Unexplained Wealth In Nigeria: the Need for Action By All Nigerians, By Onyinye Ough
Emmanuel Okoro (not his real name) is a Nigerian public servant who has just bought a mansion in highbrow suburb of Maitama in Abuja. His family and friends congratulate him. “He has arrived’, they say, referring to the great luck that has fallen upon him – “We thank God oh!”
Most of those patting Emmanuel on the back fail to ask a fundamental question: How could he afford it? Can he afford this property on his current income? Some go further to explain his source of wealth by boldly saying: “It’s not just his salary, he is into contracts”, as if that made the money legitimate. The acceptance of unexplained wealth is one of the reasons that corruption thrives in Nigeria. When people engage in corrupt activities, they are celebrated and not booed or punished.
In many cases unexplained wealth is created through the corruption, which is hobbling the essential public services needed by Nigerians. Corruption in the award of public contracts is one area through which a number of dishonest public officials become wealthy. Billions of naira are spent on various capital projects (roads, hospital buildings, etc.), yet many of these projects are never completed. Whilst the poor in rural communities in Nigeria find it hard to access basic public services like health care, the public servants and politicians responsible for making this happen get richer.
On January 31, 2018, the U.K. government introduced the Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO), which is an investigative tool that aims at interrogating the source of wealth of property owners in the U.K. and would aid in the recovery of corrupt asset, particularly when politically exposed persons (PEPS) or individuals with luxurious properties cannot justify the sources of their wealth. This act will help Nigeria to recover corrupt asset and end the impunity of some of our officials. However, it would be much more impactful if our own asset declaration law was properly implemented, instead of what is currently experienced where a large number of public officials do not declare their asset. Even in cases where some make such declarations at the beginning of their tenure, they hardly repeat these when leaving public office.
Beyond having a policy or an executive order in place, there needs to be a change in behaviour amongst Nigerians generally. We need to start asking questions when we see our family friends or family members who have suddenly acquired luxurious properties or cars which are apparently above their legal incomes. Pastors and priests in churches need to stop collecting thanksgiving donations from church members who they know are corrupt.
Nigerians cannot continue to allow these practices. We need to start asking questions. We need to stop tolerating and celebrating unexplained wealth.
Onyinye Ough currently works on facilitating citizen engagement and building strong partnerships between government agencies and non-state actors in the area of service delivery under the Engaged Citizens Pillar of DFID’ Partnerships for Engagement, Reform and Learning (PERL) programme in Nigeria. She can be contacted via stepupnigeria.ng at gmail.com