In two weeks, the World Cup, the first to be played on African soil, will begin in South Africa. As a sporting event, the World Cup is the world’s most prestigious, most glamorous and most-watched. Once upon a time, Nigeria had whimsically dreamt of hosting this particular one, but South Africa recovered from the ignominy of apartheid early enough to host it as Nigeria slid into international infamy. In 2010, we will be satisfied simply with being a part of the event.
The problem is that, even as one of the nations in the competition, we are less prepared than we ought to be. That has become a consistent pattern. At the end of a major competition, when recrimination and outrage run in the veins, that is when we recognize what we should have done three or four years before. But it is then downhill from there as our characteristic bad habits take over.
Thirty-two nations will be sending their best players to South Africa. Naturally, much of the world has been examining every aspect of the competition. Here is how a foreign reporter recently introduced his story on Nigeria’s chances: “Nigeria is a kleptocracy that milks the most populous African nation. Oil wealth has made this massive African nation one of the most dangerous, most corrupt, most impoverished and straight-out saddest countries on earth. Despite billions and billions of dollars in annual oil revenue, virtually none of it reaches the general population, instead lining the pockets of one "big man" after another.”
One can only hope that Mrs. Dora Akunyili, our Minister of Information, has sent such naysayers her “Rebrand Nigeria” message.
A kleptocracy? As a Nigerian you are tempted to rebut that he has no right to drag your national image in the mud. But seriously, “what image?”
If a kleptocracy is, as my dictionary says, “a government characterized by rampant greed and corruption,” Nigeria continues to nominate itself as the world’s best example. In the past two months, extremely sad stories have appeared in the mass media that remind our planet of the depth and depravity of Nigeria’s political elite.
The Halliburton mess, as investigated abroad and at home, shows the pervasiveness and impunity of corruption in Nigeria, the shamelessness and duplicity of Nigeria’s leaders, and the institutionalized cover-up that enables the cancer to continue to flourish.
First of all, the probe reports and judicial trials in France and the United States show that Nigeria has not had a leader in 25 years—that is, since Muhammadu Buhari— who said “No!” when he had a chance to help himself to easy millions.
Sadly, pathetically, this includes Olusegun Obasanjo.
This is a man who had two chances to take Nigeria to greatness. This is a man who was celebrated by the world when he acted like a statesman.
This is a man who entrenched himself with Transparency International and preached good governance. This is a man who begged the United Nations to adopt a convention against corruption. This is a man who bragged he would battle corruption, and went through the motions of setting up agencies to implement the law.
In the end, regrettably the Special Investigation Panel led by Mike Okiro, a former Inspector-General of the Police, found Obasanjo to be one of the most heavily-bribed Nigerians. First, he shared $74 million with his Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, and another $5 million with the Profoundly Decadent Party.
I isolate the Obasanjo name only partly because the panel traced so much money to him. It is even more important that he claimed to have been interested in combating corruption. It is now easier to understand why, under Obasanjo, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), fought corruption only in fits and starts.
On October 1 last year, in a Nigeria Village Square anniversary discussion in which I participated, the pioneer EFCC boss, Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, observed that Obasanjo lacked the political will to fight against corruption. Translation: the EFCC did not stand a chance with a leader like that.
Obasanjo is the worst advertising of the filth that is Nigeria’s kleptocracy. But he did not invent it. In the end, however, he seemed determined to provide for himself not only economically, but politically: he seized the leadership of the PDP.
The tell-tale Halliburton malfeasance shows that everyone that could stick out a hand did grab plenty. In addition to Obasanjo, Ibrahim Bademasi Babangida took, Myriam Babangida took; Sani Abacha took, Maryam Abacha took. Ernest Shonekan took. Abdulsalam Abubakar took.
I limit myself only to the Heads of State and Government on the graft roster. From the mid-1980s to the 2000s, an army of Ministers, top civil servants, senior military and intelligence officers as well as top petroleum officials—and their support staff—took hefty bribes.
It seems anyone that happened to be standing anywhere in the corridors of petroleum influence, took. Secretaries that had luckily not closed for the day when the millions of dollars were making the rounds, took.
Drivers that were on the late shift and had to do bank runs or load the loot into cars, took. Girlfriends that had mistakenly missed their slot in Oga’s roster and showed up at the “wrong” time, took.
Night guards who were lucky to be around when the last bag or two were the subject of a lighthearted disagreement between two inebriated officials with no space left in their trunks, took.
But this, remember, is just one file: the NLNG. The same case can now be made in virtually every sector in our society.
If you look at it from the point of view of specific officials—governors, managers, civil servants, or administrators—graft is us. If you look at offices—Ministries, legislatures, foreign missions, law enforcement—industry, graft is us. If you look at programmes—budgets, agriculture, Millennium Development Goals, banks or roads—graft is us.
What is even more painful than all this is that it seems we have come full circle. In the early 1980s, we thought that the National Party of Nigeria and its leading lights were monsters deserving of the very worst. The national mood at the time was summed up by the Buhari administration that threw them out of power: they attempted to ship Umaru Dikko back from London in a crate. He had been a minister.
But it is actually the cause of justice in Nigeria that continues to be in bondage, as no Nigerian leader has been man enough to confront corruption. Keep in mind that the Okiro Report was received by late Umaru Yar’Adua six months before the medical emergency that preceded his death. But there were probably too many people he wanted to protect, so he hid it under his mattress. Obasanjo had himself used the EFCC against his opponents.
Yet, as bad as our situation is, the worst seems to be arriving: graft fatigue. The average Nigerian, worn out by years of barefaced robbery and brazen hypocrisy, seems to have been beaten into submission. No tale of carnage really seems to move us anymore.
It seems we have been beguiled and bewitched into a world where we see ethical mayhem next door as just another Nollywood nonsense presented for entertainment purposes only. Even if they are chopping up our babies to feed to their dogs, we give them chieftaincy titles and anoint them kings, or kingmakers.
Perhaps we have simply neither pride nor character. Otherwise, tell me: Is there really any other country in the world in which almost every leader and leadership of an entire era can be accused of such generational sleaze?
And if such there be, will those kleptocrats complacently and shamelessly walk free?