Published October 8, 2019.
The history of political corruption and governance in Nigeria is replete with episodes that range from the commendable to the most absurd. Yet , the struggle against corruption and the quest for good governance have been constant , though historically chequered.
This struggle has in itself not only attracted academic and non – academic interests but the very nature of the struggle has simultaneously generated pessimism and optimism within and across the world on the future of post – colonial Nigeria . In a simple sense therefore, any discourse on political corruption and governance cannot be isolated from the historical trajectory of the country since its official creation by the British in 1914 following the amalgamation of Southern and Northern protectorates.
The tales of corruption in the political economy of Nigeria since 1999 have never failed to attract interest. My goal is not to revisit pre – 1999 episodes of corruption in Nigeria which have been variously discussed by others , but I must point out that , historically , corruption and governance issues cannot be separated because it is only expected that the best form of governance would abhor corruption just as a corrupt regimes would not be interested in promoting popular governance . In other words , the history of governance has not been immune from political corruption as noted by academic scholars who talk about prebendalism in the Second Republic and “ de – democratisation ” in the Fourth Republic .
Yet, even with these challenges , the Fourth Republic has witnessed the implementation of several anti – corruption policies and creation of some anti – corruption institutions while numerous corrupt politicians , public office holders, oil and bank executives had been arrested and jailed for their crimes . Expectedly , Nigeria was soon delisted from the infamous list of non – cooperative nations in the fight against corruption and money laundering by the Financial Action Task Force , the organisation responsible for combating money laundering and financing of terrorism . Billions of naira have been recovered for government and the private sectors both within and outside Nigeria . Several Politically Exposed Persons have been changed to court for corrupt practices while two former governors are currently serving various jail terms .
Recall that the renowned novelist, Chinua Achebe, in 1983 wrote a small book entitled , “ The Trouble with Nigeria .” In the book , Achebe largely blamed the plight of the country on leadership failures . Hear Achebe: “ The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character . There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else . The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmark of true leadership ”.
From this quote , which opened Achebe’ s book , his conviction that leadership failure caused the troubles for Nigeria is not in doubt . However, even where he is very right in his analysis , with reference to political corruption and governance trajectory , a more critical re – reading of his piece clearly shows that even where there is leadership failure , there are other implied levels of failure other than those of leadership.
It is in this light that I identify four fundamental issues that have not only occasioned political corruption but have also continued to dent best possible governance . In discussing these four fundamental issues , I am guided by two assumptions . First , that political corruption remains the major challenge of governance in Nigeria . Second , that political corruption negatively impacts other strata of governance such as security , education , energy and power and other sectors . Having said this , I proceed to highlight the four fundamental issues .
First is the nature of Nigeria ’ s political elite and the consensus that seems to exist among most of them on the question of corruption . This issue, in a way , is related to Achebe’ s position on Nigeria ’s leadership. Political corruption is often aided by the political elite through their appalling acts of political accommodation which is in itself driven by the quest to gain political power at whatever cost , whether it’s a “ do- or- die” or “ turning a blind eye ” to corruption and the corrupt .
My point is simple : Why would the political elite continue to accommodate individuals with questionable characters or people who are being investigated for serious acts of corruption even when such individuals are known to be terrifically corrupt ? Rather than view corruption as a malady that can dent the chances of a political party , the pages of national newspapers are replete with instances where corrupt politicians who defect from one party to another are welcomed with rallies and adulation . Corruption becomes relegated while politics and quest for power by any means necessary tend to become the essence of politics . With this attitude, Nigeria ’ s political space and good governance will continue to be endangered .
Known corrupt individuals have not only backed political office holders but pictures of some of these corrupt individuals with public office holders have on several occasions graced the front pages of newspapers! Unfortunately , because politics has been devalued, the culture of resignation even where an allegation of corruption has been made is considered an aberration. Political office holders find it difficult to resign or at least “ step aside” to allow for non – interference in administrative investigation of their actions .
Second is the issue of weak institutions . I have on several occasions presented papers to explain some of the challenges faced by anti – corruption institutions such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission . If these anti – graft agencies prosecute a corrupt public officer for corruption and abuse of office and the courts decide to give a mild sentence, who is to be blamed ? Political corruption and governance are shaped by institutions , and it is these institutions , through the individuals that operate them , that implement the rules of the game . If these same institutions are weak or compromised, how would the process of deepening anti – corruption and best possible governance be promoted ?
Related to weak institutions is a third germane issue which is the legal framework . There is an urgent need to drastically revisit the punishment for corruption in Nigeria . This need has been buttressed by calls which range from those for special courts for the trial of corruption cases to those that advocate a “ Chinese treatment ” for corrupt individuals . To this effect , some Judges have, in a way rightly, argued that the light punishment for corruption is based on the existing laws and inadequate legal framework .
To be concluded
Oladele , a legal activist , wrote in from Abuja