9th February, 2015
Although 14 presidential candidates will be contesting at the next general elections set for 28, March 2015, there are strong indications that the election will be a close contest between the main opposition party, the All Progressive Congress (APC) and the ruling People Democratic Party (PDP).
With Nigeria dancing on the brink which is occasioned by falling oil prices, devaluation of the naira, challenges of insecurity and perceived widespread corruption and a culture of impunity at all levels of government, it is important that we reflect on some aspects of Nigeria’s governance and development experience before casting our votes.
For our purposes, I have narrowed down my attention to one element of good governance that has attracted an inordinate amount of attention which is the issue of corruption and anti-corruption.
Nigeria is frequently cited as one of the leading examples of resource-rich countries in the developing world that have been beset by underdevelopment and poverty after decades of poor governance and corruption. It has regularly featured as one of the world’s most corrupt countries in surveys conducted by Transparency International and the Africa Union. The estimated extent of corruption in Nigeria is simply overwhelming, as a result of the staggering figures involved in just those stolen public funds which have been discovered.
Several decades of poor governance and corruption have seemingly played a role in exacerbating the current levels of insecurity and socio-economic inequality between small elite groups and the mass of ordinary Nigerians. For example, according to World Bank estimates, approximately 80 per cent of Nigeria’s oil wealth is concentrated in the hands of 1 per cent of the population, while over 70 per cent of the population live below the poverty line. It is this paradox of underdevelopment/poverty amidst fabulous oil wealth, which first got me interested in exploring the degree to which mismanagement and corruption lay behind the continued socio-economic hardship (endemic poverty, the lack of basic services, insecurity) experienced by so many citizens of the largest black nation in the world.
In what follows, I present part of the findings of a survey which was conducted between August and December 2007 through the design and administration of a sizable electronic survey of respondents’ attitude towards governance and corruption over different periods of Nigerian history.
One of the questions in the survey asked respondents to reflect on their views over the degree of corruption across various government regimes between 1976 and 2007 (evaluating the views of individuals for a period that covers several decades can be misleading so the results was interpreted with considerable caution). The respondents were asked to rank the various administrations from 1 (MOST CORRUPT) to 7 (LEAST CORRUPT) according to their view of the levels of corruption within each administration. This then produced a composite score for each administration, the results of which are presented below.
According to the respondents, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB)’s dictatorship regime (1985 -1993) was the most corrupt government since 1976, followed by the Abacha military government, which was ranked as the second most corrupt. Interestingly, the civilian government of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, was ranked as the third most corrupt government. Despite being a democracy, Yar’Adua’s administration was perceived to be corrupt for various reasons which range from its perceived protection of indicted corrupt political officials and the controversial role of his former minister of justice and attorney general (Michael Aondoakaa) to the weakening and apparent inefficiencies of the anti-corruption institutions like the EFCC under his government.
Shagari’s regime (1979 to 1983), another civilian government, was perceived as the fourth most corrupt. This can be connected to the apparent lack of political will of his administration to control the incidence of corruption; which was the chief reason cited by the military when his government was overthrown in 1983.
Following Shagari were the military and civilian governments of Olusegun Obasanjo (1967/1969 and 1999/2007 respectively), which were ranked as the fifth and sixth most corrupt administrations.
However, perhaps most interestingly, it was the military government of Buhari and Idiagbon which endured from 1983 to 1985 which was identified by respondents as the least corrupt Nigerian government over the period. Buhari’s regime may have been perceived to be less corrupt because of his tough stance against corruption (although his anti-corruption approaches were exclusively ad hoc, with harsh penalties).
Clearly, the present administration of Godluck Jonathan was not captured by this survey, thus a snapshot of key stakeholders opinions as expressed in selected newspaper/magazines would be instructive in providing a sense of perception of the degree of corruption under the present government. The Coalition against Corrupt Leaders Executive Chairman, Debo Adeniran, has highlighted some high profile Nigeria corruption cases in the following extract.
“The case of the unremitted $20bn by NNPC, the case of $10bn expended by the current Petroleum Minister, Diezanu Alison-Madueke, on chartered jets, the Stella Oduah scandal, $6.8 billion fuel subsidy scam, and Yakubu Yusuf, who allegedly stole about N27bn of the pension money and got a court fine of N750, 000 for the offence. These and many others are cases that establish that this administration is corruption tolerant,” (Punch Newspaper January 25, 2015).
The staggering figures involved in these looted funds only represent a fraction of what has actually been stolen under this government. In a recent report by African Union, every year, Nigeria alone account for 68.1 per cent of capital flight from the continent of Africa. It is estimated that $40.9 billion (N8.6 trillion) of $60billion leaves the shore of our economy every year. According to a former Governor of Nigerian Central Bank, Charles Soludo, this fund does not include the over N30 trillion that has either been stolen or unaccounted for in the last couple of years.
This mind-boggling pillaging of public resources only tells part of the story as the problem of widespread corruption has further been complicated by the apparent lack of political will by President Goodluck Jonathan to tackle the scourge. Apart from the controversial pardon granted to some corrupt former public officers (such as former Bayelsa State Governor, DSP Alamieyeseigha) and the dropping of corruption charges against individuals facing corruption charges in court (such as Mohammed Abacha, son of the late military Head of State, Gen. Sani Abach), Mr. president’s public comments (majority of the looting is common stealing not corruption, corruption is not the cause of all our problems, he told journalists in 2012 that he would not declare his assets because he did not give a damn about it, even if you criticise him from heaven) about corruption convey the impression that the president himself is at the forefront of promoting corruption and not at all serious about issues of accountability. This sentiment is reflected in a statement credited to Profssor Ise Sagay, constitutional lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria.“The present government is absolutely indifferent to corruption. It encourages corruption and impunity. We are told oil theft accounts for 400,000 barrels per day. There is no attempt to enforce discipline, integrity and anti corruption” (Daily independent, Febuary 4, 2015)
This position was re-enforced by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, when he alleged that Mr. Jonathan was indirectly aiding corruption in the country. “By the action of setting up different committees for straightforward cases, the president’s body language doesn’t tend to support the fight against corruption” (Thisday Newspaper 15, December 2013)
For Fisayo Soyombo, an editor with Aljazeera, President Goodluck simply lacks the courage and political will to fight corruption even if re-elected again and again. “But the majority of Nigerians have come to accept that Jonathan, even if re-elected for 10 terms, will never fight corruption. The courage is lacking, the political will is nonexistent, the desperation for re-election is so consuming that he would not hurt the weakest of his corrupt political allies” (Algazeera 31 Dec 2014)
Underlying all of the discussion thus far is the fundamental question of mass poverty in the midst of fabulous oil wealth and the question of corruption and anti-corruption. Call it common stealing or corruption, leadership failures due to corruption and mismanagement has seriously undermined the capacity of government to provide basic and social services for the common good in Nigeria.
In the face of the current slide in oil prices the government must block every loophole (especially capital flight) and reduce misuse of scarce public revenues to survive the looming economic storm. Since Bahari is widely perceived as the least corrupt and having the political will to tackle corruption, I dare say that Buhari is the right man for the Job.
According to Albert Einstein, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. We must not vote Goodluck Jonathan again after several years of failure; we must try something different by voting Buhari as president on March 28.
God bless Nigeria
Dr Benjamin Iremiren