Kleptocracy

It is a crying shame that the Nigerian in a position of privilege steals so much money than he needs, can ever use or easily access! Even with the most lavish lifestyle, no one needs that much money in a lifetime… The question is: Have these monies benefitted the heirs of those who stole them? The answer is a resounding NO!


Stealing is a crime of opportunity, but there must be something that compels a Nigerian, indeed an African to steal what he does not need. It is not a secret that corruption and embezzlement have become celebrated ways of life for Nigerians in positions of trust, in a clime where graft has become endemic. Since oil was discovered in Nigeria, most of the $400 billion earned so far has gone into private pockets. The majority of Nigerians live in abject poverty and the country has little to show for its huge revenue accruals from oil. One can argue that the stealing of public funds has been with us for as long as we have been a republic. However, under the Goodluck Jonathan administration, treasury looting was elevated into a sport. Nigeria was reduced to a Kleptocracy, which is defined as a system “where the government exists to increase the personal wealth and political power of its officials and the ruling class at the expense of the wider population, often with pretence of honest service.” Also, “This type of government corruption is often achieved by the embezzlement of state funds.” Since Jonathan’s exit as president, different levels of grand larceny and outright heist that confound the senses have been uncovered.

Sometimes in 2008, Diezani Alison-Madueke as the minister of Transport took a drive on Lagos-Shagamu-Ore-Benin road for an assessment. In tears, she said, “the Lagos-Shagamu-Ore-Benin Road is a clear picture of Nigerian state abandonment of its responsibility to its citizens. The challenge for us is to act wisely in dealing with this matter. The errors had been made, but I think we can still correct the problem by looking for what will ensure a renewed government relevance not for self-serving or the good of a few but the good of all.” Prior to that, one could assume that she did not travel the route given her position of privilege as a high level professional in the oil industry. Many of us who heard her at the time felt we might be finally getting a breath of fresh air in govenance, and we were full of hope that something good would come from her tenure. We were so wrong! The tears had barely dried when her brand of stealing and conversion started. The Lagos-Shagamu-Ore-Benin is still the death trap it was then, and even worse! What pushed a woman raised in a typical Nigerian middle class background to pull off such a monumental heist on the economy? How much money does a woman need? Was the lure of diamond necklaces, expensive watches, Hermes bags and Louboutin shoes worth the humongous stealing?

What would have happened if Nigeria’s money were invested in roads, telecommunication, airports, hospitals, schools, research institutions, seaports, etc.? What would have happened if the stolen money had gotten ploughed into generating electricity for those living in the villages, towns and cities? What would have happened if the looted funds were used to build water treatment plants to supply Nigerians with clean water? What would have happened if every school has a library with the right kind of books that will enable students to acquire world class knowledge and skills needed to compete in the new global knowledge economy? What would have happened to the national standard of living if the money were invested in aqua ducts, canals, irrigation facilities, silos, tractors and other agricultural inputs to assist farmers, so that they could safeguard Nigeria’s food security? Were the money invested smartly, would it not have reduced Nigeria’s human misery index by raising living standards, reducing infant and maternal mortality, while increasing everyone’s health status and life expectancy?

Is there a genetic disposition to this level of kleptomania? If yes, why is the probability of manifestation so high among the elite? Why are our leaders interested in naked power and not the building of institutions that will elevate Nigeria to its pride of place on the African continent and indeed the world?


Nigeria faces the existential threats of poverty, terrorism, HIV/AIDS, illiteracy and other communicable diseases? Are those in the political class happy when men, women and children die from diseases such as meningitis, as happened recently in Zamfara? Does poverty excite the Nigerian leader and activate the oppressive tendencies in him? Is it that he just does not care? Or that he does not know what development is all about, even as he travels often to countries that are constant evolving and developing their own spaces? If we assume that Nigerian politicans do not know, why are their children schooling and living abroad? Why have they refused to copy every feature and infrastructure that make it easier to do business abroad, instead of stifling businesses in Nigeria and requesting bribes? Do they believe in Nigeria’s capacity to be great? Is there a genetic disposition to this level of kleptomania? If yes, why is the probability of manifestation so high among the elite? Why are our leaders interested in naked power and not the building of institutions that will elevate Nigeria to its pride of place on the African continent and indeed the world?

Nigeria must think! Our political, economic and even cultural leaders get it so wrong everyday, every week, every month, year in, year out! Our leaders have been unable to use our enormous natural resources to build successful economies like those of Dubai, Malaysia and Singapore, who were on the same trajectory as we were at independence. Instead, every effort is geared towards the exportation of commodities and not to their processing, in a manner that adds value to the commodities before being exported. By doing this, they deny our teeming youth the millions of jobs therefrom and the country billions of dollars from the value added services. The Nigerian leader pays lip service to investment in research, science and technology but we all are consumers of the latest cars, mobile phones, laptop computers and electronics. As I write, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASSU) are on indefinite strike. Nigeria refuses to invest in quality education to educate its future leaders within the country but we struggle on individual basis to educate them abroad. What is wrong with us? Is Nigeria’s future guaranteed at this pace?

In this era of high tech monitoring of money to prevent money laundering and terror financing, nothing is hidden! Nigerian leaders should stop stealing the funds they do not need and ultimately cannot access… How much money does a man need? Nigeria is in dire need of selfless and patriotic leaders.


It is a crying shame that the Nigerian in a position of privilege steals so much money than he needs, can ever use or easily access! Even with the most lavish lifestyle, no one needs that much money in a lifetime. Most times, these monies are sheltered in tax heavens in Switzerland, Cayman Islands, etc. The question is: Have these monies benefitted the heirs of those who stole them? The answer is a resounding NO! At the slightest disturbance in the looter’s home country or at his death, the foreign custodians of the looted funds resort to blackmail. “Sorry you can’t access the funds until we clarify some issues”. Within days the funds are fenced and frozen! The foreign banks use these funds to generate profit in their home countries by providing mortgages and loans that Nigerians at home are deprived of. It happened to Abacha. It happened to Ibori, and now to Diezani. The ultimate loser is the ordinary Nigerian.

In this era of high tech monitoring of money to prevent money laundering and terror financing, nothing is hidden! Nigerian leaders should stop stealing the funds they do not need and ultimately cannot access. Most people blame the colonial masters for upsetting our traditional values and introducing some vices into our culture. That is a cheap excuse. We cannot blame colonialism. Malaysia ad nIndia were also colonised but they have removed the shackles of colonialism to build modern societies and are on their way to becoming great. How much money does a man need? Nigeria is in dire need of selfless and patriotic leaders.

Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst writes this weekly column, “Bamidele Upfront” for PREMIUM TIMES. Follow me on Twitter @olufunmilayo