The biggest economy in Africa, Nigeria has recently come to the fore as a potential ‘New African’ beacon of long term growth and prosperity. With a rebased gross domestic product in excess of $500 billion, far outstripping South Africa’s $350 billion it’s easy to see how Nigeria may become a new economic powerhouse. From being acknowledged as Africa’s biggest economy to fair, transparent and peaceful elections, the nation is moving progressively as a nascent democracy.
In November 2015 however the firing of Ibrahim Lamorde from his role of Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Nigeria could be interpreted as being indicative of fragility of Nigeria politics particularly in regards to corruption in the oil industry. Nigeria’s claim to be Africa’s biggest economy is seemingly thwarted by daily realities.
In August 2015, Lamorde faced allegations that amount of $5 bn had gone missing at the commission under his stead. Following the allegations, Lamorde when speaking to the BBC noted that the allegations were part of a smear campaign. Smear or not, the allegations naturally have consequences in a country notorious for corruption in the oil industry.
President Buhari elected in March 2015 has promised to clean up Nigerian politics as part of his political platform. President Buhari’s firing of Lamorde therefore can be seen as a means to clean up Nigerian politics or the consolidation of political power. What is apparent about Lamorde’s departure, is its particular familiarity to the firing of his predecessor, Farida Waziri under Former President Jonathan in 2011.
The terms of her dismissal similarly, were amongst allegations of misconduct. Accordingly the Presidential spokesman at the time, Reuden Abiti commented, “The removal of the EFCC chair is part of President Jonathan’s determination to revitalise the fight against corruption.” Due to the relatively short tenures of the Head of the EFCC, rights groups have suggested that the agency has been under the undue influence of politicians.
This brings to question the extent of corruption within the political elite. A report written by Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, a former Executive Chairman of the EFCC in 2012 cited that in a decade approximately $35 bn had been siphoned from inefficiencies and mismanagement within the oil industry. The equivalency in 2012 would have equated to being 10% of the Nigerian government’s annual budget.
When talking about corruption, it is not adequate to stop the discussion at evidence of corruption, rather what is most damning, is the perception of corruption within civic society. As such, there no country according to Transparency International that is immune from some form of corruption within the Corruption perception index.
Nigeria however is ranked 136 out 176 (1 being the least corrupt and 176 the most) in the index. The perception therefore of corruption in the Nigerian state is relatively endemic. This can be seen to more worrisome than actual proven corruption. After spending in a decade in Nigeria, David Jordan Smith argues that the acts of corruption are culturally acceptable if they benefit family and kin. Smith argues that corruption has seeped into every facet of everyday life in a country of extreme inequality.
Here, Smith and Transparency International focus on the destructive power of corruption. Another perception of corruption that is perhaps more pervasive to civic life is the reality of the Nigerian population having to find a way to cope with the new reality and secondly such reality as Smith argues becomes part of everyday life. This was best exemplified by the song ‘I go chop your dollar’ by Kwem Omoh, about advance fee fraud. The comedic nature of the song coupled with its commercial appeal highlight the proposed normalization of corruption as a game to be won by individuals or along lines of family and friends. This idea of practicing acts of corruption for kin and family may seem like an attractive proposition though it inevitably leads to the erosion of the country’s civic spirit and fundamentally weakens State institutions and the state itself.
The dismissal of Ibrahim Lamorde, is testament to this. It can ultimately hold sway and be of symbolic importance if he actually is convicted of behaving in a way not in line with his position. The new President must be able to prove such inconsistencies to increase the perception that corruption was found and the firing was not as such a matter of political manoeuvring, or itself an act of corruption.
As Nigeria has undoubtedly taken the lead in being recognized as the biggest economy on the African continent, the perception of the State is inevitably, at least partially, tied to that of the continent in the international arena. President Buhari now faces his first big challenge, to show Nigerians and the world that corrupt acts shall not be tolerated at any level within the country.
Chiziwiso Pswarayi is currently a Masters in International Relations candidate at the University of Cardiff. Chizi’s interests include Southern African politics and migration issues.
Cover image ‘Nigeria: A Conversation with President Muhannadu Buhari‘ by U.S. Institute of Peace