President Goodluck Jonathan.
President Goodluck Jonathan.

I promise you if you vote for me and I come back and serve this country in the next four years, the next persons that will become the president of this country will not talk about corruption because we are working on technology and we will use technology to block all these areas through which people are corruptly enriching themselves,”. –  President Goodluck Jonathan
The above comment was made by the President Goodluck Jonathan at the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) rally in Ibadan barely a week ago, he has since gone on to repeat the above at other campaign venues. I did not give it much thought when I initially read the reports, but all that changed when I chanced upon a Facebook post by a friend who resides in the US and works in IT. In that post the President was thoroughly ridiculed by my friend for making such a claim. I was surprised by the invectives that flowed on that timeline against the person of the President. Aside the odd person who thought differently, majority were of the opinion that President was wrong and naieve in thinking he could stop corruption through the use of technology.
I was thoroughly puzzled by the above because as far as I was concerned there was no questioning the logic of the Presidentís claim. What made it worse for me was this friend is somebody who has worked in IT for a fair number of years and should know better yet there he was joining the baying crowd and ridiculing the President. It just did not make sense. I challenged him and offered to show him how corruption can be reduced through the use of ICT but he never took up the offer! But it was enough to get me to put my finger out and write this piece.
I have worked in IT for over 15 years now across different market verticals and not just that I am also on the last lap of my Professional Doctorate in Information Technology so I can safely say I know a thing or two about IT and I have also earned the right, both professionally and academically, to speak about this topic. In writing this piece, I will draw from my professional experience and also examine what academics and researchers have written about this topic. My aim is establish if the President was right or not in asserting that technology can be used in fighting corruption.
So letís start by looking at how some of the ways money is stolen or fraud is perpetuated by government officials in Nigeria. For years the spectre of ghost workers haunted most state and Federal governments in Nigeria. It was a well-known methodology where fictitious names were included in the list of workers and through this billions were stolen every month. It was easy to carry out because it was difficult to verify who was real and who wasnít on such lists. It was not uncommon for even babies to be put on payrolls. It took the implementation of biometric systems to eradicate the menace of ghost workers in states and agencies where it has been implemented. I worked for a company that implemented one of the first identity management solution years ago in one of the states in the North and the cost saving was staggering! Such systems are based on identifying workers and capturing their data including finger prints, which are unique. Government officials could no longer insert fictitious names willy-nilly into the payroll.
For about half a century the importation and distribution of fertilisers was an avenue to loot the public purse. Following a scandal which involved the then Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mallam Adamu Bello, the Punch Newspaper in an editorial wrote:
For long, governmentís involvement in fertiliser importation has become a veritable source of self-enrichment for public officials. This has led to the crippling of the Federal Superphosphate Fertiliser Company (FSFC) established in 1976, and the National Fertiliser Company of Nigeria (NAFCON), which started production in July 1988, both with installed capacities of 100,000 metric tons and 1 million tons respectively. The result is that over 20 bulk blending fertiliser plants located in different parts of the country, with a total combined capacity of about 1.5 million metric tons per annum, now lie fallow. The latest scandal has, again, confirmed that centralised importation and direct subsidy administration are prone to abuse and should be discontinued (Punch, December 28, 2006).
The Federal government is estimated to have lost an about N776 billion to this scam and successive governments could not do anything about it and it took the introduction of technology in 2011 to break the back of the fertilizer cabal. I was initially sceptical when I read about the electronic wallet (e-wallet) system introduced by the Federal Government. But the scheme has been a roaring success, the biometric data of over 11 million farmers are now stored in a database and the Federal Government is now able to distribute fertilizer and other farming essentials directly to the farmers without any middle man. The Federal Government in one swoop, through the use of technology, broke the back of the fertilizer cabal and the country now saves about N30 billion annually that would have gone into the pockets of these people. Such has been the success of this scheme that the World Bank, China, India and Brazil have approached Nigeria to learn and adopt this scheme which I must add was pioneered by Nigeria under the present government.
Tax collection in Nigeria has been bedevilled by inefficiency, corruption and these collectively meant the government collected far less than it was entitled to. The average annual revenue from tax pre 2004 was about $7.9 billion. The placement of technology at the core of the organisational reforms by the then FIRS head meant that tax income increased to over $30 billion. Technology meant reduced fraud by tax officials, eliminated the use of tax consultants and ensured the automation of tax collection.
The above are but a few examples of how technology has been used to curb, or at the very least, reduce corruption in Nigeria. As Richard Heeks, the author of Information System for public Sector Management, rightly stated, information and communication technologies are powerful tools for controlling corruption. This is a view shared by Transparency International who argue that ICTs have the potential to make significant contribution to the fight against corruption. The Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions published a list of areas in which technology can help fight corruption. These include automation, transparency, detection in operations, preventive operations and awareness raising amongst others.
I have gone to great lengths to critically review literature on this subject to see if the President was wrong in his assertion. I created a search string which I have reproduced here ((corruption OR fraud OR theft OR graft OR stealing) AND (ìinformation technologyî OR biometrics OR IT OR technology OR software) AND (reduce OR stop OR prevent OR abolish) AND (Nigeria OR ìdeveloping nationsî OR Africa)) and ran this string against ScienceDirect, Emerald Insight and Google Scholar (these are sources for academic researches) and the search returned 11,548, 2,561 and 514,000 results respectively. And not one of the ones I scanned through disproved the President assertion!
Every published work I have reviewed proves the President is absolutely right. Everything I have seen in my professional career backs up the Presidentís assertion. People like my friend who have been mocking the President about fighting corruption with technology are plainly mischievous or ignorant. I have said repeatedly that Nigeria is a complex country and people underestimate just how much corruption has eaten into the very fabric of our society. There is no shame in stealing anymore. From the market woman, the policeman, the politicians, academics, judges etc all are involved in corrupt practises. And in such a situation what do you do? Do you jail everybody or do you make it difficult for them to perpetuate such practises? Our courts are full of ongoing graft cases that have been dragging on for years and in a democratic government, you cannot just throw people into prison like was done during the past military regimes.
The President has chosen a very pragmatic path and one which other countries in the world are following. The President is simply using technology not only to reduce graft, but to strengthen public institutions and make them more transparent. Technology made it possible for Mrs Ifueko Omoigui Okauru in 2008 alone to increase tax revenue to more than the cumulative collection of 1996-2003. It is instructive to note that tax revenue is still high years after her departure from FIRS and this is because most of the loopholes through which tax officials stole money have been blocked thanks to technology. I have also shown above that the nation is now saving about N30 billion, every year, that would have gone into the pockets of those who stole our collective wealth through fertilizers scams and again we have to thank the e-wallet system for this.
Is ICT the silver bullet that can kill the hydra headed beast of corruption? No it probably wonít eliminate it completely because corruption will most likely remain in the public and private sectors in one shape or the other. But what we as a country can do, as the President has rightly pointed out, is to deploy processes and technology to block the avenues through which people steal public funds.