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Friday Sermon: Chronicles of Corruption 2

By Babatunde Jose

“Honoré de Balzac may after all be right when he had said that behind every great fortune for which one is at a loss to account there is a crime.” Justice Khosa: Panama Case Judgment

Corruption in Africa is a development and social issue which becomes an impediment to change and a serious constraint on economic development and poverty reduction.

Some authorities claim that corruption started with the ‘court interpreter’ system in the early days of colonialism: With all his antics and shenanigans.  The interpreter gained the reputation of being the intermediary between the town folks and the ‘Whiteman’; he collected bribes and other such tolls in order to facilitate an audience with the Oyibo. The legend of the famous ‘Natrik’ in Okposi in the Eastern region easily comes to mind. Since then corruption has spread like wildfire: From the pimping ‘ocho passenger’ at the motor park, to the flinching tramp who begs for money, to the girls who follow men for money, to the wives who covet their husband’s rich friends, to the man of God who relish in carnal knowledge of the women in their congregations, to the father who is happy at his child bringing home loads of designer clothes when he is not a drycleaner, to the children who cannot vouch for the source of their parents wealth, to the leaders who cannot keep their hands off the common purse; when the social atmosphere is tainted, the whole fabric of society becomes rotten and everybody is corrupt.

Political corruption started long before independence but has grown in leaps and bound ever since. Early documentary cases of corruption would include the ‘Storey Commission’ of 1952, set up to look into the affairs of the Lagos Town Council which was established in 1951 with Dr. Abubakar Ibiyinka Olorunnimbe as the 1st Mayor of Lagos; he leveled allegations of corruption against the councilors. The Commission found most of the councilors guilty; some were removed and others sent to jail. The Town Council was also dissolved.

By 2012, Nigeria was estimated to have lost over $400 billion to corruption since independence. We wonder how much that would be today.

In 1956, the Foster-Sutton Tribunal investigated the Premier of the Eastern Region, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe for his involvement in the affairs of African Continental Bank (ACB). The Colonial government did not chastise Zik because the government supported the NCNC as third leg of the political tripod.The national interest of the country demanded that Zik continue as leader of the party. The truth is that Zik was needed to actualize the British plan for post independence Nigeria.

The Governor of the Eastern Region Sir Clement Pleass further observed: “A number of sensible people realized that Zik had done harm in the East in the last two years, but the mass of the people, ignorant and uneducated, voted him back to power.” This is being repeated in our political arena today.

The post independence years were however, characterized by political corruption that was clouded by political infighting. On June 20, 1962, , the Prime Minister appointed a Commission headed by Justice GBA Coker, to inquire into the financial and investment policies and the business operations of six statutory corporations in Western Nigeria since October 1, 1954. It was politically motivated. The affected companies included Western Region Marketing Board, the Western Nigeria Development Corporation, the Western Region Finance Corporation and the Western Region Housing Corporation.

The Commission sat for 92 days. Chief Awolowo who on November 2, 1962, had been charged with treasonable felony and conspiracy to overthrow the Federal Government by force had refused to give evidence before the Coker Commission of Inquiry. Awo said that he had come to the conclusion that no useful purpose would be served by his further participation in the inquiry. The Commission made recommendations that the Western Nigeria Marketing Board should take over immediately all properties of the National Investment and Properties Company Ltd; that the Board should take steps to recover from the Action Group a sum of 8,000,000 BP which Action Group had received from the National Investment and Properties Company between April 18, 1958 and May 31, 1962.  In a statement signed by Chief Awolowo, the Action Group rejected the report.

The Coker Commission found Awolowo responsible for all the ills of the Western Region Marketing Board, and said; “Awolowo without a doubt has failed to adhere to the standards of conduct which are required for persons holding such a post.” However, unlike developments in other regions, the Action Group government of Western Nigeria was able to build a strong economic base for the development of the region. National Investment Company was the company that built the Western House in Lagos, Cocoa House in Ibadan and Bristol Hotel in Lagos. It was the same company that built most of the companies that are under Odua Investment Company today. It was this group that was behind the Western Region leap that became the envy of other regions. The run was however truncated by corruption in subsequent years thereby attenuating what could have been the fulfillment of the dream of ‘freedom for all and life more abundant’.

Today we know that the financial legacies of most of the big names were proceeds of corruption, including the much vaunted Dideolu Estate, which became the subject of ‘Great Exposition’ by Concord newspaper of rested memory. Fingers were also pointed at the source of Shonibare Estate in Maryland and many other such overnight wealth of the time.

In the Northern region, against the backdrop of corruption allegations leveled against some native authority officials in Borno; the Northern Government enacted the Customary Presents Order to forestall any further breach of regulations.

Later on, it was the British administration that was accused of corrupt practices in the results of elections which enthroned a Fulani political leadership in Kano; reports later linking the British authorities to electoral irregularities were discovered.

It has also come out into the open that the British not only rigged the census but also the National Election on the eve of independence. See ‘The Nigerian Federal Election of 1959’ by K W J Post. The Last Great Act of Treason?

An interesting case was that of Samuel Okotie Eboh.  He was the politician charged by the British to tie the NPC and NCNC together so that a pro-British alliance would rule Nigeria after Independence. Dr Azikiwe, who had been blackmailed by the British to ally himself with an implacable enemy, dutifully visited the Northern leaders in May 1958 to cement the deal, which had been set up even earlier in 1956 at the instigation of the British. Okotie Eboh was the most important politician for the British but was also the most corrupt.  Shortly before he was swept away by the January 1966 coup, as our finance minister he had imposed a tax on imported shoes while he was setting up his own shoe factory. He did not live to enjoy the proceeds of his crime. When questioned about his fantastic wealth, he often replied: “For whoever has, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance. But whoever does not have, from him shall be taken away even that which he has” (Matthew 13:12)

Among the greatest impetus to political corruption is the cost of elections. Immediately after the elections, the race begins to recoup the monies spent by way of engaging in an orgy of corrupt. We have had a case of a political investor demanding a huge slice of the State’s statutory allocation as his payback. Governors have been taken to Juju shrines to enter blood oaths before being sponsored for elections. And where he reneges, ways are found to impeach him out of office and the state is made ungovernable.

Electoral corruption is not merely a means to an end but it is also a lucrative pursuit unto itself. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) estimates that it spent about $550 million on the 2015 election while the country’s political parties perhaps spent as much as $2 billion campaigning. Each of Nigeria’s thirty-six states also infuse millions of dollars each year into State Independent Electoral Commissions tasked with conducting sham local government elections on behalf of the governor in power. Al these monies are sourced from the commonwealth.

Federal legislators’ excessive salaries, allowances, and other benefits—amounting to $540,000 per lawmaker in 2017—are also seen by many Nigerians as corruption.

Senators and representatives also pad the national budget. This is the origin of the excessive funds at the disposal of agencies of government such as the NDDC and others which gives them the lee way to pay 3.7Billion Naira for the supply of plastic chairs.

Equally bizarre was the vote of $32.7million for three space agencies for a country that is not in the space age; for a country that has no nuclear facility we budgeted the whooping sum of $13.3 million for our Atomic Energy Commission and $20.5 Million for the Nuclear Regulatory Authority: All avenues for corruption.

The NNPC has been described as the epicenter of corruption in Nigeria. It is a veritable ATM for the executive branch of government.

Nigeria lost $2.8 billion in revenues to import waivers over a five-year period (2011–2015), according to a Nigerian Customs Service report. The greatest beneficiary had been Africa’s richest man, who is also reputed to be the largest beneficiary of government’s import restrictions on certain goods thereby creating a monopoly. The ban on imported poultry has also benefitted a former president who is the biggest poultry farmer in the country.

Between 1980 and 2010, agricultural subsidies totaled ₦873 billion ($5.8 billion in 2010 dollars); of that amount, an estimated ₦776 billion ($5.2 billion) was lost to corruption.

The power sector is another cesspool of corruption. It is estimated that from 1999 to 2017, the country has lost N11 trillion or $64 Billion to corruption. Attempts at privatization only delivered the power sector into the hands of the ‘Usual Suspects’; people of questionable pedigree and integrity. As we write most of the so-called power holding companies have not supplied meters to their clients.

Between 2007 and 2015, politicians and ‘evil’ servants embezzled most of the N432billion allocated for ecological fund.

As we all cry out over the state of insecurity, others have stolen monies earmarked for our security on a grand scale. The case of the National Security Adviser who delivered the sum of $2Billion into the hands of politicians and their cohorts is still inconclusive. None of the beneficiaries are in jail and many are still big players in the political arena.

“Security votes” is an opaque slush fund given to certain federal, state, and local officials totaling over $670 million annually. At the federal level, the number of security votes tucked into the federal budget increased from about ₦9.3 billion ($46.2 million) in 2016 to over ₦18.4 billion ($51 million) in 2018.

Nigeria Police Force (NPF) is endemically corrupt. In March 2018, Nigeria’s accountant general revealed he had identified over 80,000 ghost workers in the Nigeria Police Force: over 20 percent of the total force; read my lips.

Nigeria’s three main anticorruption agencies—the EFCC, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, and the Code of Conduct Bureau—have at times faced corruption accusations themselves. The ongoing searchlight beamed on the EFCC is a case in point; likewise the soon to be featured Malamigate: Coming to a Cinema near you!

Only in Nigeria will a JAMB official, accused of embezzling ₦36 million ($100,000), claim that a snake had entered into her office and had eaten the money. Baba ooo!!!

In our Chronicles of Corruption when we come to the period of the 3rd Republic which is now in its 20th year of unbroken civil rule and so called democracy, we are bound to come to the inescapable conclusion that we are witnessing the worst days of corruption in our country. May God save us from those we elected to preside over our affairs!

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend

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