If you are a keen follower of the narratives of corruption in Nigeria in the last ten years or so, you must have encountered a book written by Oxford University professor and Chair, African Studies, Wale Adebanwi, with the above title. A paradise for maggots details the war waged by the first Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) Nuhu Ribadu against state governors, considered to be economic weevils of the Olusegun Obasanjo years, two of whom have recently been led to the slammer.
So, today, rather than trade any view, I have elected to go reportorial, as I bring to you the restless minds of an ensemble of academics who got engaged last week in discussing corruption in Nigeria. As I noted earlier in a piece I did a few weeks ago, Ibadan, Oyo State, is regaining its lost position as the intellectual capital of Nigeria. Dr. Tunji Olaopa, retired Federal Permanent Secretary, through his Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP) is carefully cloning the Mbari Club of Ulli Baier by gathering scholars to discuss issues Nigeriana. Mbari, in the 1950s and 1960s, was the groove of arts, culture and books, where national and international literary and cultural icons periodically gathered to pour mental libations.
So last Tuesday, the lot fell on renowned federalism scholar, Professor Rotimi Suberu of Bennington College, USA. Suberu taught Adebanwi and yours sincerely in the Masters class of the Political Science department, University of Ibadan which ended in 1995. His topic to dissect was Constitutional Foundations of Political Corruption in Nigeria and a Reform Strategy.
Those who assume that Nigerians are all about the scramble for cash needed to be at this event. The hall was bursting at its seams with listeners and discussants which included Prof Akin Mabogunje, a man whom Segun Adeniyi, former Special Adviser to President Umaru Yar’Adua, a few weeks ago, de-classified a presidential information about. According to Adeniyi, the late President once told him that he demanded what he could do for Mabogunje but the emeritus professor of Geography replied, “nothing.” There were also Professors Ayo Olukotun, who chaired the session; Bayo Okunade; my teacher at the University of Lagos, Alaba Ogunsanwo; Drs. Muyiwa Adigun, Ben Enweremadu, Tunde Oseni, Dhikru Yagboyaju, as well as Remi Aiyede, one of Suberu’s students; and many more.
Then Suberu took over the floor. Unassuming but spitting the venom of a scholarship that is angry against social disorder, Suberu said one of the challenges of corruption in Nigeria is the narratives that surround it. Nigeria’s maggots are acknowledged by Nigerian and external observers in narratives like one from Joel Brinkley who, in a piece published in the Los Angeles Times of March 18, 2013 entitled Nigeria’s Squandered Opportunity, said “Nigeria is the most corrupt nation on earth,” David Cameron’s “Nigeria (and Afghanistan) are ‘fantastically corrupt,’” World Bank’s report that “The percentage of firms likely to encounter corruption by public officials in Nigeria is more than double the average for sub-Saharan Africa,” Transparency International Index 2017 which scored Nigeria 27 (on 0 to 100 scale) and ranked her 148, (out of 180 countries) and President Muhammadu Buhari’s interview in the Washington Post where he was reported to have said that “$150 billion (was) stolen and internationally laundered by Nigerian public officials in 10-year period preceding the 2015 elections.”
According to Suberu, some scholars have tried to explain why Nigeria is this corrupt. This ranged from Peter Lewis and Okonjo-Iweala’s political economy perspective and the weak political leadership angle of Robert Rotberg, down to Chinua Achebe, who in his The trouble with Nigeria, simply laid the blame squarely on failure of leadership.
Corruption, from the political culture perspective, according to Suberu, was also explained by Prof Peter Ekeh’s Two Publics, Richard Joseph’s prebendalism theory and Daniel Jordan Smith’s Popular Participation in Political Corruption concept which, according to him, all emphasize that it “is legitimized by popular expectations and norms supporting the appropriation of resources and opportunities in the public sector for the benefit not only of individual public office holders but also of members of their sectional or political support groups.”
However, institutions and our “hyper presidential system” are actually the greatest influences of corruption in Nigeria, said Suberu. Lending credence to this, he quoted Reuben Abati who once said that “Nigerian president is an emperor with near-absolute powers…The 1999 Constitution vests executive authority not in any institutions but in the person of the President” and the broad “discretionary” powers enjoyed by the President under Sections 5 and 148 of the Constitution, especially, how he can “assign…responsibility for any business of the government of the federation,” his powers to veto legislation, including constitutional amendments already approved by a supermajority of national and subnational legislatures, broad powers which “are prone to corruption: In fact, they have been used, on occasions, to delay or frustrate anticorruption reform, for example, the FOI Act and 4th Constitution Alteration Bill.”
The mandarin powers of the president also include, according to Suberu, the powers through his Minister of Petroleum, to “grant, amend, renew, extend or revoke any license or lease required for petroleum exploration,” to “appoint the boards of more than 500 parastatals, commissions, or agencies,” security votes, which he called “a budgetary black hole of opaque slush funds spent with no legislative oversight or outside scrutiny;” and a President who enjoys immunity from criminal prosecution while in office and governors who function, according to Richard Joseph, like “provincial chiefs in a decentralized patrimonial order.”
The EFCC is also an organization constitutionally wired to corrupt. This happens through a President constitutionally empowered “to remove a member of the commission at any time, and his relations with other oversight agencies, including newly created agencies such as the Fiscal Responsibility Commission and National Council on Public Procurement.” The consequences are a presidential impunity as no watchdog agency would “touch a scandal that reached as high as the presidency” and “widespread skepticism regarding the credibility, neutrality, and integrity of anti-corruption investigations and prosecutions.”
The effect for the system is, according to Suberu, presidential intimidation and victimization of anti-corruption crusaders. For instance, Vincent Azie, Nuhu Ribadu and Sanusi Lamido were sacked, ostensibly for their over-poking of noses. It also results in institutional underdevelopment. For instance, the EGMONT’s Group, on July 2017, suspended, “by consensus” Nigeria’s EFCC’s NFIU membership for its “lack of professionalism and independence” while, in 2016, the Word Internal Security and Police Index ranked the Nigeria Police as the worst in the world. This echoes ordinary Nigerians’ perception of the police as the most corrupt public institution in the country.
Like an intellectual gathering that it was, Suberu was roundly critiqued. Enweremadu deployed his hyper-optimism on Nigeria, stating that because Nigeria is not a nation, there is a political culture of corruption and democratization of corruption. Lapsing into his native Igbo for explanation, he said there has never been a free and fair election anywhere in Nigeria but an akuraku. Adigun, a very cerebral law teacher, while anchoring his intervention on what he called the doctrine of substantial compliance, reiterated that there has never been a free and fair but “peaceful” election in Nigeria while Mabogunje went down history lane to submit that the fiscal iniquity of Nigeria occurred in 1969 when, in the bid to fight the civil war, Nigeria altered its allocation from 50% to states, 30% to distributable pool and 20% to the central government.
As we walked out of the school that afternoon, many left downcast, their heads bowed. It was another poignant session which reminded all that Nigeria is not wired to succeed and like South African author, Alex La Guma, once said, destined to walk the night in stagnation and corruption.
Lest we forget Saburi Biobaku
Yesterday, Professor Saburi Biobaku would have clocked a 100 years on earth if he were alive. He died in 2001. Oh, you don’t know Biobaku? Born on June 16, 1918, Biobaku was one of the icons of Awolowo’s Western Region and it is doubtful if the history of the crop of intellectuals who built the region into a land of envy and prosperity could be written without Biobaku occupying vantage chapters in it.
It is difficult still to summarize the life of the Abeokuta-born historian and scholar in the few paragraphs available here. First African Registrar of the University College, (University of Ibadan) from 1953 to 1957, who had his PhD in African history from the University of London in 1951 with the title of his dissertation, “The Egba State: 1842-1872” which he later made into a book entitled Egba and their Neighbours (1842-72), Biobaku later wrote Sources of Yoruba History, The Living Culture of Nigeria which he co-authored with Peccinotti, The Origin of the Yorubas (1971) and his two autobiographies, When we were Young (1992) and When we were not so young (1999). I understand that the latter two, both published by the University Press Plc., have been re-issued as celebration of the centenary of Biobaku’s posthumous birthday.
Biobaku was later made the first Secretary to the Premier and Executive Council (SPEC) and sat in council with Awolowo as Premier, Simeon Adebo, Fredrick Rotimi Alade Williams, Oba CD Akran and others. He was responsible for many governmental decisions of the era, especially, the establishment of the Pilgrims Welfare Board. He was made Pro-Vice Chancellor, University of Ife where he served from 1961 – 69 and was briefly the Vice Chancellor of the University of Zambia before he declined and became the University of Lagos VC between 1969 and 1972. He was the VC who was stabbed by a student radical, Kayode Adams, on the allegation that Biobaku’s appointment was unfair and motivated by his ethnicity. Don’t forget that in the contest for the Unilag VC-ship between incumbent, Prof Eni Njoku and Biobaku, master language weaver and Premier of the West, S.L. Akintola, decrying what he termed Igbo’s occupation of all strategic positions, playing on the names of the VC aspirants, Njoku and Biobaku, had said his government wanted to give the university “Eni ti o ba ku” (one who will not die) while some insisted that it was “eni ti n joku” (one who eats dead body) they wanted.
May the soul of Saburi Oladeni Biobaku, one of the ancestors of the Yoruba people, continue to rest in peace.