Dr. Chika A. Onyeani was this month (March, 2005) selected as a "2005 Fellow f the New York Times Company Foundation Institute." Onyeani is the
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of the African Sun Times. His second book, "The Broederbond Conspiracy," will soon be published.
Last Tuesday, March 22, Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo, galloped to
his nation's television studios to announce a crackdown on corruption, and
threatening brimstone at those who would not listen to his warnings, as well as
proceeding to fire one of his cabinet ministers.
Obasanjo listed the reasons why corruption and those who practice corruption
were detrimental to the interests of Nigeria. Said he, "We have never made
shy of our undiluted commitment to eliminating corruption from our national life
because it compromises national development, contaminates collective morality
and values, distorts national planning, corrodes integrity and discipline,
and destroys the foundations of creativity, innovation, and democratic structure
He went on to say that "our fight against corruption will be meaningless if
it is concentrated within the Federal tier of government while the States and
Local Governments wallow in corruption; neither would the battle against
corruption be won if it is concentrated within the public sector while the private
sector, the Fourth Estate of the realm, and civil society wallow in corruption."
But it sounded like the same statement that Obasanjo made when he took office
in 1999, proclaiming corruption as "a cancer that had debilitated the
Nigerian state and frustrated development efforts, despite the country's huge oil
riches." "It was, therefore, an enemy to be fought until it retreated," he said
then. He followed this up by sending to the National Assembly a bill for the
creation of a new anti-graft body, the Independent Corruption Practices and
Other Related Offences Commision (ICPC). The bill, which became law a year
later, hardly seemed to have done much to alleviate the scorch of corruption in
President Obasanjo, who also happens to be the Chair of the African Union,
the continental-wide organization, representing the 54 countries in Africa, has
been in power for six years since 1999, and Nigerians are asking what took him
so long. Especially, since Nigeria has achieved the singular designation of
being crowned one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Obasanjor also
ruled Nigeria from 1976-1979 under the military.
When Obasanjo came into power in 1999, Nigeria was No.28 on the index of most
corrupt countries compiled by Transparency International, which incidentally
Obasanjo happened to be one of its foundation members. But from 2000, Nigeria
sprang up to the No.2 position just a few points below perennial No. 1 winner
Bangladesh, a position it occupied for 4 consecutive years. But this year,
Nigeria dropped to No. 3 on the index, a position which Nigeria's wunderkind
Finance Minister and former World Bank high official called unacceptable, given
the amount of work the government had put in in combating corruption. Whether
this year's index will be more favorable to Nigeria is yet to be seen.
Though Nigeria and Nigerians are no longer as frequently mentioned with
international frauds and scams, yet the odious stench of the "419" stigma will take
a long time to cleanse.
On the surface, given the endemic nature of corruption in Nigeria, and its
glaring consequences for the country internationally, most observers would
conclude that Obasanjo is yet to show seriousness about combating corruption in
Nigeria. But a closer examination would show that since his re-election in 2003,
he seems to have re-imbued a birth of integrity. In that year, three former
ministers - Sunday Afolabi, Minister of Internal Affairs, his successor Mahmud
Shata, and Labor Minister Husseini Akwanga were charged with 16 counts of
bribery and corrupt enrichment. Also charged was the then powerful former
National Secretary of the ruling People's Democratic Party, Okwesilieze Nwodo, plus
the permanent secretary in the minsitry of internal affairs, Turrie Akerele.
They were accused of having collected huge amounts of bribes from agents of
SAGEM S.A., a French company that had been awarded a contract of $214 million
to execute the national identity card. Sunday Afolabi died, but what happened
to the rest is not yet known.
In that year too, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC),
created by Statute in 2002 from the office of the presidency became law, and was
later amended and signed into law by Obasanjo as the new EFCC Act, 2004. The
commission has wide powers to investigate and prosecute economic and financial
After his reelection in 2003, Obasanjo proceeded to appoint some tough
technocrats in his government, including Dr. (Mrs.) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former
vice president and secretary to the Board of the World Bank in Washington, DC,
who he is paying $240,000 per year as the Finance Minister; Dr. Olu Adeniji,
foreign minister who is receiving $120,000 per year; Mallam Nasir Ahmad
El-Rufai, to the Federal Capital Territory, and Dr. (Mrs.) Dora Akinyuli to the
National Agency for Food and Drug Administration (NAFDAC). (By the way, Obasanjo,
who is very rich, makes a lot less than some of the ministers mentioned above).
These individuals have become steadfast as thorns on the sides of officials
and legislators who continue to corruptly enrich themselves.
Early this year, Nigeria's topmost police officer, the Inspector-General, Mr.
Tafa Balogun, was alleged to have amassed over $300 million through corrupt
enrichment, or more than N4 billion in Nigerian currency, plus estates and
mansions all over the country. President Obasanjo, rather than firing Balogun
outright, asked him to retire, which he did effective from March 6, 2005.
It came then as a major surprise to most Nigerians when they saw their
President on national television, accusing his Minister of Education of having
bribed members of the legislature with the sum of N55 million or a little over
$400,000, so that they could increase the amount of money allocated to his
ministry. Most Nigerians are agreed that the said minister, Prof. Fabian Osuji, had
brought sanity to the peripatetic education sector in Nigeria, which had been
marred by constant strikes by lecturers, their complaints being the
insufficient funds allocated to the education ministry.
During Tuesday's broadcast, Obasanjo traced the history of what happened why
Nigerians were seeing him on this crusade against corrupt officials and
legislators. He narrated the story as follows: "Sometime in the month of February
2005, intelligence report came to me that contrary to my firm instructions to
Ministers and departments and parastatals under them that no body should bribe
or give inducement to any individual or group in the National Assembly for
approval or enhancement of the budget proposed by me, some Ministers have
disregarded my instructions.
The intelligence report confirmed that some Ministers have violated the rule
and actually paid bribe to Committees and individuals in the National
I asked that the allegation be investigated and while I was away in Europe
during the week of March 13 to 19, 2005, the investigation came to a climax.
The following facts have now been established in the investigation report:
*That the Minister of Education invited his acting Permanent Secretary and
some Directors to collect money from votes under their control to bribe some
members of the National Assembly so that they can ensure that their budget will
not be reduced, in fact, in order that the budget for the ministry submitted by
the Executive may be increased;
*That those Directors produced from the votes under their control the sum of
N35 million while an additional loan of N20 million was taken from the
National Universities Commission (NUC) to pay a total bribe of N55 million which was
collected by the Senate President, Adolphus Wabara; Senator John Azuta Mbata,
Chairman, Senate Appropriation Committee; Senator Ibrahim Abdulazeez, Chairman
Senate Committee on Education; Senator (Dr) Chris Adighije, Senator Badamasi
Maccido, Senator Emmanuel Okpede, and a member of the Federal House of
Representatives, Honourable (Dr) Shehu Matazu who is Chairman of the House Committee
On my brief return on Saturday the 19th of March 2005, an Interim Oral Report
of the investigation into the allegations was made to me while the
investigation continued. I insisted that the N55 million be recovered from those who
received it. By the time I returned on Monday from Namibia, the money had been
recovered through the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission
(EFCC) brought in by Senator (Dr) Chris Adighije, and it will be kept and used
as exhibit. A written report confirming the oral report has now been submitted
Obasanjo then enumerated the actions he had taken, including firing the
Minister of Education, referring the high officials in the ministry to the Civil
Service Commission, and then referring the actions of the legislators to the
respective legislative bodies.
Nigerians have applauded Obasanjo's actions. "It is about time," most Nigeria
ns have said. In fact, according to a poll conducted by Nigeria's Guardian
newspapers, over 90% of Nigerians are solidly behind the actions taken by the
But as much as Nigerians wholeheartedly support the President, they are
however highly suspicious and concerned about his treatment of the two cases which
just happened one after the other. The legislators are also up in arms as to
Obasanjo's seemingly blanket accusation of their members as "wallowing in
The question that is being asked is how do you ask your Inspector-General of
Police, who is alleged to have stolen more than $300 million (or N4 billion
in Nigerian currency) to retire with full benefits, with no disgrace, while on
the other hand, you rush to the national television to accuse the Minister of
Education - who did not take the money for himself - of bribing members of
the legislature with $400,000 (N55 million). According to the press release
from the President's office, "President Olusegun Obasanjo has already accepted
his (Inspector-General's) retirement notice and expressed appreciation for the
Inspector General's service to the nation." It was further reported that the
President had asked the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to back off
from further investigation of the Inspector-General.
The relevant question here is how do you accept the retirement of an official
who is alleged to have amassed more than $300 million, and express
appreciation for his service after he has looted the country's treasuries, and you don't
make a broadcast, while an individual who is looking out for the welfare of
the education of Nigeria's children but hoodwinked by corrupt legislators, is
fired for offering an bribe of $400,000 to the legislators, money which,
incidentally, is reported to have been returned totally to the Nigerian treasury?
The $300 million looted by the Inspector-General is yet to be recouped.
There is no doubt that Obasanjo is serious about fighting corruption. It is
possible he wants to leave a legacy of clean government, assuming he doesn't
succumb to the Nigerians "who are pressuring" him to run for a third term, as
he told members of Transparency International recently. It is possible that
this corruption crusade is bound to impress Transparency International, and may
lead to Nigeria getting a better rating.
Nobody is questioning President Obasanjo's right to fire Prof. Osuji, the
Education Minister, or that he is wrong in firing him. It is even more idiotic
for the Education Minister to rush to the courts to sue the President, charging
his firing with political bias.
But the sad question is how do you perpetrate an injustice in the guise of