The outgoing Ambassador and Head of the European Union (EU) delegation in Nigeria and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), David Macrae, has asked the Federal Government to take steps to tackle corruption and impunity in the system if Nigeria is to achieve her development potentials.
Mr. Macrae, who was speaking in Abuja on Tuesday as part of activities to mark the conclusion of his tour of duty in Nigeria, also asked government to make efforts to entrench transparency in the electoral process in the country to engender confidence and trust among the people.
The envoy, who commended government’s efforts to tackle the terrorism in the country, said despite reports of heavy handedness by the security forces, Nigerians must give the necessary support and be vigilant to move the country forward.
“Corruption is a serious challenge,” Mr. Macrae said. “Impunity is serious. It does not care how high a person is. The point is that it is more important that the high people are brought to justice or punished when they do bad things. But, it seems it is the small people that get punished. The big fraudsters get away with it. And that cannot possibly be right.”
He spoke on the problem of crude oil theft and the impact on the country’s economy, pointing out that if indeed what the Minister of Finance and Coordinator for the Economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, claims the country was losing daily was true, government must do something more drastic to stop the menace.
“From what has been sent to me by people in the oil industry, who should know, that only about 10 per cent of the oil is being stolen, then a rough calculation shows that about $25million is lost every day. I was in Onitsha recently, and the governor was making extra efforts to find the money to address the serious problem of water and sanitation needs of the people of Onitsha, which is a very important ancient city of this country.
“The governor was looking for $8million to finance the project to bring water to the city. But, this is in a country where $25million is being lost daily through crude oil theft. With that amount, water could have been provided to the whole of Onitsha in one day. Another day, a similar provision could be made to the whole of Kano; another day, the whole of another city. In a week or two, if it is true what is being reported, then the whole country would have been covered, if that money was used properly,” he said.
On his impression about Nigeria, Mr. Macrae said having lived in the country throughout the period of his tour of duty, he has known the country long enough to know that there are a lot of good Nigerians around the world, with about 45,000 working in America and about 2 million living in the U.K.
Acknowledging Nigeria as a very important factor in Africa, Mr. Macrae said having lived and worked in East Africa, Central Africa, and Southern Africa as well as Gambia, Senegal and Chad, he never knew enough about Africa until he came to Nigeria.
“I had not worked in Nigeria before. What I used to say was that if I retired then, I had known a lot about Africa. But, with what I know today, you cannot say you have known Africa enough if you have not been to Nigeria.
“Nigeria is such an important element in Africa that you have to be here to really understand Africa fully. Nigeria is such a diversity of people, with 250 different ethnic groups. They are quite different in languages, customs and culture.
“If you go to Anambra, it is not the same situation with Kano or Jigawa. If you go to Lagos, it is a different story of an incredible city or mega polis. If you look at the constructions that are taking place in Abuja, it is such an incredible range of experiences in Nigeria.
“There is such a tremendously rich culture, and such dynamism in the business community. These are the things I treasure to take away about Nigeria. It is a tremendous country. These are the things that make Nigerians to be proud to be Nigerians. In spite of the things I talked about Nigeria earlier, it is also a great pride being a Nigerian.”
He identified sanity in the judicial system as crucial to tackle the issue of impunity in the country, pointing expressing regrets that since 2012, politicians have already started talking about the next election in 2015.
“In the last six to eight months people have started talking about who wants to take over the next government. It is little bit of a distraction to talk about such issues at this time when the effort should go into making things happen; delivering services; putting in place necessary infrastructure to tackle issues like the crude oil theft,” he said.
Though he acknowledged that democracy was alive in Nigeria, he called for a broader approach by ensuring that there was internal democracy within the political parties, adding that there was need to instill transparency in the electoral process and the political parties for democracy to take roots.