The Corruption Nexus in Nigeria and Ibrahim Magu’s Example

The problem of economic ruin in Nigeria can easily be traced to white-collar criminality and the cyclical nature of hedonism that has permeated the culture and sustained a formula of chronic corruption

―ID Onwudiwe

The suspension from office of Ibrahim Magu, the former acting chairman of the EFCC, for alleged diversion of recovered funds and other corrupt practices in the performance of his official duties by the presidency is a massive step in the right direction and a win for all Nigerians.


Undoubtedly, Magu’s arrest and interrogation is the type of legacy and action that we have longed for and expected from our president. It sends a flawless message to current officeholders and past government incumbents that no one is above the law, no matter how long they have looted our country’s treasury. It also makes clear that the culture of impunity of greed will no longer be tolerated in Nigeria.

The problem of economic ruin in Nigeria can easily be traced to white-collar criminality and the cyclical nature of hedonism that has permeated the culture and sustained a formula of chronic corruption. By arresting Magu, a man entrusted with such a high moral and ethical office, the president demonstrates that the game is over for those who abuse their official trust and who erroneously believe that government money is their personal money. It also means that Nigeria, under the auspices of the current administration, will no longer permit a rush to expropriate the country’s resources illegally for personal fortification or tribal arrangements.

But before proceeding, I must recognize the gallant efforts of the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, who, in his immeasurable wisdom, created the EFCC office to stamp out political and economic corruption in Nigeria’s government. The Justice Ayo Salami-led presidential investigative panel and the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, deserve enormous credit and praise for their efforts. It is difficult in a cabal-controlled sector of the economy to function in Nigeria’s best interest without succumbing to the impurity of squandermania. In other words, by allowing Magu to have impartial justice and not capitulating to the temptations of bribery, they have made tremendous contributions to their country.

Nigeria needs people of high caliber like these patriots in office. Their objective investigations and safeguarding of due process, in this case, illustrate the argument for meritocracy in office. Selecting the best people to hold offices is one of the cardinal principles needed for Nigeria’s growth and for Nigeria to have its proper position as a respected and prospective core nation.

Often, we hear that a government office has been engulfed in fire.

While government corruption, a form of white-collar crime (those committed by individuals in higher political, social, religious, and economic positions in society), is prevalent worldwide, some Nigerian officeholders steal with impunity and without mercy. Like Magu, those he was investigating had looted their ministries and state treasuries with disdain. Often, we hear that a government office has been engulfed in fire. We also see politicians at local, state, and federal levels become millionaires and billionaires overnight. One typical example is former President Sani Abacha. His stolen funds are still being pilfered by those entrusted to recover them. While governors, such as David Nweze Umahi of Ebonyi State, are busy building roads and engaging in agriculture and other infrastructural developments, others deny their citizens good roads, electricity, decent salaries, and pension payments. At the same time, those corrupt officials receive funding from Abuja.

Sani Abacha’s stolen funds are still being pilfered by those entrusted to recover them.

Indeed, I was impressed with Governor Hope Uzodinma’s recent press conference on salaries and pensions. The governor lamented that he stopped payment for two or three months to study the salary and pension data. He insisted that he had identified numerous financial irregularities in salaries and pension expenditures. According to the governor, he has started disbursing wages and pensions after ending the cabal’s influence and control that made it difficult for the state to fulfill its financial obligations. The problem the governor identified is an example of Joseph Richard’s (2013) “prebendal logic.” This logic describes the nexus or collusion of the bureaucratic class (what Gov. Uzodinma called civil service) and the cabal in the politics of personal enrichment of themselves and their political blocs. As in the Imo State case, prebendalism in Nigeria is recurrent, and it is blamable for the extensive exploitation in our country. Nationwide, only divine providence can tell how these rogues (looters of Nigerian wealth) accomplish their ruse in a country flanked by many strategic security structures. One must assume that there is a mutual interest between some criminal cliques and the plunderers of the Nigerian resources: an alliance that allows the criminal cells to provide adequate protection for their partners, constituting what Prof. Obi Ebbe (1999) categorized as the political-criminal nexus.

There is absolutely no way that Ibrahim Magu could have gotten away for so long with his state crimes—which facilitated the appropriation of the Nigerian treasury for personal enhancement—without the knowledge and protection of the cabal and the members of the political class. These voracious and gluttonous Nigerians are insatiable in their draining of Nigerian resources. Past and current looters are both guilty, and the president, with three years remaining in office, should set severe examples. It is imperative to penalize these white-collar offenders to the extent that the punishment is clearly greater than the pleasure that they derive from pillaging the economy.

Like what happened in Singapore, if our president punishes these looters, perhaps we will be on our way to successfully combat corruption

The president should do more by taking back our money and punishing the culprits. Money recovered from past governors should go back to their respective states for development purposes. Like what happened in Singapore, if our president punishes these looters, perhaps we will be on our way to successfully combat corruption in office and realize and enjoy deserved development. However, I sympathize with the administration, because Nigerians who loot the nation’s resources have stolen so much money that they have become an island unto themselves. Official crimes, like Magu’s alleged offenses, usually comprise multifaceted chains of factors, bureaucratic authority, and elements of power structures, making it challenging to associate lawbreakers with their respective malefactions.

In our country, state crimes are vividly entrenched, and corruption has been germinated and fertilized as a way of life. But, as they say, “one might not always be capable of winning over city hall.”

■ Dr. Onwudiwe, a Professor of Criminology at the Texas Southern University is a columnist with the WAP