NIGERIA'S PROCUREMENT CULTURE: UNYIELDING CONSTANT IN THE OFFICIAL CORRUPTION EQUATION

NIGERIA'S PROCUREMENT CULTURE: UNYIELDING CONSTANT IN THE OFFICIAL CORRUPTION EQUATION

 It is becoming increasingly clear that President Olusegun Obasanjo did a yeoman's job in the fight against official corruption in Nigeria. It was he who set up the ICPC and then the EFCC and gave them teeth to bite. The calibre of men and woman he selected to pioneer these anti-corruption institutions is yet to be equalled in subsequent appointments. He also activated the Code of Conduct bureau and breathed some life into it. It must be admitted though that he used some of these institutions as attack dogs, but who has not since Obasanjo. Indeed the succeeding Presidents have used these institutions to chase mostly political opponents. Obasanjo used these institutions to bring men of power to some accountability and without the battle Obasanjo's EFCC waged against '419', there would have been nothing left of Nigeria's image by now. Until Nuhu Ribadu went after them Nigeria had been fully branded as the World's headquarters of Advance Fee Fraud.
  But I think that Obasanjo's greatest achievement in the anticorruption war was the establishment of the Due-Process office which later metamorphosed into the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP). Obasanjo understood that corrupt procurement practices had been come a culture in the public sector and that it was central to dealing with public sector corruption. He got the no-nonsense ideologue and activist, Oby Ezekwesili and the great Professor of repute kunle Ade Wahab to lay the foundation for the due-process office. Oby who later won her self the sobriquet 'madam due process' moved on to start another anti-corruption agency-NEITI which was the first of such globally affiliated organizations to Extractive Industries Transparency initiative (EITI )to backed by national legislation. Oby subsequently joined the cabinet as minister of Solid Minerals and later for Education leaving behind a string of successes and controversies.
 But since then, the due process office seems to have deteriorated into 'undue-Process' office with some of its powers being undermined.
  Somehow, the corruption demon that resides in the corridors and the other rooms of our MDAs have invaded not only the BPP but the entire due-process system. Yes, much of the motions are still going on. Newspaper and Journal adverts, closing dates, tender committees and tender boards, closing and opening of Bids. But in most cases, the preferred bidders are already known before the bid closes. The problem is not with obtaining PENCOM certificate, or tax clearance or NSITF registration, all that are easy to get one way or the other. The problem is how we can guard the process to achieve transparency, level playing ground, competitiveness and value for money. How can we make the process transparent enough so that confidence can be restored on procurement processes in our Nation? Most ordinary Nigerians and even non-Nigerians currently have little or no confidence in any public -sector procurement in Nigeria. I am aware that there are exceptions. But they are generally few and far in between.
 I therefore truly believe that it is in the procurement process that we really need to wage the war against corruption. Most procurements never get to the BPP. Many are subdivided so that they do not even get to the tenders board. There is so much malfeasance at every level. Can we do anything here? Yes we can. Let us stop focusing only on politicians. The real focus must be on the directors and permanent secretaries who perpetrate most of the 'undue process'. This civil and public servants are the ones who help the politicians to abuse the trust and the system. No matter what is the budget of any MDA or even that of the National Assembly, the Politicians do not process award documents, many do not award contracts and most do not sign any cheques or vouchers. The Directors and Permanent secretaries do. And so if we ever hope to win this war, then we must sanitize the procurement process in every department and ministry of government at all tiers of government-Federal, State and local government.
  We need to reorientate our civil service officers, persuade them to respect the procurement process, set up mechanisms to blow whistles when any step in the procurement process is missed or compromised and to punish any breaches with utmost seriousness. If our procurement process was right, the suspended SGF would never have been allowed to award contracts to his company. Some of the arsenal we have deployed to watch and chase politicians (especially those in opposition) should be redirected to monitoring the procurement process. It requires a cultural challenge which will take a long time to fully manifest. That is why it would have been better to have left Oby and her team long enough to effect this cultural change through the system. The government needs to be determined and sincere about this. It must be shorn of politics and must be managed by non-partisan politicians. Indeed, given the confidence the President has on Ibrahim Magu, maybe he should be reassigned to head the due process or the Procurement management machinery for government. He will help to reduce the incidence of Former government officials hiding millions of dollars and Naira in private houses, because most of the stolen money come through procurement processes or in some cases through the diversion of National income.
  I am not sure that I have made this case strong enough but to stop this vicious cycle and stop the bleeding, we must change our procurement culture. If we are able to achieve this, I believe that up to 80% of the official corruption in Nigeria will be eliminated. The benefits would be humongous to the average Nigerian, our investment climate will improve so much and the corruption perception index of Nigeria will fall. 
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR 


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