The development of a governmental bureaucracy and the discovery of petroleum and natural gas are two reasons often cited as the cause of Nigeria's political corruption. Much of the nation's oil wealth that could have been used to raise the standards of living in Nigeria, have found its way into the pockets of both political and military leaders, leaving the average Nigerian in poverty. Obafemi Awolowo, a prominent politician stated that since independence, the Nigerian governments has been a matter of a few holding the cow for the strongest and most cunning to milk. This has created a "mentality in which everybody runs over everybody to make good at the expense of others." It would seem the spirit of communalism is dead in Nigeria, or for that matter, in most if not all of Afrika's borrowed political systems.
This pervasive corruption has been blamed on colonialism, with the rationale being that throughout the colonial period, most Nigerians were stuck in ignorance and poverty. But more importantly, I would argue that the spiritual and cultural foundations of their society were shaken to the core during colonialism. (Moreover many societies had not recovered from the devastation of the slave trade.) Their traditional spiritual beliefs, which respected the seen and unseen forces of existence, were replaced with the spiritual materialism of European Christianity (and Arab Islam, to a lesser extent). Afrikans kept only the trappings of their cultural systems, mere survivals, while they embraced the values of their colonial masters. Afrikans wanted the material things Western society had to offer; its cars, townhouses, fashions, etc. Afrikans wanted to be like them—we wanted to be them!!! And so we borrowed all we could from them, even their political systems, and this included systemic corruption.
A brief look at Nigeria's history of corruption post-independence:
- Azikiwe administration was marked by widespread corruption. Even he was not beyond reproach. Government officials looted public funds with impunity. Federal Representative and Minister of Aviation, KO Mbadiwe, flaunted his wealth by building a palace in his hometown. When asked where he had gotten the money to build such a mansion, KO replied, ”From sources known and unknown.”
- In western Nigeria, politician Adegoke Adelabu was investigated following charges of political corruption leveled against him by the opposition. The report led to demand for his resignation as district council head.
- In 1962, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was indicted and the Coker commission of enquiry was set-up which found that a substantial amount of money was misappropriated from the coffers of the Western regional government.
- The Gowon's administration was mired in corruption, in 1975, a corruption scandal surrounding the importation of cement engulfed his administration. Many officials of the defense ministry and the central bank of Nigeria where involved in the scandal. Officials were later accused of falsifying ships manifest and inflating the amount of cement to be purchased. During the administration, two major individuals from the middle belt of the country were accused of corruption.
- Corruption was deemed pervasive during the administration of Shagari.
- A few federal buildings mysteriously went on fire after investigators started probes on the finances of the officials working in the buildings.
- In 1981, a Rice shortage, led to accusations of corruption against the NPN government.
- In 1985, investigations into the collapse of the defunct Johnson Mathey Bank of London showed the bank acted as a conduit to transfer hard currency for some party members in Nigeria. A few leading officials and politicians had amassed large amounts of money. They sought to transfer the money out of the country with the help of Asian importers by issuing import licenses.
- In 1985, a cross section of political leaders were convicted of different corrupt practices under the government of General Buhari. However, the administration itself was involved in a few instances of lapsed ethical judgment.
- The regime of General Babangida is seen as the body that legalized corruption. His administration refused to give account of the Gulf War windfall, which is estimated to be $12.4 billion.
- Babangida annulled a democratic election in Nigeria on June 12, 1993 and decided to instate Ernest Shonekan as his successor in August 27, 1993 when he stepped down as head of the military regime.
- The death of the general Sani Abacha revealed the extent of Nigerian corruption. French investigations of bribes paid to government officials to ease the award of a gas plant construction in Nigeria revealed the global level of official graft in the country.
- In 2000, two years after his death, a Swiss banking commission report indicted Swiss banks for failing to follow compliance process in allowing family and friends of Abacha access to accounts and depositing amounts totaling $600 million US dollars into the accounts. The same year, a total of more than $1 billion US dollars were found in his various accounts throughout Europe.
- Under the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo high-level corrupt practices took place with impunity. During his administration federal ministers allegedly stole more than N23 billion from the public coffers. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is at the centre of major corrupt practices in the industry with regards to the operation of its finances, especially in respect of actual revenue realised from the sale of crude oil, and other petroleum resources, such as natural gas.The National Identity Card scandal is another case of high profile corruption perpetrated by the top echelon of the nation’s political leadership class.
Now we can “blame” Nigeria's predicament on colonialism and neocolonialism--but our predicament is our “responsibility”! Let me give two examples to elucidate this point, one personal and one historical. I do not go to the movies often but occasionally I used to rent multiple movies/videos and watch them all during the course of a day. This was back in the days, perhaps twenty years ago. I made sure to watch all the videos in the same day so as to avoid the late fees if I didn't see them all and had to keep them an extra day. On this one occasion I realized that I wasn't going to be able to watch them all so I told my son to return them to the video store to avoid the be late-fee. He said, yes he would. I knew he had nothing to do anyway. I went about my business and returned home and the first thing I saw on the table were all of the videos. I was mad as hell. I expressed my anger towards my son of course. Could I blame him for not returning the videos? Yes. Because I asked or told him to return them and he consented. I was the one, however, who rented the videos and I was the one who had to pay the rental and/or late fee, so ultimately I was the one responsible. The second example applies to the slave trade (as well as the drug trade). In Afrika, the “slave trade” exacerbated tensions between nations that shared enmity. Western nations used rum and guns to foment violence, playing one Afrikan people against another. As compensation for the rum and guns Europeans asked to be compensated with the prisoners of war that were a consequence of the wars. Until the Arabs instituted the trafficking in slaves in Afrika centuries earlier, traditional societies did not have a " slave" trading network though they had always had war captives. These captives were kept by and eventually integrated into the nation that captured them. But Europe's growing trade demands came to dominate the Afrikan trade markets and European wanted primarily workers to work the newly discovered lands in the Western hemisphere. This led to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Can Afrikans be blamed for the slave trade? Yes! They were the ones that engaged in the slaving wars in order to get guns (and alcohol) for their national defense. They formed alliances with European nations, used cunning against each other, and a few nations and individuals made short term financial gains. Nevertheless, the benefits the Europeans gained were exponentially greater. The entire slave trade was financed by European bankers and engaged its upper middle and middle-classes, which consisted of merchants, entrepreneurs, craftsmen, and others. Moreover, European nations produced the guns and alcohol that fueled the trade, and they were the ones that needed cheap labor. Europeans in effect, created the trans-Atlantic slave trade for their greed-lust. And they benefited the most from it; they were responsible for it. International in scope, this trade was conceived and controlled by Europeans, who dictated and controlled its Afrikan leg.
In the first example, my son was to blame but I was responsible; in the second example we as Afrikans are to blame, but the European was responsible. In the case of Nigeria's corruption, will say colonialism is to blame--but Nigeria is responsible. There was a time when we could speak glowingly of Afrikan systems of governance. Before and even after the invasion of Islam, West Afrika developed a complex of high cultures that arguably outflanked any in the world, especially those of Europe. And what appeared to have been a trademark of West Afrikan systems of governance, usually headed by kings, who served as arbiters of justice, hearing all cases great and small. The Nigerian antecedents, in particular, the Yoruba, had a ruler, the Oni, who was held to the same high standard as other West Afrikan kings. He was selected for the following qualities: generosity, good character, unselfishness, and willingness to listen to advice. If contemporary Nigerian leaders need models for leadership, they need to take a page from their own history and discard the examples and legacy of their former colonial masters. It is time for us to take responsibility for our actions, for our development, for our Restoration; and we do this when we use our past as our foundation--as our agency.
Maturing is a necessary component of living, of becoming an adult, of becoming human. One of the biggest problems in the West or of being Westernized is the dysfunction of the socialization/acculturation process, which encumbers the person with so much unnecessary psychological baggage. It is passed from parent to child from generation to generation. Though a person can blame their parents for the poor nurturing they have received it is the responsibility of that person to get themselves together; this becomes part of the maturation process. Having pride in our past does nothing if it does not transform our present and future. We become the child that never grows up. In other words, yes, our cultural world has been disrupted, our worldview shattered--but we are the ones who have to fix it. We have yo grow up! This is not an easy task: We are abused children who now as "adults" have to get ourselves together, while the abuser is still a part of our life. Think about it.