History of corruption in Nigerian leadership

By | January 15, 2012

WHEN BABANGIDA SEIZED POWER ON AUGUST 27, 1985, the country owed $12 billion. The squandering regime raised the national debt to $33 billion in only about six years. When he hijacked power, only N11.8 billion naira was in circulation in Nigeria. At the termination of his misrule, General Babangida, Osoba argues, had injected ‘an intolerably high level of cumulative devaluation and inflation in the national currency and economy’ by increasing the money in circulation through the printing of currency to N100.5 billion.

Even if the answer to the economic crisis surpassed him, Babangida found an answer to the lack of sufficient naira to fund his self-perpetuating project. His regime resorted to what Dr. Osoba described as ‘the sheer orgy of printing of currency notes.’

In a cover story in April 1992, which provoked the Babangida regime to shut down all the media empire, the Concord Press, owned by his friend, Bashorun MKO Abiola, Dapo Olorunyomi, who later became the Chief of Staff to Nuhu Ribadu, noted that Hannibal, who Babangida described as one his two key heroes – the other being Chaka, the Zulu – was ‘brilliant, witty, multilingual and deeply resilient’. However, Olorunyomi added that, Hannibal ‘was capable of the most recondite passion of kindness, but could also show transcendental acts of cruelty, treachery, and avarice.’

However, corruption, and its accompanying vices, non-transparency and non- accountability, survived the Babangida regime.

Even though he instituted a War Against Indiscipline and Corruption (WAIC) in an attempt to reclaim the anti-graft stance of the Buhari-Idiagbon regime, Babangida’s successor, General Sani Abacha surpassed the former in graft.

In what would count as one of the many ironies in Nigeria’s history, Abacha set up the Pius Okigbo Panel of Inquiry into the operations of the Central Bank accounts under Babangida. The Okigbo Panel report reportedly implicated Babangida in the disappearance of the $12. 4 billion that accrued to Nigeria from the 1990 Gulf War oil windfall – the matter for which Keeling was deported. However, the report was never publicly released. Abacha must have held it as a weapon to hold his endlessly scheming and dangerously mischievous retired comrade-in-arms on leash.

The Abacha regime also instituted the Failed Banks Tribunal which tried bank executives who had taken liberty with depositors’ and shareholders’ monies. In spite of Abacha’s apparent ‘anti-graft’ measures, his regime was one which a news magazine described as ‘Plundering and Looting Unlimited’. The infantry general, his close officials, family members and cronies ‘turned state power into a weapon for stealing the nation blind’. By the time he gave up the ghost on the laps of Indian prostitutes – as the rumour mills have it – more than US$4.3 billion were traced to 130 banks around the world to Abacha and his family members. Ismaila Gwarzo, Abacha’s National Security Adviser, alone reportedly siphoned US$2.1 billion into coded accounts in foreign countries.

Apart from condemning and acting against corruption and deception under generals Babangida and Abacha, Obasanjo, as president, also pursued with messianic zeal the recovery of Abacha’s loot.

Perhaps it is a cruel irony. But when Chief Sunday Afolabi, President Obasanjo’ssenior in high school and later his minister of internal affairs, in a moment of indiscretion, said his colleague in the cabinet and political rival, Chief Bola Ige, had been called to ‘come and eat’ in the Obasanjo government, he was imposing an epithet on the Obasanjo administration that was similar in its devastating implications to what was imposed on the Babangida regime by Obasanjo – eight years earlier.

For the now late Afolabi, public office in Nigeria was an eatery to which a select people were invited to ‘come and eat’.

R. Wraith and E. Simpkins argue that this culture of ‘come and eat’ has existed in Nigeria – like in the rest of the West coast of Africa – since independence. They contended further that this culture ‘flourishes as luxuriantly as the bush and weeds which it so much resembles, taking the goodness from the soil and suffocating the growth of plants which have been carefully, and expensively bred and tended.’

Alhaji Bashir Tofa, the presidential candidate of the National Republican Convention (NRC), who was unofficially defeated by Bashorun Moshood Abiola, the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the June 12, 1993 election – eventually annulled by Babangida – said in early 2009 that ‘no Nigerian can fight corruption.’ Tofa argues that corruption ‘will continue as long as the masses depend on corrupt officials to earn their livelihood’. Corruption in Nigeria, said the politician, has gone beyond the ‘issue of greed, it is now a disease. People who steal have no sense of proportion because there is corruption everywhere.’

The perceptive anti-graft musician, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, had used the metaphor of the intersection at Ojuelegba, on the Lagos Mainland, where there was neither traffic lights, nor a traffic warden, to illustrate the confusion that arises when there are neither rules nor rule-enforcers.

Sings Fela: ‘With this confusion wey e dey, police dey inside well, army dey inside well. Who go come solve dis confusion? …Confusion e breaki bone, nko?’ [‘In the present confusion, the police are implicated, the Army is implicated. Who will then solve the problem? ….Confusion breaks bones, doesn’t it?] In the song, ‘Confusion Break Bone’, Fela concludes with the parable of a corpse which is involved in an automobile accident. His musical verdict was that this translates to ‘double wahala for deadi bodi and the owner of deadi body.’ [‘double trouble for the dead and the relations of the dead.’]

It is a metaphor for his country.

From Wale Adebanwi’s A Paradise for Maggots. 2010. Pp 118 and 119.

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  • Codliveroil

    This article illustrates the point I’ve been making for years. The problem is not with military administration or even civilian administration with democracy. It is not with President Jonathan’s government.

    The problem is that Nigerians have allowed corruption and cheating to embed itself into the culture. The practice of doing things properly, openly transparently, efficiently have all been dropped by the side of the road.

    Only mere lip service is paid to public works, capital projects etc. Even if they are commissioned they are not done properly and not maintained, they either never worked properly in the first place or  fall into disrepair. They are just excuses to defraud the nation. Witness the debacle during the Obasanjo era and electricity supply and the oil refineries which don’t work properly.

    President Jonathan is talking about tackling the electricity problem and he is tackling the oil subsidy issue. He may have good sincere intentions, but are the members of his cabinet as committed, or even the executive arm of government?

    Nigerians have now become corrupt, regardless of what guise they present themselves as be it religious leader , ethnic figure-head, a solider or a democrat. They will eschew discipline and hard work, for cheating, lying and committing fraud. These have been adopted as the “Nigerian way”, unlike in Superman where “truth, justice and freedom ” are the American way. These values have been embraced by society like a long lost child.

    You have stated that since independence these malpractices have been evident. Is it any surprise that the nation, now finds itself where it is today?

    Corruption can be tackled, but it will take committment and dedication. Not just an odd panel here or there. Not cosmetic measures, which are very selective and ineffective.

    Thank you for this post.