Armsgate: The Thin Line Between Gift and Graft, By ‘Dayo Orolu
It is…important for individuals and organisations engaged in the public sector to borrow a leaf from the corporate world where the thin line between gifts and graft has been clearly marked, broadened and highlighted. In the end, both the motive and means would be weighed; the means, more likely to have empirical attributes than the motive can be a veritable tool in the hands of the prosecutor.
The recent revelations from the Nigerian government’s probe of the alleged misappropriation of the $2.1billion fund for the fight against insurgency in the North-East region by the erstwhile administration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan has been mind-boggling to say the least. Top members of the former ruling party and some senior citizens have been or are being questioned and arraigned in Court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commissions (EFCC) based on fund transferred directly from the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) for reasons other than national security. Many of the alleged cash recipients have been quick to explain the purpose in an effort to clear their names in the court of public opinion. However, judging from their numerous press statements, it’s evident that the line between gift and graft might have been crossed, knowingly or otherwise.
Political activities and elections are expensive all over the world. But the means of financing such humongous exercise differ across jurisdictions. In the United States of America, crowd funding has become a veritable means, whereby loyal party members and supporters contribute token amounts, which in turn become huge sums in the party’s purse. In the build up to the 2015 general elections in Nigeria, the then opposition party – the All Progressives Congress (APC) had deployed different means to source for funds for their activities. Prominent among the means was the partnership with the GSM firms; a move that was later blocked by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). Apparently, while the APC was at it, the ruling party was having a field day through the ONSA.
Personally, the least expected case on the ‘Armsgate’ was the payment of ₦100 million to a former Presidential Candidate in the 1999 elections, Chief Olu Falae. Chief Falae had at various times served as Managing Director of a bank, the Secretary to the Federal Government, Minister of Finance, (notable for the introduction of the Structural Adjustment Programme), and in the past 20 years, has been one of the respected National leaders, especially among the Yoruba ethnic group. In his response, Chief Falae admitted to receiving the said sum but for the purpose of mobilising his party, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) for the re-election of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. According to him, he was contacted by the then president and an agreement was reached between both parties leading to the payment of the said sum. Ordinarily, this would have been a very legitimate transaction but for the means through which the payment was made. What was the role of the nation’s ONSA in the agreement between two political parties? Could Chief Falae have been carried away by the huge sum that he did not sense any red flag in the process the said payment was made through? Chief Falae was not alone in this (deliberate or ignorant?) act. There was the case of Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, former President of the Senate, who claimed to have received consideration for ‘Consultancy’ Services; similar to the case of the founder of DAAR Communications Plc, Dr. Raymond Dokpesi. The public space had been occupied with details of several huge sums paid to individuals and corporate bodies that had no business with National Security matters.
Another subtle form of corruption in organisations is through ‘gifts’, especially during festive seasons or special occasions… these may no longer be gifts, but ‘graft’.
In the global business environment, many organisations have devised water-tight policies to mitigate the risk of bribery and money-laundering acts being perpetrated. In some of these organisations, especially the multi-national entities, due-diligence is carried out on any potential customer or vendor before such is engaged. Specialised trainings and periodic certifications are done within the entities just to ensure the employees are duly aware of the red-flags of bribery, corruption and anti-money laundering. This is because, while the entity may assume it’s dealing with another on a legitimate basis, there is a ‘reputational risk’ that must be mitigated at all times. For every transaction, there must be an executed agreement stating the respective roles, rights and obligations of all parties including the banking details where payments will be made from or received into. As a matter of fact, there is a higher risk when ‘politically exposed persons’ are involved directly or indirectly in transactions.
Another subtle form of corruption in organisations is through ‘gifts’, especially during festive seasons or special occasions. When a major supplier to your organisation is offering you an all-expense-paid vacation to a choice location, or you are presented with a Rolex wrist-watch at your birthday party, or an unemployed relative is offered a position in the supplier’s organisation without following the proper recruitment process, these may no longer be gifts, but ‘graft’.
In the political landscape, because of the avalanche of factors at play, actors usually throw caution into the winds at election times. This is either due to the lack of appropriate knowledge or sheer lack of respect for due process.
In the political landscape, because of the avalanche of factors at play, actors usually throw caution into the winds at election times. This is either due to the lack of appropriate knowledge or sheer lack of respect for due process. It’s imperative that the nation’s anti-corruption agencies and the National Orientation Agency should devote more time and resources on creating awareness among the people, specifically on forms of financial crimes and corruption. Basic issues such as the importance of written agreements, mode of payments/receipts of considerations, and history of individuals involved in the transaction must be emphasised. The role of third parties, where applicable, must be clearly stated and documented in the executed agreement. Take for instance the case of Chief Olu Falae; would there have been an issue if the ₦100 million alleged to have been received was directly paid from the bank account of then ruling PDP or the Jonathan Campaign Organisation? The mere fact that the payment was made through a third party that was not part of the so-called ‘agreement’ was enough to put the old Chief on enquiry.
It is therefore important for individuals and organisations engaged in the public sector to borrow a leaf from the corporate world where the thin line between gifts and graft has been clearly marked, broadened and highlighted. In the end, both the motive and means would be weighed; the means, more likely to have empirical attributes than the motive can be a veritable tool in the hands of the prosecutor.
‘Dayo Orolu, a Finance and Accounting Expert, writes from Lagos.