Nigerian corruption and crime – a fantastically corrupt culture or the result of a particular history?

By Professor Keith Somerville, Senior Research Fellow, ICWS

Fantastically-corrupt-comment-by-David-Cameron

‘Fantastically corrupt’. Prime Minister Cameron discussing Nigeria with HM The Queen, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Speaker of the House of Commons

 

Just before May’s anti-corruption summit in London, British prime Minister David Cameron, made his now infamous public gaffe when he boasted to the Queen in a rather a silly, schoolboyish way that, “We’ve got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain… Nigeria and Afghanistan, possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world”.   The rudeness and stupidity of the remarks, made in front of TV cameras, apart it was also inaccurate.  Nigeria justifiably has a reputation for corruption and criminal networks, but it is by no means one of the two most corrupt countries in the world, Somalia and North Korea hold that distinction, according to Transparency International.  Nigeria also ranks as less corrupt as key British and American ally in the war against Islamists in East Africa, Kenya – Kenya is ranked 139 out of 167 countries and Nigeria 136.

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Africa’s Long Road and Current Developments

By Keith Somerville, ICWS Senior Research Fellow

Buhari and the Bulldozer gets to grips with graft – combatting corruption in Nigeria and Tanzania. A demonstration of the diversity but also shared problems of structure and agency in Sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa definition UN

Sub-Saharan Africa definition UN

This month my book on Africa’s post-independence histories is published by Hurst and Co, entitled Africa’s Long Road Since Independence. The Many Histories of a Continent. It deals with the great diversity of post-independence political, economic, social and cultural development in sub-Saharan Africa, tracing elements of continuity and change from pre-colonial and colonial periods and how the evolution of the many and varied histories of African states demonstrate varying levels of conflict between structural factors and human agency and how amid their great diversity may also be found common structural challenges and forms of the exercise of agency. These seemingly contradictory aspects of the continent’s history are part of the rich mix of difference and shared experience, especially in relation to the widespread dependence on exports to fund formal economic activity and government spending and to the functioning of informal networks of power and patronage alongside weak formal state institutions. These facets of development are exemplified in recent elections in a number of states and post-electoral policies in two states – Nigeria and Tanzania.

Thirteen elections took place in Africa in 2015. The one in Burundi sparked violence as the incumbent sought an unpopular and arguably unconstitutional third term. Others saw the retention of power, often amid accusations of electoral fraud from defeated opponents, by sitting presidents and little change or no change in policies, empowerment of citizens or any shred of accountability of governments dominated by powerful patron/client networks. Nigeria and Tanzania were exceptions. In the former, the opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari defeated the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, in the first ever victory by a challenger in Nigeria’s history; in the latter, President Jakawaya Kikwete stood down after two terms and John “Bulldozer” Magfuli became the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) candidate and defeated a strong challenge from the opposition candidate, Edward Lowassa.

Muhammadu Buhari 2015

Muhammadu Buhari 2015

Nigeria and Tanzania have very different political systems whose post-independence development have been a demonstration of the divergent histories of sub-Saharan African states. But despite the bloody, divisive and fractious nature of Nigeria’s experience since the end of British colonial rule in comparison with the relative peace, tolerance and unity of Tanzania, and despite the massive squandered oil wealth of Nigeria measured against the meagre natural resources of Tanzania, they have important similarities. Both are highly dependent on export earnings, foreign loans or aid to fund government budgets, both have seen the development of networks of patronage as means for politicians to develop and maintain support bases, and both have seen these networks rely on corruption, rent-seeking from export income and impunity in the face of weak state institutions to retain their clout, politically and economically.

Although their electoral experiences in 2015 were different, with Nigeria seeing the first ever electoral defeat of an incumbent president and Tanzania seeing yet another election in which the ruling CCM retained power, the elections brought about substantial changes in direction for the two countries. Former Nigerian military leader Muhammadu Buhari campaigned on the issues of the Jonathan government’s failure to defeat the Boko Haram insurgents, its glaring incompetence in economic management and its corruption and cronyism. In Tanzania, Magfuli had stressed his past record as a minister in fighting corruption, and being the Bulldozer that cleared away obstacles to good and honest management.

John Magfuli "Bulldozer"

John Magfuli “Bulldozer”

In Nigeria, one serious and long-running source of corruption, patronage and power has been what is known as the security vote – the huge budget assigned from oil revenues to run Nigeria’s bloated military machine.  Conflicts from the Biafran War through the Niger Delta insurgencies to Boko Haram’s campaign in the north-east have enabled the armed forces and their political allies to devote huge sums to the military with little or no auditing of how the money has been spent or why, after decades of massive funding, the army remains poorly equipped and ineffective action against security threats.  Dozens of soldiers have been charged with cowardice or mutiny for failing to stop Boko Haram’s occupation of large swathes of the north-east.  Those accused defended themselves saying that they lacked modern equipment and even ammunition.

Now it is becoming evident why such a well-funded army may not have been able to arm its soldiers properly.  Buhari pledged to root out corruption and within months of being sworn in found huge levels of graft involving defence funds.  Charges of corruption and misuse of billions of naira allocated to paying imports arms have been levelled against some of the top officials of the last government.  They include President Jonathan’s National Security Adviser (NSA), Sambo Dasuki; a former director of finance at the office of the NSA, Shuaibu Salisu; an aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Waripamowei Dudafa; a former general manager at the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Aminu BabaKusa; a former governor of Sokoto State, Attahiru Bafarawa, and his son, Sagir Bafarawa.  Some of the funds, withdrawn in foreign currency, were said to have been used to fund the electoral campaign by Goodluck Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party, while other tranches of money were used to buy expensive houses in Abuja for relatives of the accused. Nigerians await the trial with keen interest to see if the wall of impunity for senior politicians and officials is being broken down.

In Tanzania, the Bulldozer got to work fast after his October election victory.  Instead of celebrating in State House, the day after his inauguration he paid an unscheduled visit to a major state-run hospital.  Finding it in a dreadful state with total inadequate care for the patients, he fired the board and acting director there and then.  Soon after, he sent his new Prime Minister, Kassim Majaliwa, to the notoriously mismanaged and corrupt port in Dar es Salaam.  The premier found that taxes amounting totalling US$40million hadn’t been paid and the port authority and customs authorities were mired in corruption. Magfuli immediately suspended and arrested the Tanzania Revenue Authority’s Commissioner General and five top officials. He also sacked the head of the port authority and several  senior officials in the transport ministry.  In recent years, Dar es Salaam has become one of the major transit points for ivory, precious metals, gems and other illicit goods leaving East Africa for China and other Asian destinations, and the entry point for drugs.  Magfuli also suspended expensive independence day celebrations and instituted a day of work to clean up the streets, in which he took an active and highly publicised part.

These two developments in two very different states demonstrate both the vast differences in African states’ political and economic structures, but also areas of similarity in dependence on exports and the way that this can lead to the development of patronage networks, corruption and the exercise of power beyond the control of weak state institutions and legal systems.  Impunity may not be over for these informal patron/client systems, but in two countries a promising new start has been made.

 

Keith Somerville is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London; and teaches at the Centre for Journalism, University of Kent.  His book, Africa’s Long Road Since Independence. The Many Histories of a Continent. Is published by Hurst and Co in January 2016; and he has just finished writing his next book on the history of the ivory trade in Africa.