Nigeria’s Kleptocracy Masquerading as Democracy

by Prof. Emeka Aniagolu

From considerable evidence, Nigeria is not a democracy but a full-fledged Kleptocracy. Democracy is defined as: “a government in which supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”[1] While Nigeria is officially a democracy, with a Constitution, an Executive, a National Assembly — of Members of the House of Representatives and a Senate — as well as a Judiciary; Nigerian politicians have fashioned ingenious ways and means of subverting the system, such that Nigeria is, at best, a dysfunctional democracy, and at worst, a thriving kleptocracy.

A kleptocracy is “a government whose corrupt leaders use political power to appropriate the wealth of the people and land they govern, typically by embezzling or misappropriating government funds at the expense of the wider population.” The same source went on to draw important distinctions between kleptocracy, plutocracy and oligarchy. It observed that: “Kleptocracy is different from plutocracy (rule by the richest) and oligarchy (rule by a small elite). In a kleptocracy, corrupt politicians enrich themselves secretly outside the rule of law, through kickbacks, bribes, and special favors, or they simply direct state funds to themselves and their associates. Also, kleptocrats often export much of their profits to foreign nations in anticipation of losing power.”[2]

Here are a few of the ways and means Nigerian politicians, especially elected officials, enrich themselves at the expense of the State and the citizenry; as well as try to cover their tracks in Nigeria’s kleptocracy. In Nigeria, it is treated as though it is the Constitutional right of an incumbent state Governor to coronate his successor within his so-called political party. Of course, an incumbent, but outgoing Governor or President, can endorse an aspirant or candidate of his political party; but not coronate him or her as though the votes of his fellow party members — in so-called party primaries — amount to nothing. It goes against the grain of democracy, especially, at the grassroots.

Of course, it can and has been argued that such a political party aspirant or candidate, still has to face the general election, in which he or she has to compete against candidates from other political parties; with no certainty of victory at the polls. Except that in the context of Nigeria’s kleptocracy, in which the two biggest parties — APC and PDP — have amassed humongous war-chests to literally buy the general elections; they have a built-in monetary advantage that substantively subverts democracy.

At any rate, so-called “political parties” in Nigeria are not really political parties in the commonly understood meaning of such entities. They are not founded on discernable political ideologies on the basis of which, believers in the respective political ideologies, coalesce into political parties. They are nothing more or less than business associations, designed to access governmental power through money laundering schemes, networks of fraudsters and rigged elections; with the objective of using their acquired positions in government to feather their nests.

Political parties in Nigeria, especially the so-called two major ones — APC and PDP — turned their “Nomination and Expression of Interest Form” fees, into a money-making scheme, pricing electoral offices out of the reach of middle and upper-middle class Nigerians; thus, ensuring that those who participate in the electoral process are members of the major league kleptocratic class. In a brilliant article, titled: Nigeria Vs USA: Party nomination fees and the matter of democracy, by Tunji Light Ariyomo,[3] he did an exceptional job analyzing the comparative political party processes in the US and in Nigeria, in terms of GDP per capita implications for political participation in Nigeria’s ostensible democracy. In summation, Ariyomo notes about Nigeria’s political system in comparison to the American one, which we supposedly copied to bring us out from military dictatorship to democratic governance, that:

Conversely, that the Nigerian public officer appears to perpetually hold the Nigerian people in utter contempt, is a direct consequence of Nigeria’s restrictive political processes. By limiting people’s participation to only voting on election day, the Nigerian ruling class reduces the public to rubber stamp electorates required only to give a veneer of democratic legitimacy to what in truth [is] the antithesis of democracy. The frustration with fair and equitable access to the political process is principally responsible for the mushrooming of political parties by citizens in Nigeria. In a display that is contemptuous of egalitarian participation by the people, even political parties have now been known to impose heavy fees for members willing to aspire to leadership positions within Nigerian political parties! It cost N20 million to obtain the form for APC National Chairmanship position at its last convention. The lowest leadership rung at the convention, such as an Assistant Publicity Secretary, cost N5 million — that is about three times what it cost to run for governorship in the USA.

In the course of the sad parody called “politics” in Nigeria, aspirants and candidates buy whoever needs to be bought: Traditional Rulers, party delegates and stalwarts, religious leaders and “prophets,” as well as all manner of other so-called “stakeholders.” In a free and fair electoral system, which, under normal circumstances, ought to be the penultimate democratic “clearinghouse,” is riddled with all sorts of underhanded practices: inflated numbers of voters, forged PVCs, stolen or “missing” ballot boxes, outright violence, etc. Even INEC officials who are supposed to be inviolable custodians of the electoral system, are often implicated in shady games.

So, now, Nigeria’s kleptocratic shenanigans are in full swing, with the 2023 elections round the corner. All manner of characters with dubious pedigrees, emerge on the scene as political contenders; after years of quietly enriching themselves by syphoning money from federal and/or state governments through inflated contracts, “paper contracts” that were funded but never executed; kickbacks and/or facilitating the thievery of those already in high positions in government. They take traditional titles, make one or two public gestures in their villages or local government areas, ingratiate their traditional ruler, whose relative destitution guarantees his compliance and complicity; then, they become “big men” ready to contest for one public office or another.

Consider the following scenario. A state Governor in Nigeria earns an average annual salary of N11,540,896, with an annual basic salary of N2,223,705 and an annual leave allowance of N222,370,50;[4] which brings his total annual take home pay to approximately: N14,000,000.00. How can such a public servant afford to have numerous cars, several houses — in Nigeria and abroad — and many plots of land all over Nigeria? Surely, it cannot be from his salary. If it is not from his salary, then, from where does he find such monies without being called to answer by the law? The answer is simple: since Nigeria operates a kleptocracy, from top to bottom, there is no one to check anyone in government. Even the agencies presumably set up to investigate such malfeasance, are so caught up in Nigeria’s kleptocracy, that they are at the behest of those at the commanding heights of national power; who are virtually above the law, unless something goes terribly wrong.

Enter another ingenious kleptocratic scheme: the so-called Security Vote for the 36 state Governors in Nigeria. Theoretically, the Security Vote is for the sole purpose of funding security services within each state. The fund literally runs into billions of naira and varies depending on the security challenges in the respective states. The so-called Security Vote for a state Governor, is, in effect a “slush fund” that can be dipped into at the whim and caprice of the state Governor. The President of Nigeria is also afforded the dubious privilege of Security Vote. There is no oversight and no accounting mechanism for the expenditure of the funds. It is simply embedded in Nigeria’s kleptocratic system of governance.[5]

But is the so-called Security Vote constitutional, and therefore, legal; or is it legal, though not explicitly spelled out in the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria? Two interesting points of view are in mutual contention with one another over that matter. The first, articulated by Chief Robert Clarke (SAN), states that: “. . . there is no law, however small, that sanctions the payment of security votes to the state governors as well as the president . . .”[6] If that is the case, how then, did it come about and become institutionalized? Answering that question, Robert Clarke avers that:

When the military were in power, they needed security votes because they came by way of coups. At any time, they can be removed by another coup. So, they needed, at any given time, to know what is happening around them. So, they sought from the military authorities the right to have a special allocation to enable them use this as a source of security for information against coup plotters. When the 1999 constitution came into operation, it did not make any provision for security vote. I am bound by the constitution, if you can find it anywhere there. There may be a provision for the upkeep of the Presidency or the Governor’s house. But you will never find that a special amount of money has been allocated for security.

The opposed second point of view over the legality of Security Vote in Nigeria’s kleptocracy, was proffered by Governor Kayode Fayemi, Governor of Ekiti State. In a not entirely surprising self-serving vein, especially as then Chairman of the Nigeria Governor’s Forum, Fayemi argued that the appropriation of security votes is not illegal. His rather convoluted argument is that: “. . . in the Nigerian Constitution, the executive is entrusted with the responsibility of preparing a budget which is then sent to the legislature for ratification. The fact that huge amount of money [is] routinely being budgeted and expended in the name of security vote does not make it an illegal practice.”[7] He argued further that: “The main objective of the Fund is to support the various law enforcement agencies, mainly through the donation of arms and operational gadgets.”[8] The report stated, however, that the Governor “. . . noted that security votes attracted more attention because of the seeming none accountable nature of the expenditure under the budgetary provision. Fayemi however called on the custodians of security votes to manage it judiciously with good sense of responsibility.”[9]

Having implicated the security agencies as either the objective and/or beneficiaries of the security votes, the then Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, made his position clear over the matter. He is reported to have said that: “. . . security vote was subject to audit and “if it is not done, it is wrong.” He added that the [security] votes were not votes for defence and were also not meant for the armed forces. “Strictly speaking, if you look at security votes in the true context, it is not meant to tackle insecurity. We have funding for Ministry of Defence and the armed forces. If you have budget lines for these services and organizations, then why security votes?” . . . “The chief of army staff said that if security vote was made constitutional and proper guidelines were set out on how they were utilized, this issue will be laid to rest.”[10]

Clearly, the so-called “Security Vote” is a glaring drainpipe of Nigeria’s resources that should be plugged, but, it is not in the interest of either incumbent or aspiring kleptocrats to bring about such budgetary discipline. What kind of retrogressive system of governance should one expect, when you have a combustive mixture of unbridled kleptomania, administrative and public policy incompetence, as well as barbaric ethno-religious bigotry? A failed or failing state.

There is a reason most, if not all, cattle-herding cultures are not big meat eaters; at least, not big meat eaters of their cattle herds. They understand that as a dairy-based culture in which milk and its derivatives, are a staple; killing the cows from which milk and its derivatives are gotten, is akin to killing the goose that lays the golden egg. So, they prize their cattle-herds highly for what they produce, on a daily basis; and do not slaughter them and eat up their meat once and for all. Similarly, people who are given the sacred responsibility of serving their nations as leaders, are equally called upon to exercise conservatory diligence and foresight. Only such leaders can make a nation great and strong. All others are charlatans!

[1] Merriam-webster.com

[2] en.m.wikipedia.org

[3] Premium Times, April 12, 2022.

[4] Nigerianfinder.com

[5] See Transparency International’s Annex B: State Security Vote DataCamouflaged Cash: How ‘Security Votes’ Fuel Corruption in Nigeria.

[6] Vanguard, December 29, 2016, “No Law Supporting Security Vote in Nigeria — Robert Clarke, SAN. [Source: vanguardngr.com]

[7] Pulse.ng

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

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