The thing called kickback, by Engr. Abubakar Suleiman

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Engr. Abubakar Suleiman
Engr. Abubakar Suleiman

Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje’s act as shown in the videos released by Jaafar Jaafar is at once annoying, pathetic and disheartening. It is annoying because public trust has been betrayed. Pathetic as the integrity of a family has been impugned though by its son or forebearer. Disheartening for kickback is a norm, not an outlier. Long before this Ganduje’s video, I have sat down to think if kickback will someday be a thing of the past, especially when establishing a contract with Nigerian MDAs but I failed.

This Ganduje’s perfidious and filthy act once again brings to the front burner the following questions: In Nigeria, can government contracts or projects be awarded or successfully carried out without the prospective contractor or consultant giving kickbacks? Is there any such thing as open competition or open tendering in the procurement of goods, work and services? Are procurement processes transparent?

Kickback is a corrupt practice that has endured or refused to succumb to any policy that is conceived and implemented to mitigate it. And this is mostly so because we are Nigerians and just like malaria, kickback is a citizen in Nigeria. A contractor once told me that, in Nigeria, if you want your company to liquidate or you want your staff to quit their jobs for lack of proper remuneration then ignore kickback. This may not be entirely true, but he’s very right to a higher degree. Many a talent and dream have withered away, many quantities have been billed exorbitantly, and many a project have been carried out sub-standardly or rendered useless for playing, or declining to play, the ball by giving kickbacks.

It comes in different forms. It starts with the award of contracts and ends in the execution of the projects. And even in between, there are kickbacks. Most MDAs, governors and chairmen of local government will get their cronies, who may be a contractor, informed of a pending procurement to be carried out be it works, goods and services. The hypocritic due process of the advert will be carried out in all national dailies where all bidders are invited to tender for pre-qualification or express interest in the procurement.

Here, a semblance of fair, open and transparent competition for all bidders has commenced whereas the contractor who will be awarded and subsequently give kickback has been informed of the ways and manners he/she will be evaluated technically or financially or both.

If the procuring entity doesn’t want to pass through this process of evaluating bidders, the contractor or consultant who is to be favoured is informed to get a requirement ready long before the advertisement. Such a requirement will be strange and challenging to get hence the condition will now be added to the advert, and an unrealistic deadline will be set for all bidders to submit their bids with such requirement.

Now, why are kickbacks now received in cash? The recipients of kickbacks are much aware of the implication of using family members or friends through the bank because with the help of TSA the money could be traced since there is a threshold in which the ICPC or EFCC would be involved. So, you the contractor or consultant who’s to give the kickback, after all, the bureaucratic (read: hypocritic) processes and subsequent payment, you now convert the Naira into Dollar and give it to the person who awarded you the contract.

Another rationale behind converting the money into Dollar is to make it less cumbersome since carrying 5 million dollars around may not raise the alarm as if it’s in naira. Thus, kickbacks are received in cash to eliminate traces of corruption. At the periphery, the due process, transparency and accountability have been upheld whereas beneath the whole deal, and its process is a great ambience of corruption. This is just one of the most straightforward forms of kickbacks.

Even international companies are aware of how bad Nigeria is, so they also understand this filthy practice and how it works. It’s either they play by the rules, or their services or proposals are declined. Some governmental procuring entities are even ready not to carry out any meaningful project if you refuse to dance to the tune. Systems and institutions that are meant to check these excesses are either compromised or outsmarted. Greed by some politicians and directors of agencies makes them collect the money themselves.

Some people submitted that Ganduje is a cheap thief. It’s not about being stupid or cheap, its karma. No matter how smart you think, you’re when karma strikes you’ll have no option than to succumb. Even if he uses a third party, he’ll still fall shamelessly someday – a price for greed and corruption. This is why the ‘Buhari’s integrity’, weak as it is or may be, matters. The question remains how do we fight or eradicate or even minimise kickbacks?

Engr. Abubakar Suleiman writes from Kaduna