Monday Column by Emmanuel Yawe
firstname.lastname@example.org | 08024565402
We love to romanticize our founding fathers in Nigeria. To be politically correct, we speak of the founding fathers of our country only in positive terms. I have no issues with that. In African tradition, you do not speak ill of the dead.
The fact of the matter however is that corruption has dogged our path since the amalgamation of 1914. None of the big names we normally refer to as founding fathers of Nigeria and proceed to idolize has escaped the ugly tar of this national malady.
Looking back at the careers of a few of them, the facts stare in our faces about allegations of financial malfeasance they faced at one time or the other. Herbert Macaulay in his career as an officer in the colonial government was once jailed on charges of corruption. In 1956, the Foster-Sutton Tribunal investigated the Premier of the Eastern Region, Nnamdi Azikiwe for his involvement in the affairs of African Continental Bank (ACB). Similarly, Chief Obafemi Awolowo had to contend with the Coker Commission which indicted him on charges of corruption. Not to be spared was the Sardauna of Sokoto who was dragged to court on allegations of embezzling tax funds in 1943.
It is not my intention to delve into the details or the credibility of these allegations here. What remains without dispute is the fact that these leaders set up high standards of governance at their time. They may have differed in their approaches to issues but they were certainly committed to a viable and progressive country. Their vision and hopes for the generation to come were aptly captured in the words of our first National Anthem which promised “to hand unto our children a banner without stain.”
But according to the man who terminated the life of the First Republic that banner was stained with corruption. In his first broadcast after he assassinated leading politicians and military men in Kaduna, Major Chukwuma Nzeagwu Kaduna alleged that: “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 put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds.”
Even with such stain, what the military did with the power they inherited by booting out the squabbling politicians was something else. Compared to the politicians, these military interventionists were so thoroughly corrupt that the politicians they accused and assassinated on grounds of corruption look like saints today. The history of military governance in Nigeria portrays them as spoilt children who broke down everything in a well-organized house and brought in complete disorder.
In his broadcast in 1966, Nzeagwu spoke of 10% bribe takers who have corrupted the society and made the country look big for nothing in international circles. But by the time the military left the political space in 1999 (hopefully for good), we were not talking of mere 10% demands for contracts awarded. It was under General Sani Abacha that the style and magnitude of corruption advanced from bribery to looting. The man at the helm of affairs did not want to be bothered by the intricate inconvenience of contract bidding, awards and percentages for kickbacks. He simply ordered his soldiers to drive trucks to the Central Bank of Nigeria and make away with as much of local and foreign currency as the trucks could carry.
It was at that stage that looting became a fundamental directive principle of state policy in Nigeria and has refused to go away. If Nigeria looked big for nothing in the eyes of world leaders in 1966, when Abacha was in full control and thereafter, Nigeria was a special spectacle to the outside world. General Collin Powell when asked about Nigeria in an interview while he was Secretary of State in the United States simply retorted that it is a country of “amazing, marvelous scammers”. And not too long ago, David Cameron as s sitting British Prime Minister described Nigeria as fantastically corrupt while briefing the Queen on the anti-Corruption Summit he was hosting in London. He said “We’ve got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain. Nigeria and Afghanistan, possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world.”
During his Inauguration speech of 29th May 2015, President Muhammad Buhari painted a gloomy picture of where we are as a country and his resolve to tackle the menace head on. He said: “At home we face enormous challenges. Insecurity, pervasive corruption, the hitherto unending and seemingly impossible fuel and power shortages are the immediate concerns. We are going to tackle them head on. Nigerians will not regret that they have entrusted national responsibility to us. We must not succumb to hopelessness and defeatism. We can fix our problems.”
Three years have gone since that solemn promise was made. How far have we faired as a nation in the fight against corruption or more appropriately looting? The President may be sincere about his willingness to fight corruption and looting. But it is doubtful if the system on ground supports his personal commitment and enthusiasm or has given Nigerians a new orientation.
I have watched with dismay the current debate on the list of looters who helped themselves from the National kitty. There is no sign of remorse anywhere. Nigerians in privileged positions still think and behave as if this country were a conquered territory and the victorious invaders have the rights to loot to their satisfaction. No Nigerian has so far spoken against the use of the word looting by people in government and in opposition.
Under the circumstances, we may just resign ourselves to fate and consider looting as state policy in Nigeria.