By Esosa Cole
Great countries have watershed occurrences that mark significant changes in the course of their histories. France can point at its Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. While the United States America can allude to its Revolution and Emancipation Proclamation. In the same stead can the Federal Republic of Nigeria mention the adoption of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) as a major turning point in its history.
TSA is a system of public cash management which stipulates a single bank account or a set of linked account to be deployed in the handling of all governmental cash assets. The policy, developed by the International Monetary Fund, was fully implemented by President Muhammad Buhari in 2015 to promote accountability and transparency in public administration. All Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and Government Owned Enterprises (GOEs) were directed to transfer all financial assets from commercial banks to a consolidated revenue fund domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Since its implementation, it has saved the country over N8.7tn in maintenance fees paid to banks for the several accounts previously operated by MDAs and the discovery of over 45,000 ghost workers on the FG payroll.
In spite of the inestimable success of the policy, some MDAs and GOEs are plagued by the sinister desire to subvert the policy with the ultimate goal of fattening their pockets. These machinations are perpetuated in a manner that overtly displays their disdain for the rule of law and impedes the drive for a better Nigeria. As a matter of fact, revenue-generating MDAs and GOEs are the most culpable in this regard with the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) embodying all that is wrong with the country.
NIS, since time immemorial, has been impervious to change and a cash cow for looters of the nation’s treasury. From endless queues and opaque fees when attempting to secure a national passport booklet, to greasing of palms with naira notes at the collection of the foregoing passport; months after delays over non-availability of booklets. It is a cesspit of corruption that no administration has purified.
The decadence reached a tipping point in 2018 when some officials of the agency petitioned President Buhari over the activities of the comptroller-general, Muhammed Babandede. The petition accused him of flagrantly disregarding corrupt practices in the agency and diverting millions of naira into personal accounts. But like all things about this country, that too was swiftly swept under the carpet.
Also, in 2018, the practice of issuing biometric visa-on-arrival to foreigners at the rate of $110 using shell companies was unearthed by some members of the media. The fee was split amongst two questionable companies, Online Integrated Services (OIS) and New Works, with little to no digital footprint. In fairness to the ministry, the action was halted a few days after implementation but the question as to why it was enacted in the first place cannot be ignored.
Similarly, in February 2019, human right activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana petitioned NIS alongside the Minister of Interior, the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and a private company, Continental Transfert Technique Limited (Contec), over alleged corruption in the award of a contract for the production of the Combined Expatriate Residence Permit and Alien Card (CERPAC). According to Falana, the CERPAC fee was instantaneously hiked with brazen disregard to due process from $1,000 to $2,000 in December of 2018. To make matters worse, Falana alleged that 30% of the fee allotted to the ministry was not remitted to the FG through TSA, rather, it was deposited in a private account. In addition, Contec, a foreign company, was engaged by the ministry to handle the collection of the fee in direct contravention of Presidential Executive Order No 5 which mandates that foreign companies should not be contracted for jobs that can be executed by their Nigerian counterparts.
The final straw that engendered this writeup came when this writer was regaled with tales of how a loved one was subjected to unimaginable suffering at a national passport office in Lagos when attempting to obtain a passport booklet for the first time. As if it weren’t bad enough that they were displayed under the sun for hours like imperishable goods, the payment process was as laborious as it was shady. Numerous vendors approached the aforesaid individual offering not only to make the payment on their behalf but to also provide a referee individual for a paltry N2,000 only! These, they claimed, were performed under the watchful eyes of the relevant authorities.
Upon listening to this dolorous tale, my curiosity was then piqued about the payment process so a quick Google search which landed me on the national portal was conducted. Unsurprisingly, I noticed that Remita, the official TSA payment channel was conspicuously missing from the list of approved payment channels. This discovery naturally raised a slew of questions such as if the agency is exempted from TSA; if payments miraculously found their way into the national treasury despite the boycott of the official payment processor; if the minister of finance, minister of interior and the accountant general of the federation are aware of this unbridled neglect of their treasured policy; and what the outcome of the policy audit committee chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo discovered.
This publication is insufficient in enunciating the problems of NIS, however, as a nation struggling to finance our current budget—as has been the case for far too long—we cannot stand idly by and watch some the incessant haemorrhage of one of the most lucrative agencies in the country by ravenous individuals. It is high time that the hammer of justice came down on this group of individuals if we are to make meaning progress and this responsibility lies with the President.
Cole writes from Lagos