FRIDAY ESSAY: How and Why Corruption Persists in Nigeria

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FRIDAY ESSAY: How and Why Corruption Persists in Nigeria – And Some Simple Things to Do About It




Mobolaji Aluko

Burtonsville, MD, USA


November 26, 2004






Very recently, Transparency International (TI) came out again with its TI Corruption Perceptions Index.  Were it not for strife-torn Haiti mercifully coming in between us and Bangladesh, Nigeria would have remained the second most corrupt nation again to Bangladesh.  [The apocryphal story that Bangladesh being bribed by Nigeria for the bragging rights of being first shall remain that – apocryphal.] 


                TI Corruptions Perception Index 2004 Section


So we have Haiti to thank for your Nigeria’s marginal improvement in the perception of corruption against us.


However, this time around, Nigeria’s official reaction to the TI news was charged, with high pique.  Even though President Obasanjo was once a founding and board member of TI (winning much of his international acclaim from his association with that body);  even though our Finance Minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was once a Vice-President of the World Bank (which traditionally gave the Index a wink and a nod in prodding nations towards greater transparency and accountability), Nigeria, through Okonjo-Iweala vehemently protested (“slammed ” was the Nigerian press word) the unimproved rating, and trotted out an “expert’s” report  to discredit the well-respected index.

                FG Contests TI’s Latest Report


We are indeed a wonderful nation trying to deny the undeniable.   Here is our nation in which “4-1-9” still rampages.  Only last month, I got a “4-1-9” letter through my Howard University fax from  one “Dr. Okonjo-Iweala” – I have scanned the letter as an attachment to this essay, to fulfill all righteousness.

                “4-1-9” Letter from one fake ‘Dr. Okonjo-Iweala”


The letter was not even addressed specifically to me,  being the only Nigerian in my department’s staff, it was silently put in my mail box by either the Secretary or Chair of the department.  I did not bother to ask who.  They probably think that I do indeed make millions from my trips back and forth to Nigeria, so are not fazed by such high sums of monies in faxes sent to me.!  I wish J


While many perpetrators of 4-1-9 have been arrested – and despite the commendable job being done by the young man Nuhu Ribadu at  Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) –  no one of the perpetrators of this heinous financial crime that I have read of has been jailed in Nigeria for that awful crime.


This is a country in which despite years of trying to get ID cards, the money has been “chopped” endlessly.  When not too long ago one set of big fishes was caught in December 2003, with former Internal Minister Chief SM Afolabi (and senior friend of the President) at the head of the shoal, we all breathed a sigh of relief, saying “Let us see what will come of this.”  But since Afolabi died six months ago in May 2004, nothing more has been heard of the case – or have you?

                ID Corruption Saga


Here is a nation in which a WHOLE SHIP – not a canoe oh, a whole ship of length of about 150 meters (about 450 feet), width of about 25 meters (about 75 feet)  mid-section height of about  12 meters (about 36 feet); with gross tonnage of  12,646 tonnes and deadweight (DWT) tonnage of 16,370 tonnes –  vanished right under the noses of the entire navy.  [A fully loaded ship would have a total weight of gross + DWT, DWT being roughly the maximum weight of content that it could transport, e.g. like oil.]

                Lloyds Register Description of the “MT African Pride”


Three NAVY REAR-ADMIRALS (Kolawole, Agbiti, Bob-Manuel) are on trial right now, and we are being regaled in open court by service men under their control about how they were “taken care of” with  N250,000 to N1 million, and how postings were moved around in strange manners to ensure that when the ship left port surreptitiously, “o di gbere ni yen !”, ( roughly translated “That’s it folks!”) as the Yoruba would say!.

                Running News on Missing Ship in Nigeria


Here is a nation where all the levels of government – federal, state and local – have received UNPRECEDENTED amounts of revenue from oil according to the Federal Ministry of Information itself:

                Revenue Allocations to Federal, State and Local Governments

                Allocations from June 1999 onwards


Yet the ordinary people do not see the effect, while we are being urged daily by the federal government to wait patiently for the fruits of some phantom liberalization and IMF/World-Bank-induced “reforms”.  Yet we are regaled with the excesses of our Section 308-protected executive governors, an example being governor Joshua Dariye of Plateau State, who has been rightly returned as governor of that state (after an unconstitutional suspension for six months), but who will probably be wrongly retained despite the outrageous and un-denied charges of corruption against him:

                The Case Against Dariye (Two Letters from President Obasanjo and from the

                Attorney General Olujinmi)


We wait to see how this particular case will pan out.


What about disclosures of Halliburton bribing officials in Nigeria?  They are all over the news from France to the UK to the US, but in the Nigeria where the briberies were transacted, the news is discussed in hushed tones, and no pictures of the primary bribe-takers have been circulated.

                MONDAY QUARTERBACKING: Two Strikes Against Halliburton in Nigeria

                Running News on Halliburton in Nigeria


This is a nation where both the President and Vice-President, while in office oh, establish private universities of their own – Bells University for the President and ABTI /American University.   Nothing corrupt per se about that, but propriety demands that they should have waited until AFTER their term was over, while doing ALL that they could to improve the lot of the existing public universities under their watch.  While scratching our heads as to how they get all the money,  we only mercifully found out recently, courtesy the president himself,  that the his chicken farm at Ota earns N30 million per month ($250,000) – profit unknown, profit taxes paid to the coffers of government unknown, the president’s salary from the farm unknown, which he should not be drawing anyway as President.

                News on Obasanjo’s Farm Wealth


No wonder my Ekiti government has embarked on state-wide poultry farming – but would that not be competing with Ota Farms !


So we are now left to find out how much the Vice-President also makes per month from his many businesses – and also obtain the assets declaration of all those other public officials.


This is a nation where, in its synoptic overview of the report of the Human Rights Violation Investigation Commission (HRVIC,  a.k.a Oputa Panel)  submitted in May 2002,   we read about corruption in Nigeria’s public life as follows:




Nigerians agree that corruption in public life, which was pronounced under military rule, has reached alarmingly pandemic proportions, and should now be a matter of very serious and pressing public policy concern. From the evidence, which the Commission received, it is clear that the quest for political power personal enrichment was largely the driving force for military interventions in politics. The military tended to treat the state as a conquered territory and proceeded to treat the proceeds of state as spoils of war to be shared among the members of the military, the conquering forces of occupation.





                All About the Oputa Panel



This new “alarming pandemic proportions”  therefore makes it look as if the military never went away.


It all makes one want to “holler,” in Black American vernacular ! 


Compatriots, one thing that we must commend the present administration for – and why it had hoped that TI would be more charitable in its most recent rating –  is that there has been greater news about official corruption in the country.  But the sheer impunity of some of them indicates that their perpetrators do not respect the ability of this administration to contain them, and seem to know something that we do not know that encourages their brazenness.  [ I  still have the image of that missing ship in my consciousness !]





So what is the problem here ?   How and why does corruption persist in Nigeria, and what simple things can be done to combat it? 


To discuss this vexing problem, I have broken the Nigerian population into various human sectors.


(1)            Impunity of Elected High Officials (EHOs)


From the President down to the Governors down to Local Government Chairmen, impunity reigns in our land because there is no official recourse to their lack of transparency and accountability.  In this regard, the Freedom of Information Bill which is going through the National Assembly now must be quickly passed.

                Nigeria’s Freedom of Information Bill


One hopes that it can then be used to:


(i)                   obtain the declared assets of officials, from the President all the way down, force those who have not declared to do so, and remove from office forthwith those who do not.  What is the purpose of declaring assets “secretly” at the Code of Conduct Bureau if the public – or those who have the right to know – do not have access to them ?


(ii)                 Regular (quarterly, bi-annually and certainly annual) independent audits of monies expended by our executives on behalf of the people.  Looking at the monies received by the federal, state and local governments is just mind-boggling, and yet one would be hard-pressed to find any official and independently verifiable audit report of the states.  A requirement of putting these financial reports on state websites – just as the Federal government is commendably putting the revenue allocations themselves on there – should be required.


Finally,  the systematic  “loot-ocracy” will never stop while Section 308 of our 1999 Constitution, which grants blanket immunity to our 74 “Untouchables” exists  – that is immunity from civil and criminal prosecution of the President, Vice-President, the 36 State Governors and the 36 Deputy-Governors. 



                Section 308 of 1999 Constitution


(1) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Constitution, but subject to subsection (2) of this section –


(a) no civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against a person to whom this section applies during his period of office;

(b) a person to whom this section applies shall not be arrested or imprisoned during that period either in pursuance of the process of any court or otherwise; and

(c) no process of any court requiring or compelling the appearance of a person to whom this section applies, shall be applied for or issued:

Provided that in ascertaining whether any period of limitation has expired for the purposes of any proceedings against a person to whom this section applies, no account shall be taken of his period of office.

(2) The provisions of subsection (1) of this section shall not apply to civil proceedings against a person to whom this section applies in his official capacity or to civil or criminal proceedings in which such a person is only a nominal party.



 Mind you, this section is identical in every respect and wording to Section 267 of the 1979 Constitution handed over to civilians by the Obasanjo military regime, and so it is not just an Abacha contrivance as widely believed.  The only problem is that the present civilian federal and state governments have elevated testing this immunity clause to high (or is it low?) art.


ICPC and EFCC and Due Process notwithstanding, until and unless Section 308 is expunged from our Constitution, the President while protected himself  has no moral right to question the impropriety of the state governors, neither do the state governors have any right over the council chairmen.    This mutual blackmail was not lost to the assemblymen of Plateau State when it refused to investigate Governor Dariye despite the president’s prodding.

                Plateau Speaker Lalong Writes to the Attorney General Olujinmi on Governor Dariye


The National Assembly has the power  and obligation to commence the abrogation of this awful Section, unless of course it want to continue to arrogate to itself “equal powers” to corruption with the Executive. That would be in consonance only with MCP – the “Mutual Corruption Party.”


The dilemma is that one does not simply see how this Section 308 will be changed or abrogated quickly without an extra-constitutional measure – namely a Sovereign National Conference – because of the onerous requirements for normal constitutional change built into this particular 1999 Constitution. [In the following quotation, Section 8 refers to state creation provisions, and Chapter IV refers to Fundamental Rights provisions.]




                Section 9 of the 1999 Constitution


(1) The National Assembly may, subject to the provision of this section, alter any of the provisions of this Constitution.

(2) An Act of the National Assembly for the alteration of this Constitution, not being an Act to which section 8 of this Constitution applies, shall not be passed in either House of the National Assembly unless the proposal is supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of all the members of that House and approved by resolution of the Houses of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all the States.

(3) An Act of the National Assembly for the purpose of altering the provisions of this section, section 8 or Chapter IV of this Constitution shall not be passed by either House of the National Assembly unless the proposal is approved by the votes of not less than four-fifths majority of all the members of each House, and also approved by resolution of the House of Assembly of not less than two-third of all States.

(4) For the purposes of section 8 of this Constitution and of subsections (2) and (3) of this section, the number of members of each House of the National Assembly shall, notwithstanding any vacancy, be deemed to be the number of members specified in sections 48 and 49 of this Constitution.



This is because one can expect the present state governors to use all their powers to thwart the ability of two-thirds of the state assemblies to approve such an amendment as required in the Constitution.  We might be stuck with this odious provision otherwise.



(2)            Bribery and Un-elected Public Officials (UPOs)


Ministers demand bribes from contractors before award, and give bribes to National Assemblymen to boost their budgets.  Permanent secretaries – ditto – all the way down to the messenger who can “miss” your file if you don’t grease his or her palm.  Customs officers demand bribes to pass imports through that would otherwise draw taxes, or outrightly seize such items and convert them to their use; airport officials demand “tips”, admirals and lay-soldiers aid in bunkering our oil etc.  The list is endless.


But prime among these UPOs are the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) and corrupt Judges.   Emphasis must be laid on these two categories, for if the law enforcement and judicial system of a country is as corrupt as ours, there can be no hope for justice unless they are emphatically tackled.


In fact, to the ordinary citizen, the oppressive corruption of the country is epitomized in the NPF that harasses them constantly as they ply their routes, who take bribes from hapless citizens in broad daylight, as they demand “Wetin you dey carry?” before letting you pass, after obliging them with N100 or more.


In fact, in a survey  of  public officials, households and enterprises commissioned by Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Finance and reported in Newswatch magazine  in December 2003, the six most corrupt government agencies out of thirty named were identified as the Police, the National Electric Power Authority, the political parties, executive arm, the National Assembly members and the courts.  The survey reported that 73.4 per cent of those polled among households rated the integrity of the police as the lowest, while 67.9 per cent of government officials rated the police as very dishonest.  Only 8 per cent of households, 13.7 per cent of enterprises and 11.3 per cent of public officials rated the police as being a little bit honest.


As to corrupt Judges, they seem to abound in Nigeria, and the National Judicial Council (NJC) has punished a number of them.  Nevertheless, we still read daily of head-shaking-and-scratching judgements.  When for example, the evidences of  the previous conviction of a sitting governor James Ibori as provided by the Inspector-General of Police and the convicting judge himself  are deemed unconvincing by another judge, does that not make you ask, ‘What the..?”

             Ibori Cleared of Identity Saga

             Spotlight on the Ibori Saga


For a nation reputed to be one of the most religious in the world, may we be reminded, at least the Christians among us, that the Bible in verse after verse has nothing but contempt and damnation for those who receive bribes to rule in favor of the guilty instead of the innocent, who deny justice for filthy lucre, or those who extort.




In the Koran, there is at least one verse, namely Sura 2:188, admonishes both bribe-takers and givers:







Unfortunately, President Obasanjo was once reported as angry about accusation of bribery in African countries, saying that the West wrongly equated examples of  gifts, tips, or donations as bribery.


Well, for those who have a moral dilemma as to whether a bribe might be regarded as any of those three alternatives, I find no more persuasive instruction than the following:




A bribe can be distinguished from all three alternatives. A gift is given in the context of a relationship to express a feeling. Where no relationship is present, a gift appears out of place. A bribe, however, is not an expression of relationship; it is an attempt to exploit a person for selfish gain. A gift may be given secretly—perhaps out of modesty—but secrecy is unnecessary. A bribe is concealed in the palm or given in a plain envelope. Without secrecy it brings disgrace and possible legal consequences. … The size of the bribe is equivalent to the task performed. A gift may hope for reciprocation. A bribe requires it.

A bribe can also be distinguished from a tip as well. A tip is known and consented to by the employer. A bribe is hidden from the employer. This fits with the experience of Richard Langston: “Tips are given openly and encouraged in the Philippines, while transactional bribes are usually given subtly.” A tip is for the proper performance of a job. A bribe causes a person to betray a job. A tip is given as a small bonus to reward past service and influence future service. A bribe is given in such a size that it creates an overriding obligation to perform a task. A tip is given to low level employees. A bribe is given to those with discretionary powers. A tip is optional. A bribe is required.

Bribes can also be distinguished from donations. A donation is given openly and usually acknowledged with a receipt. If the donation is large, public recognition may be appropriate. A bribe, once again, is secret. A donation may seek to influence, but a bribe creates an obligation.



Along the same lines as above, I can add some guidance concerning loans, which might have been useful to Alhaji MD Yusuf in respect to his confessed “loan” from an actor with respect to the ID/SAGEM/Afolabi saga.   A loan is  requested in the context either of a personal relationship, or of a business relationship from a corporate entity (often a bank) under terms (i.e. interest rate, date of re-payment commencement, re-payment duration, etc.) agreed by both parties.    Although loans from friends are usually not  disclosed, loans obtained from corporate entities may or may not be  routinely disclosed to interested parties, although they are invariably available in the corporate financial records for inspection if requested.  Any possibilities of conflict of interest should be disclosed to primary interested parties before the loan is obtained, particularly if the interest rates are far below market rates, and/or if repayment periods are unusually delayed or long. Otherwise the loan might look like a bribe for past, present or future favors – or it might indeed be one.


As the Yoruba will say, “Eni se buru mo”.  Roughly translated in this context, whoever requests, accepts, offers or gives a bribe really knows when it is different from a gift, a tip, a donation or a loan.



(3)                 Usury and our Private Sector Officials (PSOs)


Banks and bankers are the prime, and almost only suspects here:  laundering money for crooks and oil bunkerers; round-tripping foreign exchange; converting other people’s proposals for their own gain; using female employees’ sexual favors to garner and maintain fat accounts; giving low interest creditors and charging debtors high interest usuriously – these are all the strikes against them.


The Failed Bank Decree was once used effectively – some would say vindictively – during the Abacha regime to frighten the banks into some form of  shape.   Prof. Charles Soludo, a non-banker and economist, now at the helm of affairs at the Central Bank seems to know about these problems as expressed in a major speech of July 6, 2004:

                Consolidating the Nigerian Banking Industry to Meet the Development Challenges of the 21st          Century


One hopes that a new regime against the corrupt excesses of our banks will be established.  Public trust in these banks is sorely needed to increase national savings and increase credit use.



(4)                 Confidence-Trickery/Cheating by our Teeming Ordinary Citizens (TOCs)


The student who cheats in examinations by bringing in answers to “disclosed” questions or getting somebody else to sit the exam  – notice WAEC and NECO canceling tens of thousands of examination results for fraud;  the university lecturer who demands sex for grades, or money for handouts; the pastor who converts church money to private funds, etc.  – these are all blights in our system that must be stemmed head-on by making examples of those who are caught.  For example, students caught cheating should not just have their results canceled, but should be jailed and taught a lesson.


Perhaps the most vicious “corruption”  by some of our TOCs now is the 4-1-9 advanced-fee-fraud variety of confidence trickery, invented and patented in Nigeria.  It is the equivalent of AIDs of international commerce that afflicts our nation and has sapped international confidence in our financial dealings.

                Anti-419 Project



Until and unless this 4-1-9 crime is tackled head on by our country, we  will be continue to be  viewed as one of the most corrupt, and there will be nothing that we can do about it.




Greed is not a crime subject to legislation but corruption, its main manifestation, is, so one can work to both prevent and  to punish corruption.  Yes, the ICPC and EFCC  may have been established – the one for  public official corruption and the other for private economic corruption – but how many convictions have been obtained?  No celebrated one that I know of, and in fact we hear constant complaints from Justice Akanbi of the ICPC and Alhaji Nuhu Ribadu of the EFCC of funds shortage to carry out their work.


Until and unless  ICPC/EFCC obtain the jailing of 100 top corrupt individuals, until the normal courts are trusted to administer justice, and until the NPF  demands for bribes ANYWHERE in our country are the rare exception rather than the norm, corruption will continue to be seen as a cankerworm in our country.


Thus, seriously working at asset declaration, requirement for regular audits, eliminating Section 308, securing high-officers convictions, eliminating NPF corruption, whipping our banks into shape, and checking 4-1-9 are just several  steps that will boost our anti-corruption stance tremendously.  Poverty and fear of return to poverty in old age, two other causes of  temptation to corruption in our country, must also be worked on in.


Our government, EHOs, UPOs, PSOs and TCOs should take note.


The above are my opinions, and I am sticking with them.


Happy Thanksgiving, every one!






On Nigerian Criminality and Public Accountability

February 20, 2000

September 17, 2000

On 419 (Again!) and Nigerian Perceptions – Confronting the crime.

October 9, 2002

44 Years of  “African Pride” –  and Present National Embarrassments

October 1, 2004




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One Response to “FRIDAY ESSAY: How and Why Corruption Persists in Nigeria”

  1. gabriel says:

    if febelllow nigeria can go away from all these,
    ibelived our cuntry will be ok

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