Nigeria, the country with the highest black population in the world, and the most populated African country on the continent, was once the lighthouse of the whole continent. Other African countries looked up to Nigeria for support to tackle their internal crisis on economic, political and security challenges. To show how pivotal the country was to the African continent, few years after gaining independence from the British, Nigerian army contingent was sent to Congo for a United Nations Peace Mission operation. The impact of the country’s first all-indigenous army officers and men at the operation was well applauded, and it put Nigeria’s defence on the world map.
To show its relevance and influence on the continent across the globe, Nigeria in the 1970s, officially made Africa the centre piece of its foreign policy. But the foundation to this commitment had been laid in the 1960s when the late Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, said that Nigeria belongs to Africa and Africa must take the first attention in Nigeria’s foreign relations. This was not only a verbal or political commitment; it was backed up with actions that were recognized internationally. To make it work, the country established cordial relationship with all African states, provided technical aid and expertise to other African countries, resolved conflicts in various African countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone, and many other progressive impacts.
While the countries that have enjoyed Nigeria’s benevolence and its big brother attention have moved on to develop their nations for better positioning in the outer world, Nigeria is left behind to battle its internal crisis and struggles to find its feet and position in the comity of nations. It is unfortunate that a country that had hovered over the continent and shown to be the beacon of Africa’s emancipation and the black population across the world, is now crippled with corruption, electoral malpractices, misappropriation of public funds, policy summersault, insurgency and terrorism. Today, Nigeria has one of the highest numbers of poor persons in the world.
According to the World Poverty Clock, an online data tool that provides real-time poverty data across countries, Nigeria has 70 million people living in extreme poverty. This figure is the combined population of not less than five West African countries.
How did the country with high hopes and influences find itself in this debacle?
Nigeria as a country is grappling to exert influence and patriotism from Nigerians. However, before independence and ever since Nigeria became free from colonialism, most Nigerians rather than pay full allegiance to the country, would rather submit their allegiance to their ethnic group and religion. This is no doubt the major challenge facing the country’s development. Occupants of public officers see the position as an opportunity to syphon public fund for their personal use and inordinate ambition. They run and operate the office based on tribal biases and nepotism.
These nefarious acts are aggravated by politicians. In 2019, Chatham House, a think-tank group based in the United Kingdom, said an estimated $582 billion has been stolen from Nigeria since independence in 1960. Also, the British International Corruption Unit said it confiscated $117 million loot from Nigeria between 2006 and 2019.
In 2021, the Federal Government said it recovered over $700 million stolen funds stuffed in foreign countries. These recovered funds were recovered between 2018 and 2021. The Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, said the funds were recovered from the United Kingdom, Bailiwick of Jersey, Switzerland, and Ireland. He said the country is working with international partners and other countries to ensure that Nigeria’s assets that are identified are recovered.
Also, between 1998 and 2020, Nigeria recovered a total of $3.6 billion allegedly stolen by the late former military Head of State, General Sani Abacha. Since the sudden death of the late tyrant, Nigeria have been recovering hidden funds linked to the military dictator from different countries across the world. During the regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar, before the military handed over to civilian government, $750 million was recovered by the government. Under the President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, $1.2 billion was recovered in 2002, $149 million was recovered from New Jersey Island in 2003, $500 million was recovered from Switzerland and another $458 was recovered in 2005 from Switzerland.
During the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, $1 billion was recovered in 2012 and $380 million in 2015, both tranches from Switzerland. The administration also recovered $227 million from Liechtenstein in 2014 and $48 million from the United States of America.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s Administration in 2017 recovered $322 million from Switzerland and $311 million from Jersey Island in 2020. Just last August, the administration signed a fresh agreement with the United States for the return of $23 million looted by the late general. The US ambassador to Nigeria, Beth Leonard, said the looted fund was in United Kingdom accounts but was identified and frozen by US officials.
She said that the US government had agreed to repatriate more than $334.7 million linked to the late General Abacha. Although the Attorney General, Abubakar Malami, assured that the repatriated fund would be used for infrastructure projects across the country, there are fears that the recovered funds are being relooted by government officials, especially those entrusted with the fund.
Last month, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) requested a copy of the agreement signed between the Federal Government and the United States for the repatriation of the $23 million stolen by the late dictator. SERAP in a letter signed by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, said, “By the combined reading of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended), the Freedom of Information Act, and the country’s international obligations, there are transparency obligations imposed on your government to widely publish the agreement on the $23 million Abacha loot”.
The group said that providing it with a copy of the agreement with the US would allow Nigerians to scrutinize it and monitor the spending of the repatriated $23 million recovered loot to ensure that the money is not mismanaged, diverted or stolen. The group said that the repatriated fund is vulnerable to corruption and mismanagement.
Abacha is not the only one, either living or dead, whose looted fund is being recovered. A former governor of oil-rich Delta State, James Ibori, was in 2012 convicted in the United Kingdom of money laundering. The UK prosecutors said he stole an estimated $165m from the state coffers. His wife, sister and fiduciary agent also forfeited 4.2 million pounds and were convicted of money laundering.
Ibori was arrested in Dubai in 2010 and extradited to the UK to face charges of money laundering. He was convicted on 10 counts of fraud worth a total of nearly 50 million pounds in 2012.
A former governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, could not complete his tenure as a two-term governor of the state. He was detained in London in 2005 on charges of money laundering. When he was arrested, the Metropolitan police found about 1 million pounds cash in his London home. During investigation, a total of $3.2 million was found in cash and his bank accounts. Four houses in London worth 10 million pounds were also traced to him.
In 2017, a former Governor of Adamawa State, James Ngilari, was sentenced to five years in prison. He was accused and convicted for violating the Public Procurement Act of the state by awarding contract for the procurement of 25 vehicles for his commissioners at the cost of N167 million without following due process.
In 2013, six federal officials bagged two-year jail term for stealing N32.8 billion of police pension fund. One of the convicted officials, John Yakubu Yusuf, a former Assistant Director, was tried on a 20-count charge alongside Atiku Abubakar Kigo, a Permanent Secretary, Ahmed Inuwa Wade, Veronica Onyegbula and Sani Habila Zira. Yusuf was convicted after pleading guilty to betraying trust and fraudulently converting N2 billion of police pension funds to private use.
In 2020, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), not satisfied with the judgement, re-arrested him in Gombe state. After a long back and forth in the court of law that stretched to the apex court in the country, the judgement of the Court of Appeal which sentenced Yakubu to six years imprisonment was upheld by the Supreme Court, and he was also ordered to refund N22.9 billion to the Federal Government.
When people of the world engage in unwholesome act like that, one would have thought that it is limited to them since they are of the world. In John 15:19, Jesus told his disciples that they are not of the world and as such, they are expected to exhibit characters completely different from the world. Christians are supposed to be light in a world full of darkness (Matthew 5:14). It is however worrisome that some children of light allowed the oil in their lamp run low.
There have been several cases of Christians who compromised their faith while occupying public offices in the country. They allowed the allure of the world and the pressure from unbelievers to weight them into unholy acts.
In 2007, former Governor of Taraba State, Rev. Jolly Nyame, was charged by the EFCC for fraud of N1.64 billion committed while in office. The EFCC slammed him with a forty-one-count charge of fraud and in the same year, the former governor who was an ordained Reverend in the United Methodist Church of Nigeria admitted to misappropriating N180 million out of the N250 million meant for stationaries in the state. He offered to return the said amount to the coffers of the state.
Eleven years after he was charged for these corrupt practices, Nyame was convicted by the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. He was also ordered to refund the funds he diverted. Although, he was granted state pardon in April, 2022, his act as a church leader in government speak less of what is expected of the children of Light.
Also, in the church of God, the so-called spiritual leaders engage in financial recklessness. In 2021, a pastor of Winners Chapel bagged a three-year jail term in Lagos for stealing $90,000 and N4.5 million belonging to the registered trustees of the church.
In 2016, a pastor, Onyenweaku Chibunnam, was arrested in Abia State for alleged car theft. He was said to be the founder of a new generation church, Assembly of the Redeemed, in Ohafia. He was linked to a car robbery syndicate in Amaekpu-Ohafia area of the state.
When Chibunnam was arrested by an angry mob and vigilante group, items like several vehicle license plates and car keys were found in his possession. Nemesis caught up with the said pastor when he was alleged to have been caught while trying to steal a Toyota Camry in the state.
The said pastor and his accomplices confessed to have stolen six cars and sold them. Chibunnam said he used the money from the crime to fund his church.
The founder of the Living Faith Church, also known as Winners Chapel, Bishop David Oyedepo, had in 2020 said the church dismissed some church leaders and administrators for stealing church funds. He said, “We had no choice but to dismiss them. You can imagine top church officials engaging in doubling figures and other dubious practices. After we dismissed them, we discovered more fraud. Those who should discover the fraud were the ones involved in it. One of them refused to confess until the last minute. Can you imagine accountants perpetrating fraud in the house of God?”
In 2017, former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, lamented that the activities of church leaders are contributing to the rampart cases of corruption across the country. “There is no doubt that all our institutions have been tarnished by the brush of corruption,” he said.
He said further that, “if the Church as an institution does not take bribe or get involved in other corrupt practices, the behaviour of some of our men of God leaves much to be desired. They not only celebrate but venerate those whose sources of wealth are questionable. They accept gifts (offering) from just anybody without asking questions. This gives the impression that anything is acceptable in the house of God.
“But if Jesus can chase out those buying and selling from the temple with the declaration that, ‘My house shall be called the house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves,’ then it is time to stand up against corruption,” he challenged them.
A public affairs analyst, Jide Ojo, in his submission in one of his articles said that “it is the environment that promotes corruption that we need to deal with in order to win the war against this cankerworm, which has exposed our citizens to international opprobrium. Once the atmosphere for self-actualisation pervades the country with ordinary citizens being able to afford the basic things of life, namely, food, clothing and shelter without stress, majority of the citizens will shun corruption and embrace decent life.”
Proffering solution to fighting corruption in Nigeria, the Senior Pastor of Day Star Ministries, Pastor Sam Adeyemi, said, “we have prayed enough, now I think we teach our members the rudiments of leadership, what makes a nation prosper, and the adverse effect of corruption in our society and nation; so that when they become leaders tomorrow, we can have peace.”
Can we continue to dwell in sin and expect the grace of God to abound? “God forbid,” was what Apostle Paul said. 62 years after independence, Nigeria is far from what her founding fathers want her to be. The Church, politicians, civil and public servants have all conspired to reap the country of her glory. While the country needs these tripods to recover, as we celebrate the 62nd independence anniversary, the need to retrace our steps as a country to the path of greatness has never been as urgent as it is at the moment.
We must bequeath to the younger generation and posterity, a new Nigeria filled with hope, a good today, and a better future.