The Paradox Of Corruption And Patriotism

by Akintokunbo A Adejumo

In 2004, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, then Nigeria’s Finance Minister, said that Nigeria earned $20 billion the year before from oil alone. Further reports from respected world oil analysts said that so far Nigeria has earned over $400 billion from oil alone since it was discovered. This figure was in 2004. I will guess that three years later, this figure will be in the region of $500 – 600 billion, given the surge in the price of oil in recent years, due partly, ironically, to the Niger Delta problems. This information is enough to drive the average Nigerian to suicide. What? So much earned from what God has gracefully given to us as a people and as a nation, and so little to show for it. And these figures are just the ones declared. What about the billions not even declared by past governments? (For example, the money Nigeria earned from surplus oil during the first Iraq War of 1990 not to talk of how much we earned during the eight years of Obasanjo when the President himself was effectively also the Petroleum Minister and we know how high the price of oil had risen during those eight years). What about the money lost through “bunkering”, both para-legalised and illegal? What about the money lost through the oil operators themselves not declaring the right amount of oil that they took out of the ground?

Back to amenities from this interesting digression. We are not asking for Nigeria to go to the moon or to even produce a car – after all, a country like Canada, one of the world’s most industrialised and wealthy nation, does not even build its own car – all we are asking is for water to flow in the taps, food to be affordable to everybody, constant supply of electricity, a basic but effective healthcare system that will prolong our lives and reduce mortality rates, and a good transportation and communication system that will stand the test of time and make life easy for Nigerians. There are more of course, but dare we ask these “patriotic leaders”?

What is the point of siphoning and embezzling so much money and then burying it under the ground or sending it abroad to foreign banks? These patriotic thieves are even afraid to spend the money. Take a top official ostensibly in charge of our sports development. This official has made so much money over the past few years and has almost everybody in his pocket. He has his hands in every sports program in the country and he is super-rich. They also say he has very serious high-blood pressure. So, I asked, why didn’t he retire and enjoy his ill-gotten gains in retired bliss? I was told that the man can not afford to retire, because if he does, he fears that his replacement will expose him. He also thinks he is the only person in Nigeria who can do his job, despite not achieving anything for Nigerian sports during his tenure. What a greedy bastard?

I was once in the presence of a former deputy military Head of State or whatever he called himself and he was bemoaning the state of Nigeria’s sports in particular and Nigeria in general under one of his successors (By the way, his administration had previously been booted out or forced to leave in disgrace) He was saying how he would do this and would do that if he was in power. I could not believe what I was hearing. It was all I could do not to interrupt him and say “Oga, but you had your chance for 8 years when you were there, why didn’t you do it? What did you do for Nigerians during your tenure except rob them?”. This was the same man, it was rumoured, who in November 1994, came to London to watch England play Nigeria at Wembley Stadium and was looking for free tickets instead of buying them from his ill-gotten gains when he was in power. Can anybody fall that low?

So why does it seem like there is an abundance of corrupt Nigerians and a dearth of honest, well-meaning and dedicated Nigerians? If I knew the answers to Nigeria’s problems, I should be a genius, but we should look at it this way: The corrupt, who are actually in the minority, are so powerful and deadly, that the honest and well-meaning Nigerians do not have a chance in heaven of changing anything. Think of all the “juju” and the hired killers. The corrupt have such a stranglehold on Nigeria, it will take the Almighty to prise us loose from them. This cannot go on forever because one day, like the late Bob Marley sang, “the bottom will drop out”.

Another answer, if I may venture into controversy, is that we as a people are too apathetic and too optimistic – nothing wrong in the latter, but without any basis for being so. That is why Nigerians spend so much time praying in churches and mosques asking God to help. Please I am not against being religious. But you know why God will not help just like that? The churches and mosques where we go to pray are also corrupt. The priests and the mullahs know that those who sponsor their places of worship stole this money from the Nigerian people, but they will never condemn them in front of God and Man. The corrupt officials also go to these places of worship, and believe me, I wonder what prayers they are saying to God. I wonder whether they are asking for forgiveness or they are asking God to give them more chances to steal more or asking God to prevent them from being discovered. I don’t know and can’t even imagine it. But the fact is they are in the same mosque and church as everybody, praying.

The corrupt Nigerian is so brazen. Nowadays, since a former military president practically “institutionalised” corruption in the Nigerian society, they don’t even give a damn about being discovered. They bask in their corruption. They are arrogant with it. They are shameless because people do not let them realise it is a shameful thing to do to rob millions of people and a crime to deny Nigerians a good standard of living and a sin to be directly and indirectly responsible for the death of thousands, if not millions, of Nigerians. They are confident in their dishonesty because they may eventually get away with it. And most importantly, they are certain in themselves because they are the rulers, they have the power and they have control of the government apparatus and thereby the resources which belong to all Nigerians. But they want it all for themselves. Damn the rest of the Nigerian people. They are a selfish and vicious clique, with no interest of their people in mind. Despite what they have stolen, they are never satisfied. They want to steal everything in sight that can be stolen. Yet, they are “honourable and patriotic” Nigerians.

When I look at it, it is a wonder that Nigeria is still standing as a nation. It is a wonder that anarchy has not prevailed and the country bankrupt. Then I remember the oil. What if the oil finished one day? I once came up with answer to why Nigeria is not bankrupt: I thought it was because of all the foreign money – dollars, pounds, deutschmarks, etc – that millions of Nigerians living abroad send home everyday. I thought that foreign money props Nigeria up, until my brother-in-law (one of the very few Nigerians that I respect) then brought me to senses by asking me whether I know how much of Nigeria’s money goes out illegally everyday. In short, the money Nigerians living abroad send home is but a drop in the ocean compared to the amount that the corrupt take out or have taken out. We are now being regaled about the scale of this greed and corruption on the pages of our newspapers everyday.

One of our former Heads of State, Babangida is reputed to be the richest Nigerian alive and one of the richest in Africa. Nobody has ever wondered or asked him how he made his money. Abdusalam is another billionaire ex-head of State who ruled for barely 8 months. Obasanjo went into Aso Rock with only 20000 Naira in his account, today it is rumoured he has 180 billion Naira. And we are not even talking of many ex-Governors and serving Governors, former Ministers and party officials like Anenih (dubbed the Most Dangerous Politician in Nigeria) etc. When Orji Kalu, himself very corrupt, asked Anenih to provide details of how he spent billions of Naira on our roads, Anenih allegedly sent assassins after Kalu. These are the “patriots”.

Corruption is a malignant disease that has eaten into every fabric of the Nigerian society. Nobody is immune from it. Nobody is safe from it. It affects everybody, one way or the other. You cant escape it. It does not matter where the Nigerian lives, home or abroad, corruption, Nigerian style, follows you. Even if you are not corrupt, it still affects you, because the moment you say you are a Nigerian to any foreigner, they immediately think of corruption and think of you as a corrupt human being. They stopped trusting you. Ask Nigerians living and trying to survive in the UK, South Africa, USA and in fact all over the world. Ask them what happens when they bring out the Nigerian passport at airports or when they want to open a bank account or even look for a job. The stink of corruption follows us everywhere. This is further compounded by the really corrupt Nigerians who are also in the same place as you.

Corruption must be a Nigerian, so they say. It is mind boggling to try and estimate how much money has been stolen, embezzled or misappropriated by Nigerians in power, (the great late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti used to call them Vagabond in Power, VIP). And these are only from rumours and the few ones that we know about, and only when they were exposed by their nemesis, the EFCC. Thousands more never even surface. When you try and guess, its like trying to guess where the cosmos starts and ends, you will end up crying. Nobody will ever know for sure how much money has been stolen by Nigerians from Nigerians since Independence. It is still going on of course. When is it going to stop?

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haypee apanda August 28, 2007 - 9:39 pm

Well constructed piece, but you are still stating the obvious.Everyone knows that corruption is endemic in Nigeria and you have colourfully and graphically painted various examples, truths and hearsays !!! But, where do we go from here. What solutions are you proffering ? We really need solutions to this hydra-headed problem. I give you kudos for the thought provoking treatise but like i said earlier, we need pro active solution formula to this problem from you and other well meaning Nigerians,

As for me i will start with the investigative journalists, they need to do more.They should furnish us with exposes' of these corrupt practises. I implore them to take cue from the detailed and incisive exposes' from Dr Dele Sobowale of Vanguard newspapers. Our lawyers should do more to file concerned citizens suits against corrupt officials. Most importantly our civil servants should help to expose this evil by not only refusing to co-operate with corrupt politicians and other officials but also provide detailed information to nail them and lastly the civil populace needs re-orientation about our civic duties to Nigeria and our collective resistance to this evil by celebrating excellence not mediocrity and dubious overnight riches and successes. WE NEED TO LEARN TO ASK QUESTIONS ABOUT OUR COMMONWEALTH.

Michael August 27, 2007 - 4:44 pm

The Gerry Rawlings of Nigeria turned 18 today! Happy birthday, Gerry!! He has also enrolled in the army; his rise should be fast and furious for he cannot wait to deal with the thieving fools.

bubbles August 26, 2007 - 1:57 pm

I would have just said kill them all. But yours is a better written more insightful piece. The bottom line is greed. To remove corruption the elements that cause it to be perpetuated must be eliminated as well.

I'm reminded of an incident where a speaker was on a journey back to the village. Along the way they came upon a police road block. The driver wrangled with the police for a long time, because the speaker refused to pay the mandatory 20 naira. Fuming, he marched out of the vehicle and demanded to speak to the policaman's oga.

The 'oga' who was watching the incident from under a shade calmly strolled toward the speaker who was standing next to his four wheel drive, sweating all over.

The speaker began mouthing off, "You people are corrupt. You are the one's spoiling this country… blah blah blah… give me your boss's number I'll call him right now and report you!"

The 'oga' policeman listened patiently and said, "Well, as you see me so, I'm not being paid regularly yet I have four children three of whom are in the university. Today they'll come to me for handout tomorrow it's money to bribe the lecturers if not they won't pass. What do you want me to do? I'm not asking for much, just twenty naira, pay up and go your way. You people live in big houses and drive big cars and send your children abroad to study while we the masses are left to suffer it in this country. If you call my oga he'll tell you the same thing, you people are to blame as well."

The reality is most police men and civil servants cannot support their family on the salaries they receive monthly – if at all they receive it.

The speaker was dumbfounded. He had no choice but to pay up and go.


From my personal experience it is hard to be honest in Nigeria. EVERYTHING tells you you shoiuldn't be, or are stupid for being. If you don't want to steal you could loose your life blocking those who want to.

I keep praying we have a Jerry Rawlings to do for us what he did for Ghana.


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