Home Letters Opinion: Corruption as Nigeria’s Coronavirus By Babatope Babalobi

Opinion: Corruption as Nigeria’s Coronavirus By Babatope Babalobi


Corruption is arguably the most important obstacle hindering Nigeria from achieving its full potential, costing the nation 220 billion pounds since 1966, according to Nigerian Journal of Economic and Financial Crimes. Corruption has become Nigeria’s cancer, disease threatening to terminate Nigeria’s economy. Like the Chinese coronavirus, corruption virus is overwhelming the nation as successive governments have been able to develop a vaccine to minimise its scourge.

The popular maxim is that Nigeria is a land of corruption where officials are corrupt and corruption is official, but Nigerian animals may also be  corrupt, as a Ms Philomina Chieshe, a clerical officer in the Makurdi Zonal Office of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, (JAMB) claimed in 2019 that a snake swallowed N36m official funds in her custody.

Nigeria is the World’s 34th most corrupt country, 146th out of the 180th countries ranked in   Transparency International’s 2019 corruption perception index, recently released. Over the years, Nigeria is world known as a nation of bribe takers and givers, and this was confirmed by a survey by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in 2019. It revealed 117 million bribes are paid in Nigeria on a yearly basis for various reasons; though the National Bureau of Statistics  2019 Corruption in Nigeria Survey Report gave a higher estimate-N675bn was paid in cash bribes to Nigerian public officials in 2019.

The UNODC survey listed causes of bribe giving to include access to public utility services, issuance of an administrative licence or permit,  medical visits and examinations, issuance of  administrative certificates, tax declarations or exemptions, import and export of goods, job applications or promotions, and obtaining a government contract through public procurement. The report also listed the highest bribe takers in Nigeria to be the police officers, followed by land registry officers, tax and revenue officers, health workers, prosecutors, public utility officers, members of the Federal Road Safety Corps, Judges and Magistrates, vehicle inspection officers, Customs and Immigration officers, members of the Armed Force, members of Legislature, Teachers and Lecturers, elected local and state government officials, and  representatives Embassy and Consulate officers. The UNDOC survey has been criticised for focussing on the micro bribe takers and givers, ignoring the big-time players in top government offices and blue-chip board rooms where corruption is institutionalised.

The taxonomy of corruption in Nigeria is inexhaustible, but identified forms include contracts frauds (unnecessary procurements, bid manipulation, ghost contractors, contract inflation, collection of kickbacks), embezzlement of public funds,  bribe taking to access oil prospecting licenses, obscene salaries and allowances paid to Federal and State Legislators, collection of slush funds under the guise of security votes by State Governors, abuse and misuse of public facilities, theft and privatization of public resources and funds, Illegal appropriation (forgery, falsification, embezzlement, misappropriation of money, property), abuse of state funds, phony or poorly executed constituency projects by state and federal legislators, petroleum subsidy scams, round tipping of foreign exchange by  financial institutions, misuse of depositors funds by bank directors through spurious loans and other bank frauds.

Others are collection of bribes by Policemen at checkpoints or traffic officers to evade prosecutions, receipt of illegal proceeds (extortion, kickbacks) by uniformed officers- police, customs etc, toll collection by customs, ecological fund diversion,  money laundering, electoral manipulation, rigging, votes buying and voter inducements, favouritism, bribe giving to   public servants to speed up document processing, brown envelop journalism, misuse of tithes and offerings by the clergy, document falsification to evade payment of utility bills or taxes, ghost workers,  embezzlement of humanitarian aids and grants, examinational malpractices,  certificate forgery, age falsification, cybercrime, yahoo yahoo, special centre syndrome, sexual harassment, bribe taking to access public services like energy meters, nepotism in public service recruitment.

Corruption has deepened poverty,  increased underdevelopment, birthed crime, insurgency, and insecurity, increased internal and external public debts, resulted in poor standards of  education, placed mediocrity over meritocracy,  compromised the rule of law, damaged Nigeria’s international image, battered virtues of hardwork and diligent, caused inefficiency and poor private and public service delivery, and eroded trust in government.

The scars of corruption are visible everywhere, one of such is on several public buildings, as culprits resorted to arson to cover up their tracks. The  Federal Ministry of  Education Ministry’s accounting department was gutted by fire in 1980; the 11 storey Federal Ministry of External Affairs  was burned in December 1981, an official report confirmed accountants  under investigation set it on fire; on Jan. 24, 1983,  the then tallest building, the 32-storey Nigerian External Telecommunications Building (NET) in Marina, Lagos was set ablaze;  and 26 storey Cocoa House, once tallest building in tropical Africa was mysteriously gutted by fire on January 9, 1985, though  it is  now rehabilitated.

The more Nigeria’s past government fought corruption, the more it fought back with viciously with high velocity. No Nigerian government, apart from the short lived Murtala Muhammed administration has escaped the corruption bug.

Famed corruption trials in Nigeria include the1956 Foster-Sutton Commission which investigated the involvement of the then Premier of the Eastern Region, Late Sir Nnamdi Azikiwe  in the Affairs of the African Continental Bank Ltd (ACB);  the Coker Commission of 1962 that investigated the Late Sage Obafemi Awolowo, first premier of the Western Region, for matters relating to the  Western Region Marketing Board;  and the  Justice Belgore Commission of Inquiry which investigated  the Cement Armada scandal  of 1974–1980 (when Federal Government officials in one swoop ordered 20 million tons of cement to be delivered within 12 months). The panel found, if government had negotiated a proper price, $53 a ton instead of the $60 would have been paid, and Nigerian Government would have saved $57 million, plus at estimated at $240m spent on demurrages at the ports.

In 1975, a commission of inquiry found ten of the then 12 states governors of Yakubu Gowon regime guilty of corruption and misuse of public funds totalling N16m. The only two saints were- Mobolaji Johnson and Oluwole Rotimi. The Olusegun Obasanjo regime declared Jaji Declaration in 1977 to promote integrity, but was enmeshed in the missing $2.8 billion saga, though it was never proven.  Late President Shehu Shagari of the 2nd Republic launched the Ethical Revolution, but his administration was associated with stories of high-level graft. Ibrahim Babangida launched the National Orientation Agency in 1986 and Mass Mobilization for Social Justice in 1987 but the Pius Okigbo report indicted the same administration for not properly accounting for $12.4billion Gulf Oil windfall between 1988 to June 1994. Late Sani Abacha launched a War Against Indiscipline and Corruption in 1996, but his administration, in apparent mockery of the war, ended up being perhaps the most corrupt. The joke on social media recently is that 23 years after the demise of Sani Abacha, he is still sending credit alerts to Nigeria, posthumously, from his loot, estimated to be between US$3 and $5 billion.

The last military regime led by General Abdulsalami Abubakar was indicted by the1999 Christopher Kolade Commission set up to review the administration’s hurriedly awarded contracts. The panel recommended the cancellation of more than $1bn worth of contracts, awarded between January and May 1999. The respected late Umaru Yar’adua was believed to have shielded his friends- former Governors James Ibori, Lucky Igbinnedion and Peter Odili from graft prosecution while the Jonathan regime’s profligacy of $2.2m funds from Excess Crude Oil Accounts is well known.

EFCC is still investigating both the Obasanjo and late Umaru Yar’adua administration’s over the $16billion spent on failed power projects.  A report of the House of Representatives Ad hoc Committee on Power Probe, headed by the then Minority Leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu alleged shady aspects in the power sector expenditures during the period 1999-2007 which totalled US$13, 278,937,409.94billion.

The committee said ‘officials rushed to pay contractors in full even before engineering design for the projects have been completed and approved’, ‘NIPP contracts were not only overpriced in comparison with PHCN contracts, they are also wide off the mark when viewed against comparable power stations in several parts of the world’, ‘all NIPP payments were made without following Due Process’, ‘a process called ‘Waiver of Due Process Certification for Payment’ was adopted in flagrant disregard of Due Process Policy, thus paving the way for dubious and highly risky payments to contractors and consultants by the Federal Government of Nigeria’, and ‘hard and widespread evidence of systematic over scoping of projects in order to inflate costs both in PHCN and NIPP’.

22 former governors are either presently being investigated by the Federal Government or already standing trial in various courts, according to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Seven former Governors have, however, been convicted for corruption crimes. Orji Uzor Kalu Kalu, a former governor of Abia state, found guilty of N7.65 billion fraud and was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment over a N7.65b fraud; former Plateau State  Governor Joshua Dariye of Plateau state presently serving a 12 years’ imprisonment for criminal breach of trust and misappropriation of funds (1.6 billion naira); Jolly Nyame Taraba state sentence to 14 years imprisonment on May 30, 2018 over a N1.64b fraud- (before being a prisoner of corruption, the Jolly fellow was a reverend gentleman in United Methodist Church of Nigeria); James Bala Ngilari, former governor of Adamawa state, was in 2017, sentenced to 5 years jail for a N167 million fraud; and Lucky Igbinedion a former governor of Edo state was sentenced to six months imprisonment in 2008, for N25 money laundering worth N25 billion, but  fined of N3.5 million

Others are James Ibori, a former governor of Delta state, was sentenced to 13 years in prison  by a London court for a $250m money laundering; and former/Late Bayelsa state Governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha detained in London in 2005 for money laundering, but reportedly disguised as a woman, jumped bail and escaped to Nigeria from London,  before being impeached, tried for corrupt acts, convicted, and sentenced to two years imprisonment in 2007.

Over the years, Nigerian news headlines is all about corruption and insecurity. There is a way the former fuels the latter. High profile corruption cases in Nigeria include botched attempt by the Buhari regime to crate and extradite Alhaji Umaru Dikko, the Transport, and Aviation Minister in the Shagari government  on 5th July, 1984; the resolved  53 suitcases cleared without examination at the Murtala Muhammed Airport  allegedly at the behest of Major Mustapha Jokolo; former Inspector-General of Police, Tafa Balogun  jailed 11 years  for N5.7bn fraud in 2005; Obasanjo’s Housing and Urban Development Minister, Mrs Alice Mobolaji Osomo, sacked in 2005 for alleged infractions in the sale of public properties; former  Education Minister Fabian Osuji sacked for allegedly  offering a bribe of 55 million naira to the then Senate president Adolfus Wabara to pad his Ministry’s budget; and Former Federal Speakers- Salisu Buhari Toronto forged certificate scandal and Mrs Patricia Etteh house renovation scandal.

Other past corruption news headlines are Olusegun Obasanjo’s Transcorp shares scandal, Malabu Oil and Gas scam  $1.092 billion oil bloc OPL 245 scam; retired air chief marshal Alex Badeh alleged diversion of $19.7m from the Nigeria Air Force in 2013; Farouk Lawan’s $620,000 bribery scandal;  Stella Oduah  $250m armoured BMW purchase; NIMASA fraud; Abdulrasheed Maina $5.6m pension reforms scam; Babachir Lawal’s  N200 million contract scandal;  NDDC scams necessitating an ongoing Presidential audit; recent forfeiture of former Nigerian Petroleum Minister Mrs Allison-Madueke’s  jewellery, wrist watch and a customized gold iPhone valued at $40m suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities; and former Nigeria’s Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen conviction  for false asset declaration.

In Nigeria, corruption is not limited to the public sector, the private sector is also a culprit. The recent bank failures caused by mismanagement and fraud is a case study, under which Cecilia Ibru, Oceanic bank Chief Executive Officer was convicted, sentenced to six months in prison and forfeited shares and other assets worth over USD$1.2 billion.

The world has committed itself  through Target 16.5 of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals which seeks to “substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms” by 2030; whereas PWc a consulting firm has estimated ‘that corruption in Nigeria could cost up to 37% of GDP by 2030 if it’s not dealt with immediately’.

The time to kill corruption in Nigeria is now, and the route is implementation of past reports on corrupt practices, strengthening of anti-corruption institutions, good leadership, and enforcement of anti-corruption laws such as Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act 2006, Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Act, Fiscal, anPublic Procurement Act.


Babatope Babalobi beb26@bath.ac.uk is a Doctorate researcher, Department of Health, University of Bath, UK








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