December 5, 2022

Understanding the genealogy of corruption in Nigeria – The Punch

  • November 25, 2021
  • 7 min read
Understanding the genealogy of corruption in Nigeria – The Punch

Punch Newspapers © 1971-2020 The Punch newspaper
Jide Ojo
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana
I am currently attending a capacity building workshop for selected Nigerian journalists on “Reporting corruption in Nigeria”. The workshop, which is organised by Transparency International, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, has in attendance journalists from both print and electronic media across the country. It started on Monday and ends today. 12 papers were scheduled for presentation at the training but only four had so far been presented as of the time of writing this article.
It is one of the papers that I am x-raying today. I singled out this paper titled, “History of Corruption and its Effects on National Development” by an erudite scholar, a senior lecturer at Obafemi Awolowo University, Dr. Adetunji Ogunyemi, due to its historicity. Did you know that Nigeria’s Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Act, both of which prohibit and seek to punish corruption, could not define it?  What both statutes did was to describe the act that may be regarded as corruption.
According to Ogunyemi, Section 112 (1) of the Criminal Code for instance, only points to what may be partly described as a corrupt act. It provides: “Any person who – (1) corruptly  asks, receives, or obtains any property or benefit of any kind for himself or any other person on account of anything already done or omitted to be done, or to be afterwards done or omitted to be done, by him or any other person, with regard to the appointment or contemplated appointment of any person to any office or employment in the public service, or with regard to any application by any person for employment in the public service; or (2) corruptly gives, confers, or procures or promises or offers to give or confer, or to procure or attempt to procure, to confer upon, or for any person, any property or benefit of any kind or account of any such act or omission; is guilty of a felony, and is liable to imprisonment for three years.”

The scholar is of the opinion that weak legal frameworks such as shown in the Nigerian Audit Act of 1956 and many other laws of the federation make corruption fester; dilatoriness in investigation and prosecution of corrupt acts tends to embolden criminals; societal adulation of corrupt behaviours and criminality delimits the capacity of government to apprehend thieves; the near absence of moral instruction in schools have all combined to make the problems of corruption intractable in Nigeria.
He posited that corruption has been going on in Nigeria since pre-colonial days and made startling revelations about corruption in the colonial era. According to the historian-cum-lawyer, ordinary people saw the British colonialists as strangers whose property and resources could be legitimately looted or converted. “The British did not help matters even by their own observed fraudulent trade practices especially by their merchants in the Oil Rivers Protectorate. Evidence abounds of colonial officials who helped themselves to the public treasury. This encouraged their subordinate African staff to steal even more. British acts of theft and pillage manifested in not just fraudulent seizure of lands but also artefacts which were stolen from African shrines and palaces. Scholars such as (Ofonagoro, 1979, Lawal, 1979, Ogunyemi, 2014), have found copious evidence of sleaze committed by different categories of colonial staff during the period 1861-1959 in Nigeria.” These corrupt practices by the Nigerian colonial masters made Nigerians indulge in currency counterfeiting; adulteration of export produce/crops; tax evasion; smuggling; burglary in European stores; absenteeism and theft in native treasuries.
Notable corrupt acts continued in the immediate independence period. The perpetrators were mostly politicians. However, most of what is ascribed to them was abuses of office rather than theft. The military who took over by force from the politicians, however, elevated corruption to the level of national worship. Some of them were caught and disciplined. Dimension of corruption by the Nigerian military elite between 1984 and 1999 include extra-budgetary expenditure; embezzlement (Okigbo Panel Report)- contract splitting and over-invoicing; failed contracts (Nigeria Airways problem); outright theft (Abacha loot); illegal virement; oil licensing rigging and condonation of bunkering.

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On the part of the civilians in the post-independent Nigeria, their corrupt practices include contract splitting; budget padding; ghost workers (see Steve Oronsaye’s report); gross abuse of office; conflict of interest; currency round-tripping; import waiver fraud; procured judgment debt against Nigeria (P&ID saga) and fraudulent consultancy payments. Ogunyemi told a story of how his research for the Osun State Government under Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola (now Minister of Interior) revealed the non-existence of 12 schools purportedly with staff whose only existence was on paper. One of the participants corroborated that. He said 22 of such were similarly discovered in Niger State. (Ghost schools, with ghost workers!)
Corruption has and is still impacting Nigeria’s national development in many ways. According to Ogunyemi, the economic effects of corruption include the creation of illegal rent and rent-seeking behaviours; poverty and inequality; limited capacity of the country to provide basic infrastructure; encourages unbridled consumption of ostentatious goods and creates dysfunctional private-public sector participation in the economy.  Some of the social effects of corruption are that it creates a culture of impunity; makes for an unjust social order; precipitates class war and dissent and ridicules the judicial process and compromises political choices.
Ogunyemi is not an arm-chair critic. He posited some solutions to the menace of corruption in Nigeria. According to him, a restructuring of the administration of the criminal justice system is highly desirable, as is the imperative of making political office financially unattractive. Ensuring that the reports of Public Account Committee are timeously and regularly published by the National Assembly was also suggested.  Strengthening the Code of Conduct Bureau to inquire into and prosecute unexplained wealth by civil and public servants; making personal and property tax certification a basis of all social claims; strengthening the Auditor-General of the Federation and of states to apprehend infractions on public accounts as well as asking that the Auditor General should be a professional appointed by certified professional bodies and not from the civil service of the federation or of states are some of the other recommendations made by the speaker.
He equally asked that the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, which determines the remuneration appropriate for political office holders, and the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission, which deal with issues relating to salaries and wages of Nigerian workers, should be collapsed into one while survival parity and not purchasing power parity should be used to determine all remunerations in Nigeria.
It is very clear from the foregoing that corruption is not an alien culture to Nigeria. It has been with us from time immemorial, even from the pre-colonial era. Corruption is a global phenomenon and cuts across all socio-cultural and politico-economic divides. Civilian and military rulers are all in the game even religious institutions are not left out. It also came out clearly that legislation and administrative sanctions alone will not win the war against corruption. The push factors such as poverty, unemployment and low wages must be tackled while attitudinal change, the deliberate act of doing the right thing, must also be in the mix.
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