I remember as a kid growing up in the city of Lagos, corruption was always a hot topic each time my parents turned on to watch the traditional 9:00 pm news. Granted, I did not get to witness many coups that happened in those days but I clearly recall one of the failed coups by Gideon Orkar. He accused the ruling junta and their political allies of being corrupt, which led them to attempt wrestling power. This is the same reason others gave for taking power by force as reported by history books.
Fast forward to almost three decades, it is the same story too; each time I flip the pages of a newspaper or watch the news, I am completely embarrassed at the always-evolving and never-ending story of corruption in Nigeria. It is indeed shameful and scandalous, especially in this era of advanced technology, blockchain and artificial intelligence.
I have always stated in this column that there is absolutely no way Nigeria can win the battle against corruption without technology and automation. There are avenues through which corrupt practices are carried out, in both the public and private sectors of the economy, and the only way to prevent these from continuing unabated is to barricade the loopholes, using technology. Corruption can be nipped in the bud by adopting and deploying a set of robust technological solutions, covering every single operation in all sectors of the economy, such as comprehensive data capturing, recording of all transactions in the area of allocations, budgeting, contracts awards, remittances, collection of taxes, and procurement of goods, products and services.
To achieve this, we must be determined to embrace paperless and cashless transactions in our day-to-day operations. This tendency is already evident in the registration process for the National Identity Scheme, which is a good way of embracing digitalisation. But that process still needs to be made more effective.
Automation should be deployed to tackle corruption in Nigeria, as it will help in reducing physical contacts between government officials and citizens, thus eliminating contact with intermediaries which facilitates corruption, as well as reducing red tape and bureaucracy. Citizens should be able to go online to initiate and conclude a transaction with a government agency, without physically paying a visit to such an agency or meeting any official. If there is any need to make a payment to the government in the course of transacting the business, the citizen can make such payments online without carrying cash anywhere.
Sadly, the Nigerian public sector records the highest number of corruption cases that are sometimes due to difficulties faced when using the manual paper process of documentation within different government agencies and parastatals. When you visit public offices, you see papers scattered all over the tables, containing valuable information and reports that are not interfaced and integrated with systems. Situations like this have resulted in poor information management, ineffective investigation of complaints, etc., and in the long run ripping off the country. If automation is, however, encouraged and deployed, the reverse would be the case. All the issues of not having enough data to track a lot of transactions, etc., will be averted.
The good news is that there are a number of other solutions that can help fight this menace but we need strong political will to make good progress. For example in the UK, some organisations such as OCCRP, OpenCorporates, and mySociety have been at the forefront of using similar technology to fight corruption. OpenCorporates, for instance, makes information about companies much more usable and more widely available for public benefit, particularly to tackle the use of companies for criminal or anti-social purposes. Data obtained plays critical roles in detecting suspicious procurement transactions, e.g., unregistered properties, through falsification of identities, duplication of telephone numbers, etc.
The much-talked-about Blockchain technology could also play an enormous role in reducing or even completely eliminating corruption from our system, due to its immutable, transparent ledger, which is apparently fully auditable. Our political leaders need to have a strong will and desire to implement and encourage the use of some of these technologies as opposed to waiting to wield the big stick in the name of trying to regulate the unknown.
Some time ago, there was the news that the Honduran government planned to implement a blockchain-based property registration, which fell apart. Although no clear reasons seem to have been given for this, I believe Nigeria needs Blockchain technology, probably much more than the Honduran government.
One glaring characteristic of how some corrupt people hide looted public funds is through the purchase of landed properties. It is estimated that nearly 70 per cent of properties in Nigeria, if not more, are not subject to any form of formalised registration. This often gives the impetus for these corrupt people to acquire as many landed properties as possible in a particular area. If technology is adopted and deployed, there is no doubt that this will be nipped in the bud.
All other relevant key stakeholders are implored to join forces and make winning this war a priority for the sake of generations unborn. We must start thinking about how best to use technology to track the excesses of corrupt people, both in the public and private sectors of the economy.
I will conclude by saying that we should not play down on our local talents and skills. Nigerians have proven to be good and creative techies. We need to look at running multiple hackathons across the country, specifically on technologies that will help us solve the problem of corruption in Nigeria. We really need to confront this hydra-headed monster that continues to feed on our weak national institutions.
ICT Clinic by CFA is published weekly in the Sunday Punch