Mind boggling Conversation with a Professor Consultant: by Betty Abbah; Lagos
By the time Prof finished speaking to me, after about two hours, my jaw had fallen to the ground several times and had been picked up, my knees had wobbled and stopped. I knew things were bad but nothing prepared me to hear let alone process just how BAD.
So, a couple of years back, I had met Prof, a highly respected lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, at an event and with time we got talking. I got to know he consults for major international institutions, NGOs and donor organizations, and promptly, from what I knew at the time, I complained about graft with the donor agencies and how so many hardworking NGOs in Nigeria were being sidelined in favour of mediocre ones owing to favouritism, ethnicity and sheer racketeering. It turned out I knew NOTHING.
Prof gave me a ‘lecture’ that would remain with me for the rest of my life, details that would traumatize me till, resting on my study’s floor last Saturday afternoon (February 2, 2019), I decided to speak out. Abi, a journalist-activist that wouldn’t bear it all out (especially if it would stop evil in the system and save the poorest of the planet), is that one still a journalist?
Even after a couple of years, Prof’s words still ring clear in my ears, like we were still seated together after the workshop in that quiet African country. I will share just a few of them:
‘Betty, let me tell you, you haven’t seen anything yet. You are still young in the sector. My eyes have seen things. Most of the international donor agencies especially in Abuja are just racketeering centres—from the United Nations’ agencies, European Union to DFID, and especially the UNDP, there is so much fraud going on in these places and most times, if you don’t play along, you can’t get anything. There are just a few exceptions, but most times, it is all racketeering, and I am talking of hundreds of millions of dollars going down the drain. Even the foreigners, when they come to Nigeria, many of them join in the scam and are even worse because the environment is conducive for them. They know they can’t try it elsewhere, especially the huge kick-backs they get from willing NGOs and consultants. Let me break down some of my experiences for you:
‘Sometime back, my organization bided for a major, multi-million Naira project with the UNDP. We went through several stages and finally, we were invited to come for the final round in Abuja. At the end of the meeting, the UNDP team told me; ‘Prof, your team doesn’t have the capacity to carry out this project, we are sorry’. I packed my bags and left, disappointed. Shortly after I arrived in Zaria, the person whose organisation ‘won’ the bid, called me and said ‘Prof, please, I have no idea what this project is about or what they are talking about. You would have to help me.’ My sister, that was how I became the lead consultant to the project and was the one who eventually implemented it for him. When I later met the UNDP people on the field, I told them, ‘Look at who is eventually implementing the project, but I thought you said we had no ‘capacity’, but of course they couldn’t answer me. They obviously gave it to the person that would ‘settle’ them.
‘The worst racketeering in the Nigerian donor landscape happens in the UNDP. Infact, corruption is so entrenched and so institutionalized there that they even have a rate. They ask for 40% from people they give grants. Again, there are a few exceptions but this thing is so widespread in UNDP and they do it with so much impunity. A few years ago, I got a call from a senior staff of the UNDP, he said, ‘Prof, we have this major project coming up worth about Ninety Million Naira. We are willing to give you but you must give us 40% of the entire fund, and you must pay from the first tranche. I was stunned! Forty percent and from the first tranche? I just couldn’t do it, so I told him, ‘If I give you 40%, what will I use to carry out the project in the interim?’ He laughed and said I shouldn’t worry and that he would help me write the report. Then I asked: ‘What if you die, how will I complete it, how do I justify it?’ Ofcourse, I declined and that was how I missed the opportunity to implement that project.
‘Same thing goes for the DFID. So much racketeering. There was a particular white man there. Sometimes before the project comes and before a call for proposal is made, he already knows who the project would be given to. He would call me and say ‘’Prof, we have so and so project coming up. Just draft a proposal along this line and submit’’.
‘My sister, the donor organisations in Nigeria are not better than the politicians or the civil servants that we criticize all the time. There is so much graft going on in there. It is a pathetic situation. So many serious NGOs don’t get anything, and many who are ready to sort the cabals get all the chunks and do next to nothing. Sometimes people’s proposals are even given out to their proxies or colluding NGO partners and they give them the grant. Though there are a few exceptions, but generally, it’s a very, very bad situation. It stinks to high heavens’
Me: Let’s stop this rot already! Corruption either by politicians, civil servants, religious leaders, civil society actors, development workers or donor agencies, by anyone, impoverishes, deprives the poorest of their due crumbs, and kills. It is even more repugnant if it is perpetrated by those who should act as saviours of the hapless lot. It is unforgivable.