Political Corruption in Nigeria: The Past, Present & Future


It is often said that corruption is endemic in Nigeria but has the narrative always been the same since the ages past?

In this post, we take a look at how corruption has evolved over the years in the country.

Political Corruption in Nigeria: The Past, Present & Future

Pre-Independence and the First Republic

Prior to independence, corruption was evident in the country but it was kept at manageable levels up until the First Republic.

The first political figure to be investigated for questionable practices was Nnamdi Azikiwe in 1944. At that time, it was said that a firm that could be traced to Azikiwe had just bought a bank in Lagos and the reason behind the procurement was to strengthen local control of the financial industry.

However, it would later be discovered that Azikiwe had resigned as chairman of the bank although it was still claimed that the chairman at that time was his agent.

Also, in western Nigeria, Adegoke Adelabu, a popular politician at that time was investigated following charges of political corruption leveled against him by the opposition. The report led to the demand for his resignation as district council head.

In the Northern region, against the backdrop of corruption allegations leveled against some native authority officials in Bornu. The Northern Government enacted the Customary Presents order to forestall any further breach of regulations. Later on, it was the British administration that was accused of corrupt practices in the results of elections which enthroned a Fulani political leadership in Kano, reports later linking the British authorities to electoral irregularities were discovered.

Gowon Administration

Between August 1966 and July 1975 during the Gowon administration, corruption was kept under wraps up until 1975 when some informed officials voiced concerns and expressly indicated that Gowon’s governors acted like lords overseeing their personal fiefdom. The Head of State was viewed as timid as he couldn’t control the corrupt elements in his government.

In 1975, a corruption scandal surrounding the importation of cement engulfed many officials of the defense ministry and the central bank of Nigeria. Officials were later accused of falsifying ships manifestos and inflating the amount of cement to be purchased.

Also, during this administration, two individuals from the middle belt of the country were accused of corruption but since the Nigerian government controlled the newspapers, so the Daily Times and the New Nigerian gave great publicity to denunciations of the administration of Gomwalk, and Federal Commissioner Joseph Tarka by the two critics.

Murtala administration (1975 – February 1976)

The administration of Murtala Mohammed was able to battle corruption by making reformist changes. This government sacked a large number of prior government officials and civil servants, many of whom had been criticized for the misuse of power they wielded under the largely uneducated military of Gowon.

Obasanjo administration (February 1976 – September 1979)

The Obasanjo administration continued the good work of the Muritala Mohammed administration and was focused on completing the transition program to democracy, as well as implementing the national development plans.

The administration launched major projects such as the building of refineries, pipelines, expanding the national shipping and airlines as well as hosting FESTAC. However, there were insinuations that these national projects were conduits to distribute favors and enrich connected politicians.

The famous Afrobeat musician, Fela Kuti, sang variously about major scandals involving the international telecommunication firm ITT led by Chief MKO Abiola in Nigeria, which the then Head of State, Gen Olusegun Obasanjo was associated with. Also, the Operation Feed the Nation Program, and the associated land grab under the Land Use Decree implemented by the then Head of State was used as conduits to reward cronies. It was also reported that Obasanjo’s Otta Farm was a project that was borne out of this scandal.

Shagari Administration (October 1979 – December 1983)

Corruption was quite widespread during the administration of Shehu Shagari. Interestingly, some of the federal buildings under investigation for misappropriation of funds mysteriously caught fire after investigators started to probe the finances of the officials working in the buildings.

In 1981, a rice shortage led to accusations of corruption against the NPN government. Shortages and subsequent allegations were precipitated by protectionism. After its election, the Nigerian government decided to protect local rice farmers from imported commodities. A licensing system was created to limit rice imports. However, accusations of favoritism and government-supported speculation were leveled against many officials.

Buhari Administration (December 1983 – August 1985)

The Buhari Administration was involved in fighting corrupt practices but this government was short-lived as it was overthrown by Ibrahim Babangida.

Babangida Administration (August 1985 – August 1993)

The regime of General Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) was said to be a period when the corruption was legalized in Nigeria. The IBB administration was particularly known for its failure to give an account of the Gulf War windfall, which has been estimated to be $12.4 billion.

Also, it was the IBB regime that annulled the only successful election in the history of Nigeria in June 12, 1993.

Abacha Administration (Nov 1993 – June 1998)

Corruption continued under General Sani Abacha and when he died, it was revealed that bribes were paid to government officials to ease the award of a gas plant construction in Nigeria revealed the level of official graft in the country.

It was the result of this investigation that led to the freezing of accounts containing about $100 million.

In 2000, the Swiss banking Commission report also indicted Swiss banks for failing to follow compliance process when they allowed Abacha’s family and friends of access to his accounts and to deposit amounts totaling $600 million US dollars into them. The same year, a total of more than $1 billion US dollars were found in various accounts throughout Europe.

Abdusalami Administration (June 1998 – May 1999)

The government of Gen. Abdusalami was short and focused on transiting the country quickly to democracy. Albeit, the suspicion remains that quite a huge of wealth was acquired by him and his inner circle in such short period, as he lives in an exquisite mansion of his own adjacent IBB’s that exceeds whatever he might have earned in legitimate income.

Obasanjo administration (May 1999 – May 2007)

There were several corruption scandals during Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency. For instance, it was revealed that the vice President at that time, Atiku Abubakar was caught in cahoots with a US Congressman stashing cold hard cash (literally) in freezers. Also, there were the KBR and Siemens bribery scandals which also broke out under this administration.

Umaru Musa Yar’Adua administration (May 2007 – May 2010)

Yaradua spent a short time as President nonetheless some corruption scandals from previous administrations came to light under his tenure and went uninvestigated due to lack of political will and poor health.

Goodluck Jonathan administration (2010–2015)

In 2014, Nigeria’s rank improved from 143rd to the 136th position on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. However, in late 2013, the Central Bank governor at that time, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi informed President Goodluck Jonathan that the state oil company, NNPC, had failed to remit US$20 billion in oil revenues owed to the state.

The President dismissed this claim and replaced Sanusi for his mismanagement of the central bank’s budget. When the audit of the NNPC’s account was concluded, it was revealed that the NNPC’s non-remitted revenue is actually US$1.48 billion. However, the PwC and Deloitte report which was released at the end of the Goodluck Jonathan tenure revealed that the unremitted revenue was truly close to $20 billion.

Buhari administration (2015–2019)

Currently, President Buhari is fighting hard to end corruption in the country. Although, many Nigerians think the fight is one-sided as it seems the President turns a blind eye to members of his party that have corruption scandals trailing them.


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