Home column - Friday Portraits of corrupt Nigerian politicians (2), By Isaac N. Obasi

Portraits of corrupt Nigerian politicians (2), By Isaac N. Obasi

This second instalment focuses on the portraits of experienced but corrupt politicians, and how they operate and swim in corruption with impunity in our governance system. With many years of experience as corrupt politicians, they have mastered the game of how to cleverly use public office as conduit pipes for private accumulation of wealth. Their modus operandi for achieving this include, but not limited to, (a) award of huge fictitious contracts, (b) upfront payment of huge contract sums with the intention of abandoning its execution, (c) payment of mobilisation fee to a colluding contractor without the contractor going to site, (d) award of contracts to proxy firms (sometimes more than one company), (e) award of contracts that would later be abandoned, (f) variation of contract sum without due regard to laid down procedures, (g) bogus award of consultancy fees which end up being shared by both sides etc. 

A close look at the various Reports of the Auditor-General for the Federation, revealing the various ways through which corrupt politicians siphon public resources in collusion with senior public servants would shock readers. The mindboggling allegation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in May 2022 against the suspended Accountant-General of the Federation, Mr. Ahmed Idris, over massive fraud of N80b in collusion with some old politicians, is a good example. This allegation gives us little insight into the deep-rooted nature of corruption, and how it occurs and persists with impunity in our governance system.

The siphoning of our resources has made the cost of governance to be very high, unbearable and unsustainable making the government to complain often that there is no money. In the actual fact, the problem is not lack of resources but mismanagement and misappropriation of available resources. This has also led to the mounting of domestic and external debts causing major concerns in governance cycle. The collusion between politicians and senior career public servants in corruption deals, is made easily possible because many of the later are eager to help themselves in the act as many of them would also start their own ‘corrupt political career’ after retirement. It is in this sense that we can understand why budget padding (bogus budgetary estimates) in many Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) has continued to recur over the years in our governance system. 

Let us specifically look at the case of a governor aspiring to be a senator to see how impunity reigns supreme. This aspiration appears to be one of the easiest for many of them since being ‘emperors’ in their various states, they are able to dominate and whip every one into line to achieve their ambition. Many governors use state resources with impunity to achieve their goal and even help their political parties without restraints. Sometimes, the serving governor completing a second term will swap position with a serving senator. However, if the senator had already been a governor, then there would be serious clash of political interests between the two. The bottom line is the inordinate desire to remain or continue in power. Think of the impunity with which some of these ‘big’ politicians want to retain their seats in the Senate (for example) even when they did not contest for the primaries of their parties. Yet, they and their parties fail to realise that this act is one of the worst forms of corruption as those who manipulate the electoral process (which is outright corruption) can hardly deliver good governance no matter their hypocritical pretenses. 

An aspect of the portraits of these corrupt politicians is that they appropriate a sense of entitlement that makes them assume that political office or the seat they occupy is for them for life. The rising trend now is for some of them to create a dynasty where their family members will take over from them and continue to perpetuate corruption in governance. And one of the reasons for this is that they (or through their surrogates) want to remain in public office to be able to cover or protect their past corrupt dealings. Like a revolving chair, a good number of them have moved from PDP to APC and back to PDP, and again a few back to APC or to any other party that provides them a platform to pursue their ambition. Furthermore, some governors elected in one party abandoned their party and moved to another party just because of selfish political ambition, which however they hypocritically rationalise as protecting the interest of their people. 

Over the years, these politicians have continued to buy electoral votes from the gullible masses or from political party delegates without minding how much it takes to buy the votes. Vote-buying (or vote inducement) is gradually but dangerously becoming ‘normal’ during elections. This is how we arrived at the ‘dollarisation’ of the electoral process during the recent primaries of the two dominant parties. And again, the just concluded governorship election in Ekiti State (on June 18, 2022) demonstrate that there is no saint in these dominant parties and regrettably the smaller parties are following their footsteps. It is against this background therefore that the two dominant political parties have come to be synonymous with corruption because the dramatis personae are the same as they go through the same process.    

The portraits painted above can apply to the elected councilors who aspire to higher political offices such as local government chairmen etc. It also apply to members of State House of Assembly, or to members of the National Assembly etc. And again, the portraits apply when a person is appointed as a state commissioner from where he begins to accumulate resources through corrupt enrichment and subsequently aspire to higher elective political office. At whichever stage one gets recruited into political office, the mentality is the same – accumulate more funds to enable one compete with political opponents. The real competition among political opponents, starts first with the misappropriation of public funds for he who embezzles more will be able to deploy more of the ill-gotten wealth to win election which is the second level of the competition. Unfortunately, Nigerians ignorantly see the person who has more money as a smart politician. Some admirably call such politicians as master political strategists. Yet, all that the corrupt politicians did, was to outsmart the others in stealing public funds, and then deploying such resources to buy votes during elections.  

Show me one innocent or naïve politician who started with little resources, and I will show you his portraits as one who has stolen humongous public funds. How many of these big politicians have factories for manufacturing products? Even those of them who own a chain of organisations, were able to do so, because they used their positions while in public office to siphon public funds. Today, they can afford to spend millions and billions just to realise their next political ambition, as they are always aiming for higher political positions, unless they are stopped or forced out by circumstances. Does anyone say no to the fact that Nigeria needs a new political culture away from this prevailing corrupt one? Anyone who says no, is certainly a beneficiary of this present corrupt system, and he or she is a real enemy of Nigeria.   

•Prof. Obasi, a public policy expert is of the Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja. Email: nnamdizik@gmail.com