Nigeria: A Complicated System (1)

by Sylvester Fadal

In fall of 1990, a young man vacationed to Nigeria from Oakland, California. His flight transitioned through New York and his aisle/seat mate from New York to Lagos was a man named Olusegun. It was an economy class. Yes, both Olusegun and the young Nigerian sat in the economy class and the young Nigerian brought out his VHS video recorder and held a one-on-one with Olusegun. Upon his return, we learnt a lot about the then humble Olusegun (OBJ) who was struggling to realistically maintain his dwindling wealth. We played the tape over and over and later concluded that OBJ was either going broke or trying to hold on to his limited resources. You draw your conclusions.

In 2001 we read of the financial support given to OBJ to run for the presidency by IBB because OBJ was viewed as the consummate figurehead who could be controlled especially because he was going broke and was very malleable. In all, it was noted that OBJ did not have the financial wherewithal to run for any political position, had limited interest in the presidency and as such was chosen to both please the “West” and temporarily shift the presidency from the “North.” You draw your conclusions. Both subjects above will be reviewed in a summative form in the very end of this article.

In 1997, some notable minds began the Movement of Conscientious Optimists (MOCO). Each member of the team believed that someday a Nigerian would emerge and attempt to address the corruptive mayhem that has eaten deep into our society. We believed that a modern-day leader, regardless of how corrupt he/she may/may not have been in the past, would have a reenactment and commence a cleansing process to address corruption in Nigeria. Though we did not expect a mechanical system, we did envision an attempt to seek a balanced scorecard approach towards addressing corruption.

Today, it seems like the MOCO philosophy is resonating, though not as thought and believed. Prevailing actions by OBJ, though organically impure and watered-down in nature is the driving force behind “Nigeria: A complicated System” series. OBJ’s actions do not reflect the person or change we had in mind but is an abstract capsulation, in a mild form, of our impression for future change.

A change may/may not be synonymous with a revolution and what we have observed with OBJ is not an appetite towards effective change. It is an intentional desire to act rather than simply discussing; ruminating, dialoguing or writing reports that typically leads to something those in the field of Organizational Development or Business Development call “Strategic Plans On Top Shelves (SPOTS).” OBJ cannot effect change by sidetracking the most recommended three-step process of (a) unfreezing the current deep seated corruption prone system, (b) bleeding out the evils and implementing the newly recommended system and (c) refreezing the newly acceptable system. Buhari and Idiagbon did it in two months because they practiced what they preached at least as it related to corruption and discipline.

I caution that we allow for mistakes. However, OBJ must not nickel & dime his efforts to fight corruption by failing to moderate the actions of the truly most corrupt individuals right underneath his nose. He can’t change the actions of Nigerians if the grass-level situations in the country remain the same. OBJ must start with the governors, top-officials, and his close-knit cabinet members among others. He must understand that he can’t change systems where all other processes stay the same. In our review of OBJ however, we should avoid failing in the circle of chatters. We must show caution in displaying our literary machete and impasses for classifying all his actions as ethnically driven.

Some erudite have problems with OBJ’s new approach and understandably so, recognizing the velocity of composite justifications presented in support of or against OBJ’s actions. In my “Nigeria: A Complicated System” series, issues will be raised and addressed; innate disturbing facts will be discussed and other important topics as it relates to (a) the country Nigeria, (b) its compromising leaders and (c) its masses will be analyzed. In the series, venting may occur and an effort will be made to reach out to all with an attempt to educate, using a vector that certainly wouldn’t censor intended thoughts because of how some may react. Having set the stage, here are the part one comments.

To whom much is given, much is expected. Nigerians have sacrificed a great deal and given much patience to its leaders over the years. It is therefore no surprise to see the high level frustrations displayed by Nigerians against its various leaders in power. These levels of frustrations as displayed by bleeding edge expressions are valid. The animated messages I have read over the past few months as it relates to corruption and the chosen methodologies being used to combat it have been interesting. I suspect frustrations and imbedded intents in most messages especially when normal cues are missing, making it difficult to interpret additional non-verbal messages. Some of the intemperate statements have insinuated a selective jihad by OBJ, using scapegoats to make a false statement about the desire to address corruption. These claims may/may not be true. What is true however regarding OBJ’s attempt to fight corruption is that, this is not his first stab at addressing this cancerous issue. It started with OBJ’s efforts to tackle the late Sani Abacha and his crew of devious dupes. Though innocuous and confusing in nature, it was an attempt. What is wrong with OBJ’s effort to combat corruption may

be the approach being applied, and the point that there are fact-based “absolute” individuals that are noted as corrupt beyond redemption and they have not be arrested or identified by OBJ.


The true inherent worth of a man is untouchable by words. Even when one’s dignity is in jeopardy, one’s true steadfastness or actions can’t be changed by expressions of disapproval from those who see no merit in his actions. The armchair desire of OBJ to effect a difference among our leaders in power and encourage reasonableness in their actions as it relates to integrity is nothing short of being partially (partial aspect is further explained in the last paragraph of this article) commendable. Yet, in OBJ’s peripheral partial pace setting efforts, there are some who seek to ascribe his actions to ethnic disparate treatment. The logic behind this thought process will be discussed in-depth in a different series. With the growing freedom of speech and publications courtesy of the Internet, non-verbal cues or visual messages are now hard to decipher thereby requiring unnatural adjustments to help us read between the lines and understand intended messages. Coupled with this complexity of information understanding is the fact that the slightly higher level of discourse once expected of writers is gone. Instead of attacking an act, assertion or concept, as understood, it is often no surprise to see “critics” attacking the person who makes the assertion. By and large, OBJ’s person should not be the target here. His approach is what is wrong. He needs to step it up and take an umbrella style of targeting all corrupt officials rather than the few that are caught red-handed. Also, he needs to justify his personal portfolio and that of his close associates.

Sometimes, intended actions are confused by approaches. This judgmental error could be forgivable based on circumstances. OBJ’s actions, though seemingly peripeteia, have been confused by some as biased because of OBJ”s applied implementation approaches. Tafa Balogun’s resignation and subsequent arrest was processed differently from that of Professor Fabian Osuji and Senate President Wabara or even Minister Mobolaji Osomo. Regardless of the approaches used, what is most important? The way they were arrested or the fact that they are all criminals (just like armed robbers) and were arrested? Sidetracks may be sometimes difficult to recognize and I know one when I see it. OBJ apparently knows it too. All the gobble-gophers’ segregation cries are sidetracks to derail OBJ’s reenactment to address corruption. He must stay on course and continue. But he must avoid being deemed as selective and bias in the process because of his approaches that seem to target a select list of weak political ducklings or appointees. He must not allow weasel-wobblers critics to derail him off his mission if he truly means it. And I repeat, “If he truly means it.”

If OBJ truly means to fight corruption, he MUST apply the same appropriateness of corruption eradication to all corrupt officials regardless of their links to him. He must moderate his lame excessive foreign trips before cautioning governors not to do it. He must point blank speak the complete truth as to where he stands on the “so-called” request for a third term. Any attempt for a third term defiles all irregularities as it relates to corruption that he is “presumably” trying to address…because it will be absolute disaster to seek a third term.

The interesting caveat to these corruption issues is that we don’t know what is or isn’t with Prof. Charles Soludo and the N50 million-naira “social responsibility gift” to members of the National Assembly (Senate & House), or OBJ’s son, Gbenga Obasanjo and his proclaimed $22 million dollar (Chineke…that’s a lot of money) bank account in the USA. Gbenga’s financial record, history and all what not, need to be public record. But Gbenga is not a fool. He is a Nigerians and like others, he is probably smart enough to have hidden all that wealth in a series of abstract accounts owned by relatives, in-laws, corporations, best friends, nannies, etc. His record might simply show a moderate amount of money because deciphering wealth into hidden accounts isn’t that complicated for criminals. In other words, expect little or no surprises as it relates to Gbenga or other siblings of his.

Does prevailing events revalidate the allegations of Mallam Nasiru El Rufai (another basket case) against the Deputy Senate President Ibrahim Mantu and Deputy Senate Leader Jonathan Zwingina? Perhaps, OBJ may want to re-open these cases through the EFCC. We need to know where the truth lies and as such, the smokescreens must be further investigated and addressed openly, preferably on national television if possible. OBJ must not tiptoe around corruption issues anymore. Once started, he must continue to passionately and aggressively fight for the few years he has left. The “Missing Ship” bunkering shenanigan indictment of two top naval officers, Rear Admirals Samuel Kolawole and Francis Agbiti, recommended for dismissal from the Nigerian Navy should also be further reviewed for possible refunds to the Government. Minister Osomo’s accomplices should also be investigated in-depth. Of most important, is OBJ’s spouse, (Stella Obasanjo’s) connection to the housing saga. This is an issue to be further analyzed. Using ex-Minister Osomo, as a fall guy is not enough resolve of this case. We need to know if this case (that was cursorily addressed because it became public) is the first, second or third phase of property sharing and the list of those that have benefited from this backdoor billionaires bazaar.


This topic will be addressed at a much later series after I have given everyone a change to email to me, with justifications, a list of names of those they believe deserve to be probed for financial impropriety only. Selections must not be based on hatred, ethnic racism or anything short of objectivity. On my end, I will compile and present the list of names in one of my series regardless of my relationship (if any…I doubt it, hmmm) to any recommended name. I must however state that all names presented must date back to post Shagari regime only. I have no innate and logical reason for this regulation but it is plausibly fair that I implement a starting point. This is when Nigeria began to drop downhill at a faster pace. Regardless of how we view Shagari’s regime, it was after his government that NAIRA started plummeting endlessly. In 1981, a round trip tour ticket to London was N199 naira and to New York was approximately N250 naira based on my recollection as per my initial intent to depart Nigeria right after high school. A visa to the USA at the time was relatively easy to obtain and none was required to visit London because the Nigerian economy was still relatively strong. My uncles who attended colleges in the USA were returning to Nigeria at the time to settle because of the availability of jobs and average standard of living. Even in my later days in London in the late eighties, the exchange rate was one British Pound to ten Nigerian Naira. This background should shed some light on the state of the Nigerian economy then. The above reasons, though quantitatively or qualitatively un-empirical in nature, “influenced” my decision to recommend only post-Shagari regime names for the list of those that should be probed for now.


The disturbing issue about corruption in any country is not that it doesn’t exist but the fact that it is applied with moderation and reasonability among others. In recent years, three American governors have been forced to resign due to corruption and some are currently serving jail time. Edward D. DiPreto of Rhode Island, Edwin Edwards of Louisiana and John G. Rowland of Connecticut have realized that corruption has consequences. In Nigeria however, the little or no consequences attached to post corruption acts is what makes corruption the norm to those in positions of trust. Despite our frustrations, we somehow believed the problem would never be addressed until…well, maybe now, we hope.

The MOCO team always knew there would be a “Rawlings” in someone, balanced enough to clip wings and probe violators. OBJ is obviously not the person we had in mind but at least, he has started something that may instigate others to take steps to address corruption. I for one, I am pleased but not impressed. I however have a mixed feeling with those who believe that OBJ’s efforts will lead nowhere because their so-called ultimate “ideal” approach to eradicating corruption is not being followed. As a conscientious optimist who always knew that someday, someone would get tired of the pilfering of billions of naira that belongs to the country, I disagree with those who continue to proclaim OBJ’s efforts as fruitless. There is no “single ideal” for ethical behavior. What is ethically right to a person may be completely ethically wrong to someone else. In the same fashion, there is no set way to address corruption. OBJ is only making an attempt. Regardless of the innocuous difference as it relates to OBJ’s approach, contextually, the goal is uniform and it is to erase corruption. We should be cautious in our evaluation of OBJ. We need to apply some fundamental old-fashion civility in our discourse. What is important is that we don’t relent on our efforts to pile the pressure on those who view their positional authority as an opportunity to take their share of the pie. The pie belongs to a nation of individuals that are deserving of the basic amenities of life.

It is no doubt that most elected officials have lost their ethical compass and are consciously oblivious to where integrity belongs. Some of these officials don’t even know how to do things right anymore. Beside their deep level of corruptive indoctrination, most of them are intellectually naked to the point that if processes were set straight, they wouldn’t know how to proceed. Corruption to them has become the norm so much so that they know no other way to lead. These set of officials simply need to be fired and tried.

In our analysis of OBJ and his government, I believe it is useful to explore our varied subtleties to help us understand our differences and increase our knowledge of each other and perhaps, his situation. We must not make blanket exploration of other people’s lives a part of our daily menu unless we can effectively delineate the heuristic truth. Simply following the once heralded and now reviled Fritz Perl’s confrontational (in your face) method of approaching issues and subjects of importance is ineffective and maybe, that’s why OBJ, as indicative of most other Nigerians that are criticized unjustly, is not listening to most recommendations.


What is obvious from the whole saga relating to OBJ’s goal of eradicating corruption and the first two paragraphs I presented in the article is that his efforts may help start a revolution against corruption. OBJ is not the one that will “completely” erase corruption problems in Nigeria as he is already stuck in the complex mess himself. He tasted power in 1976 and knew how it felt like. He tasted mild wealth during his reign and knew how it felt like. Suddenly, he found himself going broke and learnt

how to conserve dwindling wealth by moderating his lifestyle and flying cheap, fairly comfortable flights. When he was given the opportunity to experience both power and wealth again by IBB who gave him one hundred million naira (N100,000,000.00) to contest the election, he compromised his entire integrity for the opportunity. Now he knows he has to overload his portfolio so he will never have to dream of going broke in his lifetime (no matter the level of inflation) and he has not only done that, he has succeeded in also enriching all that are closely affiliated to him. He has also realized that if a past leader is given a second opportunity, he will only amaze more wealth at the expense of the masses and the nation and he doesn’t want to see it happen after his tenure. Even if it entails him breaking his pledge to those who got him in power and modifying the constitution, he will do all it takes to frustrate past high-level rulers trying to return to power. How to effectively adopt his plan is what has him emotional shredded and hypothetically stuck in a tail of two jars. He will never investigate those he owes allegiance to and will protect them at all cost from impropriety investigation alone. He doesn’t want to see them get back into power because he knows what they will do. Of important note however, is the fact that OBJ may be confused as to how to transition the government. He may be confused as to who he thinks can be trusted. He may be confused as to how to truly fight corruption because he is personally corrupt. There is one thing he is definitely not confused about. This is what scares IBB, Buhari and others and that is the subject of my next article.

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Anonymous May 14, 2005 - 5:57 pm

Well articulated article, well reseached, But Dr fadel, how would you advice OBJ to go about this, cos curruption has eaten so deep in to our blood that it has become the norm of the day as you rightly said. john c lagos.

Reply May 8, 2005 - 4:32 am

You have definitely given mr obasanjo a list of tasks the system that brought him to power will never allow him to carry out.The man can simply not fight corruption in nigeria cause he has no moral justification to fight corruption.

Anonymous May 7, 2005 - 5:26 pm

This is an impressive and captivative piece. I would love to read more.


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