The root cause of corruption in Nigeria

Corruption has without doubt become systemic in Nigeria. The political-economic system has been so soaked in the blood of graft that even the social and cultural ways of many Nigerians have become corrupted. In other words, apart from the institutionalisation of corruption in the Nigeria political-economy, many Nigerians have also become socio-culturally corrupt.

Powerful Nigerians in the corridors of power have indeed become the ironic role models of bent officials. They have been the culprits that have led us into the deep end of corruption which the average citizenry finds him or herself in almost every facet of Nigerian public and private institutions have become compromised.

The challenges which are confronting President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) in the war against corruption beg the question: What’s more appropriate: the Legal or the Legitimate means of fighting the War? This I intend to address in the form of a series of answers to the following questions: 1. What’s the root-cause of the institutionalisation of corruption in Nigeria? 2. How has the institutionalisation of the graft been sustained? 3. How are Nigerians to be liberated from one of the world’s most corruption engendering national constitution and its legal system offspring?

The root-cause of graft, and its institutionalisation, is traceable to fundamental fact that the processes and practices of governance in Nigeria have always been pre-determined by what could be described as a ‘419 constitution’. What else would an ernest enquirer call the existing 1999 military decreed constitution of a supposedly democratic Nigeria? I intend, here, to illustrate the falsity of the claims of the 1999 constitution. As a body of fundamental laws of a nation-state which lay down the system of government, the 1999 Constitution is neither a Federal nor a Republic’s constitution. There is nothing ‘Federal’ in its definition of the Federal-States fiscal relations: the distribution of financial powers between the Federal and the states. What is currently in operation in Nigeria is ‘Fiscal Centralism’, period.


False claims

There is an obvious lack of fiscal federalism in the way the Federal Government relates to the governments of the federating states. Apart from this, there is in the horizontal relationship which exists amongst the three major pillars of government at the Federal, States and Local government levels, a lack of adequate constitutional provisions for the judiciary, for example, to be independent. The Executive arm is in control of the other two arms of government. Take for example, the Nigerian Electoral Commission it is independent only in name. An indepth examination of the 1999 constitution leaves the examiner with illustrations of numerous examples of the falsity of its claim of being a Federal Republic Constitution.

The opening affirmation of The Preamble of the 1999 Constitution which makes the claim: “We the People” is as false a representation as any big-lie can be. The fact that the military regime imposed constitution, as shown above, lies to itself and to the Nigerian people, clearly qualifies it, to be seen as a fraudulent constitution.

Being a military dictators’ regime imposition on the Nigerian people, the 1999 Constitution would have in other truly democratic countries, been rendered illegal. The South American countries of Argentina and Chile precedents are there for our learning. The legality of the extant Nigerian Constitution remains questionable. This affirmation is informed by the fact that the legality of the 1999 Constitution was, and remains; only a covetous claim. Lest it is forgotten, the legality of the present constitution arose from an unconstitutional case of a successful military coup d’etat not only begetting its own legality but imposing the legal order on subsequent supposedly, democratic governments of Nigeria. Only in Third World country like Nigeria, that such an illegality becomes legal.

While the legality of the 1999 Constitution remains doubtful, what is, however, undoubtful is the fact that the constitution is illegitimate. My grounds for saying so have to do with the process of making the constitution. It was not subjected to the due process of the universal precedent of plebiscite, for example. Without the consent of the people to whom sovereignty belongs, the acceptability (that is the ‘constitutionality’) of the 1999 Constitution remains questionable. The well travelled routes of referendum need to have been treaded.


Narrow interests

The cause of justice, equity, balance and the overall public interest is not being served by the extant constitution. The 1999 Constitution was imposed by a cabal of self-serving military officers. Self-serving indeed, as the coup plotters never served the corporate interests of the Nigerian Armed Forces. They were actually not better than rogue military officers. They were, in actuality, what I have over the decades, described as ‘professional politicians in military uniforms.’ My reason for saying that the military coup plotters were self- serving, is evident in how self-serving is the 1999 Constitution which they bequeathed to Nigerians. The makers of the imposed constitution ensured that unfair advantages were given to their own two geo-political zones, and in turn their kinfolks.

The 1999 Constitution was used as a fundamental legal instrument to legalise the shortchanging of the North-Central (NC), South-West (SW), South-South (SS) and South-East (SE) zones’ people. By creating more states and local government areas in the NW and the NE than they deserve (when compared to the NC, SW, SS and SE), they favoured their own ethnicities, particularly in the sharing of national revenue. The South-easterners and their brothers in the South-South, remain the most disadvantaged by the constitution.


Systemic corruption

The seed of the institutionalisation of corruption in Nigeria was sown when the resources of the crude oil producing communities, the coastal sea ports of Delta, Rivers, Cross River and Lagos States and the Value Added Taxes (VAT) collection of most southern states, were illegitimately usurped by the Abuja ‘powers that be’. This robbing of ‘Peter to pay Paul’ must not be allowed to continue. The legalisation of the stealing by subterfuge of the Niger Delta people’s endowed natural resources and the coveting of the VAT payments of residents of the South was put into effect through the imposition of the 1999 Constitution.

This camouflaged thievery by the usual parasitic elite suspects, using the Federal Government as cover, is always going on in the heart-core of the government’s revenue mobilisation, allocation and fiscal activities.  The loot from the, as it were, conquered peoples of the Middle Belt and the Southern geo-political zones has become a kind of no-man’s money to be stolen by the parasitic elite. The corrupt political class ensures that its members’ kinsfolk are often nepostically favoured. Such example of garbage in, do of course, results in the garbage out of malpractices in many areas of the Nigerian nation-building.


Domino effect

The crafty legalisation of what in civilised societies would be an abuse of the inalienable human right of people is the progenitor (the Mother) of most corruption and fraudulent (419) activities in Nigeria. This is in fact one of the major reasons and catalysts of the institutionalisation of graft in Nigeria.

What are the inhuman laws I am referring to? They are the Petroleum Act 1969, the 1971 Off-Shore Oil Revenue Decree, and the 1999 constitutions-Sections 44(3) and 62(2) and item 39 of the Exclusive list. These were the laws which were utilized to completely destroy any iota of fiscal federalism the Nigerian State had. The introduction of these pro-fiscal centralism laws was and remains plan of the cabal of oligarchs, deliberate socio-polities-economic hegemonic grand strategy.

The consequences of the domino effect of this robbing of the North Central and the three Southern geopolitical zones to give advantages to the NW and NE, the Nigerian majority can see clearly. This FG stealing is the action which more than any other act, has caused several other institutionalised corruptions to happen one after the other.


Election malpractices

Take for example, the institutionalised examination malpractices in many Nigerian educational institutions. What’s more discouraging is that the examination cheating goes on even at the foundation level of the Nigerians children education. This is observable during for example, the common entrance exams into Federal Government secondary schools. Anyone blessed with the discerning ability to make the necessary linkages would have seen that many Nigerian leaders have not the moral right to fight the war against corruption involving Nigerian children examinations cheating. This has been so for over three decades. This is because, as has been well rendered, “he who comes to equity must do so with clean hands”. What do you expect from school kids whose (public officers) role models lack integrity? Over 70 per cent of Nigerian political elected officials got to their position through electoral malpractices.

The makers of the constitution went further to make almost impossible to be amended. The cabal of internal colonisers did indeed ensured that the Nigerian people will never have a say in its making or amendment. This was rubber stamped when they were allowed to exclude from the constitution any provision for referendum.

Many of the consequent challenges, which the Nigerian nation-building is facing, are as a result of the Federal Government disobedience of two of the biblical 10 Commandments: “Thou shall not steal” and “Thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s house…, nor anything that is thy neighbour’s” (Exodus 20:15-17). What the Nigerian State is today reaping is what its former rogue military leadership had sown.    Hence, I am humbly advising (as I have in other forays pleaded) that PMB’s agenda of Change is likely to end up as a temporal panacea, if the envisaged transformation does not extend to constitutional reforms. There is a clear strategic necessity for PMB to go beyond the superficial ‘leaves-like’ changes to the more strategic root and trunk of the tree of the Nigerian systemic corruption.


The necessity

There is a clear strategic necessity for the operationalisation of the Change Agenda to go deeper, go beyond the superficial. A superficial change of the outer-most sheath of the many layers would not be sufficient. The arrests and convictions of corrupt public officials, necessary as they are, are no more than the changes of the leaves of a tree. Just as how leaves come and go, public officials-be them the Chief Executives or the public servants-come and go too.

The President needs to go beyond the superficial (leaves-like) changes to the trunk of the tree which supports the branches that carry the twigs and leaves. The ‘trunk’ here represents both the public and private institutions. We cannot begin an impactful resolution of the recurring national problems, without a restructuring of the institutions whose failures are responsible for the persistence of the challenges. And for a worthwhile reformation of public institutions, PMB cannot avoid climbing down and indeed, digging deep to the root of the tree of the Nigerian systemic corruption. The root-cause of the institutionalisation of corruption, like the root-causes of other recurring challenges we face as a nation, is traceable to the fraudulent nature of the 1999 Constitution.


Col. Nyam  (retd) was a delegate to the 2014 National Conference.