With corruption yet again making front page news in Nigeria, I thought it was an at time to resurrect an article I published on this website nearly 8 years ago. It asks whether corruption is a “Nigerian syndrome” and what can be done about it.
Nigeria is internationally famous for three things: oil, its Super Eagles football team, and its spectacular government corruption. However, contrary to popular belief it is quite simply a myth that corruption is perpetrated mostly by the government. Most Nigerians are paradoxically and simultaneously, accomplices, active participants, victims and agents provocateurs of corruption in their society.
LEGAL IMPEDIMENTS: Section 308 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution
The first step to understanding corruption in Nigeria is the acknowledgment that corruption is the norm rather than the exception. Corruption is part of the system and has even been inadvertently sanctioned by the Constitution. Section 308 of the Constitution shields the President, Vice-President, Governors and Deputy Governors from civil or criminal proceedings, arrest and imprisonment during their term of office. This Section was intended to prevent frivolous lawsuits from being brought against public officers which might impede their management of their official duties. However in a country as notoriously corrupt as Nigeria, it has been a legal cloak for embezzlement, and has placed many public officers above the law. The result has been that several Governors have been able to loot state treasuries at will with no fear of arrest or prosecution.
However, corruption is not the exclusive preserve of the government. Although most Nigerians condemn corruption as a practice of the “Big Men” and government officials, most of the population are willing accomplices. There is an inherent hypocrisy among Nigerians about corruption. Most citizens acknowledge that corruption is an impediment to Nigeria’s economic development and reputation, yet the ordinary Nigerian’s unquenchable thirst for the acquisition of material wealth, possessions, fame and power fuels corruption by others.
Even those that disapprove of corruption by government officials freely admit that they would do the same if they were in government, and they simultaneously participate in practices that are inappropriate. The fuel industry is an excellent illustrative example of how corruption and dishonesty flows from the top all the way down to the lower rungs of Nigerian society. The oil industry is rightly or wrongly perceived as the epicentre of government corruption and abuse in Nigeria. Is the government alone in its abuse of the oil industry? During fuel strikes and shortages petrol stations have frequently been accused of surreptitiously hoarding fuel in order to deliberately amplify shortages and drive prices even higher. In other words they exploit and deteriorate the misery of the already hyper-extended fuel consumer.
Malpractice is not limited to petrol station proprietors. Black market street sellers of fuel in such circumstances are also distrusted by some motorists. Motorists often accuse them of diluting the petrol they sell with other chemicals. In the “food chain” of the oil industry, private citizens also dangerously “tap” oil from pipelines in order to sell on the black market. We should avoid using benign words like “tap” and call the practice what it is: theft. This theft is carried out with no remorse for the fact that the oil being stolen is a national resource, or any thought of the explosive danger caused by damage to pipelines. Thousands of lives have been lost in pipeline fires caused by “tapping”.
Once an individual lands a government job, (s)he will be inundated with near irresistible requests for ‘assistance’, finance, contracts and material benefits from members of his or her society. To resist such requests would be to risk being ostracised by their own kinfolk. The community expects and encourages the selective and disproportionate distribution of the “benefits” of government finances to the relatives and community of the government official.
The African extended family and patronage system ensures that a government official finds it culturally difficult to resist. If a government official condemns corruption and refuses to use government finances to enrich them self and their community, such an official would be denounced as foolish and would be derided for having nothing to show for their time in government. Negative comparisons would be drawn with other officials who (corruptly) enriched themselves, and the official would be asked why he was still living in the same one house while his colleagues in government have acquired ostentatious status symbols of their time in government such as cars and expensive houses at home and abroad. The current generation of Nigerians do not desire governments or institutions which seek to inhibit their ability to illegally acquire wealth.
Nigerians have become accustomed to the culture of corruption around them, and are very quick to condemn and dispense with governments that push the elimination of corruption as a major policy platform. The regime of Major-Generals Buhari and Idiagbon launched a severe and unprecedented anti-corruption campaign for over a year and a half between January 1984 and August 1985. They tried and imprisoned politicians that embezzled state funds. Before long, Nigerians were unhappy with the duo. Disapproval of their anti-corruption campaign was not explicit, but was subtly cotton wooled into ostensibly academic and sober critiques of their “high handed” and “repressive” nature. Nigerians celebrated when Buhari and Idiagbon were overthrown and replaced by a gap toothed armoured corps General from Minna named Ibrahim Babangida.
Babangida allowed Nigerians to see the ugly mirror reflection of their morality. He recognized many Nigerians for what they are: commodities whose loyalty and soul is on sale to the highest bidder. Many “pro democracy activists” denounced the corruption that took place under military rulers but were silenced by the financial “settlement” culture that was so pervasive under Generals Babangida and Abacha.
The current anti-corruption efforts of the EFCC and ICPC are derided for being “selective” and for not catching every corrupt individual. These unsophisticated criticisms are the moral equivalent of a bank robber objecting to his arrest by the police on the grounds that other bank robbers whom the police have not arrested are still on the loose. The author is of the opinion that most Nigerians should be grateful for this “selective” prosecution by the EFCC because if every corrupt Nigerian adult was arrested: (i) there would not be enough prisons and detention space to hold them, and (ii) a great deal of the workforce would be behind bars. Nigeria has bred something far more sinister and sophisticated than petty graft and bribery. The still unaccounted $12 billion dollar gulf war oil windfall, the Okigbo report that has never been acted upon and the absence of public outrage at these events is symbolic of the tacit acceptance of corrupt practices as “The Nigerian Way”.
Corruption in Nigeria is not just an offshoot of collapsed social and governmental institutions, nor is it the result of a hostile economic environment. The roots go much deeper and are symptomatic of the gradual but residual breakdown of Nigerian societal values and morality. It is the result of Nigerians’ failure to distinguish right from wrong, and of a nationwide refusal to condemn dishonesty. Nigerians only condemn corruption when they are not the beneficiaries of it.
A WAY FORWARD?
Western nations have lower levels of corruption not only because their law enforcement authorities are more zealous. The psyche of their citizens is different from that of the Nigerian. The UK and New Zealand are two countries with the lowest levels of official corruption in the world. The overwhelming majority of citizens in those countries reflexively obey the law as a matter of their nature and inner will. They do not have to be coerced into obedience. This is due to the attitudinal and societal rejection of corruption in these countries.
There is a moral consensus in these countries that corruption is degenerative for their society.What can be done for Nigeria? I propose two approaches that might be a god start. The first step is the elimination of the systemic procedure which inhibits measures aimed at eliminating corruption. Section 308 of the Constitution should be amended (not deleted) so that the President, Vice-President, Governors and Deputy Governors should be immune from civil, but not criminal proceedings.
The semantic difference is that such officials would be immune from being sued in vexatious civil litigation (with apologies to Gani Fawehinmi) but would not be immune from investigation, arrest or imprisonment for the commission of crimes (including those involving corrupt practices and financial impropriety). However such a constitutional amendment is unlikely to occur anytime in the near future.
The prerequisites for a constitutional amendment are formidable. Constitutional amendments in Nigeria require a two-thirds majority approval vote in the federal Senate and House of Representatives, and further approval by two-thirds of the 36 State House of Assemblies in Nigeria. To reach such a degree of consensus in a country as large and fractious as Nigeria would be near miraculous. Other methods are required. Nigeria needs a moral revolution. That moral revolution cannot be accomplished while the present generation remains. Many members of the present generation have been so utterly corrupted that they are beyond redemption. Nigeria cannot and will not progress until they expire. Hope lies in the young and unborn who have not yet been tainted by the society around them. By inculcating from a young age, the destructive social effects of corruption, a new more honest generation may emerge in future. The teaching of values should be compulsorily incorporated into academic syllabi from primary school until the completion of university. I will not deny that this sounds like a subtle form of indoctrination, but it might be the only way to save Nigeria from itself. Corruption in Nigeria will be brought down to manageable levels only when a national consensus is reached that corruption is a corrosive impediment, and when it is rejected by the majority of the population.
Today is the 41st anniversary of the assassination of Nigeria’s former military head of state General Murtala Muhammed. He was assassinated on February 13, 1976, on his way to work during an abortive coup. Full details of Murtala’s life and the events that led to his death are in my book Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture.
Murtala’s car was ambushed by a group of soldiers in Lagos and he was shot to death. Above is a photo of the bullet riddled car in which he was killed. Note the bullet holes in the windscreen.
US State Department Report on Murtala Muhammed: https://maxsiollun.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/us-state-department-report-on-murtala-muhammed/
Murtala Muhammed’s speech on Nigerian democracy: https://www.facebook.com/157457414278806/videos/1851800698475/
The assassination of Murtala Muhammed:
Brigadier Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Speaks to the press about Coup Plot: https://www.facebook.com/157457414278806/videos/1849886570623/
Lt-Colonel Dimka speaks to the press: https://www.facebook.com/157457414278806/videos/1851800698475/
Lt-General Obasanjo announces execution of coup convicts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjEA83pgstg&list=PLTCNM3JtW0UlisCGV98STnBtiGoS7YTaZ&index=3
Imagine if the Israeli Prime Minister hired a former PLO fighter as his personal pilot. Or if the president of the United States allowed a Russian to be his personal chauffeur at the height of the Cold War. Sounds surreal? Yet that is precisely what happened in Nigeria several decades ago when then head of state General Gowon hired an Igbo air force officer who formerly fought for Biafra as one of his presidential pilots.
Nigerians are an opinionated and self-critical bunch. Dinner and beer parlour conversations among Nigerians almost inevitably turn to the country’s underwhelming accomplishments and disastrous mismanagement. Self-flagellation is a national obsession. Despite our penchant for voicing our opinion when it comes to national failures, we suddenly become reticent when it comes to recognizing our national accomplishments. This is puzzling as one of our most impressive accomplishments is a reconciliation that is unprecedented in modern history.
THE BROTHERS’ WAR
Sunday January 15, 2017 marks the 47th anniversary of the end of the Nigerian civil war. On that day in Dodan Barracks, a brutal 920-day civil war ended as former colleagues and combatants who had engaged each other in bitter warfare for over two and a half years embraced each other with unprecedented speech and warmth. They ended a war wracked by famine, starving children, one million corpses, and violence and suffering of such an intensely grotesque magnitude that the words “pogrom” and “Kwashiorkor” were introduced into the standard Nigerian vocabulary.
NO NUREMBERG TRIALS, NO MEDALS
When the war ended, the Igbos grimly expected that their defeat would be followed by their wholesale massacre. However the leader of the victorious army refused to proclaim victory as there is no “victor” in a conflict between brothers. He declared a general amnesty for all those who fought against him, invited members of the defeated side to join his administration, refused to conduct trials of, or execute the defeated, and refused to award medals to his own soldiers who had fought the war for years. He even allowed some members of the enemy’s army to join his own army. For their part, Igbos quietly accepted their new fate in a united Nigeria, went back to their farms and businesses, and rebuilt their destroyed homes without any thoughts of sabotage or guerilla warfare to continue their struggle. All this happened without a United Nations resolution or peacekeeping force, international peace plans and conferences, or the protracted years long negotiations that it normally takes to resolve modern conflicts. Nigerians decided for themselves that they had seen enough bloodshed and that they wanted a war free future for their children.
The war also ironically dissolved some of the negative stereotypes the combatants held about each other, and enhanced their mutual respect for each other. Igbos won admiration from the federal side for the tenacity, iron will, and incredible improvisation with which they fought the war. The federal side won the Igbos’ respect for their magnanimity in victory. Although pockets of bitterness remain (particularly over the emotional issue of properties abandoned by Igbos who fled for their safety, but which were illegally appropriated by other communities), it is undoubted that Nigeria’s remarkable reconciliation is rivaled in the modern era only by black South Africans’ forgiveness of their former oppressors.
AN ACHIEVEMENT MATCHED BY FEW OTHERS
Almost 50 years after United Nations resolutions called for them to cease hostilities, the Israelis and Arabs are still at each other’s throats. Over 22 years after the Rwandan civil war, the government is still carrying out war crimes trials. However, a remarkably sober pragmatism rose from the blood, fire and ashes of the Nigerian civil war. It taught the combatants an unforgettable lesson in the evils of ethnic rivalry. The bitter memory of the war means that Nigeria stumbles through and survives the sorts of crises that cause war and disintegration in other countries: such as June 12, Sharia, military coups, ethnic violence, and resource control.
When an election was annulled in Algeria in 1991, it plunged Algeria into a decade long civil war in which up to 200,000 people died and terrorism linked to the event was exported to France. When an election was annulled in Nigeria two years later, the winner of the election said he abhorred violence and urged the public to protest peacefully. A multi-ethnic federation in Yugoslavia was destroyed amidst ethnic cleansing and a brutal civil war in which NATO had to intervene with air strikes in order to convince the combatants to stop killing each other. A multi-ethnic federation in Nigeria is managed through a complex system of constitutional checks and balances, and a legally binding concept known as “federal character” which means that every single one of the 36 states in the federation has a minister in the government. The four most powerful people in the country are all from different ethnic groups, and there is an unwritten rule meaning that the President and Vice-President can never be from the same part of the country.
The former combatants now live, work, and intermarry with each other as if the war never happened. Yet the civil war literature rarely discusses this most remarkable and impressive aspect of the war: the humanity with which Nigerians and Biafrans forgave each other, laid down their arms and got on with their lives. Why was this remarkable reconciliation possible?
GENERAL GOWON: THE HEALER OF NIGERIAN WOUNDS
This reconciliation was possible due largely to one pivotal figure: the then Nigerian head of state Yakubu “Jack” Gowon. It was he who insisted that Igbos should be treated as prodigal sons, rather than defeated foes. He did so against the urgings of his own colleagues who wanted brutal punishment to be meted out to Igbos. Even as the war raged, Gowon repeatedly declared that “We do not take the Ibos as our enemies; they are our brothers.”
When he became head of state after the two bloody military coups of 1966, he initially seemed totally unsuitable for the job of ruling one of the most unruly populations on Earth. He did not have the oratorical gifts of Ojukwu, the erudition of Awolowo, the stature of the Sardauna, or the imposing physicality of Aguiyi-Ironsi. Yet he remained the only officer acceptable to the majority of the population and army. Why?
“JACK THE BOY SCOUT”
Gowon was a humble, soft-spoken infantry soldier who trained at the world’s most elite military academy, yet had an oxymoronic distaste for unnecessary bloodshed. It was Gowon who insisted that Igbos should be treated as prodigal sons, rather than defeated foes. It was as if his background and origin were deliberately woven from Nigeria’s intricate ethnic matrix to ensure balance between the north and south. Gowon was that rarest of Nigerians: acceptable to the north and south. Gowon was from the north, yet practised the religion of the south. He was a Nigerian PR man’s dream. His surname was even used as an acronym calling for Nigerian unity: “Go On With One Nigeria”. The bachelor son of a Methodist minister, he did not drink, smoke or curse. He seemed so impossibly innocent and naïve that some foreign correspondents nicknamed him “Jack the Boy Scout”. The name was not fanciful. On one occasion he apologised to reporters for using the word “hell”.
Former Biafran officer Ben Gbulie admitted that Gowon’s forgiveness would probably not have been reciprocated had Biafra won the war. Gbulie said “Probably if we had won the war, we would have shot him.” Scant attention has been paid to why Gowon chose this remarkable path of reconciliation. Many factors were at play. As a minister’s son, he was a genuine Christian, and his humane approach to Igbos may also have been borne of the fact that at the time the crisis erupted, Gowon had an Igbo girlfriend named Edith Ike, whom he expected to marry (he eventually married a nurse named Victoria Zakari).
However, Gowon was also pragmatic enough to realise that clemency was crucial to Igbo acceptance of reintegration. Had he sought to punish Igbos, there would have been an Igbo led armed insurrection in Nigeria till today. Gowon’s mistake was that at the war’s end, he did not realise that his job was done. Had he stepped down at the end of the war, he would have maintained his prestige as Nigeria’s Lincoln.
To understand the magnitude of what Nigeria achieved by fighting such a brutal war, then making such a remarkably rapid peace, I will turn to the words of a neutral foreign observer of the conflict. John de St Jorre’s The Brothers War is one of the most balanced accounts of the war. Commenting on the reconciliation that followed the war, St Jorre observed that:
“when history takes a longer view of Nigeria’s war it will be shown that while the black man has little to teach us about making war he has a real contribution to offer in making peace.”
*The official members of the Biafran and federal delegations who attended the formal war ending ceremony at Dodan Barracks on January 15, 1970 were:
Biafran Delegation –
- Major-General Phillip Effiong – Officer Administering the Republic of Biafra
- Sir Louis Mbanefo – Chief Justice of Biafra
- Matthew Mbu – Biafran Foreign Minister
- Brigadier Patrick Amadi – Biafran Army
- Colonel Patrick Anwunah – Chief of Logistics and Principal Staff Officer to Ojukwu
- Colonel David Ogunewe – Military Adviser to Ojukwu
- Patrick Okeke – Inspector-General of Biafran Police
Federal Military Government Delegation:
- Major-General Yakubu Gowon – Nigerian Head of State
- Obafemi Awolowo – Deputy Chairman, Supreme Military Council
- Brigadier Emmanuel Ekpo – Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters
- Brigadier Hassan Katsina – Chief of Staff, Nigerian Army
- Brigadier Emmanuel Ikwue – Chief of Air Staff
- Rear-Admiral Joseph Wey – Chief of Naval Staff
- Dr Taslim Elias – Attorney-General
- H.E.A. Ejueyitchie – Secretary to the Federal Military Government
- Anthony Enahoro – Commissioner for Information
- The Military Governors of the 12 states: , Ukpabi Asika, Audu Bako, David Bamigboye, Alfred Diete-Spiff, Jacob Esuene, Usman Faruk, Joseph Gomwalk, Mobolaji Johnson, Abba Kyari, Samuel Ogbemudia, Oluwole Rotimi, Musa Usman.
Today is the 51st anniversary of Nigeria’s first military coup. Rather than rehash it I have included video clips and audio interviews below with the key participants that will tell you all you need to know about it.
Various Articles, Interviews, and Resources on the First Coup: https://maxsiollun.wordpress.com/2016/01/15/nigerias-january-15-1966-coup-50-years-later/
Video Series on the Nigerian civil war: https://www.facebook.com/Oil-Politics-and-Violence-Nigerias-Military-Coup-Culture-1966-1976-157457414278806/videos/
Brigadier Samuel Ademulegun (one of the victims of the first coup):
Brigadier Ademulegun and his wife:
My BBC article on the first coup: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-35312370?ocid=socialflow_facebook#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa
Article on/photo of Major Wale Ademoyega by someone who knew him well: https://maxsiollun.wordpress.com/2016/02/08/the-nzeogwu-and-ademoyega-i-knew/
The Life of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (Nigerian Prime Minister who was killed during the coup):
Interview with Major Nzeogwu: https://maxsiollun.wordpress.com/2008/02/20/interview-with-major-nzeogwu/
In January of this year the Nigerian army announced that is was going to create two new divisions. The two new divisions are 6 division which will be in the south-south region with its headquarters at Port Harcourt, and 8 division which will be based in the north-east (in northern Borno).
The army has already appointed a pioneer General Officer Commanding (GOC) for the 6 division; Major-General Kasimu Abdulkarim. 6 division will have responsibility for 2 Brigade in Akwa Ibom State, 16 Brigade in Bayelsa State, and 63 Brigade in Delta State. Before this appointment, Major-General Kasimu Abdulkarim had been the GOC of the 2 division in Ibadan.
6 division’s responsibility will be primarily to tackle the security and insurgency challenges in the Niger Delta region. According to Abdulkarim, 6 division “will help to curtail activities of militants, banditry, inter-communal clashes, illegal bunkering, kidnapping, robberies, Niger Delta Avengers and pipeline vandalism prevalent in the area”.
The latest how to fix Nigeria event by the Royal African Society was hosted by Funmi Iyanda (acting as MC). The topic was corruption, and the panel included Maggie Murphy (Transparency International’s Senior Global Advocacy Manager), Professor Abiodun Alao of King’s College, Kayode Ogunmasi (UK-based Nigerian activist and anti corruption campaigner), Ayo Sogunro (Writer, Teacher, Columnist, Lawyer).
Whether you are a seasoned Nigeria expert or trying to familiarise yourself with the country for the first time, here are the best books on or about Nigeria.
I and others compiled a list on Twitter under the hashtag:
The Guardian also listed their best books on Nigeria at the links below.