A probe by a Nigerian parliamentary anti-corruption committee that ended last week has uncovered serious evidence of fraud and corruption in the country’s power and energy sectors. The misdeeds were said to occur between 1999 and last year, during the eight-year rule of President Olusegun Obasanjo, while thousands of Nigerians were subject to unpredictable losses in the operation of their electrical power. Auwal Musa Rafsanjani is a civil society advocate for the anti-corruption watchdog group Transparency in Nigeria, which is affiliated with the world organization Transparency International. He says that last week’s nationally televised hearings will have a great impact on the public’s readiness to demand changes from the reform-minded regime of President Obasanjo’s successor, Umaru Yar’Adua.
“Former President Obasanjo was actually at the center of the embezzling, so we hope that this time around, the situation will not be kept like the other degradations that took place in the country. We will mobilize support for the Nigerian legislators to continue to carry out public hearings on other public sectors, like the petroleum sector. Nigerians believe that they were pretty well wasted by the former regime,” he said.
Citing evidence that last week’s nationally televised hearings had an impact locally in Nigeria, Rafsanjani also voiced the hope that their international coverage would prod the world community to join in supporting safeguards against future abuse of Nigerian public funds by fabricated investors and non-existent contractors.
“To many people it was shocking because of the support that the international community had given to former President Obasanjo, who was actually personalizing the governors, trying to ensure that everything would come around. But some of us were very skeptical with his own moves because we all knew that he was not ready to share, because he was very selective, and he was very political and vindictive on the issue of the fight against corruption. So some of us saw a red light and long ago and we have tried to draw the attention of the international community. But the international community did not respond in a manner that could have helped to address the issue,” he noted.
Still irritated by the continuing frequent cutoffs of power under the Yar’Adua administration, Nigerians remain skeptical about the new leadership’s commitment to opening up better service. The Transparency Nigeria advocate says that in light of last week’s ground-breaking hearings, the current administration will be forced by an angry public to face a series of legislative hurdles to which they will be expected to provide a satisfactory response.
“We have some laws, and I feel the government is not willing to implement it, like the Fiscal Responsibility Act, like the Public Procurement Act, which is actually supposed to stop public officials from looting from and placing contracts, from dealing contracts to companies that do not exist. The Public Procurement Act is very much around. It has been signed by the president, Yar’Adua. But its implementation has not started,” said Rafsanjani, who notes that with last Friday’s close of publicly televised hearings, he hopes Nigerian legislators will conduct investigations of other essential services, like water, petroleum, and communications.
“What we are hoping to do is that here for the first time the public hearing was televised. Now the committees, the national assembly and government can no longer pretend on the issues. So that even if they manipulate the report of the hearing, Nigerians and other members of the international community are already working on how much money has been looted, on how companies that were non-existent, but who President Obasanjo was using for presidential power to actually allow contracts to non-existing clients, there is a limit with which government can cover up on this,” says Rafsanjani.