Requiem Corruption: How Budeshi is building Solid Foundation for National Development in Nigeria by Ani, Nwachukwu Agwu

Nigeria has had a checkered political and economic history since 1914 upon the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern protectorates. It is Africa’s largest country by population, with about 200 million people, more than 350 ethnic groups, and as many languages. Like many other African countries, Nigeria won her independence in 1960. It went on to put in place a parliamentary democracy akin to the Britain’s, with a prime minister. This era, generally known in the country as the first republic, lasted from 1960 to 1966 and was marked by ethnic tensions, poor governance and corruption.

Among other factors, corruption was used to justify the military coups of 1966–1967 by the plotters, whose aftermaths threw the country into a civil war. The coups and the war paved the way for almost three decades of military rule, interrupted only briefly from 1979 to 1983 when General Olusegun Obasanjo returned the country to civilian rule under President Shehu Shagari. The 1983 coup of General Muhammadu Buhari ensured that the military stayed in control of political power until the return of democracy in 1999 with Olusegun Obasanjo as the president.

An encompassing definition of corruption is one aspect that has remained contentious among lawyers and prosecutors. Nevertheless, according to Transparency International, corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It is the active or passive misuse of the powers of public officials for private financial or other benefits. The main element of these definitions is that individuals, such as government officials, misuse the authority granted to them by their position for personal gain or the benefit of their allies.

The years of military rule were politically and economically disastrous for Nigeria. Corruption, believed to be already burgeoning under the early politicians, became entrenched under military rule, and an elite class with a very limited vision of the future of the country came into being. My impression is that military era squandered every amount of fiscal responsibility left by the British colonialists at the wake of independence in 1960.

Systemically, incidence of corruption is recorded to be incubated and nurtured by weak anti-graft institutions, lack of rule of law, lack of patriotism, degraded value system and others. Weak procurement and appropriation systems yield both fraud and sharp practices. Secret or weak procurement law is responsible for what have come to be known as budget padding; bogus and frivolous line items or ghost constituency projects which constitute leakages in public budget allocations. This is more predominant at the subnational levels of government where there is a zero checks and balances to hold governors accountable. In my estimation and hypothesis; the politics of constituency projects is the largest single drain in national treasuries since the return to democracy in 1999.

In my understanding, the discrepancy in our contracting and procurement laws is the key concern that Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) and Budeshi are designed to address. The uniqueness and novelty of PPDC-Budeshi lies in the fact that the platforms are citizen-driven initiatives. PPDC-Budeshi came on the heels of time when it is no longer fashionable or helpful to place every responsibility for change on the government. This is the underlying debate for citizen engagement. The time is here for a paradigm shift, a new practical approach that will see individuals initiating citizen processes and collaborating with policy-makers towards achieving public service reforms, open contracting and open government.

My love for Budeshi stems from the relationship between open government and PPDC-Budeshi. Budeshi (which is Hausa for “Open it”) espouses the principles of participatory democracy; transparency and accountability and ultimately anti-corruption. For the past three years, Budeshi has been highlighting the relevance of contracting data gotten from MDAs, empowering citizens to get involved and raising active citizens as foot soldiers for our nascent democracy. Amidst a hostile political environment which has extinguished many voices, PPDC-Budeshi remains like a fountain where citizens recharge their commitment (in terms of data and records) in monitoring government projects in their localities.

For the first time in my life, I bear witness and testify to the power of citizen engagement and Freedom of Information Act, 2011. I stumbled on the website of PPDC in 2015 during my NYSC; it did change my perception and understanding of governance. For emphasis, let me make reference to FOI Act Compliance & Transparency Rankings. I never knew about FOI Act that enables citizens to request information from public institutions and these institutions are compelled to respond to citizens’ requests within 7 days. To shorten my story, it was PPDC-Budeshi that emboldened my desire to engage with state authorities; asking questions and demanding answers. In the last three years, Budeshi has monitored a total number of six thousand, four hundred and ninety nine (6,499) projects. The worth of these projects in Naira is One hundred and sixty eight billion, one hundred and seventy eight million, nine hundred and eighty five thousand, one hundred and eighty two Naira and eighty-eight Kobo (N168, 178, 985, 182. 88K). It is a feat that has neither been attained nor surpassed in Nigeria.

Although the activities of Budeshi cut across the African continent, it has visualized data sets received from the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) and the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA). For working or selecting campaigns on basic education and primary health care sub-sectors, I am particularly aroused and moved. This is coming when the World Bank and global development practice is laying emphases on: Investing in People.

Recently, I believe it was a commendation for Budeshi when Bill Gates said: If you invest in their health, education, and opportunities — the “human capital” we are talking about today — then they will lay the foundation for sustained prosperity. If you don’t, however, then it is very important to recognize that there will be a sharp limit on how much the country can grow… To anchor the economy over the long term, investments in infrastructure and competitiveness must go hand in hand with investments in people. People without roads, ports, and factories can’t flourish. And roads, ports, and factories without skilled workers to build and manage them can’t sustain an economy.

To me, Bill Gates’ advice to the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) was well received. However, permit me to confirm that before Bill Gate came to Nigeria early this year, Budeshi had already taken initiatives aimed at harvesting public data that could enhance access to basic education and healthcare in Nigeria. Your interventions are also perfectly synchronized with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is why I have tagged my essay along building solid foundations for national development. Lest I forget, I added a prefix, requiem corruption, because I know that the invaluable contributions of Budeshi are capable of suffocating corruption. The implication is that money/funds would be freed from corrupt networks while such monies would be appropriated for social amenities and infrastructural development.

The manner and style adopted by Budeshi in fighting corruption is strategic and preventive. Open contracting has the capacity of exposing corrupt intentions right from the beginning when financial details and contract processes are transparent, without sacred cows. What Budeshi is addressing is synchronized with the ideals or elements of Open Government and e-government.

The manifest consequences of corrupt practices cannot be over-emphasized across sectors and space. It skews public investment choices away from service delivery toward “lucrative areas” such as large construction and infrastructure projects. It is a public knowledge that perceptions of rampant corruption contribute to public disillusionment with the practice of procedural democracy. Corrupt practices undermine both the legitimacy and effectiveness of governments and new democracies. It further undermines democratic values of citizenship, accountability, justice, and fairness.

In our changing world, one legacy, innovation or movement I would want sustained for my children is Budeshi. I will take them on introductory stories on how Budeshi started and deepened the culture of open contracting, transparency and anti-corruption in Nigeria. If it happens that I win the prize for this challenge, I would deploy it to getting out-of-school children back to schools in my community — Onicha Igboeze in Ebonyi State. I will also encourage them to join the Budeshi movement as soon as they come of age. My ultimate aim is to see corruption strangled and interred. Optimistically, this is why I have chosen to celebrate the death of corruption in Nigeria. Hurray for Budeshi!