Oil Money In Nigeria’s Democracy

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

The world looked up to democracy in Nigeria; to have an atmosphere which stands for an elected government. Such a regime that can operate on a mission to serve the country, to do everything for the betterment of the Nigerian people while being completely loyal to country’s independence and sovereignty, regretted the reverse appeared. Instead, we see democracy carelessly legislated; we endure uneven distribution of political power without balances. The separation of powers becomes mirage. We became coerced with a branch of rule that could accumulate power; we swallow pills of harmful practice against a deserving liberal democracy itself.

From “majority rule” characterized by democracy-deficiency Nigerians lost their voices ,can freedom of political expression becomes libel, freedom of speech and freedom of the press essential in western democracies becomes calumny. The situation decries irresponsible government that gives free-access to “tyranny of the majority” to abuse the rights of a minority.

The principle of equal rights for political pluralism entered house-arrest caging equality before the law, the right to petition elected officials for redress of grievances, due process, civil liberties, human rights, and elements of civil society outside the government. But in the United States, separation of powers is often cited as a supporting attribute, but in other countries, such as the United Kingdom, the dominant philosophy is parliamentary sovereignty [though in practice judicial independence is generally maintained].

Democracy has its origins in Ancient Greece. However, other cultures have significantly contributed to the evolution of democracy such as Ancient India, Ancient Rome, Europe, and North and South America. Democracy has been called the “last form of government” and has spread considerably across the globe. Suffrage has been expanded in many jurisdictions over time from relatively narrow groups [such as wealthy men of a particular ethnic group], but still remains a controversial issue with regard to disputed territories, areas with significant immigration, and countries that exclude certain demographic groups. Democracy is not considered to be a proper method of administration especially for Nigeria, whose economic growth and the reduction of poverty are top most priorities. This country deserves a ruler who put special emphasis on poverty alleviation as well as economic emancipation with the ultimate goal of creating more job opportunities for the people.

Since 1999, when the democratic system was re-instated in Nigeria, infrastructural development has been greatly cut to a minimal level. Although rule of ex-President Obasanjo is considered to be quasi-military regime or autocratic era, no one in Nigeria will argue in accepting the fact that, major infrastructural developments took place during Obasanjo’s rule. Country’s economy was also being reviving from a virtual collapsed state, which was caused due to privatization of industrial projects by the post-independence government led by Obasanjo.

Today, as mix-reaction rouse at “nigeria4betterule” online comments; it shows that Nigeria’s economy has come to a “critical juncture” as the economy excessively depends on oil and over-consumption of energy and resources. Nigeria’s economic slow-down has worried experts at home and overseas.

Despite the influx of an accumulated $30 billion of crude revenue, the poor in Nigeria continue to languish without jobs, education, healthcare or the bare necessities of life, while the small percentage of rich mostly with their extorted money manage to get whatever luxuries they want. Nigeria is left polluted with mischievous or roguish figure who typically cunny their physically slow and weak-minded counterpart with subversive humour in a bid to gain ground and extort or sometimes dupe the neighbourhood off their valuable belongings. These criminals alternates between cleverness and stupidity, kindness and cruelty, deceiver and deceived, breaker of taboos and creator of culture. These people disobey normal rules and conventional behaviour. From dubious characters; they play as if they were on important role for this nation just to cult Nigeria’s patriots.

Politicians inside Nigeria play shameful role in criminal activity; aiding pay militancy, bribes to launder money abroad. Those are the ways they traffic in people, narcotics, and illegal arms in this country. A person makes a draft payable in the name of another person from any particular bank for an amount less than N500, 000. This person, on whose name the draft is made, further endorses it in the name of another person in lieu of payment for purchase of goods or services. The chain doesn’t end here. The draft is used as a payment cheque without real money changing hands. In the end, there is a specific group of people who deposits these drafts in their bank accounts, and takes a commission of 1-2% to encash them abroad.

People in this government pay immigration officers not to ask, customs officials not to inspect, and police officers not to investigate. It can be easy to dismiss modest bribes in neighbouring countries as an unfortunate cost of doing business. The patterns their bribes follow are not at all mysterious to the officials, salesmen, and citizens who seek them and transact with these criminals in government. See how these seemingly everyday transactions can affect security, democratization, and human aid in Nigeria. Bribery and Extortion presents a clear picture of the world of bribery and the havoc it can wreak on whole populations. We woof an alarm yet kidnapping is abusing ordinary Nigerians’ right to movement inside the oil-reach Niger Delta region of Nigeria. These perpetrators do this evil for ransom or in furtherance of another crime, or in connection with a child custody dispute.

Traditionally, industrial growth was considered to be the main source of wealth, though internet technology has now clearly joined its rank. But, except in the case of garments, Nigeria has not only made no improvements industrially, it has continually lost its industries since independence. According to the accounts of various newspapers in this country, the number of lost industries from small to large would be several thousands, including many of the country’s most vital industries such as cocoa, cotton, sugar, groundnut, paper, steel, dry dock, machine tools, etc. As far as internet technology is concerned, Nigeria is not known to have made any significant contribution in this field. So we are mainly left with unmanned solid minerals, uncultivated farmlands or possibly fish industries for consideration of wealth accumulation in the country. Although the evidence will not support every claim, even the acceptance of those industries’ success could not account for the growth of this many millionaires. What then could possibly be the important source of Nigerian millionaires’ wealth? Astonishingly, all evidence point to massive extortion or misappropriation of public funds to be the major source.

To begin with, let us consider the situation concerning the loss of so many industries. Before independence, most of those industries were owned by the then British-West Africans, and they were nationalized immediately after independence. But these industries never made money in the hands of the country’s corrupt government bureaucrats because they were involved in stealing funds from them in a systematic manner. Later, at the urging of World Bank and IMF, these industries were privatized and the situation went from bad to worse as the new owners soon put these industries in a precarious bankrupt situation. In addition to defaulting on bill payments, taxes and loans, the so-called new industrialists and their cronies even came up with other ingenious ways to extort public money.

Here is what we learned from an investigative report published in Nigeria, which was reproduced in the July 10, 2005 amidst the

incarceration of the Ogoni 8, about how banks were used to extort money by and during Abacha regime. First, a false personal property ownership document was created with plot numbers of government owned land. By applying influence (or possibly a bribe), a huge bank loan was then obtained using this property document as collateral in the name of a business. Later, by transferring the proceeds from the business to personal accounts, the business entity was declared bankrupt. In the end, the bank was left with no recourse to recover its money since the new millionaire is now able to buy all law enforcement authorities with his extorted money.

In the case of foreign aid money, the situation is equally shocking. Of the billions of dollars foreigners supposedly have sent to bolster Nigeria’s economy since its independence, only a very small portion of them was spent for the intended purposes. The bulk of the aid money somehow found its way to personal accounts of government officials and their cronies. To date the most comprehensive report available on the misappropriation of foreign aid money was presented by the Secretary General of Nigeria Economic Group on February 10, 2001. In this report, it was documented that only a mere 25% of the aid money channeled through the government was in reality spent for the project it was intended. The rest was ostensibly misappropriated. There is no reason to believe that this process has changed for the better, at least the overall economic situation in the country does not prove it.

Such type of governance in today’s world is termed as people’s autocracy, or an autocratic rule committed in doing everything for the betterment of the people. If we look into all those developed and economically powerful nations in Africa, in particular, we shall see that, such tremendous economic progress was possible because of suspension of elected government system. South Korea emerged as economic giant from the era of General Park. Singapore is another example. Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand etc are also no exception.

In Nigeria, democracy possibly won’t be established in real sense just by continuing the present electoral system. Political parties are extremely proliferated and lacking in democratic practices within parties. Two of the largest political parties are virtually under the dictatorial administration of two particular figures, which belong to their family dynasty. The PDP was forced to announce Obasanjo as its life-long party chief. Other “small-small” parties also hold a similar notion. Critics may opine saying, if these parties are failing to establish democracy within their own party system, how they can ensure a proper democracy and rules of law in the country, only by being elected after every five years… This is surely a valid question.

Let us now turn to the politics of the country to see how these millionaires are using their ill-gotten wealth to influence government policies. It is already an established fact that Nigeria politics is now controlled by money and muscle. Since only the rich could supply both the money and muscle, they either control the politicians or they themselves become politicians. At present, others have no chance of succeeding. To get a sense of the extent of their influence within the government, one can look at the amnesty program the politicians including-governors and their law-making counterparts receive each year from every government. Through this program the government allows them to convert their black money into white (or legal) money without penalty. This past year was no exception – it was in the budget proposal for the world to see. Policies of this kind undoubtedly send wrong signals with far reaching repercussions among the law abiding citizens. In fact, from all that is happening within the country one would get the impression that the whole political system is now corrupted. To understand how corrupt the system is, one need not look further than the reports of Transparency International of Germany, which have identified Nigeria as one of the most corrupt nations on earth not once but for four consecutive years since 2001.

Therefore, considering the overall economic situation, many economists began to wonder whether the oil money has helped or hurt the country. The fact that the oil money is mostly helping the rich get richer instead of helping the poor should not surprise anybody. For the skeptics, the two investigative reports of The New York Times are there for consideration. The issue presented the opinions of “nigeria4betterrule” researchers on the hectic situation in Nigeria. Here are some main points of the report: “As many as 20 million Nigerians drink water contaminated with inorganic pollution … if left unchecked, could ultimately cause cancers that could kill millions … after initially refusing to admit the problem, the Nigerian government has (supposedly) adopted a national inorganic-pollute mitigation strategy … But the international and national response remains far too slow”. This report should speak for itself.

In contrast, The New York Times report depicts a completely different picture of the country, which presents a dazzling eight story shopping mall known as Maitama inside Abuja. This mall, took six years and $80 million to build. The report correctly points out that in Abuja, “The mall … is not the only sign of prosperity and western style consumerism … new BMW, Land Rover and Volvo dealerships have opened … American style amusement parks and upscale restaurants have also appeared”.
Now, this kind of development might be fitting for a city of an emerging rich country. But for a country like Nigeria these luxuries have indeed come at a tremendous cost to the society. One would be extremely hard pressed to find similar luxuries in neighbouring Ghana, even though the world has come to regard that country as one of the emerging economic powerhouses. The above two reports clearly portrayed what in reality happened to the billions of dollars of oil revenue to this country since 1970’s.

With this being the situation, one might wonder how much the world community, especially those who are interceding for this government, cares about the people of Nigeria. It is not that they are not aware of the happenings in this country. If their concerns for the people were genuine, how could the western world allow so much of their own aid money to be siphoned off without even raising an eyebrow? Could it be because they simply overlook or tolerate this kind of extortion in order to protect their own hidden interests? Unfortunately, answers to these kinds of questions will not be forthcoming. So, the ultimate responsibility squarely lies with the people of Nigeria, who must rise up against their own extortionists if they want to remedy the situation.

The government work report and 11th Five-Year Plan (2020) are striving to resolve the key issues in economic development through readjusting economic structure, building new countryside and boosting innovation. As an important signal of new countryside construction, the Nigeria central coffer’s expenditure on agriculture, rural areas and farmers will reach a record high of 339.7 billion Naira, an increase of 14 percent over 2008.In the meantime, the government will channel more investment to improve rural infrastructure involving farmlands, roads, drinking water, power grids and telecommunications equipment. In the long-term strategy for rural development, this government should to set aside monies for education allocation in the coming five years to achieve free nine- year compulsory education in rural areas. Fulfilling free compulsory education in rural areas should be an important milestone for Nigeria’s education history.

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