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This present darkness


Unemployed youth

Before he died in 2015, the late Professor Stephen Ellis wrote his last book titled ‘This Present Darkness: A History of Nigerian Organised Crime’. Going through this book left me with several thoughts, most of them unpleasant.

It is a fascinating read covering, not just organised crime, but the evolution of the Nigerian state (or maybe they are the same thing?). At any rate, I want to share 8 random things I found interesting in the book and I will leave you to draw your own conclusions.

1. In 1947, late Chief Obafemi Awolowo wrote that “Corruption is the greatest defect of the Native Court system.” He complained that not only did judges take bribes, people used their connections to enrich themselves and avoid punishment for their crimes. He also wrote that in the north, a new Emir always removed all the people appointed by the previous Emir and replaced them with his own people. He wrote all these as a complaint against the Indirect Rule system favoured by the British.

2. In 1922, the Colonial Secretary in London, one Winston Churchill, wrote to Nigeria’s Governor General at the time, Sir Hugh Clifford, asking him to ban certain types of letters called ‘Charlatanic correspondences’. This was because J.K Macgregor who was Headmaster of Hope Waddell Institute for 36 years, had discovered hundreds of letters written and received by his students ordering all sorts of books, charms and even potions from England, America and India in particular. Most of the charms were nonsense and the students were invariably asked to send more money if they wanted more powerful ones. A total of 2,855 such letters were intercepted by the Posts & Telegraph Department between 1935 and 1938.

3. In 1939, a Nigerian businessman based in Ghana named Prince Eikeneh, wrote to the colonial government in Nigeria complaining about the number of Nigerian girls who were coming to Ghana to work as sex workers. He said the girls were usually taken there by a Warri-based Madam named ‘Alice’ who told the girls they were going to learn a trade or get married. He concluded that the trade was very well-organised and profitable for the ring leaders.

4. In 1950, Abubakar Tafewa Balewa said ‘the twin curses of bribery and corruption pervade every rank and department of government’. At that time, the word ‘awoof’ was already being used to describe how civil servants used their positions to enrich themselves. In 1952, an anti-corruption campaigner named Eyo A. Akak complained that Nigerians were abandoning farming for trade due to materialism and consumerism. He said that every ex-serviceman now wanted to own a Raleigh bicycle before going back to his village while every civil servant wanted to own a car. He even blamed women (partly) for this because all of them only wanted to marry rich men.

5. In 1959, there were 60,000 school graduates in the Western Region. By the following year, the number had increased to 200,000. However, this led to a now familiar problem. By 1963, primary education was turning out 180,000 graduates a year but only 80,000 of them could find jobs, according to the Regional Minister of Finance. The same minister also said he was ‘looking for a method to crackdown on school principals who were collecting money from students for a variety 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 on the ability to bribe’.

7. In 1975, a report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the shortage of petroleum 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) was being smuggled to Chad and Niger Republic. As soon as NNPC was formed, people swarmed around it and all sorts of people got crude oil lifting contracts. The US Embassy in Paris reported in 1973 that a random American walked into the Embassy and showed them a contract he had to lift 2 million tons of Nigerian crude oil. He told the Embassy that ‘a great deal of under the table payments were taking place in Nigeria to obtain crude oil’.

8.Around 1979, a British bank, Johnson Matthey collaborated with the Central Bank of Nigeria to export huge amounts of forex from Nigeria on behalf of politicians like Alhaji Umaru Dikko in contravention of foreign exchange controls. The bank later collapsed due to unsecured loans to Nigeria and had to be bailed out by the Bank of England with £100m in 1984 – the first time the Bank of England had ever rescued a private bank in British history. It also led to 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 but returned to the UK in 2008 for treatment when he was diagnosed with cancer. In 2011, at the age of 67, he was sentenced to 16 months in prison for the fraud that brought down that bank. No official on the Nigerian side, to the best of my knowledge, was ever convicted.

What do these stories tell us? Is Nigeria hopeless or cursed? Can things ever change? Have we always been this way or is it a recent thing?

I have a simple answer to all of these questions – we don’t take our problems seriously enough. None of our challenges can withstand the power of sustained thinking if we really apply ourselves. But we start by misdiagnosing the problems and then naturally applying the wrong treatment.

As a result, the hand of history remains strong on Nigeria.

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  • The Trib3sman

    When you people set out to campaign for Buhari, did u not know these?

    • IfeanyiIbeh

      Pardon my intrusion but you sound like you only became aware of happenings in Nigeria after President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC came into power, or were all these things you observed from reading the article (that is if you read it from start to finish) not very blatantly obvious during the Goodluck Jonathan era? Please face the message and not the messenger. SMH!

    • Nelson Cole

      My God! Did you read the article at all? A detailed history with timeline of corruption in Nigeria since the 1930s and all you could say is reduced it to Buhari campaign issue? No wonder the Nation is like this! He mentioned that we can not withstand sustain thinking, We reduce every debate to primal level, no deep thought, only ethnic, political and religious biases, too bad!

  • real

    The problem with Nigeria and corruption is the system. The system is build to reward corruption, and then corruption then prevents the prevention of corruption. right now, the people able to fix corruption and those that are being enrich from it. To fight corruption we need a leader that is willing to fight it from all angle. when was the last time any politician was punished for corruption. instead we elect them to higher position, positions which they can now use to prevent their punishment. To fight corruption, the government has to understand that you would not always win the case against corruption itself, however you can still prevent it and punish it. The former national security adviser might be guilty of corruption, however the government has not being able to punish him. however, he is also guilty of other crimes that the government could use to punish him. He is guilty of misuse of public funds. He used funds meant for war against terrorism, but were used for political campaigning. That should land him in jail for a long time.

  • Abia_Man

    This writer voted for a government that promised to sustain and expand the fuel subsidy system of Nigeria, at the time biggest corrupt program of government. Even in UK and USA, their welfare systems are riddled with corruption and fraud, but at least they are far more richer countries. You and others like you don’t speak up when private and community resources are seized in the name of petroleum act enacted by members of outside ethnic nations. If that is not corruption, I don’t know what is. Talk about misdiagnosing problems and applying the wrong treatment.
    At least reach out to the man who reduced corruption in the fertilizer sector, introduced BVN and TSA and started the sovereign wealth fund. Reach out to the guy who risked his life and pogrom for his people to end fuel subsidy. Until then every word and advice you write here is an insult to us and the unemployed youths of Nigeria.

  • Ije Chris-Okafor

    The problem is greed and one-upmanship!

    Anambra State governor claims N1.2bn monthly and his wife N250million monthly from the state’s federal allocation (word on the street). All strategic positions are held by people from Aguleri whether qualified or not.

    Salaries and pensions are owed workers and pensioners respectively.

    There is no new development in Anambra State,only noise about Agriculture for which the funds come from Federal govt.

    Those not in government sit in their homes and intelligently analyse the root cause of the Nigerian problem but if by providence find themselves in a position to make a difference, they are unable to. Why?you may ask. Because they become stifled by a system that is designed not to work. Not to work here means that the human elements in this system who represent the leadership-governors or presidency as may be the case make things difficult for people who want things to be done right.

    The system is driven by policies so any qualified person can be at the helm of affairs. Therefore the reason why unqualified cronies and faithfuls get into such positions is to help circumvent this system if need be, milk it for what it’s worth to enrich themselves, ‘porapos/kporakpos’ and friends of the government.

    So what does the do-gooder do? He tries to do things right for a while, meets stiff resistance all the way and is forced take a decision, choosing from a number of options:

    1. Push too hard and be set up for a fall
    2. Push too hard and never be promoted from your current position
    3. Play the game and get rich
    4. Resign

    Which option do you think the man will go for?
    From our experience of do-gooders in the system, which option do they almost always go for?