The Nigerian government has seen a lot of anti-corruption activity even before Independence starting with the scandalous activities of some of the most prominent nationalist politicians, and corruption persists and grows until this day. Military and democratic civil service reforms, neoliberal reforms, tribunals, panels and the introduction of anticorruption institutions have been tried and tested yet corruption remain intractable.
General Murtala Mohammed was the first anticorruption head of state Nigeria had, that was the raison d’etre of his military coup against General Yakubu Gowon. Many, if not most, will say he did a great job, which was responsible for his assassination after a very short but exemplary tenure in office. His only mistake was “leaving the door open,” that is, the door to the institutional domain of corruption.
General Mohammed dealt severely with most of the groups and individuals responsible for corruption in the public service, but the institutional domains of organising corrupt activity and access to them were left intact. Many of these domains were out of the public service as he realised. It was only a matter of time before new groups and individuals “reclaimed” these domains.
The success of Mohammed’s anti-corruption blitz was due to the fact that public servants up to that time had stolen monies and resources alone making them easy to identify and prosecute; their colleagues were formidable witnesses against them. Corruption then “evolved” in a “sharing” culture, the more public servants given a share of the stolen loot the harder it was to identify and prosecute the culprits and their malfeasance.
The aftermath of Mohammed’s demise saw corruption explode in Nigeria, most notably under the National Party of Nigeria led government during the democratic tenure of President Shehu Shagari. The doors to corruption were left wide open to politicians of the 2nd Republic and they in conjunction with civil servants and contractors had gotten smarter.
General Mohammed Buhari came to power with the same raison d’etre of corruption. His regime identified and prosecuted corrupt politicians, civil servants and contractors. It is amazing that too many Nigerians today claim “no one stole any money under Shagari’s watch,” maybe they wasted billions of naira innocuously. Buhari went beyond the corruption of public service principals and tackles massive issues such as ghost workers, pension fraud, drug-trafficking, money laundering and ceremonial waste.
General Buhari’s tenure was short like Mohammed’s but he was not assassinated. He was removed from office because he would not accept structural adjustment presented by the World Bank delegation. Members of that delegation are now heroes in Nigeria. Unlike Mohammed, Buhari closed many of the doors to institutional domains of corruption. Despite this, the post-Buhari government of General Babangida saw another explosion in corruption.
When General Ibrahim Babangida came to power, he succeeded not only in reopening the doors recently closed but also in widening the doors to corruption further than ever before with so much help from neoliberal policy. Up to Buhari’s time, public servants had demanded 10% kickbacks for contracts awarded by government. Under General Babangida, we saw 10 Percenters become 50 Percenters then 90 Percenters. Contractors got 10-50% for putting their names on contracts and did not have to do any work to get full payment. Babangida’s tenure was also a rent-seekers paradise.
Nevertheless, the two-tier financial exchange mechanism introduced by Babangida created corruption in banks such as arbitrage fraud and round tripping. Structural adjustment saw multinational corporations losing their “indigenised” status. Many multinationals stopped producing locally and smuggled their products tax-free into Nigeria as standard routine. For the first Nigeria saw multinationals controlling Nigerian policy. Nigeria under Babangida perhaps became apparently “doorless” to corruption.
General Olusegun Obasanjo became the third anticorruption president in 1999. Transparency International saw him as an “anti-corruption messiah” for Nigeria. His anticorruption policies and institutions such as the Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) were contrary institutions and in themselves corrupt undertakings from the onset; highly selective, weak on prosecution and fraught with conflicts of interest.
The finest ever anticorruption audit was conducted by Vincent Azie, the Auditor-General of Nigeria by inspecting every door of corruption with great acumen and success, and without the institution of the ICPC or EFCC. Nigeria already had the tools to end corruption. Yet, Obasanjo sacked him for doing his job far much better than imaginable.
Obasanjo’s neoliberal presidency was characterised by “door opening” such as issuing “due process or due diligence waivers” for major contracts, the exclusion of civil servants from public service decision-making and increased corporate interference in government. In any society with low incidences of corruption there is always a strong and clean civil service, at worst this can be dismissed as an “inevitable coincidence.”
Ending corruption is about closing the doors to the institutional domains of the phenomenon. The observation is that when the doors of corruption are closed by any government, maybe due to bad luck, a new government comes into power that opens them wider than ever before to maintain the interests of the status quo.
The political economy of corruption in Nigeria is the equivalent of the political economy of the status quo. Who are the principals of the status quo? Check them and corruption in Nigeria will be checked.