The 2023 general election in Nigeria is drawing closer and one of the main issues of discussion concerning the polls is treasury looting. As you already know, treasury looting is synonymous with corruption, the cankerworm that has hindered Nigeria from progressing as a giant of Africa.
Treasury looting is a crime against any society. It is also a breach of trust between the looter and the people that elected him or her into office. Leaders who are supposed to help and protect their citizens’ interests have turned around to rob them blind to their selfish ambitions. Unfortunately, treasury looting persists today despite the widespread condemnation and punishment of looters. Let us talk about why this crime persists in Nigeria today.
What is treasury looting?
To loot means to steal or plunder either by force or stealth. Therefore, treasury looting simply means stealing public funds. Usually, it is done via stealth means by these looters, who prefer to do their “business” undetected. These public funds are meant to serve the people by bringing development to their respective geographical areas. But some corrupt politicians who have been elected into various positions collude with civil servants and seize the opportunity by stealing these funds to enrich their own pockets.
Hence, treasury looting has led to increased poverty, unemployment, an improvised economy, insecurity and other devastating effects.
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Treasury looting in Nigeria
The subject of treasury looting is not new in Nigeria’s socio-political and economic space. Since when the country gained independence, public officials have been reputed for treating public funds as their booty and their accessibility to the treasury enables them to steal without fear. Politicians are not the only guilty ones. Even junior public officials like civil servants have been known for stealing public funds whenever they have the opportunity.
In the days of our ancestors, there were no banks. The currencies in those days were cowries and farthings. People kept their money in clay pots and buried them on the farm. Sometimes the money is lost due to certain factors such as forgetting the burial positions and anthills developing on the burial positions.
Now we are in the 21st century which brought the development of banks. Most reasonable people in Nigeria keep their money in banks. But on April 16, 2017, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, made a shocking revelation. He said:
“We have been told how looters have resorted to burying stolen funds in their backyards, in deep forests and even in burial grounds… It is now clear that a rapacious few have pillaged the nation’s wealth through a vicious orgy of corrupt practices.”
The commencement of the Fourth Republic in 1999 saw the Nigerian government, under the leadership of President Olusegun Obasanjo, set up two anti-graft bodies namely: The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), as part of the administration’s zero tolerance for treasury looting and other corrupt practices. Although some arrests have been made, looters stripped of their properties, charged and jailed, the crime persists today.
The incumbent Muhammadu Buhari-led administration introduced the whistleblowing policy, promising anyone who has come forward with proof to expose a looter will be rewarded a certain percentage of the loot. In 2018, the government even went as far as publishing the list of looters, in response to the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) challenge to the government to name those alleged to have looted the country and destroyed the economy.
Although some of the alleged looters on the list have been arrested and charged, the majority of them are roaming around freely today. Based on the government’s somewhat failed efforts to combat treasury looting, are flaunting their booties with reckless abandon, building edifices, throwing parties, driving posh cars and travelling abroad anyhow.
With the introduction of the naira redesign, whose policy became effective on 15 December, it is anticipated that looted funds will become useless because they will no longer be legal tender. Also, the limited circulation of these new designs will help reduce treasury looting in Nigeria.
Effects of treasury looting
The effects of treasury looting are many and devastating. Let’s take a look at some of them.
When public officials loot the nation’s treasury, there will be little or nothing left to cater for the people. People are left to fend for themselves, which automatically leads to a high rate of poverty. Nigeria is a perfect example. People are hungry and dying. More and more of the middle class are joining the increasing lower class, thanks to treasury looters who find joy in enriching their pockets at the detriment of others.
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Take a look at most infrastructure in Nigeria. Most of them are dilapidating. Every day, Nigerians hear of the government announcing funds that have been earmarked for some projects but hardly see these so-called projects come to completion. It is either they have not been started at all or they have been abandoned halfway.
This is the work of treasury looters, who have stolen the earmarked funds for the projects. What we have now are bad and abandoned roads and dilapidating structures due to lack of maintenance and other factors that indicate underdevelopment in the country.
Government funds are meant to help the economy. When these funds are looted, what will be used to boost the economy? Part of Nigeria’s economic woes is treasury looting, as public officials steal money meant for the development of infrastructure to boost the economy.
For instance, the country is presently battling with oil theft, which has largely contributed to economic problems in Nigeria. The government needs funds to rebuild the refineries and fight against corruption in the oil sector. But when public officials have looted the funds, it will severely limit what the government can do.
When the economy is bad, businesses and corporate organisations will not thrive. Thus, unemployment will rise and people will suffer. Thanks to treasury looting, economic activities in Nigeria are almost halted to ground zero and many are losing their jobs and joining the already overflooded labour market.
A hungry man is an angry man. When public officials have looted the nation’s coffers to the point where the government is helpless to do something, insecurity will rise. The country’s national security threat is now determined by cyber insecurity (fraud or yahoo yahoo), climate change and environmental insecurity, food insecurity, kidnapping, armed robbery and terrorism. Most of the unemployed class are vibrant youths, some of whom have diverted their energy into crimes to survive.
The recent ASUU strike, which lasted for almost nine months, has shown how poor the education system is in Nigeria. Ironically, most prominent public officials send their children abroad to study. They will rather loot public funds to ensure their children have a comfortable education in more advanced countries than allow the government to use these funds to develop the education sector in the country. The result is many Nigerian students are disillusioned about education, many preferring to japa abroad to either continue their education or hustle.
Protests and anarchy
When treasury looters continue to be tolerated, a time will come when the people will revolt and it usually comes with deadly consequences. Recall the #EndSARS protests of 2020 which resulted in total anarchy in some parts of the country. It was also at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown, which saw hoodlums loot the palliatives and innocent people’s stores and warehouses.
How to stop treasury looting in Nigeria
The executive and the legislature craft more pieces of legislation to effectively mitigate treasury looting in the country.
The judiciary should be independent and empowered to ensure that looters meet the appropriate punishment without external influence.
The public must be empowered to recall any elected lawmaker engaging in treasury looting.
The immunity clause protecting the executive must be removed to keep them accountable for their deeds.
Independent investigations should be allowed for anti-corruption agencies like the EFCC, ICPC and the DSS to do their jobs without approval from the executive.
The periodic change of currency notes should continue to render stashed looted funds useless.
Times are hard but treasury looters, if allowed to continue, will make things harder. Many Nigerians are still blaming the colonial masters for bringing corruption into the country but that is just a cheap excuse.
Nigerians should look into the fact that the problems of Nigeria currently are Nigerians. Public officials are not foreigners but our brothers and sisters who we elected into office to take care of our welfare. We should hold them accountable, instead of blaming random foreigners for looting the country’s treasury.
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