Ihedioha, Imo and the Verity of Least Corrupt State

Imo state map

By Walter Duru, Ph.D

Two weeks ago, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released its report on the State of Corruption in Nigeria, in which it acknowledges Imo as the least corrupt state in Nigeria. The same report also indicates that Kogi is the most corrupt state in Nigeria.

The NBS report titled The 2019 Corruption in Nigeria: Pattern and Trends was published by the NBS in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and UK Aid. The report reads in part: “this second survey on bribery and other forms of corruption, which was conducted in May and June 2019, covered more than 33,000 households across the country, providing data for each of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. The survey’s primary focus is to assess the actual experiences of Nigerians whenever they come into contact with up to 20 different types of public officials.”

Presenting highlights of the report on Friday, December 6, 2019 at the State House Conference Center, Abuja, Statistician-General of the NBS, Dr Yemi Kale, emphasized that the 2019 report rated Imo State as the least corrupt state in Nigeria, with an aggregate score of 17.6%, followed by Jigawa and Plateau states.

The state-by-state corruption index result of the survey which shows states with statistically significant increase or decrease in the prevalence of bribery also shows Kogi State as the most corrupt state in Nigeria. Kogi is leading in corruption with 48%, followed by Gombe at 43%. The report also suggested that there is a remarkable decrease in the prevalence of corruption in Imo State. In the survey report, Nigerians identified unemployment, insecurity and corruption as the country’s most arduous challenges.

The big question to ask though, is, how did Imo rise from the abyss of one of the most corrupt states in Nigeria (under the last administration of Mr Rochas Okorocha) to become Nigeria’s reference point for anti-corruption just within six months of Governor Emeka Ihedioha? How many people have so far been jailed in the state, to instil fear in public servants to have refrained from corrupt practices? How many public office holders in Imo have been paraded for corrupt practices under Governor Emeka Ihedioha? How did all this happen?

Twenty First century approach to fighting corruption does not only entail catching people and throwing them into jail. While that could serve as a deterrent, a more sustainable approach is putting systems and structures in place to discourage and prevent corruption. This has emerged as the strategy being preferred and vigorously pursued by the present administration of Chief Emeka Ihedioha in its drive for probity and accountability in the public space.

When the Imo State government recently applied to join the Open Government Partnership, Nigeria, many, probably did not understand the implications of attempting to sign onto the OGP. The state has made some key commitments in the area of Open Governance, thus, consolidating the gains already made in entrenching transparency and accountability in governance. Some of the commitments made by the state include: Access to Information, Anti-Corruption, Open Budgeting, Fiscal transparency, Open Contracting and Citizens Engagement.

Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a multi-stakeholder initiative that focuses on improving government transparency, accountability and responsiveness to citizens through technology and innovation.

For the first time in eight years, Imo State’s annual budget has been published online on the state’s official website. This is part of the proactive disclosure obligations of the state government under the FOI Act. This, no doubt is a step in the right direction. Her strides in e-governance are also worthy of mention.

The giant strides of the Governor Emeka Ihedioha-led administration in the areas of ease-of-doing business and open contracting, again, cannot also go without mention.

What about the Treasury Single Account? By signing Executive Order 005, the government of Chief Emeka Ihedioha and Engr Gerald Irona activated the Treasury Single Account. The implication is that all revenues accruable to the state are paid into a consolidated account. Many leakages in the state treasury have been plugged, thereby drastically curbing the incidence of diversion of Imo State public funds into private pockets.

The undeniable immediate impact of that singular act is that today, from a paltry N260 million, the Imo State monthly Internally Generated Revenue has hit almost a billion Naira, within just six months of Ihedioha’s/Irona’s ascent to office, without tax increase in tax. The over 250 bank accounts operated by the last Rochas administration have been collapsed into one, via the TSA.

This same administration has implemented the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSA), aimed at ensuring that the state’s accounting principles and practices conform with global best practices. In addition, an Efficiency Unit has been set up in the Ministry of Finance, which over-arching mandate is to speedily reduce the overall cost of governance.

More so, an ease-of-doing business desk has been set up and an in-charge Officer appointed, with a mandate to ensure the reduction of the turnaround time (TAT) for undertaking lawful and legitimate Government businesses in Imo is reduced.

The vast majority of Nigerian citizens and residents who partook in the NBS Survey identified unemployment as one of the cardinal problems of the state. Although we prefer to defer any discussion of the problem of unemployment to another day, it is pertinent to quickly acknowledge and applaud government’s efforts to date, towards tackling the albatross of unemployment. Principal among these critical interventions is the recent refurbishment and retrofitting of the four moribund technical colleges in Imo state, with a view to promoting technical education in the state, with the knowledge that equipping young people with relevant skills to be productive is a major coup.

As if the aforementioned are not enough, Imo State public pensioners, once abandoned for over six years, and derided across the country are today being rehabilitated and restored by a responsible and sensitive government on behalf of a grateful populace, and paid what is due them, following a successful verification exercise. From this alone, the state government has saved at least N400 million monthly being monies that otherwise would have been lost to ghost pensioners. What more? An aggressive programme of road rehabilitation has been unfurled across the state, especially in the Owerri capital city.

For an administration that inherited a vast array of public infrastructure in various degrees of collapse and decay; as well as crestfallen, despondent citizenry whose confidence in the institutions of government had sunk to an all-time low; to engender this sphinx-like rise to the apogee of public service honour as the country’s least corrupt state is certainly a study in socio-economic re-engineering. Without a shadow of doubt, many drums of midnight oil; not to mention, many hours per day of tedious work, have gone into achieving the unprecedented milestone. It is a feat worth celebrating by the straight and crooked alike!

Be that as it may, it may not yet be uhuru; ascending to the top is not always as challenging as remaining at the top. Deliberate steps must be taken to not only consolidate the gains made so far, but to ensure that no system or programme, or a combination of same, is permitted to reverse the progress so far made. Imo State must take steps to sustain this feat, as a panacea for progress in the future.

First of all, for transparency, accountability and other good governance features to endure, systems and processes must be put in place to ensure that they are enthroned in every aspect and sector of public service.

The initiative of Citizens Dialogue and other stakeholders’ engagement activities should be intensified and made more regular. Citizens of the state have the right to know what those in authority are doing and how public funds are spent. Regular citizens’ interface is therefore necessary.

In addition, there is an urgent need to set up a Committee for Transparency in Governance, whose primary mandate would be to ensure effective and holistic coordination of the transparency and other good governance initiatives of the present administration. The set-up of a Center for Transparency and Good Governance in Imo State, complete with its enabling legal framework, will certainly be a helpful and welcome idea to serve as a tombstone denoting the irreversible commitment of the Ihedioha/Irona administration to accountability, probity and transparency in public service.

This proposed committee may serve as the clearing house for initiatives aimed at entrenching/mainstreaming transparency in public service in Imo State. The team will set an agenda for issues around transparency and accountability in governance, while identifying other good governance initiatives that will enhance the fortunes of the state.

The foregoing notwithstanding, does Imo State under the present administration deserve to be named the least corrupt state in Nigeria?

Certainly, yes! Governor Emeka Ihedioha’s administration is on the right track towards mainstreaming transparency and accountability in public service in Imo State. His body language, activities, comments, initiatives and actions have never suggested otherwise.

The tempo must therefore be sustained; else public officers and servants will return to their old ways. All government structures, systems and processes must be strengthened if Imo State must be corruption free.

Let the music play on!!

Dr Walter Duru, a Communication expert, is a member of the National Steering Committee of OGP, Nigeria, where he co-chairs the Access to Information Working Group. He also chairs the Board of the Freedom of Information Coalition, Nigeria.

Dipo Olowookere is a journalist based in Nigeria that has passion for reporting business news stories. At his leisure time, he watches football and supports 3SC of Ibadan. Mr Olowookere can be reached via dipo.olowookere@businesspost.ng