Just one day prior the EFCC had confiscated a home worth USD37.5 million said to belong to Diezani Alison-Madueke, the previous administration’s minister of petroleum, which had allegedly been acquired during her tenure in government via a shell corporation. The former minister had been under scrutiny by the anti-corruption agency for months.
Beyond these most recent confiscations, the list of property and capital gathered since the start of the year is surprisingly long. On January 26, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Nigeria’s second anti-corruption agency, announced the impounding of 40 vehicles allegedly belonging to the Water Resource Ministry which had been stolen by former ministerial officials.
An Imperative of Personal Example
“There is the imperative of personal example. If we want to wage the war (against corruption) successfully, we must strive to be above board ourselves. If we are corrupt personally, whatever rhetoric we talk about corruption will sound hollow,” declared President Buhari in a recent TBY interview. Buhari has repeatedly emphasized his belief that for a non-corrupt culture to develop, an example needs to be set by those in power.
But ordinary citizens are actively taking measures to denounce corruption. In late 2016, 47 sports utility vehicles and 100 motorcycles were taken by the EFCC from the home of a former-permanent secretary of the Ministry of Power. The vehicles were reportedly bought for former-President Jonathan Goodluck’s campaign for the 2015 election, and paid for in part with the proceeds of an insurance premium for deceased workers of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, funds which had allegedly been denied to their families. The vehicles were apparently spotted by an technician that had been working on a damaged automobile at the property. He reported the suspicious situation to the EPCC and the agency moved in.
Such reports have become more widespread as a result of the whistleblowing promotion program, a system set up to generously reward citizens for denouncing cases of corruption. It has become a central element in the state’s anti-graft strategy. Under the terms of the program, if actionable and precise information is provided by an individual they are entitled to anywhere between 2.5% and 5% of the money recovered.3 This campaign has been central to the recovery of nearly all of the stolen capital and assets returned over the past couple of months.
Apart from the direct financial benefits of these efforts, a key objective of the strategy is to end the cycle of looting of national funds that has been commonplace in Nigeria for decades.
The success of this recent anti-graft movement has been unprecedented. President Muhammadu Buhari, who won against former-president Goodluck Jonathan in the May 2015 elections, ran on a campaign of zero-tolerance against corruption. Since then, he fired eight managers of the NNPC on grounds of corruption and, among others, legally prosecuted a former national security adviser, the senate’s president, a former chief of defence staff, and the spokesperson and chairman of the body of trustees of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the part of Goodluck Jonathan. Some members of the opposition have questioned the president’s decisions, suggesting that the anti-corruption drive could be used to target political opponents.
But as President Buhari put it plainly, no one is above the law. “We have ensured that every proven case of corruption is prosecuted, no matter who is involved. There are no sacred cows. Anyone who has questions to answer must answer them,” he told TBY.
Naturally, it will be impossible to recover all of the capital stolen of the past few decades, and in some cases the amounts that have disappeared from national coffers has been truly astonishing. Global Financial Integrity estimated that between 2000 and 2009 alone USD182 billion was misappropriated from Nigeria’s massive oil profits.
However, the truly novel aspect of the country’s anti-graft plan has been the attempts to make oil companies pay for their share of the lost money. Just last week Nigeria charged Italian and Anglo-Dutch oil giants ENI and Shell with corruption related to the purchase of the OPL 245 oil block, estimated to be one of the richest in West Africa. OPL 245 was sold to the two companies through the brokerage of a local company, Malabu Oil and Gas, which turned out to be partly owned by the then minister of oil, Dan Etete. Etete had sold the block to himself in 1998 and then resold it to the two multinationals for the hefty sum of USD1.1 billion in 2011. He is now facing legal prosecution along with individual managers from Shell and ENI.
Such cases lie behind last Monday’s announcement by officials of a plan to implement a beneficial ownership registry, a measure demanded by anti-corruption groups across the globe and one which has yet to be established in some of the world’s most transparent democracies. When implemented, this policy will force companies to disclose all beneficiaries of contracts, regardless of how small, highlighting any potential conflicts of interest between parties in deals involving the state, as with the OPL 245 case.
Today, after decades of oil exploration and an estimated USD400 billion in revenue generated, standards of living for many in Nigeria have not changed since the 1960s.7 If Buhari’s vision of a top-down culture of honesty can be introduced, the second biggest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa, with an output of two million barrels of oil per day, might finally be turning its money toward its citizens.