Interesting story from the BBC. Apparently the government is upset about the science fiction film “District 9″ which it says portrays Nigeria in a negative light. The Information Minister Dora Akunyili has asked the film makers (Sony) for an apology. Akunyili also said that the film portrays Nigerians as cannibals, criminals and prostitutes. The film also features a gang leader character called “Obasanjo”.
I’m sure this is part of Dora’s “rebranding Nigeria” remit as ordinarily this is not the sort of thing that would even register on the government’s radar. Clearly her department is keeping a close eye on portrayals of Nigeria emanating from the Western media.
Full story at:
Oil, Politics and Violence: “A Breath Taking Narrative….Mr. Siollun’s book must be considered something of a miracle”
Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976) – “A Breath taking Narrative“
After a long hard slog, my book is finally available.
The book can be purchased from:
Oil, Politics and Violence is also available to read in e-book format, and on mobile devices such as iPad, tablets, Android, iPhone and even your internet browser. You can get the e-book from Google Play at:
“What is the book about?” I hear you say. Well, read on….
Review by Anote Ajeluorou – published in the Nigerian Guardian newspaper
Oil, Politics and Violence: Revisiting military adventurism into politics
Monday, 13 September 2010 00:00 By Anote Ajeluorou Art – Arts
MAX Siollun’s new book Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966 – 1976), (Algora Publishing, New York; 2009) is a historical treatise on military adventurism in Nigerian politics as the infant nation took its first tottering steps shortly after independence. That intervention was to last almost forever, and at a staggering cost to the nation and its quest for democracy.
Himself a historian, Siollun takes his readers through a breath-taking narrative of the socio-political setting of 1960 to 1966, when the tables turned. The ouster of politicians who had behaved badly from power led to the enthronement of a military that was not prepared for the enormity and subtlety of political office. What was worse, the coup, which was led by the majors in the army, was perceived to be sectional because of those killed. Then there was a counter-coup that led to retaliatory killings of one section within the army. The Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu’s first coup had failed because of several factors. His was purely an idealistic coup to give the reign of leadership to Obafemi Awolowo, who was imprisoned at the time following the corruption of the Abubakar Balewa-led government. His colleagues in Lagos had failed to execute their own part of the coup as he had done in Kaduna leading to Major-General Johnson Aguyi-Ironsi rallying the army to squash the coup in Lagos.
Aguyi-Ironsi assumes the office of head of state to stem the breakdown of law and order. But a counter-coup stops him dead in his track following some controversial decrees he promulgated, and the sectional slant to the coup. Northern soldiers go on the offensive and target Igbo soldiers. It spirals into the streets and the consequent infamous pogroms of 1966 that led to the civil war. Siollun also looks at the next nine years following the end of the war and how the military badly fared.
In providing the festering climate for the political logjam that led to the fall of the first republic, Siollun writes, “Underestimating the win-at-all-costs mentality of the Nigerian National Alliance (NNA), the UPGA unwisely decided to bycott the elections on the ground that the NNA was planning to rig it… Due to the widespread electoral malpractices, President Azikiwe refused to call Balewa to form a new government following the elections. For several days, Nigeria teetered on the edge of an abyss as the President and the Prime Minister tried to scheme each other out of power”.
Events in the Wild Wild West did not help matters with Awolowo and Ladoke Akintola locked in their own political struggles to warrant the declaration of a state of emergency in the region. And then onto the coup that was to unsettle Nigeria for most of its political life.
“THE DEPTH OF RESEARCH….IS STUNNING”
Siollun’s Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture is a well-researched book on Nigeria’s military experience. The book is unique in many ways. The depth of research into the events, activities, personalities involved in the planning, execution, who did what, how and its implication is stunning. The author meticulously accessed every record that needed to be accessed to bring to the reader a dense meal of military adventurism into the politics of the most populous black nation on earth.
Also, Siollun brings a measure of balance and accuracy that has eluded many a writer on the touchy subject to bear on his writing. A lot has been written on the subject but most of it with a given mindset to colour and taint the facts. Some writers on the subject have often contradicted themselves on points of facts and sequence of events or personalities involved. Siollun brings all these to bear on his writing as he harmonises them to create an authentic recreation of a critical period of Nigerian political history.
In a sense, Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture resituates the horrendous adventurism of the military and places it starkly for what it was: a political aberration that should never have been! The ills the military set out to cure sooner came to haunt them as the military soon compromised itself, and performed a lot badly than those they deposed from power.
One point in favour of Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture is its pace of narrative. Although, it’s a historical account of what most readers already know, yet it turns out a fascinating read on account of its detailed and accurate reconstruction of events. With the planning, shootouts and executions and murders on such a large scale, it tends to read like a thriller of sorts. This indeed is its strength.
Indeed, but for the horrendous killings of real life persons that accompanied the coups, and the tragic loss of lives during the civil war with the distortion of the polity, the coups as detailed by Siollun would whet the palate of lovers of thrillers with the dexterity of narrative he employs. The book is well worth a rereading for its cinematic affect!
Review by Kaye Whiteman
This first review of the book was very kindly written by Kaye Whiteman, whom many of you will recognise as the former Editor of the esteemed magazine ‘West Africa’. He is one of the leading writers on West Africa and has also written for the UK’s Guardian newspaper. This review was published in Business Day magazine.
Unpacking the Past
As we approach the great stock-taking of the fiftieth anniversary of Nigerian independence (which is going to be continuing all year), there is going to be a growing consideration of the history of these past fifty years. This is bound to include a re-examination of the coups and civil war of the 1960s. If this decade brought to a head the post-independence trauma of national identity, as a shakedown of the British-engineered independence settlement, it made a profound mark on subsequent decades.
There are so many aspects of Nigeria’s recent history that cannot be studied without reference to the 1960s – for example, the onset and collapse of the idea of military rule; or the effect on society, economy and political culture of the ‘curse of oil’, a central factor in the war for Nigerian unity. There was the phenomenon of the creation of states, initiated with the first twelve states of May 1967, mainstay of fiscal federalism, and the campaign for local resource control. Behind lay the scourge of corruption, and the electoral fraud whose worst manifestation in the Western Region led to the January 15 coup of 1966.
These thoughts arise from a book titled Oil Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-76) by Max Siollun (published in New York this year by Algora publishing). For those interested in a detailed and objective study of these particularly sensitive moments, I cannot commend this book too highly.
For an old-timer like myself, who was partly around at the time, this book is a revelation. For this is a period which, for understandable reasons, has all too often been buried. After the books written by journalists at the time, and Professor Tamuno’s official history published in the 1980s, it has not been a subject that has been much written about, other than in a series of memoirs, or lately in novels such as Half of a Yellow Sun. This shows that the interest is there in unpacking the hidden legacy.
Siollun’s is not a full history of the crisis and the war, however. He restricts himself very much to the military, and although you cannot escape the politics, his self-imposed framework is sometimes a limitation. July 29 has to be seen in the context of the massacres in the North which lasted from May to October. Again, the important neutrality of Major General Welby-Everard in the 1964 federal elections (who now recalls that there was still a Brit commanding the Nigerian army at that time?) perhaps benefits from being seen in a more fully described political setting.
The author’s military priority does permit him, however, to go into his subject matter with a great depth of detail. He is also able to mobilise a spectacular range of sources, some of which your columnist was not aware of, and would love to have in his own collection of Nigeriana. There are tables of which officer was where and when, and many potted biographies, although only of members of the armed forces. Space does not permit exploring further subjects such as the “classmate syndrome” or the theory that January 15 was an “UPGA coup”, and there are odd little details from exceptional sources, like Welby-Everard’s eulogistic commendation of Brigadier Ogundipe.
In such an amazing mastery of detail, it is not surprising that there are the occasional minor errors – for example he says there was but one Igbo among the civil servants that took part in the July 29-31 negotiations in Ikeja barracks, but from his own list there are three. It may be that those that participated personally in these events will find more to quibble with – just as he already pinpoints some of the controversies that have been raised in the memoirs of the period that have emerged.
There are also mysteries that not surprisingly he is unable to solve, and myths that he cannot penetrate, although I would have liked him to have examined more thoroughly the legend that it was Captain Dickson (who does get a brief reference) who led the Middle Belt rank-and-file objection to Murtala as leader of the coup, and ended up as the self-styled airport commandant, carrying on for months before his final removal. Was it Dickson who indicated that power must go to Gowon, or else…? This is tantalising, because the author does describe the absolutely historic moment when Murtala abandoned his ambitions and suddenly says to Gowon “you are the senior, go ahead”, and is most instructive on the extent of secessionist sentiment among the far-northerners (although the raising of the flag of the north at Ikeja was Biafran myth-making).
Review Two – By Ohsee of Toronto, Canada.
In the West, considerations of truth and objectivity in history are seen in some quarters as marks of a lack of sophistication. In Nigeria, however, they are matters of life and death. People there die as a result of history forgot, of lessons not learned. Many people die.
Such questions loom large in Nigeria’s violent political history of the first two decades after independence. The most problematic have been, what really happened during the first two coups and the resultant civil war? It is here that Nigerians need to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, because such reliable knowledge has proved useful in the past. But most Nigerian histories of those turbulent times, are often clouded by the malodorous presence of ethnic chauvinism and hatred of the Other, and the need for self-aggrandizement.
Many readers despaired of ever seeing an unbiased history from Nigerians themselves, and sought such objectivity from outsiders who often had little understanding of the subtleties of the Nigerian political milieu.
Thus Mr. Siollun’s book about the first four coups (1966-1976) must be considered something of a miracle. Unlike prior writers on the topic from that country, the Nigerian-born historian successfully checked at the door the ethnic biases he surely must have, in order to combine the dispassionate objectivity of the outsider with the nuanced knowledge of the insider. The result is a truly insightful book that is highly accessible to the general reader. The book also has enough new information to serve as a starting point for future investigators who wish to tackle some of the issues in greater detail.
Mr Siollun, whose essays about the first two coups are familiar to those who visit Nigerian websites, has tackled the four coups sequentially, and shown how they are related in terms of personnel involved and lessons to be learned. For instance, some of the participants in the second coup—such as Babangida, Abacha, Yaradua, and Buhari—dominated Nigerian coup-making culture for thirty years. Mr. Siollun shows how failing to punish murderous putschists can and did come back to bite coup beneficiaries in the arse, since “unpunished coup plotters will re-offend. The coup plotters behind Nigeria’s military regimes were repeat offenders—often with fatal consequences for themselves. They were men who lived life on the edge, snacked on danger and dined on death. For them, coup plotting was in the blood.”
Mr. Siollun’s summary of the pre-coup political situation is concise and lucid, and looks at the events in new ways. For instance, most people probably do not see the Nzeogwu coup as the second attempt at overthrowing the Balewa government by force. While many followers of Nigerian history may know that Awolowo—leader of the Action Group, one of the opposition parties in the First Republic—was jailed for treason in 1964, few are aware that it was not a trumped up charge, and that three decades later, Action Group General Secretary, S.G. Ikoku, confirmed that there was a genuine AG plot to topple the federal government.
Mr. Siollun is at his strongest where he skillfully cuts away the myths that have grown weed-like around the more controversial of those 1966 events. One of the more pernicious of these is the lie that the January 15 1966 coup was an effort at Igbo domination organized by the Igbos. Mr. Siollun demonstrates that there is a very strong case for seeing January 15 as an UPGA (United Progressive Grand Alliance) coup, or in other words, a second attempt by the South or southern political parties to wrest power from the North. By examining the national character of the Igbos, and the stereotypes that grew around their business activities, he carefully shows us the historical process via which the Igbos became the national scapegoat; we see how one section of the country practiced what he calls “transferred malice,” where the Igbos were singled out for punishment during troubles in which they only played a bit part.
In this absorbing and fascinating work, there is a good deal of new and startling information: who knew that in private moments, the genial Ironsi, the first military ruler, liked to refer jokingly to his fellow Igbos by the pejorative Northern term “Nyamiri?” We learn of the enormous family pressures on Northern officers and men after January 15 demanding vengeance for the Northern officers killed. The blood relationships between Northern People’s Congress (NPC) politicians, and some of the July 1966 plotters are revealed—Inua Wada, defence minister in the Balewa government during the First Republic, was Murtala Muhammed’s cousin, for example. We begin to understand the Machiavellian Ibrahim Babangida—military president from 1985 to 1993—better when we find out his closest friends were among the Dimka coup plotters of Feb 1976, a coup in which those very friends marked him for liquidation. We learn that Gen. Obasanjo wept when the poisonous chalice of leadership would not pass him by. Such brief character and biographical sketches of principal players inject life into the narrative, and make the historical protagonists more than just names on a paper.
The book of course has its flaws, some quite minor and perhaps fixable in later editions. The footnoting seems somewhat haphazard and sparse. To some, this may be considered a benefit, but it could be frustrating to the reader or researcher who wants to learn more by exploring sources. And one of the more vexatious things is that the footnoting, like Carlyle’s History, “is silent where you most wish her to speak.”
More egregious are the omissions and failures to explore some controversial areas. We do not know the extent of Lt. Col Adekunle Fajuyi’s involvement in January 15 even though Mr. Siollun was involved a few years back in a debate about it with someone on the Internet who went by the moniker “Arthur Unegbe”. Perhaps there is nothing to know or find out, but Mr. Siollun’s complete silence—no discussion of rumours, or analysis of possibilities—is troubling. Also surely we could learn from a brief exploration of the contradictions in the public statements of Gowon’s apologists and the actions of the man that suggest some foreknowledge of the July horrors? However, in light of the importance and intelligence of this work, it would be churlish to carp about these matters.
I admit to being skeptical before reading this work, expecting the typical tendentious and ethnically jaundiced approach that colours most Nigerian commentaries on the coups of 1966. What Mr. Siollun has given us rather is a deft, measured, and just examination of those tragic events, all done in very accessible prose. All Nigerians owe him a debt of gratitude. I wish I could find a way to get a copy into the hands of every educated Nigerian.
The book can be purchased from:
Review Three:by Australia’s Former High Commissioner to Nigeria During the 1966-1967 Crisis
This book, by an industrious, questing and objective historian, brings together the most comprehensive and authentic documentation on the Nigerian coup and counter coup of 1966 and the Biafran War that I have ever seen.
The author does not “make a case” for anyone. Rather he sets out the evidence, gives a variety of parties their say and, by and large, then leaves you to make a judgement on the very best evidence available.
I do not think that any of us can responsibly write about the Biafran War and the steps leading up to it unless they have first read and thoroughly digested Max Siollun’s book. I say this against the background that I was Australian High Commissioner in Nigeria at the relevant time and I knew the principal players personally.
In early October 1966, I embarked on a Mission to Enugu to talk to Ojukwu – with General Gowon’s blessing – in an effort to find a negotiated resolution of Nigeria’s deep constitutional, political, racial and tribal problems. Above all, I wanted to avoid the brutal and bloody conflict that, in the event, became known as the Biafran War. In the wake of my meeting with Ojukwu, agreement was reached between Ojukwu and the Federal Nigerian Government at a meeting in Aburi in Ghana in January 1967. However, the agreement fell to pieces shortly afterwards and the first shots in the Biafran War followed within a couple of months or so.
With this background, I can responsibly and, I think, reliably assess the authenticity of what Siollun has to say and recommend his outstanding book to those who want to know, understand and be familiar with Nigerian history of that troubled period.
Review Four: by Iwedi Ojinmah for Nigerian Village Square
Once in while there comes a book that makes us either sit up straight or reflect on our lives… past and present. It is even more appreciated and of importance when such a book is a serious one and about a subject matter, that even 4 decades after it engulfed Nigeria in arguably Africa’s most vicious war pitching suspicious cousin against each other , it is still rife with so much controvesy and emotional debate that one can seriously question if true National reconcilation has not remained deferred.
Max Siollun, has produced such a wonder in Oil Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976) Algora Pub Hardcover : $33.95 Softcover $23.95
Right out the gates the English born Nigerian but US based Professor, separates himself from the rest of the pack of historians that have feebly tackled early Nigerian Politics with his pronounced objectivity and absolutely impeccable research. In a detailed chronological sequence of events he locks the door on many a propagated myth and exposes among others how for instance the Igbo’s became political scapegoats not by choice but by default. He also amazingly shows how for the better part of 3 decades it was pretty much “old wine in new bottles” as the same vagabonds in power continued -just like some morbid spoke of a wheel- to keep in place Nigeria’s wobbly and corrupt coup culture.
Each of the 268 pages is saturated with such intricate fact that you often have to pinch yourself back into reality to realize again that all this stuff really did occur, and is not the draft of an up till now unknown Shakespearean tragedy. The man really names names and one has to virtually munch on a mint to supress the subsequent but delicious bite.
Things Fell Apart and Have Never Been the Same Since
However while his book will serve hopefully as salve on the deep festering wound inflicted on Nigeria, it does not address the more dangerous and ever present infection that lingers on still robbing her of her full potential; because it summates just ten years out of almost 45 years. Since there is an undeniable thread linking the past to the present and vice versa ; we salivate at the possibility……NO I take that back …..“ we implore” the absolute need of a part 2 that will continue to explore the murky dysfunctional rot that is Nigerian Politics. The story after 1976 must also be examined with as equal objectivity and openness and till then we will remain hungry at the table like guests denied of a spectacular entrée after being treaded to array of amazing o’dourves….pounding our forks and just like Twist – asking for more.
The book can be purchased from:
Former President Obasanjo was recently a guest on the BBC’s “Hardtalk” programme. This is a very interesting interview in which Obasanjo is grilled about his record in office, corruption in his government and allegations of corruption against his daughter, his role in mediating the Congo conflict, and his successor Umaru Yar’Adua. Enjoy.
Before getting into my latest site topic, please note that several sections of the site have been updated recently. The inaugural speeches of Babangida and Abacha have been added to the speeches section, as have the broadcasts by Phillip Effiong and Gowon’s “the dawn of national reconciliation” speeches which marked the end of the civil war. In the Biafra Videos section, I have uploaded 18 separate videos from the NTA’s documentary series on the civil war which features great interiviews with the protagonists like Gowon, Ojukwu, Haruna, Joe Achuzia, Shuwa, Innih, MD Yusuf, Ben Ochei, Conrad Nwawo and David Ejoor. Now, onto my latest topic…..
Decades of military coups and misrule turned the Nigerian army into the most thoroughly politicised army in the world (as at 1998). Some elements of the army were viewed as little more than armed political parties that could threaten the existence of any civilian government. Thus when Nigeria returned to civilian democratic rule in 1999, it was feared that it would only be a matter of time before the army found an excuse to abandon the barracks for another political rescue operation. In his outgoing speech in 1993, the then Chief of Army Staff Lt-General Salihu Ibrahim revealed how deep the rot was. Describing the Nigerian army as “an army of anything goes”, Ibrahim added:
“I hold the strong view that any military organisation that intends to remain professional and relevant to its calling ,has no business meddling in the political affairs of the country…It is an open secret that some officers openly preferred political appointments to regimental appointments, no matter the relevance of such appointments to their careers…we became an army where subordinate officers would not only be contemptuous of their superiors ,but would exhibit total disregard to legitimate instructions by such superiors…We created such a situation whereby we were operating mini-armies within the larger Nigerian army.”
The fear and threat of a military coup was very real, as since 1966, the military had tolerated civilian rule for only 4 years, and busied themselves with Machiavellian coups and counter-coups. These coups have almost always been carried out by the same group of soldiers. The young NCOs and Lieutenants that blasted Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi from power in 1966 became Colonels that overthrew his successor General Gowon in 1975, and they became the Brigadiers and Major-Generals that overthrew President Shagari on the last day of 1983. One of the aides of Obasanjo’s predecessor as Head of State General Abdulsalam Abubakar was quoted by the Guardian of London in 1998 as follows:
“Cadet officers now talk openly not of having the ambition to become a battalion commander but of what they would like to do when they become governors of a state. The politicisation of the military has gone too far.”
The military was so politically powerful at 1999 that the incumbent service chiefs of the army, navy and air force (Lt-General Ishaya Bamaiyi, Vice-Admiral Jubril Ayinla and Air Marshal Nsikak Eduok respectively) initially refused to retire when the army handed over to a democratic government in May 1999. Only after weeks of national debate were they persuaded to stand down.
Within one month of the restoration of democracy in 1999, the government drew up a list of all armed forces officers that had served in military governments for 6 months or more. All such officers (numbering over 100) were compulsorily retired. The retirements swept out a number of immensely powerful and wealthy officers who could have been sources of future political discontent and coup plots. The retired political officers included Major-General Patrick Aziza (who chaired the ‘coup’ tribunal that convicted Obasanjo and Shehu Musa Yar’Adua in 1995), Air Vice Marshal Idi Musa (accused of framing up Diya and co during the 1999 coup plot), former Abacha regime members Major-Generals Bashir Magashi, Abdullahi Mukhtar and Chris Garuba (former Commandant of the National War College), the former commander of the Brigade of Guards Brigadier Yakubu Muazu, the former Military Governor of Rivers State Colonel Dauda Musa Komo (who was instrumental in events leading up to the arrest and detention of Ken Saro-Wiwa), Major General John Mark Inienger (former ECOMOG commander), Air Vice Marshal Idi Musa (former head of the Defence Intelligence Agency who was accused by some of being one of those that framed Diya, Adisa and Olanrewaju in the 1997 coup plot against Abacha) and the popular and powerful former Military Governor of Lagos Brigadier Mohammed Marwa.
The 9 year period from 1999 till the present is the longest period of time in Nigeria’s history without a military coup. It is no coincidence that a coup failed to occur in the absence of the retired political officers. So has the military permanently weaned itself of its coup plotting habit? Major Hamza al-Mustapha was charged with a coup plot (which included an alleged attempt to assasinate President Obasanjo by firing a missile at his helicopter). There were very strong rumours of a coup during the early days of the Obasanjo government too. The then Chief of Army Staff Lt-Gen Victor Malu publicly went so far as to tell troops to summarily execute any soldier who went on air to make a “my fellow countrymen….” announcement. He said they should be shot “before they put the microphone down”. The fact that Malu felt the need to issue such a strong public warning convinced many that a coup plot had been detected.
The continual retirement and redeployment of military officers has ensured that they find it difficult to build critical support networks and political bases that are required for coups. Coups have succeeded in the past because of (a) the support of the civil populace (b) the lack of pro-democracy/human rights groups (c) the indifference of the international community. The June 12 crisis radically changed the Nigerian populace’s relationship with the military and a military coup in modern Nigeria would be met with massive civil opposition and sanctions from the international community. It would take civilian misrule of cataclysmic proportions for Nigerians to tolerate military rule ever again.
How quickly we forget. Flashback 10 years. The political situation was as follows:
- Nigeria was being ruled by a ruthless and reclusive military dictator called General Sani Abacha
- General Olusegun Obasanjo and over 50 other army officers were in jail on trumped up charges of coup plotting.
- Nigeria had become a pariah nation after being expelled from the Commonwealth for executing Ken Saro-Wiwa and other activists who were campaigning for a fairer share of Nigerian oil revenues and against the environmental damage caused to their lands by the drilling and spills of big oil companies.
- Lt-General Oladipo Diya, Major-Generals Abdulkareem Adisa and Tajudeen Olanrewaju, and several other officers were on death row awaiting execution for their role in another coup plot.
- The winner of the acclaimed June 12 1993 election Chief MKO Abiola had been in jail for 4 years, kept incommunicado from the outside world.
- General Abacha was on the verge of transforming himself from a military ruler to civilian President having strong armed all the 5 political parties (“five fingers of the same leprous hand”) into adopting him as their presidential candidate.
- Genuine democracy seemed far, far away.
Plus a lot of the “pro democracy” activists shamelessly abandoned Abiola to join Abacha (Olu Onagoruwa, Baba Gana Kingibe). Even ministers in Abacha’s regime were not safe. The Guardian Newspapers (owned by Abacha’s minister Ibru) was proscribed by a newspaper proscription Decree and shut down after it criticised the government. It was the paper’s continual criticism of Abacha’s regime that led to the near fatal assassination attempt on Ibru.
The Abacha -v- Abiola power struggle was holding the entire country hostage. Abacha’s thirst for power and Abiola’s unrealised mandate. Even if Abacha is removed, what to do about Abiola who won a credible election? Then the following cataclysmic events happened in the space of 30 days:
On June 8 1998 Abacha dies of a heart attack and is hurriedly buried without an autopsy by the time the news filters through to most Nigerians. Nigerians publicly celebrate the death of a reviled leader with wild jubilation. General Abdulsalam Abubakar quickly replaces Abacha and announces that Abiola will be released but that he had to realise that his mandate had expired. A lot of chicanery was used to get Abiola to renounce but he refused. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is sent to talk to him and explain that his “term of office” had expired since 5 years had passed since the June 12 1993 election. All to no avail. Exactly one month after the death of Abacha, Abiola suddenly dies of a heart attack on July 7 1998.
With Abacha, Abiola and the June 12 issue out of the way, General Abubakar announces a swift 10 month programme for a return to civilian democratic rule. Just 10 months after Nigeria seemed doomed to perpetual military rule under General Abacha, the military steps down and a new democratic government is elected under President Obasanjo. The speed with which Abacha’s infrastructure was dismantled just seemed too contrived. With Abacha alive and Abiola incarcerated, most people thought democracy was years away in Nigeria. Just 10 months after his death everything he did was undone: his killer squad was dismantled, coup convicts and pro democracy activists released, Nigeria back in the Commonwealth, democracy restored, and the army back in the barracks. Note that a lot of Abacha’s cronies survived in office and resurfaced in subsequent dispensations (Sarki Mukhtar – NSA, Jerry Gana etc).
Somehow exactly 30 days apart, both men die of heart attacks. Abacha is prevented from becoming a civilian ruler, from executing the condemned men like Diya, Adisa and Olanrewaju, and a recalcitrant Abiola (who refuses to renounce his mandate) also dies. Problem gone, debate over, fresh start. All rather convenient isn’t it?…. How easily we forget….
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. Readers should not delude themselves into believing that General Abacha ran the most corrupt regime in Nigeria’s history. Abacha was the most openly and brazenly corrupt, but before him came his mentor and role model Babangida. Nigeria’s moral fibre was destroyed under the regime of General Babangida. That is not to say that corruption was non-existent before him, but under Babangida, corruption was systematised, institutionalised and brought home as a fact of life to the doorstep of every Nigerian. 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.