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Conflict and corruption

November 16, 2010

Conflict and corruption are real threats to Nigeria. Because of our oil wealth, Nigeria needs institutions to check corruption and resolve unending conflicts.  Robert Calderisi reckons that it’s

“plain that institutions, policy, and individual effort [are] more important than money”

Ethnic conflicts, one explanation for Africa’s poor growth, adversely affect income, growth and economic policies. But identifying and understanding the strands and processes of identity mutation: ethnic, regional, religious and political, reveals what makes Nigeria so vulnerable.

In Nigeria, the roots of sectarian conflicts are often political and economic. The 1999 power-sharing agreement of the PDP somewhat neutered the issue of politicised religion. However, events of the past three years have questioned the effectiveness of this “grand compromise” of zoning.  The events before  Yar’Adua’s death confirmed that our democracy is a “sham”:

“The average Nigerian doesn’t mind who his or her president is – their main concern is that they are being beaten black and blue economically. They simply want a government that will provide decent services.”

In short, the compromise has not addressed Nigeria’s problems eg, good governance. The adoption of Sharia law by 12 northern states was a reaction to absence of the rule of law. But it was politicised.

The state is weak. Terms limits and constitutional checks and balances like the public procurement and fiscal responsibility act are necessary but insufficient to curb the untrammelled power of politicians. At most, they have reduced the incentives to implement bad policies. Recent constitutional amendments that make the judiciary, electoral body and legislature financially independent are welcome. More is needed.

Take two pending essential bills: the freedom of information and the anti-money laundering bills. Both will further enshrine accountability. Nigeria’s democracy is expensive. Ongoing banking reforms have denied politicians that relied on bank loans to fund their campaigns. Banks are now required to report large movements of cash by “politically exposed people”.

However, what’s more intriguing is the seesaw between the presidency and the legislature over the anti-money laundering bill. President Goodluck Jonathan, has written the National Assembly thrice to expedite the bill. In his third letter on 6 August, the president cautioned the National Assembly against making amendments to the bill. Lawmakers are seeking to water down three clauses. The president noted that:

“the draft bill presented to the National Assembly [is] consistent and in compliance with global instruments which Nigeria has signed and ratified.”

The bill is likely to put an end to anonymous bank accounts. Such accounts have helped kidnapping, oil theft and drug peddling to thrive.

Stolen oil is as lucrative as cocaine. Oil theft and illicit drugs generate $1 billion annually in the West African region. (According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in 2008 Ghana and Nigeria respectively received $1.293 billion $1.290 billion in official development assistance).

What’s more, bunkering directly fuels instability. The proceeds go to militants and corrupt officials. (Recently, a political aspirant in Nigeria was caught trying to smuggle 2.12kg of cocaine, apparently to fund his political campaign for the Edo State House of Assembly). Six lawmakers are allegedly linked to the 450.4kg of cocaine (with a street value of 4 billion naira) that was seized at the Lagos port recently.

Rather than pass the bill (the deadline elapsed in June), the National Assembly is pre-occupied with the nationwide registration of names and addresses of mobile-phone subscribers. One of the measures noted in the April 2009 Crisis Group report that:

“may improve security in the short term but are insufficient to resolve the [Niger Delta] crisis permanently.”

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