.
But Mr. Osinbajo said while the nation’s economic woes could be partly attributed to its sole reliance on oil revenue, a fundamental issue is that proceeds of that single commodity were regularly hijacked consistently by a few.
“That is really the problem,” he said, “If we spend the proceeds of that single commodity the way we ought to spend it, we won’t be where we are today.
“That most of the proceeds go to rent seekers, who invest little in industry and production.
“From the presentation of Minister of Finance, N14 billion was spent on agriculture in 2014, transportation N15 billion. The total spend on capital in those critical areas was N153 billion and in two weeks to the 2015 election, N150 billion was shared and essentially shared!
“So if your total capital spend is N150billion and you can share N153billion, let’s face it, that is completely incredible! It is the sort of thing that doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world. When we talk about the economy, we absolutely must understand that is the problem.”
Mr. Osinbajo said with less revenue, the present government has increased capital funding by 400 percent in Power, Works and Housing, Defence, Transportation and Agriculture, adding that economic analysis in Nigeria is either fraudulent or ignorant if analysts do not bring the money lost to corruption into the maths.
“This is what distinguishes this administration from any other. It is the fight against corruption especially in public finance,” he said.
“If you have a President who is not corrupt, at least 50 percent of your financial problems, especially in public finance, is over. This is what I have seen, and I can prove it with facts and figures.
“If the President is corrupt, the entire financial system of the country is compromised, that is what we have seen from the figures. That is an absolute important point that we must take into account.”
The Vice President however noted that it is not valid to argue that corruption under the present administration has been completely dealt, but it had been considerably tackled.
He said, “Where corruption has become systematic, you can’t deal with it all in one fell swoop. In any event you still have to deal with corruption fighting back, the system fights back, it is both an internal and external fight, and you have to be steadfast and strategic to win the battle.
“There is no way you have a system that has consistently thrived on corruption and proceeds of corruption and public finance in particular that will just roll over, no! It is a system that had actively dealt on corruption and the system affects all aspects of governance. So clearly trying to deal with it is not a walk in the park
“I want to say that task has already begun and being done consistently, I believe that going forward in the next few years, no matter how we slice it, if we stick to policies, especially in controlling excesses and corruption in public finance, this country will make the kind of progress it deserves to make with all of the resources at our disposal.
“If we stick to a policy that ensures that as far as public finance is concerned, there is no impunity, and we hold people to account, I am absolutely confident this country has everything it takes to make the sort of progress that we deserve to make as a nation.”