Beforehe died in 2015, the late Professor Stephen Ellis wrote his last book titled‘This Present Darkness: A History of Nigerian Organised Crime’. Going throughthis book left me with several thoughts, most of them unpleasant.
Itis a fascinating read covering, not just organised crime, but the evolution ofthe Nigerian state (or maybe they are the same thing?).
Atany rate, I want to share 8 random things I found interesting in the book and Iwill leave you to draw your own conclusions.
1.In 1947, late Chief Obafemi Awolowo wrote that “Corruption is the greatestdefect of the Native Court system.” He complained that not only did judges takebribes, people used their connections to enrich themselves and avoid punishmentfor their crimes. He also wrote that in the north, a new Emir always removedall the people appointed by the previous Emir and replaced them with his ownpeople. He wrote all these as a complaint against the Indirect Rule systemfavoured by the British.
2.In 1922, the Colonial Secretary in London, one Winston Churchill, wrote toNigeria’s Governor General at the time, Sir Hugh Clifford, asking him to bancertain types of letters called ‘Charlatanic correspondences’. This was becauseJ.K Macgregor who was Headmaster of Hope Waddell Institute for 36 years, haddiscovered hundreds of letters written and received by his students orderingall sorts of books, charms and even potions from England, America and India inparticular. Most of the charms were nonsense and the students were invariablyasked to send more money if they wanted more powerful ones. A total of 2,855such letters were intercepted by the Posts & Telegraph Department between1935 and 1938.
3.In 1939, a Nigerian businessman based in Ghana named Prince Eikeneh, wrote tothe colonial government in Nigeria complaining about the number of Nigeriangirls who were coming to Ghana to work as sex workers. He said the girls wereusually taken there by a Warri-based Madam named ‘Alice’ who told the girlsthey were going to learn a trade or get married. He concluded that the tradewas very well-organised and profitable for the ring leaders.
4.In 1950, AbubakarTafewa Balewa said ‘the twin curses of bribery and corruptionpervade every rank and department of government’. At that time, the word‘awoof’ was already being used to describe how civil servants used theirpositions to enrich themselves. In 1952, an anti-corruption campaigner namedEyo A. Akak complained that Nigerians were abandoning farming for trade due tomaterialism and consumerism. He said that every ex-serviceman now wanted to owna Raleigh bicycle before going back to his village while every civil servantwanted to own a car. He even blamed women (partly) for this because all of themonly wanted to marry rich men.
5.In 1959, there were 60,000 school graduates in the Western Region. By thefollowing year, the number had increased to 200,000. However, this led to a nowfamiliar problem. By 1963, primary education was turning out 180,000 graduatesa year but only 80,000 of them could find jobs, according to the RegionalMinister of Finance. The same minister also said he was ‘looking for a methodto crackdown on school principals who were collecting money from students for avariety of services’.
6.In 1968, a Polish-British sociologist named Stanislav Andreski coined the term‘kleptocracy’ to describe the system of government he found in Nigeria. He said‘Nigeria is the most perfect example of kleptocracy since power itself rests onthe ability to bribe’.
7.In 1975, a report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the shortage ofpetroleum products found that a lot of the petrol being imported into Nigeria(due to the inability of the Port-Harcourt refinery to meet local demand) wasbeing smuggled to Chad and Niger Republic. As soon as NNPC was formed, peopleswarmed around it and all sorts of people got crude oil lifting contracts. TheUS Embassy in Paris reported in 1973 that a random American walked into theEmbassy and showed them a contract he had to lift 2 million tons of Nigeriancrude oil. He told the Embassy that ‘a great deal of under the table paymentswere taking place in Nigeria to obtain crude oil’.
8.Around 1979, a British bank, Johnson Matthey collaborated with the Central Bankof Nigeria to export huge amounts of forex from Nigeria on behalf ofpoliticians like AlhajiUmaruDikko in contravention of foreign exchangecontrols. The bank later collapsed due to unsecured loans to Nigeria and had tobe bailed out by the Bank of England with £100m in 1984 – the first time theBank of England had ever rescued a private bank in British history. It also ledto the passing of the Insolvency Act by Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1986.One of the directors of the bank, Vasant Advani, ran to Nigeria in 1986 butreturned to the UK in 2008 for treatment when he was diagnosed with cancer. In2011, at the age of 67, he was sentenced to 16 months in prison for the fraudthat brought down that bank. No official on the Nigerian side, to the best ofmy knowledge, was ever convicted.
Whatdo these stories tell us? Is Nigeria hopeless or cursed? Can things everchange? Have we always been this way or is it a recent thing?
Theanswer is what you say it is.