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Trajectory of corruption in Nigeria
“Many years after Murtala was assassinated in a coup, corruption assumed a national scourge, devouring the fabric of the country and leading to the collapse of precious and prestigious institutions like the Nigeria Airways, which was completely liquidated; NIPOST, NITEL, Nigeria Railway Corporation [NRC] and the Nigerian National Supply Line [NNSL], the nation’s ocean liner.’’
The venue was the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs [NIIA] in Kofo Abayomi, Lagos, while the event was one of the series of the annual Murtala Muhammed Annual Lecture. The main auditorium of the institution brimmed with dignitaries from all walks of life, including a reasonable number of the ruling elite cutting across the military and civilian, as well as other professionals.
A former Head of State was the chairman of the occasion and a sitting Number Two citizen of the country under the then military government, the special guest of honour. He eventually turned out the man of the day when, in his opening remark, dropped a bomb shell: all Nigerians are corrupt. The spontaneous reaction of the audience was not as acerbic and virulent as the comments from the larger segment of the society the next after the dailies had in their banner headlines delivered all Nigerians are guilty of sleaze crediting it to the former number two citizen. He received more than he had probably bargained for the eminent in terms of the torrents of vitriolic verbal assaults from some senior citizens, pro-democracy and rights organizations as well as academic unions’ leaders in the universities.
That is to show how sensitive the issue of corruption is among Nigerians. It is so touchy that many have proposed wide ranging measures, including capital punishment and extremely crude methods, including voodoo to tackle the menace. The suggestions are as varying as the colour of the rainbow, but not all agree that everyone Nigerian is guilty of corruption.
In the past, it used to be a fad for successive admibistrations to use corruption as excuses to legitimize their actions to undermine the laws of the land and usurp power interchangeably. However, it was common for a new military administration to soon swim in the same waters of corruption and rot it had premised the violent removal of the preceding regime.
Many years after General Murtala Murtala was assassinated in a coup, corruption assumed a national scourge, devouring the fabric of the country and leading to the collapse of precious and prestigious institutions like the Nigeria Airways which was completely liquidated, NIPOST, NITEL, Nigeria Railway Corporation [NRC] and the Nigerian National Supply Line [NNSL], the nation’s ocean liner. The following institutions were once perceived as the most corrupt based on the Nigeria Survey and Corruption Survey Study, Final Report (June 2003) Institute for Development Research, of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. The ratings of the institutions were in the following order: Police; political parties, national and state Houses of Assembly, local and municipal governments, federal and state executive councils, traffic police and the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) as well as PHCN committed to transparency and good governance even classified institutions like, PHCN, Police, and others as among the most corrupt institutions in the country.
Several local and international organisation have corroborated the fact that rising scale of corruption in the country, which former President Olusegun Obasanjo said informed his setting up of anti-graft agencies while in office.
A World Bank study carried out sometime ago in 26 states also claimed that about 80 per cent of businesses had to pay bribes to government officials in 2011 to remain in business. It stated that one-third of micro-enterprises alleged that it was a common practice to make “informal payments/gifts to government officials.” According to the report, the informal payments/gifts represented approximately 1.2 per cent of annual sales for all micro-enterprises. It further alleged that that micro-enterprises interested in government contracts paid approximately 4.3 per cent of the value of contracts that they were hoping to secure. Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Benue, Borno, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Gombe, Imo, Jigawa, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi and Kwara States are some of the states where the study was conducted. The rest are Nassarawa, Niger, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, Taraba, Yobe, and Zamfara. The report confirmed the fear once expressed by the Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku cost of contract was higher in Nigeria than any other countries in the West African sub-region.
Not long ago, the United Nation revealed that Nigeria lost a staggering sum of $400 billion to corruption since independence. Others agencies said the country loses billions through acts of sabotage by corrupt officials and outside collaborators in the oil and gas sector, while fertilizer scams deprived the nation of billions over the years.
The cancer called corruptionmay not be totally novel in the history of the country, but the rampant cases of official misuse of resources for personal enrichment once made Nigeria ranked 143 out of 182 countries by Transparency International in 2011 with experts blaming the worrisome dimension to crude oil as the nation’s economic mainstay. Despite the huge revenue from the oil sector, basic infrastructure had suffered neglect, with poverty rising among the majority of Nigerians while public officials and the elite engaged in sharp practices.
In his usual prophetic manner, the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was said to have warned that Nigerian governments had been “a matter of few holding the cow for the strongest and most cunning to milk. Under those circumstances everybody runs over everybody to make good at the expense of others.” This trend has promoted greed and ostentatious lifestyle.
Some have also identified ethnicity as another factor that makes corruption thrive in the country, as people often pile pressure on their kinsman in government to explore their privileged position to an undue advantage.
In the First Republic, the issue of corruption was not so pronounced but the adventure of the military to political power exacerbated the current malignant growth. With time, there began a groundswell of anger with critics labeling some military “governors as misguided individuals acting like lords overseeing their personal empires.”
In 1975,there was a case of scandal over cement importation, with a number of officials of the ministry of defence and the Central Bank of Nigeria accused of having a hand in the scandal. The officials were accused of falsifying ships manifest and inflating the quantity of cement for importation. Two major individuals from the Middle Belt were accused of corruption. In 1975, the Murtala administration embarked on a journey to reform the system with the government relieving a large number of officials and civil servants of their positions.
Many Nigerians still believe the administration the Second Republic cannot totally absolve itself from the gradual climb of the country in the ladder of corruption. For example, sometime in 1985, purported investigations into the collapse of the defunct Johnson Mathey Bank of London alleged that the bank acted as a conduit to transfer hard currency for some party members in Nigeria. Some leading officials and politicians, who had amassed illegal funds, allegedly sought to transfer the money out of the country with the help of Asian importers by issuing import licenses.
There was equally the rice shortage in 1981, with claims that key political appointees accused of nepotism on the issue of importation license. Therefore, a few political actors were convicted of different corrupt practices under the government of General Muhammadu Buhari after the fall of the Shagari regime.
However, very soon, the Buhari administration itself faced the challenge of ethical issues. On the other hand, the Babangida administration faced the stiffest challenge from members of the public over the menace of corruption. There was public outcry over how the regime managed the Gulf war windfall, which was put at $12.4 billion. Perhaps, the most monumental discovery on the issue of corruption was made following the death of the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha. According to reports, French investigations of bribes paid to government officials to ease the award of a gas plant construction in Nigeria then revealed the global level of official graft in the country. This resulted in the freezing of accounts containing about $100 million United States.
Two years after his death, a Swiss banking commission report indicted Swiss banks for failing to follow compliance process in allowing family and friends of Abacha access to accounts and depositing amounts totaling $600 million US dollars into the accounts. The same year, a total of more than $1 billion US dollars were found in various accounts throughout Europe.
A major test case for the war on corruption in Nigeria today is the Halliburton saga. It is about some prominent Nigerians, who have been accused of playing a dominant role. Already, a former Halliburton Co. executive Albert “Jack” Stanley claimed before a United States federal court that he bribed Nigerian officials in order to win enormous construction contracts, attributing his action to “ambition, ego and alcohol.” He was consequently jailed for two and half years, three years after he pleaded guilty to orchestrating $180 million in bribes to Nigerian officials between 1995 and 2004. He oversaw the bribes and made several trips to Nigeria to meet with senior officials where his role, according to federal prosecutors, was to figure out who to bribe. After a nearly decade long investigation that spanned four continents, the U.S. Justice Department wrapped up prosecutions that sent a top American business executive and a British lawyer to prison, and issued a message that it was serious about prosecuting foreign bribery cases.
Reports said Stanley, 69 years old, cooperated with the U.S. government, providing a critical boost to investigations that have secured about $1.7 billion in fines and settlements. Those include a settlement with Halliburton and its former subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root, for a combined $579 million. A Halliburton spokeswoman said the sentencing was “an individual matter” that did not involve the company. A spokeswoman for what is now KBR Inc. said the company had completed its settlement agreement with the government and “implemented an extensive compliance and training program” to prevent future violations. Mr. Stanley stood slightly stooped as he addressed the court, accepting responsibility and saying he allowed his values to be compromised. Judge Keith Ellison commended Mr. Stanley for his sobriety. “You’ve shown remarkable fortitude in front of your demons, and I do honor you for that,” the judge told a small courtroom filled with about two dozen well-wishers.
Also sentenced Thursday was Jeffrey Tesler, 63, a British lawyer who pleaded guilty to fraud and corruption charges and will serve 21 months in prison. Mr. Tesler had developed connections with Nigerian’s ruling elite, helping them buy property and make investments in Britain. From his office in a rundown north London immigrant neighborhood, adjacent to a Somali butcher, he took payments from Western companies, stashed the money in Swiss bank accounts and then made sure ranking Nigerian officials were bribed. A US federal judge also sentenced Wojciech J. Chodan, a British consultant for KBR who also pleaded guilty, to a year of supervised probation and to forfeit $726,885. Mr. Tesler agreed to give up a much larger amount: $148.9 million.
While Obasanjo has lately assumed the leadership of a crusade against corruption, his adversaries claim he is least qualified for the job. To them, he cannot absolve himself from the the way the moral issue of corruption has escalated over the years. Some have raised issues that bother on rhe controversy surrounding his presidential library and Transcorps. But he insisted recently that the country was not demonstrating the political will to fight corruption. He stated, “I haven’t seen that will of persistency and consistency in Nigeria because the people that are involved in corruption, they are strongly entrenched and unless you are ready to confront them at the point of even giving your life for it, then you will give in and when you in, that is the end of it.”
He disagreed that there was political will at present to confront the cancer called corruption. He sadid, “We didn’t see beyond the oil. That was one of the misfortunes of Nigeria or regrets of Nigeria but more importantly, corruption came in. Corruption that came in initially with politics at independence when our politicians when they give a contract to you, 10 per cent, they thought that is the way to make money for their party. Ten per cent of that contract is taken to develop the party, for the party fund and all that and then of course it went beyond 10 per cent to 20, to 25 and at times, it grew so large that in fact, when you are given a job, you will just don’t care to do it, you will share the money or whatever they called it.”That was very bad.
“So, when I became president of Nigeria, the first thing I did after my election was to establish an independent body to fight corruption. Now, that body was so effective, in fact two bodies, one was a commission against financial crimes and they were both so effective that ministers of government, the head of the police and the heads of parastatals were put in jail.” If you are going to fight corruption, it is not a one night or one day war; you have to be consistent and persistent with it,” he said.Share