Nigeria on Fire : Nigeria’s Darkest Moment, 1985-98 (II) – The Ruin of Government Institutions.


A government is the political arrangement deliberately set up or that naturally evolved for the administration of a society. It is the constituted body saddled with the protection of life; with the making and maintenance of law and order; and with the onerous mandate of ensuring that the welfare of every member of the society is unimpaired under any circumstances. Governments are often differentiated or qualified as either democratic or undemocratic. The manner and nature of the coming into being of a government often determines the tag or label that it eventually carries.

A government is democratic when the sovereign people that constitute such society agreed on the principles, methods and modes of operation of their government. Under such a government the people are closely involved in the processes that appoint or select or elect or sack the members of their government who are often mandated with the honourable task of playing the part of any of the following: law-maker, law-giver, law-enforcer, law-protector, law-reviewer, law-interpreter, and policy and programme initiator, designer and executioner, etc.

On the other hand, a government is undemocratic when the members of the government are not appointed or selected or elected and cannot be sacked by the people but are of those who forcefully seized the rein of political power and who commandeered the institutions of government by virtue of possessing fire-arms. As a result of this armed procedure, this type of government does not have to account to anybody in the polity.

In fact, the personalities involved have become the sovereign and the law as well while the people without their consents have become the subjects. This group of saviours are often driven by a large dose of egotistical convictions. They are the types that believe (some sincerely) that all political problems can be resolved by a magic wand assisted, of course, by a sizeable chunk of untested immeasurable dosage of naked power and brutal barbaric force. They are, in short, armed gangsters and uniformed bandits merely pretending to be civilised and patriotic.

However, democratic government as popularised since the American War of Independence has come to be accepted as a tripartite arrangement of a Legislative branch, an Executive branch and a Judiciary branch. These three arms of government are adjudged as fundamentally equal in rank, distinctly separate in function and crucially interdependent in operation and goals. Unfortunately, during the era under discourse, the killing of legislative arm of government was the first act to be performed at the inception of military administration.

Although the judiciary was spared from the guillotine but its legs were amputated and its brains were brutally sucked out. Hence, as a disabled judiciary, it needed the military administration for mobility as well as intelligence. It could not walk unless carried. It could not function unless programmed and authorised on what it should do and how it should be done. Any figment of independence left untouched by the Suspension Decree of the Constitution was adequately taken care of as at when necessary by “Ouster Clauses” in every decree manufactured by the spin lawyers. As a result of the death of the legislative arm of government and the near-death but paralysed Judiciary, Nigeria was left with an all-powerful Executive Arm of Government.

You can trust the ingenuity of our spin lawyers that quickly and cleverly divided this Executive Arm into two councils. One transformed into the Armed Forces Ruling Council while the other remained as the Executive Council. The Armed Forces Ruling Council drew its members from the Heads of the three Armed Forces plus the Inspector General of Police. They were ably supported and assisted by Military Commandants of Garrisons and some carefully handpicked trusted military officers. This body became the lawmaker, lawgiver, law-protector, law-reviewer, and law-interpreter of the Federation.

These men (no woman) became the supreme intelligence, supreme morality, and supreme know-alls for the country. These twenty-something strong odd men became the unquestionable and infallible Supreme Beings of Nigeria. They ably and proficiently took care of national economics, finance, business, commerce, industrial manufacturing, science and technology, mines and power, and every inconceivable social, political and economic problem. These extra-ordinary brilliant and uniquely versatile men found answers from their military hats to every issue that bedevilled the Nigeria nation during this period to the satisfaction of no one but themselves.

It should be mentioned that some of these members also doubled as Ministers of Federal Ministries. What a super-human sacrifice these patriots were called upon to make for their fatherland? This, to me, is the greatest slap of insult ever inflicted on the collective intelligence of a 100 million people. Looking back, this writer can now say with shame and regret that we were like a people under a magic spell. How could we have been so gullible as to believe that these illiterate lots were capable of finding answers to the myriad problems facing Nigeria?

These are men that were unable to read or to comprehend a ten-page memo being saddled with thousands and thousands of pages of Memorandum from every Ministry week in and week out. These supermen were expected to study the memos, analyse them and make decisions for law, policy guidelines and implementation costs and schedules. Yet, these are men who ended up as soldiers because of their hatred for books and learning.

Even as these lines are being written, this writer still feels very ashamed and very uncomfortable to realise that I am a Nigerian and that all my compatriots and I were dutifully blind to these injustice and rape of intelligence. It is unforgivable that the host of Nigerian neglected the few that realised it and who shouted themselves hoarse. These few men and women of conscience were left unsupported and unprotected and were therefore allowed to be reaped apart by the wolves in khaki clothing.

The second Council, which is now the Executive arm of government, was made up of Cabinet Ministers and Directors-General (Permanent Secretaries). This was the co-ordinating and policy making body for all Federal Government Departments, Parastatals, Boards and Commissions. At the beginning, this body used to meet once a week to discuss Memoranda submitted by each Ministry that needed legislative backing or approval of government. Babangida or Abacha was the Chairman of these two bodies and all the three Heads of Armed Forces were also members. It did not take too long before the Executive Council went into a permanent recess because it burnt itself out by work overload. The coast then became truly clear for the unchallenged sovereign rule of Babangida and later of Abacha. Each favoured Minister would then seek the ear and eye of ‘The President’ for a unilateral approval on any Memo or action of his Ministry. This method was adopted from 1989 upward.

This procedure of seeking the private ear of the ‘president’ allowed the Minister of Health to successfully negotiate an approval for a special salary for medical doctors. This special salary threw the Ministry of Health into unhealthy pandemonium because other medical professionals demanded for similar consideration. The fire is still raging up till now. Apart from this, it also caused tremendous feud and bad blood with other Ministers who could not see the rationale for singling out medical doctors for a special apartheid salary review while neglecting other professionals in the civil service.

With this ingenuous approach to governance and management, accountability completely disappeared. There was no longer any check and balance on funds released and methods of disbursements. There was no pattern, no co-ordination, no co-operation between Ministers of Departments and no policy linkage between Ministries. The favoured Ministries like Health, Works, Federal Capital Territory and Defence became flooded with funds and as should be expected, corrupt and shady practices became inevitable.

In short, for thirteen godless years Nigeria had no government. Armed gangsters bestrode the country raping and looting the Federal treasury to their heart’s delight. It was amazing to hear Professor Tam David West in one interview in The Guardian on Sunday defending with gusto what we passed through as a government. The Babangida and Abacha military administration cannot qualify for the name of a government. It is a misnomer to refer to these two administrations as government. It is a misuse of a model label.

These two men and their supporters were bandits, marauders, gangsters, and official armed robbers in the true sense of the titles. They were able to do everything they did because they had unchecked access to our guns and armoury. They were neither intelligent nor knowledgeable and neither were they patriotic nor benevolent. They were hoodlums and despots who depended wholly on the use of fear, blackmail, patronage and murder to have and own their ways. It will therefore be a honourable act for all those who took part in these abuses to own up and to offer an unreserved apology to the people of Nigeria.

That any silly professor who served under this administration up till now is yet to see his/her service as a grave misjudgement and a wrong decision on his/her part is a testimony to a lack of true knowledge or wisdom. How any minister, commissioner, civil servant and other public office holder could still decide to play Mr Clean and Innocent beats me hollow. How could any of these patriotic Nigerians have failed to see that the Babangida and Abacha administrations were only possible because of their tacit connivance and collusion beggars belief? How could they not see that without their silence, their fear, their hypocritical commitment to truth, goodness, freedom and justice that these regimes could not have lasted till they did? How can Nigerian elite still refused to accept this period as an ignominious national error and to acknowledge this unforgettable experience as a proof of their foolishness and of the intellectual, moral and ethical emptiness of their minds?

Through patronage and blackmail, these two administrations brought the whole institution of government into disrepute. Ministers learnt fast as soon as they were sworn in to play by the rules of these Machiavellian leaders. Money and positions were exchanged freely to silence dissenting voices. Blackmail was used to keep the services of erring friends and acquaintances that seem to be ready to spill the beans. Innocent Nigerians who refused to play ball were threatened and some were killed. Professor Awa, the penultimate Chairman of the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) before Professor Nwosu was heard reporting on the spade of calumny unleashed on him and members of his household after his resignation because he refused to play by their rules.

Professor Nwosu who organised the fairest election in Nigeria was also blackmailed and the documented materials gathered earlier on him were used to silence him into final compliance at the darkest hour of Nigeria in June 1993. The Abacha’s Minister of Finance confession about financial inducements from the President, which we call Ani’s cash and carry episode should not be treated as a one-off occurrence. It is a revelation of an established institutional practice created by Babangida known in Nigeria as a Settlement Culture/Management. Every public office holder was deliberately compromised and put in a very difficult position. It was a catch-22 situation. Head or tail you lose. If you keep quiet you lose. If you report it you lose. No minister of these two hoodlums escaped from this heinous practice. It was pure and simple blackmail. It was the only way to break the soul of all those that foolishly accepted to serve under them.

Under these two men, Nigeria was like a big bazaar and a casino. The sovereign military monarchies of Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha became the sole administrators of Nigeria. Their words became the law. The spin lawyers of the Ministry of Justice became very proficient as they turn the drifts and dribbles uttered by these men into decrees over night. Yet these learned men and women will also claim, if questioned, that they were merely following directives. Just like the Nazi Germany officials, these learned men and women have no opinion, no conviction, no belief, no conscience, in short, no moral or ethical scruple of any kind. They were pure and simple mere automatons rigidly and mechanically following the rules. As glorified civil servants they have no business challenging the rules, they will argue. It never dawned on these legal luminaries that the military boys were civil servants too.

This rape of justice was possible because our learned friends are bereft of the first principle of federalism. They forgot or have no inkling about the fundamental premise on which Nigeria state was built. They have never heard, both in their colleges and in the celebrated Law School of Nigeria, about the inalienable rights of Nigerians to equality, justice and liberty. As the custodian of the third arm of government, rather than be the first to challenge the unconstitutionality of military coups and rule, they were the first institution to give the crucial critical legal assistance in form of Decree that suspends the Constitution they were mandated to protect.

The Ministry of Justice, during this period, concentrated all its energies to the service of the President and to no one else. Every Ministry had draft bills that lay in the cabinet for many years in this ministry without seeing the light of the day unless the ‘president’ or his wife showed a special interest. As from 1986 every Ministry embarked on the project of policy formulation in emulation of Professor Ransome-Kuti, the Minister of Health who pioneered the production of this magic document. The policy document was manufactured after a jamboree called Conference, several committee meetings, and endless specialist workshops and at a great financial cost. The policy document would then move from the Minister to the Council of Ministers and like a tortoise to the Armed Forces Ruling Council. Few Ministries were lucky to have their policy back. Most Ministries never saw it again. Those who got the approval of the Armed Forces Ruling Council could not get a legal bill or decree to support the initiatives declared in the document for eventual implementation because the Ministry of Justice had no time for such unglamorous assignments.

In effect for thirteen years, The Federal Government of Nigeria was run without either a constitution or proper legislations. Every Ministry was managed according to the whims of their Minister or Director-General, or Director or anyone who had the clout to arrogate to himself political power in the ministry. It could be the Director of Finance or Budget or even a very junior officer with necessary connection in government. There was no legal backing for most of the activities and services of government. As a result of absence of law for procedural standardisation and limitations of power, there was no way of checking the excesses of public office holders.

Most activities of Ministries became self-serving engagements – plans, projects and programmes were embarked upon at the mere hunch of the minister or his cronies. If a multi-million Naira is to be expended, the only thing the minister had to do was to seek a private audience with the ‘president’ and off he went to award the contract. These were military monarchies at their worst and a true example of the sovereign reign of one man. Babangida or Abacha was the sovereign power and the sovereign law.

Everything that happened in Nigeria, during the Babangida reign, happened of his name, by his name, for his name and to his name. And Abacha repeated the same performance and method of governance to its worst extreme. In this respect cronyism evolved and developed into a major ideology of the Federal Government of Nigeria. It was clearly and unmistakably an administration of the cronies by the cronies for the cronies. The only thing any Nigerian who wanted a piece of the action at that time had to do, was to beat a path to any of the minor cronies who would satisfy his/her needs or give a powerful reference to a medium or major cronies until the path leads to the ‘president’ himself.

In a nutshell, no government was in place in Nigeria from 1984-1998. The big but empty-headed professors who served under these men should hold their heads in shame. But nay, as typical shameless Nigerians, they are still trying to hoodwink us that what they gave their lives and souls to was a government; that they worked tirelessly for our benefit; and that we, the people of this land, are ingrates who had refused to be thankful.

This writer will like to warn them that they will fail if they persist with their fraudulent claims and that we, the common people of Nigeria, shall regard every one of them as sinners and liars that contributed irreparably to our misery, suffering, poverty and hardships. We shall continue to see them as men and women who participated actively in the great debauchery of the state. And we shall continue to hold them responsible for the bloods of the innocent Nigerians that were shed during this shameful episode, until these shallow professors and other elites of our nations confess to their grievous errors.

Despite the efforts of Professor Dotun Philips and others to review the structure and management of the executive arm (civil service) of the government, they failed woefully because these eggheads could not understand the clandestine motives of those at the helm of power. They failed to see that every intelligent Nigerian was been offered a job as a strategic means of blackmailing to pave the way for their easy manipulation as at when necessary.

All the good recommendations of this panel and several others were bastardised at the implementation stage because of, the patronage habit of the government that ceaselessly put round pegs in square holes; the careless abandonment of agreed policy directives in mid-stream; the carefully orchestrated instability of tenure of public office holders; the fluidity of public policy initiatives that are never underpinned by any known ideology or debated legislation; and the celebration of mediocrity as a national asset by both the federal sole administrator, alias president, and the other levels of military hierarchy.

The mediocrity of the military administration was amply manifested in the large-scale confusion and duplication of roles and functions among several ministries. Some of the common scenarios are Budget department versus National Planning Department; Finance Department versus Central Bank of Nigeria; Ministries versus extra-ministerial Commissions under them, etc. Nobody had a clue about the limitations of power and functions since there were no legislative guidelines.

In a nutshell the New Nigeria of our dream must have to rebuild its government from the foundation. Whatever the colonial government left in Nigeria as government is dead and buried which is a good thing in one sense. By now we all know that the government instruments  created on the soil of Nigeria since 1914 were basically designed to exploit, pillage and rob Nigerians  of its natural resources, the military force of occupation even though made up of Nigerians were mere useful idiots and puppets in the hands of the real owners of Nigeria. We shall look at how these clueless armed bandits and their henchmen caused the ruin of the civil society of Nigeria.


11 OCTOBER 1999

(To be Continued)