Nigeria: A failed system or state?

By Franklin Izuchukwu


Nigeria, as a country or nation, was poised with the potential of being an undisputed giant of Africa, renowned for prosperity and progress in the world stage.

The magic lies in the word “potential “ yea, it had the potential of standing tall amongst its peers, it had the potential of prospering both internally and internationally, and it was undoubtedly poised to stand atop its rivals in Africa as regards democracy and standard of living.

Today the above are just but a mere dream that its citizens crave daily, each day pass with a hope that tomorrow will be better. At the time of writing this article, nothing has changed except the progressive and pervasive nature of daily corruption. 

This article aims to identify the root cause of corruption in Nigeria to determine if the system of government failed its citizen or the laxity of its people has failed the nation. 

I will highlight instances of fraud in Nigeria and how it crippled the economy. Tribalism, culture and religion will also be discussed as the toxic elements within the citizens and how it dwarfed radical change and growth.

It is also worthy to note that the writer is not affiliated with any political party in Nigeria. To avoid bias, all the past political regime in Nigeria will be reviewed to show where the erosion of ethics, norms and common sense in the system started.

Foundation and Independence

Nigeria gained independence in the year 1960; they also declared themselves a republic by 1963. 

History will seem to disagree with the mentality of 'no corruption and systemic deterioration in the 1960s.'

We cannot deny the fact that the standard of living was higher back in the day, but the point is, the system or foundation that the country was built on was doomed to fail even before inception.

Nigeria Prime minister Tafawa Balewa delivering his keynote address on Independence day.

When the colonial masters left, they didn't try to replicate the robust democratic system they had in their home country. They were more interested in a system that will give them sway and favour their trade and foreign policy.

So I will take my time to point instances of lawlessness, corruption and anarchy during the 1960s.

Currently, it is a norm in Nigeria to watch where lawmakers are ensued in a physical fight both in the national and state assemblies, but did you know such spectacle was also the case in the western parliament between chief Ladoke Akintola and Chief Obafemi Awolowo?

In 1953 the then prime minister and head of government Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa imprisoned the opposition leader Chief Obafemi Awolowo with no valid legal reason; a typical example of anarchy and lawlessness.

During the 1965 national election, the Balewa party formed a coalition with the Akintola-led faction to oust Awolowo party in Yorubaland, In a bid to retain power there was widespread electoral fraud in Yorubaland.

The election ended with rigged and disputed results. 

This shows that election malpractice of today did not start with PDP or APC, it was foundational and then became systemic; a threat to our democracy.

After independence, there were three major political parties in Nigeria, The Nigerian People's Congress (NPC) which represented the Hausa-Fulani interests,  National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) which represented the Igbo and Christian-dominated south-east region and finally the Action Group (AG) which represented the interests of the Yoruba ethnic group.

Nigerians abroad Celebrating Independence day.

Nigeria at the time of independence practised parliamentary system of government; this meant there is need for a coalition to form a government thus the Igbos' NCNC aligned with the Northern party of NPC to form a government that produced Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as the first prime minister.

After the imprisonment of Awolowo, the Hausa-Fulani party formed a coalition with the Akintola-led new party Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) to form a government that sidelined the Igbos and part of Yoruba.

The first military coup was leeway for more corruption, tribal hatred, abuse of power, anarchy, a culture that discouraged freedom of speech and lack of care for core democratic principles. These are present ills of today's Nigeria society.

A society where there is daily erosion of common principles and values, it is worthy to note that the problem listed above existed prior to the military coup, I am merely stating that the coup added fuel to the already burning fire.

1966 Miliatry in Nigeria

Azikiwe talks about Gen. Aguiyi Ironsis

This First Military Coup

The Igbos were sidelined, there was evidence of corruption, instances of electoral fraud and malpractice. All these coupled with tribal sentiment and dissatisfaction led to the 1966 coup carried out by mostly Igbo Majors in the military. 

They assassinated many elected officials like the prime minister, western and northern premiers who they tagged as corrupt. They quashed the sitting government creating a vacuum to be filled by General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi as military head of government.

Tribal sentiment made the Igbos view these young Majors as heroes while the North cried for vengeance and justice. This shows you the deep hate that existed between the ethnic groups.

The action taken by the military head of state General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi led to the present government structure of today; the antithesis of a progressive system.

Prior to the military coup, the system of government in Nigeria was complete federalism; each region had a premier. The central government was less powerful than it is today.

It also meant the regions had more room and independence to govern themselves. There was a mutual recognition that Nigeria is a multi-ethnic country, so to avoid a systemic failure, there was a need for true and not pseudo-federalism of today.

After the coup

The Igbo Majors that carried out the coup were captured and imprisoned but the north demanded their heads as the only appeasement for peace and unity.

When General Ironsi refused, a riot broke out in the north, hundreds of Igbos were killed and made to flee from the north.

 It was an urgent need to quiet this riot and maintain an order that led to the disastrous Decree 34; a military order that sought to unify the country and create a unitary system of government which made the central government more powerful.

Though the Gowon military regime returned the country to a federal republic, the deed is already done. Succeeding military and civil leaders in their own way sought to make the central government more powerful as the country maintained the facade of being a federal state.

After the civil war, it also became obvious that to maintain the unity of Nigeria there is need for less regional autonomy. The 1999 constitution stamped this notion as the modus operandi.

Nigeria Prime minister Tafawa Balewa delivering his keynote address on Independence day.

Civil war

With ethnic tension rising in the north after the young Majors' coup of 1966, the massacre of Igbos was too bold to ignore, there was widespread of secessionist ideology within south-east and request for full autonomy.

The Central Intelligence Agency commented in 1966, a CIA memorandum read thus:  

"Africa's most populous country (population estimated at 48 million) is in the throes of a highly complex internal crisis rooted in its artificial origin as a British dependency containing over 250 diverse and often antagonistic tribal groups.

The present crisis started" with Nigerian independence in 1960, but the federated parliament hid "serious internal strains. It has been in an acute stage since last January when a military coup d' état destroyed the constitutional regime bequeathed by the British and upset the underlying tribal and regional power relationships.

At stake now are the most fundamental questions which can be raised about a country, beginning with whether it will survive as a single viable entity.

The situation is uncertain, with Nigeria, sliding downhill faster and faster, with less and less chance unity and stability.

Unless present army leaders and contending tribal elements soon reach agreement on a new basis for the association and take some effective measures to halt a seriously deteriorating security situation, there will be increasing internal turmoil, possibly including civil war."

The CIA forecast became a reality on 29th may, 1967 when Lt Colonel Emeka Ojukwu declared the south-east region an independent state called the Republic of Biafra, the war ended in 1970.

I feel the war still rages on even after 50 years of the infamous "No victory, no vanquish" by Gowon. It is a cold war between the Igbos, the Yorubas, and Hausa-Fulani ethnic group, the irony of this tragedy is our leaders never tried to build a sustainable system of government that will solve the grievances which spurred the war.

After the war, U.S. analysts said that "...Nigeria is still very much a tribal society... where local and tribal alliances count more than a national attachment."

The emerging power after the war saw an opportunity to consolidate power and not a chance to create a stable democratic institution, enact laws that will imbibe meritocracy over nepotism and erode corruption at all levels of the government.

The succeeding leaders used the highest office in the land to fill their coffers and appoint their associates as public servants.

W. B. Yeats (1865-1939) wrote in his poem The Second Coming.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Yes!!!, the best lacked all conviction, the worst set of people in government were full of intensity to loot public funds, there was anarchy in the whole government institution as the centre could no longer hold. All because there was a lack of definitive direction, agenda and purpose.

It was at this point that the Nigeria system of government failed.

The Oil Boom

During the 1950s, oil was discovered in Nigeria. The revenue from oil began to make Nigeria a wealthy nation. At the time oil price was barely around $3.

The Yom Kippur War in 1973 and Iran-Iraq war in 1979 led to a spike in oil price from $3 to $19 thus by 1979 Nigeria was the sixth-largest oil producer in the world with revenues as high as 24biilion dollars per year.

That same year 1979 was the regime of Shehu Shagari; whom I will talk about later.

It is worthy to note that amid increasing revenue from oil, there was still no clear plan or framework for restructuring the republic, to make laws that will counter corruption and discourage ethnic sentiment.

One could argue that in 1980, with the oil revenue, Shagari finished building the Kaduna refinery; which started operating that year, also concluded the construction of an additional steel plant and three rolling mills at Ajaokuta and some other public works in housing and transportation but today those projects are not sustainable.

Today Nigeria has three major refineries, but none can refine the oil produced with full capacity. All this boils down to corruption in the system if checks and balances where enacted Nigeria will not be in such mess today.

President Shehu Shagari with Queen of England, Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth.

Instances of Corruption in the System

Nnamdi Azikiwe

Azikiwe was the first major political figure investigated for questionable practices. A firm belonging to Azikiwe's family bought a bank in 1944.

They acquired this bank to consolidate local control of the financial industry. Albeit, a report about transactions carried out by the bank showed though Azikiwe had resigned as chairman of the bank, the current chairman was an agent of his.

The report wrote that most of the paid-up capital of the African Continental Bank were from the Eastern Regional Financial Corporation; a corporation established in 1954 under the regime of Azikiwe as premier Eastern region.


In western Nigeria, politician Adegoke Adelabu was investigated following charges of political corruption levelled against him by the opposition.

Northern Nigeria

In the Northern region, against the backdrop of corruption allegations levelled against some native authority officials in Borno. The Northern Government enacted the Customary Presents order to forestall any further breach of regulations.

Later on, it was the British administration that was accused of corrupt practices in the results of elections which enthroned a Fulani political leadership in Kano, reports then linking the British authorities to electoral irregularities were discovered.

Gowon administration (1966 – 1975)

In 1975 during the military regime of Yakubu Gowon, there was a corruption scandal involving many officials of the defence ministry and the central bank of Nigeria. Officials were later accused of falsifying ship manifestos and inflating the amount of cement to be purchased.

Obasanjo administration (1976 –1979)

The famous Afrobeat musician, Fela Kuti, sang variously about major scandals involving the international telecommunication firm ITT(international telecommunication and telegraph corp)  which he referred to as 'international thief thief' led by Chief MKO Abiola in Nigeria.

The then Head of State, Gen Olusegun Obasanjo was associated with this scandal.

It was alleged that ITT paid millions of dollars which were distributed among Nigerian government officials, central to this was MKO Abiola, who was alleged to have received these payments to facilitate telecommunication sales contracts for ITT.

MKO Abiola denied this allegation with ITT officials citing the payments as salaries.

During this regime, many international contractors were alleged to have made payments for contract award, which is a norm in the present day.

In addition to this, the Operation Feed the Nation Program, and the associated land grab under the Land Use Decree implemented by the then Head of State was alleged to have been used as conduits to reward cronies. His now-famous Otta Farm Nigeria (OFN) was allegedly a project borne out of this scandal.

Notwithstanding the above, Olusegun Obasanjo is credited to be the first military leader to conduct an election and handover to a civilian government after making the promise; such fit is not easily obtainable.

Shehu Shagari ( 1979- 1983)

Corruption was deemed pervasive during the administration of Shehu Shagari. A few federal buildings mysteriously caught fire after investigators started to probe the finances of the officials working in the buildings, a similar scenario still repeated itself in the present day.

In late 1985, investigations into the collapse of the defunct Johnson Mathey Bank of London shed light on some of the abuses carried on during the second republic.

The bank acted as a conduit to transfer hard currency for some party members in Nigeria. A few leading officials and politicians had amassed large amounts of money.

They sought to transfer the money out of the country with the help of Asian importers by issuing import licenses. The whole system seemed irredeemable; selfishness was the order of the day. 

Muhammadu Buhari ( 1983-1985)

The 53 suitcases saga arose in 1984 during the currency change exercise ordered by the Buhari junta when it ordered that every case arriving the country should be inspected irrespective of the status of the person behind such.

In 1984 53 suitcases were, however, ferried through the Murtala Muhammed Airport without a customs check by soldiers allegedly at the behest of Major Mustapha Jokolo, the then aide-de-camp to Gen. Buhari.

Atiku Abubakar was at that time the Area Comptroller of Customs in charge of the Murtala Muhammed Airport.


We can go on and on to talk about the Babaginda, Abacha, Obasanjo, Goodluck and the present administration. Corruption was legalized under Babaginda; his administration refused to give an account of the gulf war windfall, which was estimated to be $12.4 billion.

He rigged and cancelled the only successful election in Nigeria.

Abacha's looting legacy still manages to show up occasionally even after his demise. His alleged loot and mismanagement of public funds were legendary.

After his demise investigations revealed that french contactors paid millions of dollars for the awarding of contracts, $100 million was later discovered by investigators in a foreign bank account.

Two years after Abacha's death, an enquiry revealed that a swiss bank account allowed his family access to $600 Million, It was also that he had $1 billion scattered over Europe in different accounts.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan and his successor, President Muhammadu Buhari.

Goodluck Ebele Jonthan (GEJ)

Under GEJ Nigeria corruption rating by TI improved from 143rd to the 136th position in 2014, it is surprising, that will be the case if only you observed his administration.

Goodluck took over from Umaru Musa Yar'Adua. Corruption, incompetence and negligence were endemic in his administration.

Many people defend him just as they defended Buhari and Shehu Shagari during their military regime. This defence always run along tribal lines, the usual phrase is 'he is not corrupt, but rather people around him were corrupt'.

The fact is if you were entrusted with a responsibility and people around exudes actions that make it impossible to achieve that goal assigned to you, the only solution is the imminent sack of those individuals if they are your subordinates or avoidance if you cant get rid of them.

GEJ saw the level of corruption in his administration but choose to turn a blind eye. The then central bank Governor of Nigeria Sanusi Lamido Sanusi publicly reported that NNPC did not remit up to $20 billion to the federation account.

In a bid to quench public outcry NNPC was asked to audit themselves (NNPC), the audit revealed that it was $1.48 billion that was not remitted.

An independent audit by PwC and Deloitte later revealed that up to $20 billion was indeed not remitted to the federation account.

Under GEJ security contracts were awarded to Militants in Niger delta, it was also discovered that low-level workers directly stole over N8 billion in CBN.

In recent times PDP asked accused Buhari of withdrawing $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) to fund his 2019 re-election campaign. Still, prior to 2015 election, it was revealed that the administration withdrew about $2.2 from ECA without the approval of National Economic Council of which $1 billion was meant to fund his re-election bid.

  • $11.6 billion was discovered missing in NLNG dividend payment.
  • Sixty million barrel of oil was allegedly stolen under the watch of NNPC from 2009 to 2012.
  • 60% of $1 billion foreign loans from china was supposedly diverted.
  • Scam of over N3 trillion spent on defence budget under the guise of fighting Boko haram.
  • N1.9 billion ebola fight fund was diverted.
  • It was allegedly reported that NIMASA funded PDP (ruling political party at the time), they also bought a small piece of land for N13 billion.
  • Ministry of finance-led by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala hurried payment of $2.2 million to the health ministry in disputed invoices.
  • NDDC scam of over 2.7bn contract that did not conform to public procurement act.
  • ICPC investigated the Police Service Commission and discovered N145 million naira was mismanaged in election-related training.

I cannot list all, hope you remember the 2nd Niger bridge and how many times contracts were awarded.

At this point, the system has deteriorated from the top to down to the roots.

Muhammadu Buhari administration (2015–present)

In 2016, the Senate ad-hoc committee on "mounting humanitarian crisis in the North East" led by Senator Shehu Sani indicted the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation appointed by Muhammadu Buhari, Mr Babachir Lawal in a N200 million contract scandal for the clearing of "invasive plant species" in Yobe State by Rholavision Nigeria Limited; a company he owns.

On October 30, 2017, President Buhari sacked Lawal based on the report of a three-person panel led by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo that investigated him and one other.

In 2016, Buhari was reportedly presented evidence that his Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, took N500 million naira bribe from MTN to help it slash the $5 Billion fine slammed against it for violation of Nigeria telecommunications regulations bothering on national security.

MTN fired the staff involved in the bribery scandal. But Abba Kyari was left intact in his position as Chief of Staff to national outrage forcing Buhari to announce the probe of Kyari. The findings of the investigation were never made public.

Abdulrasheed Maina was the head of the task force on pension reforms during the President Goodluck Jonathan led administration but fled Nigeria in 2015 after claims that he embezzled 100 billion naira.

Even though an Interpol arrest warrant was issued, he still managed to return to Nigeria, where he was said to have enjoyed protection from the Buhari government. 

Maina had been fired from his position by Goodluck Jonathan's administration and was put under investigation for corrupt practices but was allegedly reinstated by Buhari administration.

President Muhammadu Buhari with his wife and children during the celebration of Eid Kabir.

The Nation or State

The education system in Nigeria has failed the youths; the teachers are underpaid or owed salaries; some teachers are not qualified was seen in Kaduna.

The younger generation is no longer motivated to acquire an education; this laxity is caused by the quest to afford basic things like finance, food and water, which the government have refused to provide efficiently.

Without Education to shed light on the path of ignorance, there becomes a lack of choice, people start to care less about what they need; rather, it becomes about wants. People become ignorant of what their rights are; the government reels into anarchy because no one knows when the line is crossed.

The present government has crossed many lines, but people care less because the majority of the population do not recognise that a line as been crossed while the few elites that know believe they cannot change the system.

Education comes with competitiveness, progress, self-awareness and a desire to grow. It furnishes the mind with independence, lack of bias or sentiment. It is not the only trait a leader needs, but it is a crucial trait needed for the growth of a diverse country like Nigeria.

We are biased, and we are always sentimental when dealing with people; thus, how can we change a system built on sentiment and bias when we are yet to remove the log in our own eyes.

Education can imbibe the acceptance of cultural difference and emphasise patriotism over tribalism. We as citizens lack patriotism because we see the systemic failure as irredeemable. Majority of the youths today believe if allowed to rule, they will loot as their founding fathers did.

It is a selfish and dangerous mindset, and it is at this point that we failed as a Nation or State.


The Failed System


Corruption has stained the system, but as I have always stated, the problem is not about corruption or fraud. Every country has stains and instances of fraud.

Even the more civilised European nations deal with corruption daily. The major difference between Nigeria and other European countries is the system that enables this corruption and the rate.

Nigeria, as a country, still relies on basic English laws made in the 1950s. How would you tame corruption when the law smiles on it. The law against fraud, misappropriation of public funds is mild, most convicted culprits are only expected to pay a small fine or face jail time of fewer than five years.

Many a time the culprit will only pay a fine, Nigeria from 1950 till date has grown from 48 to 200 million people but how many Politicians have been convicted of bribery and money laundering?

Laws against corruption, anarchy and nepotism have refused to emerge because of the disagreement along tribal lines. When a southern man is in power, he will refuse to prosecute his tribal neighbour same with a Northern fellow, and the cycle continues.

A Federal System

Apart from enacting laws, another remedy to the above is an actual federal system of government that gives each state autonomy to govern themselves.

The mere chant of unity cannot reconcile the tribal divide in Nigeria; a system needs to be in place to recognise this divide and sate the desire of regional independence.


The leaders play politics with insecurity and religion. One of the valid points that brought President Buhari to power was the problem of insecurity and Boko Haram; you only have to judge for yourself and give a verdict.

There are many cases of banditry in some states, even the president's home state of katsina, yet no significant inroads have been made to cease these senseless killings. While corruption in the defence ministry is the major setback, the current structure of policing and counter-terrorism is the roadblock to insecurity in the country.

The Nigeria Police Force is organised in a way that makes the central government too powerful, IGP heads the police force and is appointed by the president under the advice of the Nigeria police council. This council comprises of the

  • president.
  • state governors
  • IGP
  • chairman of the Nigeria police service Commission.

A body comprising of the above is at the behest of the president, according to the constitution the IGP is answerable to the president or a minister as directed by the president. The constitution also made it impossible for the state governors to appoint the states' commissioners of police (CP).

According to the Nigerian constitution, the CP for each state is appointed by the Police service Commission; a body made up of unelected individuals. The Commission is comprised of

  •  a Chairman who shall be the Chief Executive of the Commission;
  • a retired Justice of the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal;
  • a retired Police Officer not below the rank of Commissioner of Police

Take a second look above to see where the system failed again, the appointment to the above Commission is the sole prerogative of the president subsequent to Senate approval, the president also has the discretion to dismiss anyone from the Commission even before the term expiration.

The above body of unelected individuals are responsible for selecting a CP for every state in Nigeria; it invariably means the constitution belives that an elected Governor should not be responsible for the security of his state.

The same constitution regards a Governor as the Chief Security Officer (CSO) of the state he serves, so what's the point?

The leaders who crafted the constitution deliberately wanted to leave power in the hands of a few. I discovered how inefficient the system was when some herdsmen attacked Uwani; a town in Enugu North senatorial zone. When this attack happened, the Governor went to the village and was pictured crying.

People called him all sort of names and insisted he make a move but what they do not understand is, without the approval of the president or IGP, a CP cannot make moves to apprehend the assailants or counter-terror in a state.

Many a time, the CPs are not even residents or indigenes of the state, which means they may not understand the terrain and cultural differences within the state.

Regional governance or state police can solve this problem of insecurity. We should emulate from others and institute a system devoid of failure.

Share With Friends

Drop Your Comments