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  • Post last modified:July 14, 2020
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The unfolding mega financial corruption scandal involving the suspended Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, currently rocking the nation is a metaphor for the brazen looting of the nation’s treasury that has been going on since after its independence from the British colonial masters in 1960. Interestingly, widespread corruption and brazen treasury looting was the primary reason the military gave for seizing power from the first civilian administration after independence in the first coup de tat of 1966. 

Since then subsequent military regimes used that same reason as an excuse to overthrow civilian administrations. However, those military interventions failed woefully to solve the nation’s corruption problem, instead, they worsened the problem. The military simply joined in the treasury looting fray as its officials helped themselves to huge chunks of loots from the nation’s treasury.

Not a few Nigerians would argue that it was the military that institutionalized treasury looting in Nigeria. And to buttress their argument, they would readily point to the regular discovery and recovery of Abacha loots more than two decades after the man died in office.

Gen. Sani Abacha, who presided over the nation as military Head of State from 1993 to 1998, took treasury looting to a whole new height.

It is believed that he orchestrated and perpetrated one of the most brazen and grand scale treasury looting schemes in the nation’s history. To date, monies he stashed away in foreign banks are still being recovered. 

But some Nigerians argue that the discovery and recovery of Abacha’s loots are only possible because he is dead and gone. They believe that they are many living politicians who have looted or are looting much more than Abacha did. Their loots, they say, have not been uncovered because they are alive to cover their tracks.

Unfortunately, since the nation’s return to civilian rule, the story of treasury looting has worsened even though the Obasanjo administration established the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to fight the scourge.

EFCC building
The EFCC headquarter building in Abuja, Nigeria

That move led to a few high profile prosecutions and incarceration of treasury looters even from among serving public officials.

But now, unlike in the past when only those officials at the very top echelon of power perpetrated the crime, treasury looting has become so widespread that it seems like a free-for-all affair. Unscrupulous government officials at all levels have perfected the nefarious act of helping themselves to the nation’s commonwealth. Political office holders now own multiple expensive properties at home and abroad. In recent times, Dubai has become their destination of choice to purchase properties.

During the Goodluck Jonathan administration, Nigerians were treated to sordid tales of unmitigated treasury looting. The cases involving the then Petroleum Minister, Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke, and that involving the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, among many others, headlined treasuring looting in the Jonathan era.

Dasuki reportedly misappropriated $2.1 billion meant for the purchase of arms and military hardware to fight the Boko Haram terrorist group which was running riot in the northeast of the country. He is still answering for crimes in the courts.

The then opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) took full advantage of the situation as it constantly called out the Jonathan administration and put it on the defensive over allegations of treasury look. The party then launched the change mantra around which it crafted its electioneering campaign. The APC promised among many other lofty things, to decisively fight corruption and treasury looting. That singular promise earned the party lots of followings across the country.

Many Nigerians particularly trusted the person and character of the party’s then Presidential candidate, General Muhammad Buhari (Rtd).

Muhammadu Buhari
Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari

They believed that given his military background, his antecedents as a former military Head of State, and his much-touted stance against treasury looting, he would deal a mortal blow on the treasury looting scourge.

Riding on the back of its change mantra the APC became the first opposition party to defeat an incumbent party in a Presidential election in Nigeria’s chequered political history.

But the administration had hardly settled down to business when sordid stories of financial corruption and treasury looting began to filter into the ears of Nigerians who had hoped that such things would be not be heard in the Buhari administration.

The very first case involved a very ranking figure in the Presidency, the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir David Lawal.

An ad-hoc committee set up by the Senate to investigate the activities of the Presidential Initiative for the North East (PINE), following complaints from the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in the northeast uncovered some fraudulent transactions involving a company, Rholavision Nigeria Ltd, owned by the SGF.Former SGF, Babachir Lawal

The company was awarded a phantom contract worth N200 million to clear unwanted plants along water channels in Yobe State. The company never executed the contract. PINE is a government initiative to rebuild the northeast following years of destruction by Boko Haram terrorists.

Following the allegations, the civil rights community mounted intense pressure on the President to sack the SGF. But it took the President many months to do so even after the Yemi Osinbajo-led panel which investigated the allegation had submitted its report to him.

Since then reports after reports of cases of brazen treasury looting involving very high-level government functionaries continue to assail the ears and eyes of Nigerian ever so frequently.

In one of such cases scandal, very senior officials of the administration secretly facilitated the return of the former head of the Task Force on Pension Reforms, Abdulrasheed Maina, from self-imposed exile.

The reinstated him into the civil service with a double promotion to boot. All this happened reportedly without the President’s knowledge.

Maina had allegedly helped himself to a N2-billion bounty from the pension funds he was in charge of during the Goodluck Jonathan administration. On discovering this mind-blowing plunder of the nation’s treasury, President Jonathan dismissed him from office to face prosecution for his crimes, but he fled the country to escape justice. Unfortunately, since the whole matter came to the fore, none of the officials involved in the scandal has been brought to book.

It is sad to say that that has been the story of the Buhari administration with regards to fighting corruption and treasuring looting especially when senior cabinet members of the administration are involved. Cases of such reluctance about taking decisive actions against treasury looters among top functionaries of the administration abound as evidence to back this assertion.

The former SGF, Babachir Lawal, who was reluctantly relieved of his appointment and is standing trial for alleged corrupt dealings, was at the 2018 launch of President Buhari’s re-election campaign group at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa.

The late Chief of Staff (COS) to the President, Mal. Abba Kyari, who was fingered in a 500 million naira bribery scandal, retained his position until his death.

Abba Kyari
Abba Kyari

Mal. Kyari allegedly took the bribe from telecoms operator, MTN, to help facilitate a reduction on the $5 billion fine the company had incurred for failing to adhere to the Nigerian Communication Commission’s regulations regarding SIM registration. The government refused to disclose the report of the Presidential panel set up to investigate the allegation against him to the public.

In 2017, the EFCC announced the discovery of a huge cash booty hidden away in an Ikoyi apartment in Lagos following a tip-off. The cash haul comprised $43m, £27,800, and 23.2m.

Ikoyi cash hall
A bag of the Ikoyi cash haul

The Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ayodele Oke, eventually stepped forward to claim the cash as the property of his agency after many speculations about its ownership.

Mr. Oke was later dismissed from the office.

Lower-ranking officers in government parastatals are not left out in the looting spree. The Senate committee on public accounts disclosed some time ago that 85 parastatals have failed to submit their audit reports since the inception of the Buhari administration.

So much looting has been going on in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) as the organization has been repeatedly violating the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy of the government without repercussions.

NNPC Building

The organization has failed to remit huge amounts of monies into the nation’s treasury on several occasions. The amounts so far reported at different times include $223, $2 million, $629 million, and $16.8 billion lodged in different banks instead of the Central Bank which the TSA policy stipulates. Incidentally, President Buhari doubles as the Minister of Petroleum Resources.

This latest treasury looting scandal involving the famed anti-corruption Czar and former Acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, should have been avoided had the President heeded the advice to dismiss him from office much earlier.

The Senate rejected the President’s nomination of Ibrahim Magu for the office of Chairman of EFCC twice following damning security reports the Department of State Security (DSS) submitted to it on its request. After the first rejection, the President nominated him again the second time. Upon the second rejection, the President chose to retain Ibrahim Magu in the position for 5 years in an acting capacity, much against all sound judgment.

Meanwhile, even as the Ibrahim Magu case simmers, there is another case of mindboggling treasury looting brewing at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) involving the Minister of Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio and top-ranking officials of the commission.

Godswill Akpabio
Minister of Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio

While the government officials continue to loot the nation’s treasury, the nation is left to suffer like a woman repeatedly raped, brutalized, and abandoned to suffer her unfortunate fate. Like her attackers would walk away free and boast of their conquest, the nation’s treasury looters walk away free and live large—flaunting their filthy lucre in our faces, while the rest of the nation is left to wallow in penury.

In 2017, Brookings Institute reported that Nigeria had overtaken India as the poverty capital of the world. The institute based its findings on the World Poverty Clock. According to the World Bank report of 2018, nearly half of the nation’s population lives in abject poverty. Some economic research organizations have indicated that the figure is as high as 69%.

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