Thursday, March 13, 2008

Politics of Thuggery, Nepotism and Godfatherism in Nigeria

Those who know me well will have wondered when the gaze of my ever-crticizing eye would fall on Nigeria and Nigerian politics. It's fair to say that so many other issues affecting black people, especially in North America have taken precedence over the nefarious activities of the rulers of a country that claims to be the "giant of Africa".

A brief history of politics and corruption in Nigeria will not be brief at all, and most of that information can be found from various sources on the internet. This article is not about that. No, this piece is about the brazen manner in which public officers who have been convicted of crimes (financial, political, moral, etc) still parade themselves about the country with impunity, with the arm of justice sufficiently short and unable to reach them.

This article describes an interaction between 2 Senators and the immediate past Nigerian President - Senator David Mark wants to review the sale of government properties in the federal capital, Abuja, by ex-President Obasanjo, while another Senator, Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, wants this review to be halted or "forgotten"! I will explain my reasoning for choosing this article by describing each of these 3 individuals.

Senator Mark (Senate President) - A former military officer who was part of the cabal that robbed Nigeria blind in the 80s and 90s, Mark's election in 2007 was the usual Nigerian tale of stuffed ballot boxes and election thuggery. This election (like countless others) was nullified by the Appeals Court early this year. In any civilized country, once the election of a public officer has been nullified, that officer has to resign immediately, until all appeals have been exhausted and a final solution reached. Yet, this man continues to answer to "Senate President", and presumably is still being paid his salaries and allowances. When the number 3 citizen of a country is above the law, are we surprised at the breakdown and near-anarchy of such a country?
His view on this topic has to be viewed with suspicion. Mark probably wants the sales reviewed, so that he can collect a bribe or two from the guilty customers and "enjoy" his own share of the largesse. Surprised? Don't be...this is Nigeria.

Fmr. President Obasanjo - This is man who came to power talking about all sorts of economic reforms and the stamping out of corruption. The economic reform part was achieved SLIGHTLY, but if anything, the corruption levels in Nigeria attained new heights between 1999 and today. This is a man who used a petroleum trust fund (to be used for schools, hospitals, etc in oil producing areas) as his own slush fund to pay for political gallivanting, private oil blocks, private universities, etc. This is a man who according to his own son, slept with his daughter-in-law in exchange for lucrative oil and finance deals. Despite this abomination, neither Obasanjo nor his daughter-in-law has refuted the claims of the son. This is a man who apparently "spent" $10 - $16 billion on power projects (depending on whom you ask) in a country whose citizens receive power, if they are lucky, for 1 hour a day.
Finally, this is a man who sold properties in the nation's capital, the monies for which have not been accounted for. A man like this should be locked up, yet he continues to insult the country by posing as an 'elder statesman'.

Senator Obasanjo-Bello - As the former President's daughter, perhaps it can be understood that she would support her father - crocodile tears and all - except that she is a Senator of the Federal Republic. Of course, this is Nigeria, where there is no threat of public umbrage at such a crass display of fatherly affection by someone who is a sworn legislator for people whose economic futures have been mortgaged by her father and his policies.
Any shred of sympathy stops once you realize that this is the same Obasanjo-Bello who used her father's stolen wealth to appropriate and corner several of those same 'power projects' that her father siphoned money from. Oh, I should have mentioned that she used a fake name in those transactions, didn't cut her Austrian partners in the deal despite the bribes they paid her (incl a fully loaded Toyota Land Crusier 4WD and cash), and is now being sued by those same Austrian partners both in Nigeria and in Austria.
Again, in any civilized country, the official would have been forced to step aside or resign (witness Elliot Spitzer) till the court case has been settled, and if the person refused to do so, the press would have harangued, editorialized and generally disturbed until they were forced to.
It also begs the question - how did she get elected as a Senator, or even better, if her papa was not in Aso Rock (the Nigerian version of the White House), would she have been elected?

Only in Nigeria can these 3 crooks operate with the impunity and braggado that they have. Only in Nigeria can the common person on the street not react to such high-handed behavior because the common person on the street is waiting for their turn to plunder the wealth of the country. Only in Nigeria will the mainline press refuse to call these people to order, because they are hoping to be made Special Assistants on Media, Media Advisors or Public Relations Secretaries to a politician/public officer in the future.

I make mention of this article and its protagonists, because I'm constantly besieged with calls from extended family, friends, etc wondering whether I plan to return to Nigeria to settle down and "bless" the country with my talent and abilities. The answer is - NOT ON YOUR LIFE!
Call me selfish, call me unforgiving, call me westernized, but never will I give anyone the chance to call me corrupt, or in the absence of that, become another frustrated technocrat because the country of my dreams is falling apart like a deck of cards; and its inhabitants could care less, merely waiting their turn to attain a higher status and join in the looting of the nation, like hyenas at a zebra's carcass.


  1. I agree with you that our main problem stems from maladministration. But what I disagree with is using that as a stance not to go back home. And coming from a normal home myself, I should be amongst those people who would hastily denounce their country for citizenship and ship their family to the west and live the good life, which is a good thing to do by the way (my dad would be happy). But I strongly believe that we all must appreciate that each us us have a responsibility. To admit that we were all mostly born into environments which offered limited educational opportunities to the mass of its citizens, then one must also recognize that the educational opportunity that you received is virtually a gift from God. As such you have an obligation to utilize this education to create the environment that provides greater opportunities for the others behind you. As one would say " stop the belly-acking" no one said it would be easy. Stop blaming the politicians, warlords, dictators and bandits and lets us all resolve to take back what is rightfully ours. Our countries! remember part of the reason why you leave your countries, is because you have a choice. You most likely was one of the top performers in your class, your parents were rich enough. However, also don't forget, the people you leave behind to run your country usually were at the bottom of the class. They lack the capacity ever to rectify the problem. The world is changing, many things in the past also impacted what happened in our country; much of it virtually beyound our control.

    However, let's begin to recognize the new opportunities that are emerging for improved governance and exploit these opportunities. Remember, to find blame for our collective/respective plight is easy because there is sufficient blame to go around. Unfortunately, that will solve nothing. We must all resolve to take action. And that action must be rooted in our recognition of our responsibilities to our families. Because Africa, and the abundance that she has to offer belongs to all of us, including our generations yet unborn.

    I will go back home, work with virtually everything from health care, science and technology to politics. It's about my responsibility to my country and I will not leave millions of people to suffer when I have the intelligence, ability and capability to bring hope and change. The first will be for all of us to believe that we can be CHANGE itself.

  2. And yes, you are westernized and unforgiving. You forget it shouldn't always be about you, that's the attitude that landed Spitzer in hell (*sighs, with such intelligence, he would have made a fine president)

  3. It's not about me, it's about the mindset and attitude of the vast majority of the population. If it were only the leaders that were corrupt, there wouldn't be a problem because by now, the citizens and media would have risen up and made a big fuss of everything.
    I didn't leave the country solely because I was at the top of my class, or because of my parents' wealth. Yes, my parents were probably in the upper reaches of society, but that's because when my dad started out in the oil industry, things were being done properly and he was able to attain a certain position without soiling his hands with one corrupt deal or the other. Unfortunately, that changed in the late 80s and 90s, and led to him being frustrated because his colleagues and fellow technocrats were more interested in lining their pockets than in actually carrying out their duties.
    My dad chose to remove his family from that mess, and resigned his job to accompany us to Canada. No other Nigerian in his position would have done that unless they were honest and "clean".

    That's why you'll have to forgive my perceived arrogance in the face of the corrupt nature of the country. I was in Nigeria for a couple of weeks over the holiday period, so I'm not just basing my piece on newspaper articles or on the state of the country when I left in 2000. I'm basing it on recent real life experiences.

    I'll be the first to raise up my hands and acknowledge when we are on the right path, but we are not there yet, as the recent revelations of the activities of the past government, as well as the antecedents of the new one have shown.

    If I saw someone educated out here, I'll say - Make your career here (in the West), place one or two investments in Nigeria but make sure those investments are expendable, and do not in any circumstance give up a career here for the uncertainty there.

  4. “I'll be the first to raise up my hands and acknowledge when we are on the right path, but we are not there yet”

    Naz, are you for real? Who will place us in the right path if professionals like you are sitting here, getting rich and for self actualization stimulating the economy of another country while yours suffer. So, what you are saying, is that you are waiting for the same people who care deeply about lining their pockets to put us in the right path? I don’t think so. I don’t like getting into these kinds of conversations because they are very fruitless. Especially with people like you who already seem to think you understand the situation and base your thinking on that. And I will still say, no, it’s not about you.

    We want change in Nigeria, in Africa, yet no one goes home to vote to put the right people in place, no one goes home to serve their country, no one does community service back home even when we know the importance of it, etc…but we all sit back here and wait for a miracle to happen. That doesn’t make sense to me at all. It is our responsibility, its out lot to bring our country/nation to economic independence. And its not much of a big deal, if we all share that responsibility

    Getting an education from here helps us understand the dynamics of the world. One fact that people like you would rather ignore is that development is a sacrifice one has to make. It's a burden each and every African must accept and carry. It's about time some Western educated Nigerians like yourself realize that creating systems and wealth from nothing is better than enjoying the spoils. I for one have seen the bigger picture, the burden is mine, therefore all my plans and knowledge will end up in Africa where I dare make a difference. And I know there are people like me who think the same way, and together we will achieve what intelligentsias like you think is impossible (unfortunately). And really, its not about moving to Africa, its about the attitude one has towards this situation. Have you really thought about approximately one billion people in Africa going through unfavorable situations, and are strong enough to face each new day with courage and fortitude. How great will it be to assure them that there is hope for every human. This is the same reason why the white man looks down on us.

    I am taking Geography of the Changing World, and I watch videos each day of different countries outside of Africa who are also in the same situation. But reality is, their people don’t think the same way we think. They have genuine love for their country and their people. They go home to work on projects and help their country, family and humanity is important to them. It is unfortunate that we are in this situation, and I don’t blame people like you for walking towards the greener path, but who will tend to those billions of people (our own) if we don’t. Is it the selfish white man, who is feeding off our ignorance because the smart ones are here? Lets think about these issues mehn. We will keep going in circles around this issues, but our generations will never forgive us for having the power to create change but for our own selfish interest, never used it for the betterment of the generations yet to come.