Nigeria, Corruption and The Untouchable Oligarchy

Nigeria, Corruption and The Untouchable Oligarchy 

By Abdulhaleem Ishaq Ringim

AREWA AGENDA – Coming up, we have heard from several local political discourses that the only way Nigeria’s problems can be solved is by converging all the Nigerian elites – leaders of the various patron/clients formations – in a single venue and incinerating them all. As Savage as it sounds, I came to understand that there was a precedent event to which this proposed solution is referenced to.

Some Ghanaian heads of state including Lt. General Afrifa (1969-1970), General Acheampon (1972-1978) and Lt. Gen. Fred Akuffo (1978-1979) were popularly known for corruption and puppetry(to colonial forces) whose cumulative effect resulted in abject impoverishment and underdevelopment.
Such did not sit well with Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings of the Free Africa Movement who rallied junior officers on 15 May 1979 and led a coup attempt which failed. He was sentenced to death in a court martial and imprisoned for such a felonious act. While awaiting execution date, Rawlings was released from prison by junior officers as part of another coup exercise which turned out to be successful.

In his quest towards realigning Ghana on a path of development and sanctifying its political system, Rawlings under the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council umbrella felt executing former corrupt leaders was the only option for disinfecting Ghana of corruption and other factors that contributed to the country’s underdevelopment and so he embarked on a “housecleaning exercise” which saw to the public execution(by firing squad) of 8 senior military officers including the 3 aforementioned former heads of state. He also subsequently extended the exercise which eventually consumed more than 300 Ghanians who allegedly constituted the “corrupt network”.

This is where the “gather them all and incinerate” motivation came from.

Coming back to Nigeria, one conspicuous value the leaders of post-independence Nigeria inherited from their colonial rulers is the unambiguous expression of materialist/elitist tendencies. As against fundamental cultural values which thinks ill of undeserved accumulation of personal wealth, our people not only inherited the Briton’s extravagant lifestyle but also the the sense of irresponsibility towards the masses – the elites established social distancing between them and the masses.

The “State” and by extension “government power” became the primary agency for accumulation of wealth and the moment the doors were open for indigenous competition, there was an all out attempt at clinching positions in government or at least, a direct access to it. This phenomenon eventually facilitated the establishment of an oligarchy; a dominant class which fulfilled both Marxist and Weberian conditions of “owning and controlling the most productive assets, appropriating the bulk of the most valued consumption opportunities, commanding sufficient monopoly over the means of coercion and legitimation and having control over dominant institutions of the society to be sustain politically this cumulative socioeconomic preeminence”. Larry Diamond declared that “the achievement of this new [oligarch] status and the accumulation of the wealth that marked it, came to depend to an extraordinary degree on political, political connections and POLITICAL CORRUPTION.”

But since regional loyalties outweighed nationalistic tendencies, the first republic was devoid of a national dominant class, rather, oligarchies were set up in each of the three(or four) regions as those at helms of economic and societal control were unable to develop ‘trans-regional consciousness and coherence’.

It is majorly on the basis of such pervasive corruption, extravaganza expressed by the leaders of the first republic at the expense of national development, and tribal-based strife that the “The Five Majors” struck in January 1996. A bloody coup that marked the end of a failed first republic happened, and Nzeogwu declared that the revolution was “to establish a strong, united and prosperous nation free from CORRUPTION and internal strife”. In his first and legendary broadcast, Nzeogwu spoke with much execration against corruption and its upholders, he said “Our enemies are the POLITICAL PROFITEERS, THE SWINDLERS, THE MEN IN HIGH AND LOW PLACES THAT SEEK BRIBES AND DEMAND 10 PERCENT; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that have CORRUPTED our society and our Nigeria political calendar back by their words and deeds.”

The 1966 coup was a mini replica of the story narrated above of “Flight Lieutenant Rawlings and the stakes on the beach”.

However, the Rawlings style never stalled the corruption problem, infact, it so happened that the military regimes adopted, consolidated and perfected the culture of corruption to a scope that is beyond what was witnessed during the First Republic. After the civil war, oil exploration and exportation surged as Nigeria discovered massive onshore and offshore crude oil deposits. As a result, Nigeria joined the the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries(OPEC) in 1971. The world experienced a boom in oil price in the 1970s and Nigeria as one of world’s largest oil producers benefited immensely from it(Nigeria’s earnings from crude exports skyrocketed by over 500% within 1970-1974).

This event ushered back, in a much higher form, governmental extravagance and corruption that at a time Nigeria ordered 20 million tons of cement(ten times the amount Lagos port can accommodate in a year) for the execution of the large developmental construction projects the government have embarked on. It was later understood that both the cost and quantity of the cement was massively inflated in an attempt to squeeze the oil-rich government. The Military Government was so corrupt that civilians went to courts to testify against ministers and governors of the military regime(as in the case of Joseph Tarka and Joseph Gomwalk).

Resultantly, a new oil-based political and economic oligarchy( and patronage systems) was established consisting of senior military officers, their families and civilian cronies. This time, the oligarchy had more dangerous potentials because it was a system that established a national dominant class with absolute ‘trans-ethnic consciousness and coherence’.

Subsequent coups occurred all in an attempt to flush out corruption but the system was so powerful that it became somewhat untouchable and indispensable. The Oligarchy kept getting stronger, more inclusive and better placed that at a point one could refer to the oligarchs as the “owners of Nigeria” or “kingmakers”. It has been established that the national patronage network is coalesced around certain retired military officers most of whom are former heads of state. They seem to have been in control of the Nigerian State since the end of the Civil War. Most heads of state that came after the civil war and later civilian presidents are said to be products of this patronage system.

The oligarchy and patronage networks which remains the most ardent perpetuator of corruption have become untouchable and seemingly indispensable because it holds the Nigerian political elites and by extension, the state together as much as it exerts political and economic malignancies on it. The relationship of the patrons is guided by a set of rules and any attempt at devouring themselves or violating the rules might lead to serious instability in the elite network. Such instabilities have the potential of threatening the very existence of the integrated democratic state of Nigeria.

The rules as outlined by John Campbell in his book Nigeria: Dancing in the Brink include;
1. There is no President For Life
2. Patrons at the pinnacle of the networks are ever killed by their rivals, though their clients are fair game
3. The money accumulated by a political figure in office is sacrosanct
4. Rival patrons must ensure the personal and financial survival of an extraordinary-Chief of State

Any attempt at fiscal transparency and an all out anti corruption campaign would insidiously weaken the patron-client system and undermine its authority and that is why the fight against corruption have never recorded any substantial success.

The Obasanjo administration established the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practice Commission(ICPC) in an attempt to curb the corruption menace in Nigeria. But unfortunately, these agencies were compromised and used to target political rivals and enemies of Obasanjo himself being a product and beneficiary of the patron-client system, hence, he had to conform with the established rules of the oligarchy.

Overtime, we have witnessed especially at the EFCC how the oligarchy has been influencing the appointments and dismissals of the commission’s chairmen. The pioneer chairman for example, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, a staunch anti-corruption agent who was known for his staunch and uncompromising personality was humiliated, demoted and dismissed from service allegedly because he was after some certain oligarchs including a pioneer patron Gen Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, Former President and his family, and several clients of the system including  former governors. Ribadu alleged that former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa and Mrs. Farida Waziri were the people trying to destroy EFCC during his tenure.

The guild of allegedly corrupt governors(clients of the system) fronted Mrs. Farida Waziri to replace Ribadu as Chairperson of the EFCC in compensation for her loyalty and to continue doing their biddings. The allegation eventually got grounds when Waziri failed to secure convictions for cases involving former governors already instituted by Ribadu. Infact, it was alleged that Mrs Waziri issued clearance to two former governors who were wanted in the UK. Coupled with the fact that she was at odds with the former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister Of Justice Mohammed Bello Adoke, Waziri had to go as Nigeria’s international reputation kept depreciating at a time when the Jonathan needed international support the most.

Lamorde was then appointed by President Jonathan but was denied a second term as chairman of the commission. Buhari replaced him with Mr Magu who has been serving in acting capacity because the senate would not confirm him not until recently that he got suspended.
Magu is currently being probed by a presidential panel over N5bn election fund, N2.5bn recruitment fund, 332 recovered properties, Declaration of N539 billion as recovered funds, instead of N504 billion earlier claimed and insubordination to the office of the AGF among others. However, it is alleged that Magu is in such trouble majorly because he tried upsetting the broader patron-client system balance by probing and investigating elites that are somewhat untouchable according the oligarchy. It is alleged that this time around, it is yet again Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami that is fronting the oligarchs’ agenda.

All attempts at an all out fight against corruption have virtually failed in Nigeria. According to Transparency International, Nigeria is now the 34th most corrupt country in the world and is ranked 146th out 180 corrupt countries in the world. This is despite almost 2 decades of the supposed fight against corruption.

Unfortunately, the system that holds Nigeria as a democracy in one piece(and the rules guiding its existence) is the same system that is majorly perpetuating corruption. Curbing corruption means scrapping the patron-client system and relegating the oligarchy to a level of zero influence. The Rawlings/Nzeogwu style have failed already, and the question remains;

“How do we get rid of such a system without causing a crack on our democracy?”.

I believe, simply, the establishment of a new national movement (a new order) – an alternative patronage system hinged on patriotism, competence, incorruptibility, and excellence; a nationwide orientation campaign against the politics of patronage and the upholding of credibility and competence in the selection process of political candidates and finally, Just one Free, Fair and Credible elections would go far in relegating the oil-based decades-old patronage system to a level of absolute irrelevance and zero influence.

A “Change that offers enhancement and not just replacement” as Kabiru Tanimu Turaki, SAN would say, is what we need.

Abdulhaleem Ishaq Ringim is a political and public affairs analyst, he writes from Zaria and can be reached through [email protected] or @Pragmatist_AIR on Twitter

Arewa Agenda is a Publication of young writers from Northern Nigeria towards peaceful coexistence and national development through positive narratives.