Between corruption and efficiency, By Uddin Ifeanyi

Ifeanyi Uddin disagrees with official statistics saying inflation has been on the upswing all year, causing rising food prices, reducing disposable income, and hurting households' welfare

Exasperated, we (Nigerians) are wont to describe “corrupt practices” as the only “industry” that thrives in the country. Ignored by official bean counters, anecdotal evidence of corruption abounds. An effete population’s recourse? Against the huge sums of money cited as stolen by the prosecution in the James Ibori case (in the UK), the Central Bank of Nigeria’s successful prosecution of some bank helms people, and the fact that Nigerians now account for more private jet ownership than any other nationals on the continent, we hold up the shameful circumstance in which the large number of our people eke out a deteriorating living.

The empirical effects of an otherwise improperly run state are more vivid yet. A different reading of the script recognises that as an economy, we have made the difficult transition, along with other advanced economies, from the noticeable presence of manufacturing (3.95% of GDP as at the second quarter of this year) activity to a service (circa 21%) economy, without creating any real value in the process.

We have signally failed to build the physical and social infrastructure without which an economy will find it hard to supply products and services to meet its people’s demand. Our bureaucracy is prominent not for what it does, but because we no longer have a sense of what it can or ought to do. What passes for the private sector lampoons the notion of industry generally. No less venal than the public sector, its genius lies in its ability to leave beneath the radar of public indignation. Communal relationships on the other hand, breakdown slowly, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the low-intensity war being waged by Boko Haram’s combatants against the state. But even more significant, there is growing evidence of decay in interpersonal relations. Nothing seems to be working in the country any more. And on the back of all these (or just may be in spite of them), corrupt practices thrive!

Or so I thought until recently. That was before I read the samizdat version of the Ribadu Report on the alleged knavery in the oil and gas industry. Now, I wonder how true this claim is. We may not be as corrupt as we imagine. Criminally incompetent? Definitely! Examples? Apparently, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) backs out from its remittances to the federal coffers all monies purportedly lost to pipeline damages and expended thereafter on the repair of same. Although the oil companies are supposed to pay a gas flaring penalty, no one knows how much this penalty is (whether N10 per cubic feet or US$3.50), nor for that matter is there an accounting for how much gas is flared. In the end, no one pays anything, and no question is asked. Furthermore, the dissonance between subsidiaries of the NNPC and their banker (CBN) on payments into the former’s account would have been plain comical were it not also derisory.

When then it is bruited about that Nigeria is losing a certain amount of its daily crude oil production to bunkerers, what does this mean? Especially when no one appears to be metering production in the first place. One argument that I have heard for these macabre goings-on is that corrupt practice require significant levels of incompetence and indolence to facilitate it long its preferred path. True, many of the practice incongruities that emerge when evidence of corrupt practices is aired in any sector of the economy are consciously engineered to make the resulting theft/defalcation possible.

But there is a space for wondering if even in our practice of the corrupt we might just be as incompetent, as our endeavours in other spheres bear testimony. I am not sure for instance that the Italian Cosa Nostra, or any such organised crime syndicate would, seated atop the Nigerian oil and gas sector, permit so much leakage. The bookkeeper, and the diligent accounting associated therewith is at the heart of organised crime. My sense, therefore, is that even as a people predisposed to filch and to misappropriate, we remain bungling and inept. Hardly surprising this, for our inability to count is generally recognised, and especially implicated in our favourite excuse for not being able to turn up at events on schedule.

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