Stemming the Revenue, Revue and White Collar crime in Abia State – By Eddie Onuzuruike

Internally generated revenue is as old as government in

Nigeria. Even before the coming of the Whiteman, villages and communities had

ways and means through which funds were generated for public good. Before the

money economy, many traditional leaders and heads in the villages harnessed

efforts and labour from the entire community to accomplish tasks. It is of note

that the sophisticated governance of today evolved from rural experience. Like

late Dr Onwuhara prognosticated ‘there is hardly a new road that doesn’t run

into an old one.’ There is no doubt that the framework for governance has to

be  oiled in form of taxes, rates, levies

and the issuance of licenses to operators of businesses like on and off

licenses for liquor and all.

 

These are all applicable today and vested with the three tiers

of government making some exclusive for the federal and state governments. The

colonial government made good use of these and left a near-perfect framework that

was fraud-free. The internal audits and auditors of local governments,

ministries, parastatals, even with the recent nomenclature as MDAs are trained

in fraud detection. The Checkers in the accounts are implanted to nip fraud in

the bud, but these high scale frauds curiously filter through their fingers.

The above agencies used the colonial template efficiently. Unfortunately,

nothing lasts forever and consequently, loopholes within this age long

operation has been discovered and thus, this near-perfect accounting checks and

balance system has been rapaciously and lopsidedly tipped, becoming a victim of

collaborative fraud by an unholy cartel within the accounting cadres. It may be

nothing new and may not be peculiar to Abia State alone as the newspapers have

been awash with shocking unearthing of criminal maneuvers in the Federal Civil

Service payrolls and pension frauds exposed even in some police departments. The

ghost worker incidence which hitherto occurred in tens has left the closet and

now rage and range in hundreds, in some cases thousands. These trained and

sworn gatekeepers and custodians know very well the implications of the hideous

acts but greed has transformed them into treasury looters, depleting the barn

they are sworn to protect. They are designs gone out of the manufacturer’s specification,

more like monsters and gizmos displacing the indispensable home appliances. In

poetic rhyme and paradox, the keeper has transformed into a killer and the

hunter ferociously hunted.

 

According to a Philippine proverb, ‘Nothing destroys iron like its own rust.’

 

For this horrendous

decay and rust in the Civil Service and LGA system, His Excellency Dr T A Orji,

having in mind the proverbial saying that a scheduled war does not take the

cripple by surprise has in a procedural manner and equally in categories and groups

held consultations and meetings, warning all that are involved in the

collaborative fraud that has resulted in the depletion of the tills they are

supposed to protect to desist as it will not be business as usual anymore. Among

these groups were commissioners, heads of service of the seventeen LGAs,

Council chairmen, Local Government Service commissioners, Town planning

officers, LGA treasurers and all. He must have had in mind Erich Fromm (1900 – 1980)

German-born U.S. psychoanalyst and philosopher who once said

‘Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to

satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.’ He bemoaned the fact that Abia runs drastically short

of IGRs where it is expected to generate two billon Naira, monthly. To make

matters worse, the LGAs make secret of their IGR profile. It is a common sight

to see toughies struggle with drivers and chase people about for one revenue or

the other yet the result does not get to government coffers. For this moral

decay and misappropriation of funds, he instructed that councils should

disengage multiple revenue consultants as there will just be one for the state.

For the first time there was a subtle threat that heads will roll if there is

no change of attitude.

 

Of all the

categories, the local government system seems to be deeply enmeshed. All

efforts and reforms to raise the revenue profile have proved abortive.  His Excellency Dr T A Orji is aware of this

state of quandary after all, he has spent all his life working within the system.

To heal this festering sore, he deployed one of the most experienced hands and

a confidant, Engineer Emma Nwabuko to pull the chestnut out of the fire. Sir Emma,

with enviable knowledge in computer engineering and its multiple applications,

especially in fraud detection, introduced the data capture method which has

proved successful in checking fraud and absenteeism in numerous places. He was

dazzled beyond words. His experience is shocking and can frighten the broad

daylight out of a Scotland Yard detective. There has been an embargo on

employment, coupled with the restructuring and reengineer intended to breathe a

new life to service in Abia and at the same time create employment

opportunities while improving the wage bill digit. These turned out to be

mirages. There are strong indications that names of bodiless persons were

inflected into the payroll.

 

By the

nature of the council, some designated staff who are engaged on fieldwork are

exempted from the daily computer data capture. For samplers, field workers on

revenue drive, surveyors and engineers on road maintenance and health workers

who always engage in inoculation and immunization exercises and other public

heath activities. Equally exempted are people on study leave. In a volte-face

many names were posted to this cadre that are exempted from the data capture.  When this was discovered and challenged, they

turned to blackmail deceiving fellow staff with a false allegation that the Hon

Commissioner was responsible for their delayed salaries while in truth they

refused to adapt to the stipulations that a worker should have at least 50%

attendance in a month to be qualified for remuneration. As if this was not enough, they mounted a shameless protest at the

Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs. Is this not a case of the

culprit chasing the policeman in broad day light?

 

From all the above, it is obvious that a closely knit cartel

is throwing spanners at work making it look like treating a problem that needs

antibiotic shots with paracetamol. For

instance, why would there be a massive posting of workers from other

departments to revenue department- one of the exempted groups from the data

capture?  Curious enough, a quarter of

the council workers claim to be on study leave most of them without approval?

This is a strong indication that highly placed officers are part of this

indecorous cartel

 

The Governor as we know him is very

patient, considerate, highly knowledgably of the system. From experience, an

insider can decipher codes, detect errors, pinpoint avoidable mistakes and in

many cases uncover highly conceived plots and presumed perfected heists. Many

may assume that his love for his constituency, the Civil Service may inhibit

him from stepping on toes but not when it runs counter to the welfare of Abia

citizenry and the arduous funding of massive transformation projects. This will

certainly be a game changer if they heed his warnings and turn a new leaf,

conversely heads will roll cataclysmically.

Eddie Onuzuruike

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