Nigeria is not the only nation consistently ranked high on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index; however the reach of Nigeria's fraud peddlers exceeds that of most other nations. Many people who use the Internet have received solicitations to claim foreign funds abandoned in some foreign bank account. These schemes, known to insiders as 419 Scams after the provision in the Nigerian law outlawing them but more generally simply as Nigeria Scams, are among the issues often cited by those who know little else about Nigeria. There are numerous accounts of retirees and even churches losing many thousands of dollars when Internet users respond to these fraudulent requests. Those who try to obtain someone else's money are as criminal as those who initiate the scam.
Moreover, the Nigerian Government has made a serious effort to address this problem. At the heart of corruption in Nigeria, however, are those who wield government authority. According to a report done by Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission last year, the country's excessive government stole or misused about $400 billion during the last four decades of the 20th century. That amount is about equal to all of the aid given to Africa by Western donors during the same period of time.
One of the earliest government scams was the cement scandal of the early 1960s in which a grand public housing plan was announced where vast quantities of cement were purchased from foreign contractors, but far more cement was ordered than was needed. Overloaded Nigerian ports saw ships loaded with cement backed up for miles out to sea. Corrupt officials made profits, however, from selling cement import licenses. But the promised housing was never constructed on the scale that had been envisioned.
Another 1960s scandal involved an aluminum smelter that was supposed to be part of the industrialization of Nigeria. Unfortunately, corrupt manipulators drove the cost of the smelter up to $2.4 billion, which was 60 to 100 percent higher than comparable plants elsewhere in the developed world. Once completed, the smelter never operated above a fraction of its capacity.
More recently, in 2003, a commission of inquiry was appointed to investigate the collapse of Nigerian Airways. That commission found that former top airline officials, Federal cabinet members and high-ranking civil servants were to blame for the nation's airlines collapse through waste and misappropriation of funds.
One of the hallmarks of Nigerian corruption is that top officials most responsible for the looting of public enterprises are almost never punished for their crimes or forced to return the funds that they have stolen. Even President Obasanjo, who is seen as a campaigner for transparency, has failed to bring to justice the many corrupt officials who have yet to answer for their crimes.
Corruption in Nigeria squanders the vast resources available to this nation and has been a factor in the country's brain drain as well. Tens of thousands of Nigerian professionals have immigrated to America and other developed countries, where they can operate in environments in which those who loot their companies or steal government funds can expect prosecution.
After failing to successfully tackle corruption with the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, the Nigerian Government in 2003 created the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Its initially limited mandate which focused on 419 fraud and other business crime now appears to include government corruption as well. Government actions in pursuit of greater transparency seem to indicate a renewed commitment to attacking high-level corruption. In December 2003, several prominent cabinet members were removed, and former ranking members of the ruling party were arrested, following investigation into the questionable national ID card scheme that year.
Fraud in programs designed to develop the oil-rich Niger delta region have left its residents bitter and frustrated and lacking in faith in reforms offered by their government. Every oil company official kidnapped or killed and every pipeline ruptured threatens global energy supplies and drives up the price of oil worldwide. The audit of Nigeria's oil industry as part of its commitment to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative is a good sign that the Nigerian government realizes that accountability must be established.
At the inception of this administration President Musa Yar’ Adua vowed to frontally fight corruption in the polity. Two years down the line, by 2009 it appeared not much was being done in this regard. Some critics have even accused the administration of insincerity in its battle against graft. One of the anti- corruption agencies which Yar’ Adua inherited is the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission ICPC headed by Justice Emmanuel Ayoola. For the retired Supreme Court judge the nation should fight absence of integrity rather than corruption. "What we need to do is to erase the popular mentality that some people are untouchable. Once we are able to do that, we will get a cleaner society. But the thing is to educate the people, change their attitude and remove the big-man-small-man-mentality."
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