How Corruption Started in Nigeria | A Must Read


It is no more news that Nigeria is in a very unfriendly condition due to a number of reasons and it has been so since a very long year ago, the citizens of Nigeria have been shouting here and there that when will Nigeria become better and developed and the answer coming from our leaders so far has been a hypothetical and conjectural statement of “E go beta E go beta” and do bear with us.

The focus of this write up is to reveal the causative agent’s’ as the case may be, and also explain the inception of the problem and finally where the solution lies instead of the “E go beta E go beta” phenomenon.

The major problems and challenges affecting Nigeria as a country are public looting, mismanagement of public offices and funds and to crown it all corruption are traceable to the 1960 Independence era till date. As the British colonial masters handed over power and made us rule ourselves without any intervention from them, the problem started. However, I am not in any way supporting the colonial masters, for they exploited us instead of exploring our resources as promised.

Nevertheless, I cannot agree less with the fact that the British colonial masters are far better than our so called despotic and oppressive leaders. Our leaders both past and present except for a few of them caused Nigeria to be in this absurd and unbearable condition. Even the so-called Colonial Masters treated us fairly than our own indigenous leaders. In the colonial period, a number of privileges were enjoyed by the citizens of Nigeria among which are, free western education though it came with the imposition of Christianity on the general public who are willing to be educated, economic stability, security of lives and properties and lot more.

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In 1963, Nigeria practiced the Republican system of government and it was under the leadership of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (the first prime minister) and Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe (the president), this event marked the widespread of corrupt practices, where government officials looted public funds with impunity. Federal Representatives and Ministers flaunted their wealth with reckless abandon. In fact, it appeared that there were no men of good character in the political leadership of the First Republic.  Politically, the thinking of the  First Republic  Nigerian leadership class was based on politics for material gain, making money and living well.

The situation described above, among other factors,  provided the pretext for a  group of young middle-rank army officers to sack the  Nigerian  First Republic politicians from power through a  coup d’état on 15th  January  1966  on the ground of corruption.  The editorial of the  Daily Times Newspaper of January  16, 1966, argued thus: With the transfer of authority of the  Federal Government to the Armed  Forces, we reached a  turning point in our national life. The old order has changed, yielding place to a new one… For a  long time, instead of settling down to minister to people’s needs, the politicians were busy performing series of seven-day wonders as if the act of government was some circus show… still we groped along as citizens watched politicians scorn the base by which they did ascend… (Daily Times, 1966).

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The coup was a direct response to the corruption of the First Republic, and the popular support the military received for the coup showed that Nigerians were long expecting such a wind of change to bail them out from the claws of the politicians of that era.  Interestingly, despite the killings of some major First Republic politicians, there were widespread jubilations in the country. The General Aguiyi Thomas Ironsi military government that replaced the sacked civilian regime instituted a series of commissions of inquiry to investigate the activities of some government parastatals and to probe the widespread corruption that characterized the public service sector of the deposed regime. The report on the parastatals, especially the Nigeria Railway Corporation, Nigeria Ports Authority, and the defunct Electricity Corporation of Nigeria and  Nigeria  Airways, revealed that a number of ministers formed companies and used their influence to secure contracts.  Moreover, they were found guilty of misappropriation of funds as well as disregarding laid down procedures in the award of contracts by parastatals under their Ministries (Okonkwo 2007). The zeal to punish the wrong doers of the First Republic died with the Gowon coup of July 1966, which ousted the Ironsi government because the politicians in detention were freed.  This development had serious implications for the polity as the new set of rulers embarked on white elephant projects, which served as a means of looting public funds.  The ensuing development clearly showed that the military rulers were not better nor different from the ousted civilian leaders.

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General Yakubu Gowon ruled the country at a time Nigeria experienced an unprecedented wealth from the oil boom of the 1970s.  Apart from the mismanagement of the economy, the Gowon regime was enmeshed in deep-seated corruption. By 1974, reports of unaccountable wealth of Gowon’s military governors and other public office holders had become the crux of discussion in the various Nigerian dailies.  Thus, in July 1975, the Gowon administration was toppled by General Murtala Mohammed through a coup d’état. The coup of 1975, among other things, was an attempt to end corruption in the public service.  General Murtala Mohammed began by declaring his assets and asking all government officials to follow suit.  He instituted a series of probes of past leaders. The Federal Assets Investigation Panel of 1975 found ten of the twelve state military governors in the Gowon regime guilty of corruption.  The guilty persons were dismissed from the military services with ignominy. They were also forced to give up ill-acquired properties considered to be in excess of their earnings (M.  O. Maduagwu quoted in Gboyega, 1996:3).

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The Second Republic, under President Shehu Shagari, witnessed a resurgence of corruption. The Shagari administration was marked by spectacular government corruption, as the President did nothing to stop the looting of public funds by elected officials. Corruption among the political leaders was amplified due to greater availability of funds.  It was claimed that over $16 billion in oil revenues were lost between 1979 and 1983 during the reign of President Shehu Shagari.  It became quite common, for federal buildings to mysteriously go up in flames, most especially just before the onset of ordered audits of government accounts, making it impossible to discover written evidence of embezzlement and fraud (Dash, 1983).  True to his nature, President Shehu Shagari was too weak in his administration of the country.  A soft-spoken and mild-mannered gentleman Shagari was pathetic in his inability to call his ministers and political lieutenants to order or stop them from embezzling state funds.

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No politician symbolized the graft and avarice under Shagari’s government more than his combative Transport Minister, Alhaji Umaru Dikko, who was alleged to have mismanaged about N4 billion of public fund meant for the importation of rice. However, on 31st December 1983, General Muhammadu Buhari led a coup that again rescued the economy from the grip of corrupt politicians of the Second Republic. The 1983 coup was carried out with the aim of halting corruption and restoring discipline, integrity, and dignity to public life. General Buhari’s regime promised to bring corrupt officials and their agents to book.  Consequently, state governors and commissioners were arrested and brought before tribunals of inquiry. The new Buhari regime, which scarcely showed respect for human rights in its bid to entrench discipline and sanity in public life, was toppled by the General Ibrahim  Babangida in  a  bloodless in house coup on 27th  August 1985. The next thirteen years saw no serious attempt to stop corruption. If anything, corruption reached an alarming rate and became institutionalized during Babangida regime.

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Leaders found guilty by tribunals under the Murtala Mohammed and Muhammadu Buhari regimes found their way back to public life and recovered their seized properties.  According  to Maduagwu: Not only did the regime encourage corruption by pardoning corrupt officials convicted by  his  predecessors and returning  their seized properties, the regime  officially sanctioned corruption in the country  and made  it  difficult to apply  the only  potent measures, long  prison terms and seizure  of ill-gotten wealth, for fighting  corruption in Nigeria in the future (Maduagwu quoted in Gboyega, 1996:5). In the face  of intense public  opposition to his rule,  General  Babangida reluctantly  handed the reins of government to a  non-elected military-civilian  Interim National Government on 26th  August 1993 which was later ousted from power by the military under the leadership of General Sani Abacha on  17th November  1993. Abacha’s regime only furthered the deep-seated  corrupt practices, which already characterized public life  since the inception of the Babangida regime.  Under General Abacha, corrupt practices became blatant and systematic. General Abacha and his family alongside his associates looted Nigeria’s coffers with reckless abandon.

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The extent of Abacha’s venality seemed  to have surpassed that of other  notorious African rulers,  such as Mobutu  Sese  Seko of  Zaire  (now called the Democratic Republic of Congo).  It was estimated that the embezzlement of public funds and corruption proceeds of General Abacha and his family  amounted to USD  4 billion  (International Centre for  Asset Recovery, 2009). The dictator, General Sani Abacha, died suddenly from a heart attack in June 1998. He was replaced by General Abdulsalam Abubakar, who subsequently  handed over the reins  of government  to a democratically elected  civilian government in May 1999 after having spent eleven months in power.  The Abdulsalam Abubakar government  showed dedicated commitment to  returning the country to democracy but did not do much to fight  corruption.  It is instructive to state here  that the Third Republic was sandwiched within the thirteen  years military rule  oBabangida and Sani Abacha (1985 – 1998). During this period, a number of  commissions of inquiry were  instituted,  yet no inquiry and reports stopped the high rate of corruption. The Fourth Republic commenced with the election of General Olusegun Obasanjo as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1999. Indeed, the sixteen unbroken  years of the military era  from the fall of  the Second Republic in 1983 and the restoration of democracy  in 1999 represents an era in the history  of the country when  corruption was practically institutionalized as the foundation and essence of  governance.

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In fact the handing of power to the civilian government marked the beginning of public fund embezzlement, politicians and government officials saw the political institution as a business centre, they contest for political post in order to take their own part of the national cake and this led to a breakdown in the economy of Nigeria, and since then the economy of Nigeria has been imbalance and ready to fall, In essence, public looting is one of the fundamental factors that led us and will continue to lead us ‘if not stopped’ to the ‘E go beta, E go beta’ phenomenon but frankly speaking if public fund looting is not stopped and eradicated to the bearest minimum ‘E no fit beta ooh’.

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Another major factor that is making a livelihood in Nigeria challenging is the discovery of oil in oloibiri as at the year 1950. Oil was discovered in 1950 and first exported in 1956, Nigeria’s economy was used to be dependent on agricultural produce and agriculture back in those days before the discovery of oil, but with the advent of oil, there was a shift in the economy of Nigeria from agriculture to petroleum exportation, and the consequential effect of this was that we were unable to produce more agricultural produce again and everyone rely largely on oil, and this made Nigeria weakened to the length that we virtually import all agricultural produces and we are not capable of growing a single crop in our own land that is arable.

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The decline or fall in or of oil boom in Nigeria affected the country to the fact that it pushed it into economic recession that we are currently facing today, this is because money is not in circulation again and we don’t have any agricultural mentality or orientation but to import the agricultural produce, however, money is not in circulation and the value of naira has depreciated emphatically, so the rate of agricultural produce we import will equally become low, but if it were to be that Nigeria is diversified economically we will have gone higher than this in term of economy, but we are not, I just pray that we come to our senses before the last drop of oil gets dried off. As sociology and all other societal related field of study has been established to make life comfortable for people by providing solutions to the various societal problems, it is on this ground I will proffer just two solutions to the challenges facing Nigeria.

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First, the penalty for corruption should be execution, if this is observed carefully I promise Nigeria will become better, every individual will think twice before acting or behave in contrary to the established patterns of rules and regulations, China is a perfect example for this, It is one of the countries on top of the globe in terms of development, Back in those days, China was also facing economic hardship and they have tried all their possible means to fight this problem, after series of solutions proved to be futile the penalty of execution for corruption was used and practiced, this made their government officials think twice before embezzling public fund, Nigeria should try as much as possible to enact this law into its constitution and make it effective to mitigate all challenging issues especially corruption.

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Another solution is to make the economy diversified in all ramifications, the dependency should not be solely on oil, other natural resources like timber, cocoa, rubber and the host of others should also be considered, agriculture, on the other hand, should not be taken for granted because it goes a long way in eliminating hunger and food scarcity, More so, It serves as national income for the country by exporting the agricultural products, and God so good Nigeria has a arable land.

With these, I think the present condition of Nigeria could be solved and everything becomes past instead of this ‘E go beta E go beta’ phenomenon of a thing.

Compiled by

Abdulganiy Abdullah O,

Director Social World.

Reference Point: Michael M Ogbeidi Political Leadership and Corruption in Nigeria Since 1960:  A Socio-economic Analysis.