“A true picture of our dear country Nigeria, where power belongs to the Looters. I hope Nigerians will be able to stand up one day to these looters and demand for their rights and good Governance. It’s high time they stopped the carnival of dancing and the Aso-ebi syndromes for commissioning of bore holes, generators and power plants, repair of roads and so on and so forth. Its a shame on the Looters, if in this twenty-first century and Nigeria being No 6 in OPEC cannot boast of constant electricity supply for its citizens”.
The above was a feed back by a reader to one of my recent articles. The statement was so apt that I decided to adopt one of the phrases as the title of this article. We all know there are looters in government in our country. It is no longer news. I have tried many times to delve into their minds and psyche, and I have always come up with a blank, because I just could not figure out why a man, or woman for that matter, by virtue of his or her luck, power and position, would want to deny millions of his/her people their right to a good quality life, their right to peaceful enjoyment of the dividends of democracy, their right to good education, their right to good medical and health care; their right to food, their right to basic amenities of life, when, from all indications, the wealth of the country can go round, without causing damage or discomfort to anybody else, and will enable progress and development which on the long run, will be beneficial to all.
Why, I continue to ask, is a person so greedy as to be stealing billions of money from the state treasuries, when it is obvious that you can not spend it all? Why do you have to loot the treasury just to cart the money away and deposit it in foreign banks, or buy properties which you don’t even have time to live in most of the time, or buy airplanes when your people are struggling just to get from Point A to Point B? And all these with the money entrusted to you to alleviate their sufferings.
How many houses do you want to have before people can say you are very rich? And how many rooms can you sleep in at a particular point in time, or how many cars can you drive at the same time? Or do you need a convoy of vehicles to show you have arrived?
I was in Ibadan recently and made it a point to go and see what was happening at the Molete area of the “Godfather of Ibadan politics”. I was told that the Godfather illegally grabbed land belonging to NITEL, evicting the staff and saying it was Obasanjo who gave it to him. On the land, he has built a palace (anticipating when he would be Olubadan of Ibadanland in the nearest future, “God forbid bad thing”), a very big private mosque, and a fleet of cars numbering up to 30 parked on the same land. I was told these cars were donated to him by all the local governments and parastatals in Oyo State as a show of loyalty to him. (That is how they waste our money) What he intended to do with these cars, I do not know. One thing for sure, he is not distributing it to his political associates, and he is not riding all of them at the same time. And when he dies – that is if he dies at all – they are not going to bury the land, the properties, the cars and the money with him like Egyptian Pharaohs.
That a systematic looting of this country has been going on for decades cannot be over-emphasised. What is surprising is the rate at which it is going and the fact that politicians, military, civil servants and the likes are getting better and bolder at it. And more surprisingly, the people of Nigeria seem to be accepting their fate “what can we do” attitude. Apathy, short-sightedness, pessimism, helplessness. “Nobody will fight because what can we fight with?”, “Only God can punish them” syndrome. “Let them eat, one day they will leave us alone” or “there is enough wealth, so we won’t miss it”.
Well, I am missing something, if you are not. I am not concerned only for myself, I am concerned for my people – my family, my friends, my neighbours, my future, my very existence, my well-being, my people on the street.
On Thursday 1st June 2000, The Vanguard newspaper reported that the then President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo was to be paid a monthly salary of $2155 (about 215,500 Naira) working out to $26,000 or 2.6 million Naira a year. It was considered a very meagre salary then, considering that Thambo Mbeki of South Africa was earning $10,000 per month and South African MPs were getting about $3,333 monthly.
In January 2008, the basic salary of the President of Nigeria went up to 3.5 million Naira per year, besides other allowances and remunerations including hardship allowance, bringing the total to 10.9 million Naira per year. Many Nigerians, I am sure, do not have any problem with this. But, the Secretary to the Federal Government, Head of service and the Ministers are going to be earning 15.9 million Naira a year. Still no problem, if that is all they take home without dipping their hands into the treasury, or sharing 300 million Naira from budget surpluses in their various ministries.
When I was in Nigeria in April 2008, it was announced that the total remuneration for each Senator of the Federal Republic was going to be 45 million Naira (£191,489.00) and for the Members of the House of Representative, 35 million Naira (£149000.00) each. This is where I have a problem. If I am sure that these politicians are doing enough to alleviate the many plights of our people, I would be the first person to defend their remunerations, after all, Nigeria can afford it. Unfortunately, this more than handsome salary is not commensurate to the services they are elected to, or promised to provide to their people.
What the heck are these spongers doing that make them worth such salaries? Is it by organising retreats to Ghana, or spending all their time chasing contracts in Abuja? Most of them do not even have constituency offices in their home states to upkeep. See what I mean by looters in power? And they are doing it almost legitimately.
In the United States, the current salary of a rank-and-file member of the House of Representatives (Congressman) and Senate is $169,300 per year. This works out to about £84,650 or 19.89 million Naira, and you know what? Members are free to turn down pay increases and many choose to do so. But we know what these US politicians do to develop their country, protect their people and ensure they remain the most powerful country in the world. The leaders of the houses get slightly more.
In the United Kingdom, a Member of Parliament’s basic salary is £61,820 per year, and the Prime Minister, being also an MP, gets a total of £189,994 per year, including his salary for being an MP. (This means, theoretically at least, that our Senators in Nigeria work as hard or even harder as the Prime Minister of Britain, to bring development and progress to their people, the poor down-trodden people of Nigeria).
Unfortunately, for the purpose of this article, I could not lay my hands on the remuneration packages of our other really big Looters – State Governors and Deputy Governors, Members of the states’ House of Assemblies, Local Government Chairmen and Councillors. I believe the States set their own remuneration packages for their elected officials, but you can be sure they will look after their various pockets first before anything else.
We are not saying here that high salaries should not be paid to elected or appointed public officials, as a matter of fact, it is recognised that being highly paid in certain areas of work, and this include, public service, deters corruption. What we fail to see is how commensurate the salary paid to Nigerian political office holders is with their performance, their effectiveness, their commitment and the service they provide. Why, for example, should a Senator being paid N45 million a year to be making laws and attending the Senate still be chasing contracts in Abuja? Who else earns that amount of money in Nigeria? According to the data above, not even the President earns that much in total remuneration. It is only a very greedy person who will earn that salary and still continue to indulge in corrupt practices.
Please forgive me for repeating this anecdote; it is one of my favourites when writing articles about the corruption festering in Nigeria. Once upon a time in America, a man named Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks. He replied: “`Cos that’s where the money is”. It was an uncomplicated philosophy which served him well until he was caught and marched off to prison. Today, Mr Sutton would not have risked incarceration. Today, were Mr Sutton to be a Nigerian, he would have had the choice of being a Nigerian Politician, a Nigerian civil servant or a Nigerian contractor. Better still, he could have been a Nigerian Policeman, although he would have been severely limited as to making loads of money, but at least he could be in official authorised uniform and waylay people on the highway and collect money from them without facing any charges of armed robbery. Of course, as one who operated outside the law, Mr Sutton might have experienced problems in working with this brotherhood of political and civil uprightness and patriotism. But the vast mountains of easy Naira and foreign currency on offer would surely have stifled his reservations.
That about sums it up. In Nigeria, politics and government are like banks where money is kept, and thus it will continue to attract very smart, unsavoury and dishonest vagabonds, whose main aim in life is to steal the money. Hence, what the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti sang “VIP – Vagabonds In Power”. And this is why politics and government in Nigeria have become matters of life and death for the players. Hardly do you ever see someone going into politics or government because of selfless service to the people; it is almost always to serve their own pockets. And the money is there for the taking. Absolutely no accountability; no responsibility; no commitment; no sense of sympathy for the people.
Our current system of government and governance is unique in the world in that it leaves plenty of room for fraud and corrupt practices, due process or no due process. In fact, the system actively promotes and encourages corruption and fraud in high places. It is not that there are loopholes to be exploited in the system; rather, it is that the room for fraud is inbuilt into the system by our leaders and lawmakers, and they also make laws to protect themselves. Take for example the Constitution’s Section 308: Immunity Clause that protects State Executives, President and Vice-President from prosecution for any crime or misdemeanour whilst in office. If our leaders should have their way, this immunity clause would have been extended to cover our Ministers and legislators. As it is, I am not even sure the clause has not been surreptitiously extended, going by the Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello/EFCC farcical display.
Yesterday, it was the Ministry of Health’s 300 million Naira scandal that has resulted in the character damage of a respected Professor of Medicine; today it is the scandalous Integrated Power Project probe where unregistered contractors were awarded contracts without the celebrated Due Process of the Obasanjo Presidency; today it is the Abuja property land allocation probe; tomorrow it will be the 300 billion Naira roads scandal of Ogunlewe and Anenih or the unbelievable fraud in the NNPC, the managers of our oil wealth, and many like that. And we are not even talking about the ex-Governors. You don’t read anything in the newspapers these days without coming across one corruption scandal or the other. A lot of them have been pushed under the carpets, and will never see the light of day.
That there is a global food crisis is acknowledged now. The Federal Government of Nigeria, as usual, has found an easy and corrupt way out of the crisis. It is going to import rice worth 80 Billion Naira. Of course we can afford that, what with the price of oil now rising to an unprecedented US$125 per barrel and still rising. What will inevitably happen is that some people in the Ministry of Agriculture, Customs, etc are going to be making a lot of money out of the crisis. I remember that Shagari’s government set up a Presidential Task Force on Rice in 1980 to tackle a similar problem, causing problems to local rice farming in the process, from which we have not been able to recover from till today. And so was Obasanjo’s Presidential Initiative on Rice in 2002 whose objective was to “attain self-sufficiency in local rice production in the short-term by year 2005 and to produce for export in the medium term by year 2007”. It has been a very successful initiative as we can see, isn’t it?
Exactly what they do in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and the States’ equivalent is beyond the understanding of sane Nigerians. If they are not importing rice, they will be importing fertilisers. Do we have an effective, sustainable and workable Agriculture policy? What happened to all the River Basins Authorities of the 70’s and so many Bank’s agricultural initiatives and loan schemes? What help are the various governments offering to local farmers and how sustainable are these help, if any? Do not be surprised at the end of the year when you hear that Ministers of the Agriculture Ministry and other officials are sharing surplus millions, and have gone on a fact-finding mission to Thailand or Malaysia to see how rice is grown over there.
Should Obasanjo Be Probed?
Well, that is a difficult one for me, really. There has never been the probe of a previous government in Nigeria, so if Obasanjo must be probed, then Babangida and Abdulsalam must be probed too. They are still alive and their tenures were also recent, and in fact, a lot of their misdeeds spilled over into the Obasanjo administration. If Nigerians are now baying for Obasanjo’s blood, it serves him right, because when we were calling on him to undertake an investigation of Babangida’s eight-year corruption-riddled and institutionalised tenure, Obasanjo himself prevented the probe and kept saying Nigerians should bring evidence before he can probe Babangida. Now IBB is even now bold to come out and say that Obasanjo’s administration was worse that his own. Them what has, gets. However, we are already probing Obasanjo anyway by way of all these Senate probes on power, roads and other areas.
Amos Adamu and Nigerian Sports
Dr Amos Adamu, and the current Director of Sports in the Federal Ministry of Sports is not a mere mortal, believe me. He is the Alpha and Omega of Nigerian Sports. He came in as Director of Sports Development over 20 years ago on the back of having a doctorate degree in Physical Education. And he has waxed ever stronger since then. He is a FIFA member, a member of CAF and now, after a brief hiccup, he is the President of the West African Football Union (WAFU), that body whose first President was the indomitable, incorruptible and excellent late Mr J K Tandoh. Dr Adamu is a far cry from the success, reputation, uprightness and commitment of such people as J K Tandoh and late Isaac Akioye. Adamu’s over twenty years at the helm of Nigerian sports has been a disaster. He has overseen the ruinous decline of sports in the country in the past two decades, yet some people up there still think he is the best and only man to run Nigerian sports. In fact he retired after COJA (the All African Games held in Abuja between 5th and 17th October 2003), and they practically had to go and beg him to come back again, because apparently to them only, he is the only man who can save Nigerian sports, and this after years of terrible decline supervised by the same man. I am not surprised, because he has managed to compromise a lot of them. All the Sports Ministers he has served under – or rather, all the Sports Ministers that have served under him – were no more than puppets. I heard that the moment a new Minister is appointed for sports; usually his first visitor will be our Amos, with “Ghana Must Go” bags to enable the Honourable Minister to “settle down in his new job”. We are not even sure if our Director of Sports does not have a hand in the appointment ensuring that a man he can manipulate is appointed in the first place.
When he organised All African Games, COJA in 2003, the aftermath was littered with corruption and mismanagement. It was this massive evidence of corruption that made Obasanjo, never a great sports fan himself, decide to back out of Nigeria’s bid to host the first ever Soccer World Cup in Africa, and resulted in South Africa getting that honour. Obasanjo also quickly foresaw that the evidence of corruption will also implicate some members of his family. The EFCC, then under Nuhu Ribadu, wanted to pick him up, but there was so much pressure from high up, that he had to succumb. The reason is that if Dr Adamu was ever picked up, he would start singing and the songs will not be melodious to the ears of some very top politicians and officials who had been compromised in the award of bogus or highly inflated contracts for the Games. They therefore had to use a lot of muscle on Ribadu to drop the investigations. It was a mess, and they must not let the shit hit the fan.
He has a very good team of loyal acolytes who report to him. For the past ten or fifteen years, these loyalists are always appointed into one important sports committee or the other. An example is the Nigeria Football Association, with Sani Lulu and Ojo-Oba as Chairman and Secretary respectively. The Board is also packed full of his loyalists. (Please note that the Nigeria Football Association still does not have an official website) These two goons have been Adamu’s men for years. They do his bidding and ensure that no other outsider ever gets in. More importantly, they report back to him. Their continued stay will always ensure that Nigerian football never progresses. He also has his goons in other sports areas. The first objective of the loyalists is to serve their master, and not Nigerian sports. Of course, these loyalists also serve their own pockets. They do not contribute, and never will contribute, anything towards resuscitating Nigerian comatose and moribund sports. They lack the knowledge and the ability, the focus and the ideas, the commitment and sincerity of purpose, to meaningfully contribute anything towards developing our sports. They are simply “yes-men”, sycophants, and corrupt charlatans parading themselves as sports officials. They are men of straw, doomed to serve a lesser god and doomed to failure, to be consigned to the dustbin of history. They are looters in power, like their godfather.
Well done, Adamu. You will leave us one day and go and finish your days as a “pastor” as you have said you desire. Maybe God will make you confess all your sins, and probably make you return all our money in your possession. It is not too late to repent.
Their time will come – these looters in power, however, para-phrasing Noam Chomsky’s thesis, the only opposition now to these perpetrations of crimes and sins on Nigerians should be a continuous PUBLIC OPINION/OUTCRY at every whiff of scandalous corruption. And perhaps the civil societies and labour must help too.
Let the truth be said always.