By Chido Onumah
(This piece is an excerpt from an upcoming book: We are all Biafrans – A Participant-Observer’s Interventions in a Country Sleeping Walking to Disaster.)
I had a few sleepless nights last week. It had nothing to do with the searing heat in the country or the epileptic power supply by Nigeria’s eternally dysfunctional electricity company. My discomfiture had to do with the report about the heist at the Nigerian Air Force. The dizzying allegations of sustained robbery by the officers in charge, though not completely surprising, left me breathless. I ruminated on the trial of Alex Badeh. I reflected on the figures, did the math, and was driven to despair.
I then asked myself the same question I asked a few years ago while researching grand corruption in Nigeria and the looting of the Nigeria Police Force by an ex-Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun. From all accounts, Mr. Balogun was a pathological criminal who rose to become the chief law officer of Nigeria. By the time he was forced to retire in January 2005, he had stolen billions of naira belonging to the Nigeria Police in what would go down as the most barefaced stealing spree by a public officer in Nigeria. The question I posed was: what kind of country or system makes it possible for public officers to loot their establishments so easily, ceaselessly and shamelessly? To understand the Badeh and Balogun syndrome, this is the question every sane Nigerian ought to be asking. I shall return to this.
Alex Sabundu Badeh, 58, until his retirement last year was a four-star flag officer of the Nigerian Air Force who served as the 18th Chief of Air Staff (October 4th, 2012 – January 16th, 2014), the 15th Chief of Defence Staff of the Armed Forces of Nigeria (January 16, 2014 to July 13, 2015), and Commander of the Presidential Fleet during Olusegun Obasanjo's presidency, according to a Wikipedia entry. He was born in Vimtim (a town sacked by Boko Haram in October 2014) in Mubi Local Government Area of Adamawa State, North East Nigeria, into a family of peasant farmers.
Fast forward to Wednesday, March 16, 2016. The trial of Badeh began at a Federal High Court in Abuja where we were told that as Chief of Air Staff, Badeh made N558.2 million ($2.8 million at the official exchange rate of N197 to a dollar) monthly from the salary account of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), an account we were informed predated Badeh’s tenure. N558.2 multiplied by the 15 months that the diversion lasted (between September 2012 and December 2013) comes to N8.3 billion. We know that not all of that money went to Badeh. He had to settle the boys, perhaps going as high as the ministry of defence and the budget office of the federal government! But whatever the balance, as Chief of Air Staff, Badeh was a stupendously rich man. I don’t know any business, not even that run by Bill Gates or Warren Buffet that boasts of that kind of return on investment in 15 months.
Badeh’s loot, we understand, was the leftover after salaries and allowances of workers from NAF had been defrayed from the N4 billion received monthly and it was conveniently earmarked “for general administration for the office of the Chief of Air Staff”. And he administered it in the interest of the Badeh clan. Badeh bought a retirement home for N1.1 billion, a deserving prize for his trouble in ending the war against Boko Haram. He bought a commercial plot of land for N650 million and paid N878 million for the construction of a shopping mall and another N304 million to complete the mall. When his sons wanted to own houses, he bought a house worth N260 million for his first son, renovated it with N60 million and furnished it with N90 million. And when his second son turned down a house worth N340 million, he ordered that a second house be bought for N330 million to compensate for the indiscretion of his man Friday.
“The amount in most cases was usually converted into US dollars by the Finance Officer at Nigerian Air Force Headquarters, Abuja. Thereafter, it is brought to the Director of Finance who in turn takes it to the Air House which is the official residence of Chief of Air Staff at the Niger Barracks,” revealed a prosecution witness, Air Commodore Aliyu Yishau (retd.), who said he served as former Director of Finance and Account of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF). You still wonder why the country has a foreign exchange crisis.
Badeh obviously had no business being in the Nigerian Air Force or building a career as a pilot trained at the expense of Nigerian tax payers. But this is Nigeria, a country of anything goes, where perverse actions perpetually multiply and endure as instruments of governance. Badeh, of course, is not alone. The man who succeeded him as Chief (Thief?) of Air Staff, Adesola Nunayon Amosu, a retired Air Vice Marshal, has been indicted in the arms procurement scandal during his tenure. One of the criminal deals involved the procurement of two second-hand Mi-24V helicopters instead of the recommended Mi-35M series at a cost of $136.9 million. The second-hand helicopters were allegedly not operationally airworthy at the time of delivery while a brand new unit of the same helicopters costs about $30 million. On November 13, 2014, two officers were killed when the Air Force chief allegedly pressured them into flying one of the unserviceable helicopters which crashed in the North-east region.
According to reports, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has seized houses and other properties belonging to Amosu, Air Vice Marshal J.B. Adigun, the immediate past Chief of Accounts and Budgeting of the Nigerian Air Force, and Air Commodore O. O. Gbadebo, who was the Director of Finance and Budget at NAF. When Amosu’s wife, Mrs. Omolara Amosu, was arrested by EFCC operatives, the sum of N3 billion was allegedly traced to her bank accounts. She has voluntarily returned N381 million in three tranches of N180m, N101m, and N100m.
Amosu’s putative boss, ex-National Security Adviser, Col Sambo Dasuki (retd), alongside Shuaibu Salisu, a former Director of Finance and Administration, Office of the National Security Adviser, Aminu Babakusa, a former General Manager, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Acacia Holdings Limited, and Reliance Referral Hospital Limited, is currently being prosecuted by the EFCC on a 19-count charge bordering on money laundering and criminal breach of trust to the tune of N13.5 billion. A committee set up to investigate Dasuki’s office indicted more than 300 companies and individuals, including serving and retired military officers. In one case, the committee found out that a company, Societe D’Equipment International, was overpaid to the tune of €7.9 million and $7.09 million.
True to form, the trial of Dasuki could not continue last week because he refused to show up in court. But he doesn’t have to. The important thing is for the trial to go on and if he is found guilty, bundled to jail. I am reliably informed that the rot in the military is far worse than what we have experienced with our politicians. And that is saying a lot considering the criminal proclivities of Nigerian politicians. We have seen a bit of the rot in the Air Force. We await the revelations from the Army and the Navy.
If you want to understand why Nigeria is not working, why we are a fourth rate nation, look no further than the Dasukis, Badehs, and Amosus of Nigeria, their compatriots in agbada (the grand boubou) and their partners in wigs. People like our billionaire judges, like Olisah Metuh, Stella Oduah, and Bukola Saraki, the Teflon President of the Nigerian Senate who is currently standing trial for false asset declaration and for repaying his personal loans with state fund. There are others like Ikedi Ohakim who as governor of Imo State paid $2.29 million cash for a property in Abuja, Ahmed Sani Yerima, Mohammed Danjuma Goje, Abdullahi Adamu, George Akume, and Josuah Dariye – executive scoundrels who have found refuge in one of the most disreputable institutions in Nigeria – the Senate. Not even the colonial masters could have damaged this country the way these men and women who claim to be Nigerians have done. Indeed, it’s a safe bet that the legendary unfeeling colonial chieftain, Lord Lugard, will weep no end if he were to return to the house he built in 1914.
Clearly, these thieving individuals like their alter ego, the fiendish late military dictator, Sani Abacha, have no concept of a nation of people. Their moral universe is limited to family and friends. That is why their politics, to paraphrase radical scholar and activist, late Prof Eskor Toyo, is reduced to a grabbing game, a cake sharing contest. So, for example, while Abacha was head of state, pretending to love Nigeria and working to uphold her honour and glory, he, his family, and accomplices were busy looting the country and stashing the loot where their hearts were: Switzerland, Liechtenstein, etc. In just one instance, in December 1999, the Swiss government announced the freezing of $550 million in different banks belonging to Abacha and his family, former National Security Adviser Ismaila Gwarzo, and Abubakar Atiku Bagudu (current Governor of Kebbi State). It is simply impossible to know exactly how much Abacha and those around him stole from Nigeria in the five years of his tyrannical rule.
There are many Abachas, Dasukis, Badehs, Amosus and Sarakis in the system, people who “pledge to Nigeria my country, to be faithful, loyal and honest”, yet they will steal from the same country at every opportunity. But why are millions of Nigerians who bear the brunt of the licentiousness of our thieving public officers not outraged? There is no outrage because most of us will behave the same way if we found ourselves in the shoes of Abacha, Dasuki, Badeh, Amosu or Saraki.
And the reason is simple: “Much of what passes for corruption is not simply a matter of greed but rather the byproduct of legislators or public officials who feel more obligated to family, tribe, religion or ethnic group than to the national community and therefore divert money in that direction.” That was Francis Fukuyama writing about the relationship between nation building and state building in his book, Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy. These bandits in uniform and agbada, according to Fukuyama, “are not necessarily immoral people, but their circle of moral obligation is smaller than that of the polity for which they work”.
Savagery rears its head when we believe something that belongs to us is stolen, when anyone comes into our small circle of moral obligation. So, somewhere in Aluu, Rivers State, four undergraduates are lynched and burnt by mortally offended fellow citizens for allegedly stealing laptops and cell phones; somewhere in Lagos a woman is beaten and sexually assaulted by an incredulous and bloodthirsty mob for stealing pepper; in Ondo State, a man is mercilessly bludgeoned to death by “irritated angry youth” for being gay; and somewhere in Kano, a man is set free after more than two decades in prison for allegedly stealing a transistor radio. Yet each time Dasuki, Badeh, or Saraki appears in court, oozing splendor, they are not tailed by “ordinary” Nigerians mocking and jeering but by a throng of well-heeled lawyers, friends, associates, and family members. These high-profile supporters know that it is not only Dasuki, Badeh, or Saraki that is on trial.
What they seem to be saying is, “That is the way the system works. Only a fool would want to be law abiding in a patently lawless society.” So, Dasuki, Badeh, Saraki, and company, can sleep comfortably at night knowing full well that there is a chance that in the end they will be free to enjoy their loot. As a people, we have imbibed the dictum that when evil is commonplace it becomes a tradition. That is the case with corruption in Nigeria. Corruption is a national tradition. It has been with us since independence, got worse through many military regimes and became a directive principle of state policy in 1999 when the military again foisted one of their own, Olusegun Obasanjo, that exemplar of everything wrong with Nigeria, on a hapless nation.
It is for this reason that these indicted public officers, rather than going to court to prove their innocence, shout “persecution” and “political witch-hunt” at every opportunity. You can’t really blame them! Why should they be punished for upholding tradition? It is for the same reason that we have not heard a word from the military high command or from retired military officers, including ex-heads of state, on the revelations about our military.
Knowing how powerful the thieving class is in Nigeria, President Buhari should be praised – I can’t think of any politician who would have done this – for his courage and political will. Of course, the issue goes beyond President Buhari to the question posed at the beginning of this essay. As long as Nigeria remains the way it is, public office will be nothing but sinecure for self-serving individuals.
We need to create a country where there is no incentive for Nigerians to steal from Nigeria. No sane person steals from himself. When people feel ownership of this country, we won’t see the high incidence of wanton pillage of public fund currently going on at all levels and in all sectors.
In the interim, let Nigerians who suffer the effect of corruption pick up the gauntlet and act. After all, the enfant terrible of Rivers State and now Honourable (emphasis mine) Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, once remarked publicly that he and other thieving politicians get away with murder because Nigerians have not risen to defend their patrimony by stoning those who gratuitously steal from them.
( Onumah can be reached via: email@example.com; Twitter: @conumah )