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From the corruption of the past to the stealing of the present


travelsRight now, in South Africa, debate swirls around the relevance of addressing the Corruption of apartheid era political and economic elite in terms of dealing with present day abuse of power and political privilege. Those who call for the recall of corruptions Past are no other than those presently accused of corruption in the present time. To listen to them is to permit diversion of attention to their present criminality. Others insist that the issue is not about dealing with Past thieves to deal with present ones but to deal with theft itself. To understand corruption it is necessary to acknowledge its history openly in our politics and economics. In Nigeria we remember the era of 10 per cent and the creed of those who labour in the political orchard must benefit from the fruits of the orchard. This reasoning seems to account for the first post independence chairman of Nigerian Railways setting up long haulage truck transport system to compete with the Nigerian railways and claim that he was doing nothing criminal.

Once there is an acknowledgement of corruption, there would be the need to allocate blame and consequently, to punish past corruption. Muhammadu Buhari’s corruption war does not even attempt to identify present thieves, never mind punishing them. Thousands of ghost workers were identified and taken out of the salary list. What of the money they stole on the past? What about punishing them for their crime? There was budget padding in the past. By whom? How much did each participant steal from the public through this system? Are the police preparing to take them to court and if found guilty sending them to goal? High profile cases of corruption are falling on the wayside and it is beginning to look like there’s nothing the matter with our system. Yet, in the name of restorative justice the perpetrators of corruption of the past must be punished. Without restorative justice, there is no possibility of justice in the present time.


Corruption makes it impossible to deal a deathblow to poverty the China and Brazil have been able to deal with it. Corruption makes it impossible to attack unemployment head-on the way it should be attacked. All over the country young men and young women, qualified and unqualified crowd the streets of our towns and cities looking vacant and seeking vacancies that do not exist. Corruption perpetuates inequality, seen as the greatest destabiliser of present society.

Corruption of the past needs to be acknowledged, exposed and its perpetrators punished for the sake of restorative justice in the society, the way that Jerry John Rawlings dealt with it in Ghana. Corruption sets up systems alternative to the official system. Towards the end of apartheid in South Africa, the political and economic elite of the racist political order set up systems to burst international sanctions against the regime. They set up structures with which to buy favours all over the world for the apartheid regime. They also organised to fund their dirty tricks campaigns in South Africa. These criminal activities created criminal networks that still exist even as those who run them live on. The networks provide opportunity for a small group of the elite to steal massive sums of money from the fiscus and cart same out of the country to deposit in foreign banks. One of the duties of the post apartheid government should be “to identify and track down culprits of apartheid era corruption, and Return their plunder to the people of South Africa.” Unfortunately, it seems that the governments that have been in South Africa have lacked the political will to do something about these culprits. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which Nelson Mandela set up did not include looking into the economic crimes of the apartheid era corruption. Even when a report entitled “Apartheid Grand Corruption” was produced in 2006, nothing was done.


In Nigeria where the corruption of the British colonial government is often alluded to, not much has done systematically to exposed its mode of behaviour and what the Nigerian politicians of the post independence era learnt from them in terms of corruption. In one area at least the British colonial government corrupt practice refuses to desert us. The British colonial government lied about the population of Nigeria. Every successive postcolonial government has lied about the population of the country. Today, we cannot say, pato, that this is number of the people who live in Nigeria. Nigerian leadership is characterised by political cowardice, economic brigandage and moral turpitude. As such nobody can take the political decision to call an end to the economic destruction of the country and so claim some moral high ground.

Corruption needs to be seen as a continuity from our past. During the period from 1960 to 1966 we did not have a golden period. One set of politicians ganged up against a smaller but far more visionary group and ran them to ground. It is difficult not to remember what a lady going out with an optimistic young Nigerian in 1959 said to her man: your optimism is baseless because of the crooks and thieves and the plain idiots who will come into power and will steal and plunder the resources of the country as the colonialists had done.

Some totally unprepared young majors armed with only their anger against the politicians did some selective killing and surrendered political power to an even less prepared senior officers. The rest is the tragic history in which the armed forces destroyed our physical infrastructure and scattered our moral infrastructure fragile as it was. Into these two periods of political inability was heaped the 16-year era of PDP and unaccountability and audacity of thieving. Governments arrogantly claim that God gave them power and the people are not to demand explanations from the politicians. Those who steal are persuaded to return some change to the fiscus and everything would be forgotten. If the example of South Africa is anything to go by, those accused of present corruption will be condemned by the corruptions of the past.

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corruptionNelson Mandela
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