Legislative Corruption – Patterns, Impact and Repercussions for Democracy And Good Governance And The Civil Society Organizations As Vanguard For Accountability








I am eternally grateful to God Almighty for the privilege of presenting to this  paper to  fellow  West African brothers and sisters, in our common cause, to rid our continent of the stigma of corruption, money laundering and terrorist financing. I thank God for bringing all of us here safely and pray to Him for our safe return home to our families and loved ones to continue this struggle. I would also like to take this opportunity to express my profound gratitude and deep sense of appreciation to the Intergovernmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA), , for  inviting me to share my experience. I also thank them for  their hard work in organizing this event, and their continued work to make our region a beacon for the continent. On behalf of the Anti-Corruption Network and all well-meaning Nigerians, I thank you all.


I would like to begin by quoting the late American Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King who once said “Human Salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted”.

One has to pause for a moment to figure out how “creativity” and “maladjustment” can be reconciled. When I was thinking of how to put this presentation together, the title struck me as odd. “Legislative Corruption- patterns, impact and Repercussion for Democracy and Good Governance and the Civil Society Organizations as vanguard for Accountability”. It is odd because it demands an analysis of legislative corruption and its repercussions, but also promotes CSO’s as the vanguard of accountability. In so doing and mulling over the title, Dr. King’s quote came to mind. The title itself provides the counter intuitive answer to legislative corruption. Basically, as Theodore Richards wrote in his blog “If we are maladjusted to a corrupt system, our task is not to become “well adjusted”, but to use our maladjustment as a creative, not a destructive, force”. By this logic legislators who do not want to adjust to a corrupt system can be assisted in their ambition by the maladjusted Civil Society Organizations, like Dr. King’s own organization and the missions of the prophets of old and the Messiah himself -Jesus Christ, and put direct pressure on the system to correct their corrupt ways.

Dr. King’s construct seems to me to subtly convey – the revolutionary fervor and purpose of the righteously indignant. Or, as Malcolm X’s more bluntly put it “by any means necessary”. Both statements lend axiomatic credence to the notion that revolutions arise when the existing paradigm can no longer be sustained. In most cases, this is where a system’s internal inconsistencies compromise it to a point where its structural integrity fails. In other words it is so rotten and or out of touch it can no longer stand. I’m told that the etymology of the word for corruption in Arabic means “to rot”. Rotten is an apt and alliterative metaphor for corrupt. The rot of corruption is as personal in its origins as it is societal in its ideation. That is, as Professor Blumenthal argues in his book titled “The Banality of Good and Evil”, good people can do bad things, and collective evil is possible in a society of good people where such acts become common place. Or, as the villain Iago disingenuously put it in William Shakespeare’s play Othello: “virtue! a fig. Tis in us that we are thus or thus.”  The subjective relativity of virtue inIago’s world is reflected in societies such as mine in Nigeria, where if you occupy a public position and do not profit personally from it you are considered a fool and even worse selfish by kith and kin. At the same time you face public opprobrium for stealing public property and funds. It is moral ambiguity over corruption such as this that allows it to thrive.

This internally inconsistency in how corruption is perceived in many societies is what an EU publication on corruption termed, “a moral economy of corruption”. Such an economy exists where there is an “ambivalent attitude toward corruption where it is judged according to a scale of acceptance that operates in the society: ‘while a good appetite is normal’, ‘gluttony is deplorable’.  In this way a poorly paid civil servant can morally justify augmenting his paltry salary with bribes and to society it’s not such a bad thing. And, quarrelsome elites can jockey for positions to gorge on public funds in an orgy characterized by an “Its-our-turn-to-eat”; the title of Michaela Wrong’s book on Corruption in Kenya.  This adjustment to corruption or accommodation of it arguably governs and regulates the ethical construction of corruption in Nigeria as it does in many countries and justifies it through the prism of moral relativism. By contrast corruption eradication policies and purges tend to be couched in absolute terms of moral indignation and demand selfless service from those holding public trust. We often hear of “Zero-tolerance” policies on corruption of other countries. But in Nigeria, we have yet to perfect the design or execution of anti-corruption corruption policies. Our approach is still zero-sum (what society wins in eradicating corruption, the corrupt must lose). From our history of fighting corruption, this approach has yet to produce optimal outcomes. Every administration civilian or military since the Nigerian Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa first took office as Prime Minister on October 1st, 1960 has vowed to rid our society of the scourge of corruption. In a sense, the history of efforts to eradicate corruption in Nigeria has generated more heat than “light”. It reached a zenith in 1997 when, in its first Corruption Perception Index, Transparency International listed Nigeria as the most corrupt country in the world. Around the world, Nigeria is the butt of many jokes about corruption. So I won’t tell you a joke but rather a true story.

It was the spring of 1998, and a colleague was in Pakistan having lunch with a Pakistani politician’s son. His host asked him “My Nigerian brother, why is Pakistan the second most corrupt country in the world after Nigeria?” My colleague, being the serious person that he is, said, “Well, it might have something to do with the new Transparency International Corruption Index. Transparency International says Nigeria is the most corrupt country in the world” His host replied, “No, it’s because Pakistan bribed Nigeria to take first place!”

I am happy to report that on the current Transparency Index, Nigeria is no longer the most corrupt country in the world, but she still remains among the most corrupt countries.  So the question is has Nigeria improved or have some countries just gotten more corrupt? One thing is clear, the size and scope of the corruption is higher than it has ever been. One way to see this, and a way that bears directly on the triple functions of any Legislature, are the sums appropriated annually to meet the cost of governance in Nigeria.

During the Obasanjo administration in Nigeria, the National Assembly appropriated a total of nearly =N=13 trillion over 8 years. At the end of those eight years, the administration left a healthy US$18 billion in the excess crude account (Sovereign Wealth Fund) and over US$30 billion in the Foreign Reserves account. Nigeria was open for business, its exchange rate had been stable at around =N=118 to US$ 1. Currency fluctuations after the currency harmonization and bank consolidation was limited. The current administration by contrast has, in 4 short years has appropriated =N=16 trillion. It has exhausted the Excess Crude Account, incurred a domestic debt of US$45 billion, and depleted our Foreign Exchange reserves to US$6 billion as of June 2012. In the last year alone, this administration spent nearly US$9 billion in inappropriate funds to supposedly prop up the petroleum subsidy regime. We have since discovered that this was a massive fraud perpetrated on Nigerians with the collusion of unscrupulous business men, middlemen, corrupt officials and political appointees. In some ways, Nigeria’s democracy dividend has led to the privatization of profits among the coterie of friends and family of senior dispensers of patronage. At the same time, it has led to the nationalization of losses incurred by all Nigerians.  Ordinary Nigerians are being forced to pay for the corrupt profligacy of the elites.  Where, you may ask, was the National Assembly in all of this?

It is somewhat tempting to blame the Parliament  for passing the Appropriations’ Laws that resulted in this enormous debt.  It is even easier to accuse the legislature of complicity in performing its representative function by conniving with public officials to bloat the project with special “constituency projects”, which Americans call “Pork Barreling”. Whether this constitutes zealously representing constituency interests or defrauding the Public might depend on your perspective. The National Assembly can also be charged with negligence in the performance of its oversight function, by failing to scrutinize budget performance and delivery. All of the above reasons provide superficial and somewhat visceral reasons what is needed is a deeper analysis of the remote causes of legislative inaction to provide context to these perceived failings.  To do this one needs to go back and look at the developmental trajectories that have brought us to this state of affairs.


An analysis of Legislative corruption cannot be complete without a review of the history of democracy in most West African Countries . For example, in the thirty-one of Nigeria’s fifty one years of independence, no legislature existed. The frequent military incursion into our politics has not only caused a historical breach in the development of our political order but also our constitutional order. So strongly did our eminent constitutional lawyer Professor Nwabueze feel about it, that as far back as the 1980′s he advocated for a constitutional right of the citizenry to bear arms, similar to what pertains in America.

Nigeria’s democracy is closely modeled after America’s, with separation of powers and bi-cameral legislature. However, as the Economist publication rightly observed in its May 26th, 2011 edition, Nigeria’s president has significantly more powers than his U.S. counterpart. The presidency is so powerful, that the National Security architecture of Nigeria is designed to preserve the regime rather than the integrity of the nation. Though federal in its system of governance, Nigeria is peculiar in the level of “fiscal hyper-centralization” that has robbed the federating units of much autonomy and “subsidiarity”. By “subsidiarity” I mean the devolution of decision-making to the lowest possible components of governance, i.e. Local governments and wards.  This “fiscal hyper-centralization” Centre’s around the budget, which is the common denominator in Nigeria’s politics and the holy grail of political power. Since that budget is predicated on oil revenues, oil becomes the focus of all attention. Capturing the various institutions associated with it becomes the ultimate political prize. As journalist Anthony Goldman described it in the same Economist article “Nigerian politics is one big bun fight over oil money.” I know this to be true; I was Chairman of the House Committee on information.

Nigeria’s Legislature is the second branch of Government and primarily serves three functions. The first is to represent each locality that comprises the Federation called Nigeria. The second is to make laws for the federation, and the third is to perform oversight. Each of these functions presents their own unique vulnerabilities to corruption but I will start by addressing some structural vulnerability that may account for the country’s accommodation and adjustment to corruption.

In short, in my view, and emerging scholarship supports this notion, the roots of post-colonial corruption lie to some extent in the construction of the presidency, the Military and theMilitarization of the Public Space.

A good starting point is the presidency. Nigeria’s democracy can be characterized as an “elective dictatorship” (to adapt Lord Hailsham’s well-worn phrase) headed by an “imperial president” to misapply a concept first devised by Professor Richard Neustadt. It is a legacy bequeathed to us Nigerians, by a politics-weary military. There is emerging academic and applied research on the cultural militarization of the society in Nigeria. Though we have been independent from Britain for nearly Fifty-two years, we’ve only ever successfully managed to transition from one civilian government to the next in 2007. Between 1966 and 1979 and between 1983 and 1999 all our laws commenced with the declaration:

“The Federal Military Government hereby Decrees”. Indeed, these very words brought the very constitution of 1999 that is the social contract binding our current democracy. Two whole generations have come of age knowing nothing but the military’s doctrinaire form of governance. The impact of political power on the military politicized and polarized the institution to the point where it could no longer command with any credibility or integrity, and the threat of force or coercion began to threaten its own very existence.  To take one example, when General Babangida annulled the June 12th, 1993 elections, his efforts to stay in power were eventually thwarted when his constituency, the military, (and not the population that voted) met (at a meeting of mid-level and high ranking officers) and stated that his safety could not be guaranteed after August 27th, 1993.  The five years of Abacha were ended with a “coup from heaven” that rid the country of the be goggled dictator. His successor realizing that the military had no credibility left to govern, announced a rapid transition to civilian rule timetable to result in the coronation of Olusegun Obasanjo as President on May 27th, 1999.

Since 1999 we have operated this style of democracy, but at a bloody social and political cost. The historical breach in the development of our civic and political institutions in the first thirteen and, in particular, the second seventeen years of military rule has left us with a militarized democracy.  Military rule militarized society not only in speech but also in its mannerisms. Expressions such as “I will discipline you” became language in ordinary use. The proliferation of quasi-military institutions or civil institutions operating in a draconian way became the norm, and the vestiges of such institutions persist today: institutions such as the Federal Road Safety Corps, The Civil Defense Corps, and the National Youth Service Corps. TheWAI Brigade (War against Indiscipline) has given way to several local public order agencies such as KAI (Kick against Indiscipline) in Lagos, the …. in Kano, and ultimately  the more sinister theBoko Haram which started life in the north east of Nigeria. The choice of military appellations for civilian agencies is regrettable but indicative of the militarization of the civic institutions.  AsUzoechi Nwagbara writing about Chinua Achebe’s novel ‘Anthills of the Savannah”, states, ]”Achebe considers the solders as being worse than the civilian government they ousted; they have in this regard perfected killing, torture, intimidation, terror, violence and have in the final analysis militarized the social space. “He goes on to quote directly from Anthills of the Savannah where Achebe writes:

“The prime failure of this government began also to take on a clear meaning… It can’t be the massive corruption though its scale and pervasiveness are truly intolerable; it isn’t the subservience to foreign manipulation, degrading as it is; it isn’t even this second-class, hand-me-down capitalism, ludicrous and doomed… It is the failure of our rulers to re-establish vital inner links with the poor and dispossessed of this country, with the bruised heart that throbs painfully at the core of the nation’s being.”

The military, though initially well intentioned, stunted the growth and maturity of our civic institutions and inserted into our political discourse and psyche a seeming intolerance for dissent or discordance that can enrich the political debate. This is zero-sum politics, where theinstrumentalities of office are there to preserve the incumbent. As a result, as Professor Lancaster observed, for those in office in Nigeria, “seamanship is more important than navigation”. That is staying in power becomes the objective of those in power rather than moving the country in a new direction. This is the case even if the office holder has a grand vision and plan. Corruption then sets in as a means of preserving power and the cycle thereafter continues. The condition of the poor and dispossessed rarely enters the minds of those in power as one former Attorney General lamented to a colleague.

The second trauma wrought by the Military’s command and control structure on Nigeria’s political psyche that persists today is what Professor Rotimi Subairu termed “fiscal hyper centralization” as stated above. Essentially, this is the concentration of the power of the purse in the Centre. This effectively undermines federalism, as the federating units are forced to beg the federal government for funds to manage their states and local governments. This has gotten more acute as the agitation for more states, increases the administrative burden to maintain bureaucracies.  Most states in Nigeria are economically unviable and survive on stipends and disbursements from Federal government.  This competition for resources from the central budget is what Goldman was referring to in the “big bun fight over oil money”. The implications of this on local government lack of accountability, State Government imperiousness and Federal government patronage are obvious. Such is the arrogance of State Governors, (mini-presidents in their own states) that recently one state governor sought to dismiss elected Local government Chairmen.  Only in Nigeria can an elected office holder be sacked by another elected officeholder.

To sum up, the military bequeathed to us an imperial presidency whose survival is more important to the state than the welfare of the population. All our national security agencies are designed to protect and preserve the regime. The nations revenue management framework is skewed in favor of the federal government, as are the dispensation of appointments and official positions. With command of the coercive forces of the state, police, army navy and air force, set against the back drop of a militarily traumatized society, you can begin to see that it is too simplistic to accuse the Legislature of corrupt complicity in executive excesses.  And, this is where Civil Society Organizations must stand up and be counted as the creatively maladjusted to rectify this state of affairs; recalibrate the cultural balance of our politics by making those in office accountable. In so doing they will embolden the National Assembly to be more assertive in representing their constituents, and thus entrenching good governance in our polity.


Now you know how the well that waters the garden of democracy that the parliament  is mandated to tend, I shall shortly begin to analyze the issues affecting the probity and integrity of the legislatures. But I would like to extend the aquatic metaphor further. There is a Chinese proverb that states, “when you drink the water, remember the well spring”. So it is with Legislative corruption. When you consider the corruption of the legislature think about the origins and remote causes. For there may lie the answers to vexing questions. Now for those of you who are still awake and have not been tempted to fall asleep or be seduced to the darker side of avarice, I have no more stories to tell you.

What is Legislative Corruption?

In this part of the presentation, I will briefly describe the legislative model in Nigeria. Thereafter, I will review the triple functions of the Legislature and through case studies demonstrate how corruption infiltrates and undermines the institution. I will finally provide recommendations and solutions, before moving on to Civil Society Organizations and the role they can play in keeping Legislators honest. Again I will use case studies to demonstrate the point to be made.

Before answering this question, it is useful to summarize the type of legislative model Nigeria where I have acquired practical experience operates bi-cameral legislative system; with a House of Representatives and a Senate. The House, the lower chamber of the legislature has 360 Members representing a federal constituency each. This constituency is determined largely by population and land mass. The Senate is the upper chamber and consists of three senators per state and one for the Federal Captital totaling 109.

The National Assembly performs three functions. representation, legislation and oversight of executive actions.  Each, as stated before, has its own vulnerability to corruption. In the context of Nigerian society and the political legacy of the military, the Legislators are peculiarly vulnerable to corruption.

Representation and Corruption.

Constituency Boundaries and Corruption

It starts with Representation. The politics of Federal Districts creates all sorts of opportunities for corruption. As the military bequeathed to us the administrative boundaries currently in place and entrenched them in the constitution, we will continue to see friction, conflict and outright cheating to get more members into the House of Assembly and count more people for voting and revenue purposes. This is closely linked to the census, which has been a bone of contention since the early 1970′s.  Currently the Census tribunal is hearing a number of cases brought by local governments, notably in Lagos State to determine whether the census figures, accurately represent the population. The pattern emerging is the systematic undercounting of states and localities where the opposition is strong to reduce their numbers in the National Assembly and their rightful share of the national cake. Again, the issue goes back to the imperial presidency and its powers, which gives the ruling party significant advantage over the levers of power, including that of representation.

Corruption and the Law Making Function

Lobbying must be distinguished from corruption. It is the right of every citizen corporate or otherwise to organize and influence policy and law making. That is the public square. However, influencing legislation by illicit means is corruption. Law Makers in Nigeria are known for taking bribes to vote in a particular way.  Or even not to show up in the National Assembly at all while a vote is taking place. One of the most ironic examples I can give is that the Executive in exasperation had to bribe National Assembly members to pass the Money Laundering Act in Nigeria. O.K. It just goes to show, with enough money you can give a man a noose to hang himself.

I will not dwell on corruption in the legislative process, suffice to say, it also involves situations where key pieces of legislation are interfered with by procedural and other mechanisms to stop their passage. Among the many potential paymasters are Governors, Oil Companies, other corporate interests, the Executive and, surprise, surprise Civil Society Organizations.

Corruption and Oversight

Perhaps the most recent and staggering example of Corruption came in the National Assembly’s performance of its oversight function. Many of you may remember that the 2012 got off to a bang in Nigeria. The government on January 1st, 2012 announced the removal of the petroleum subsidy.  `

There are many ways legislators can be corrupt. The case studies I have presented merely highlight the patterns and consequences of corrupt activity. Legislative corruption manifests itself in many ways and forms.

Bribery: This is ‘the bestowing of a benefit in order to unduly influence an action or decision’, has already been illustrated above.

• Fraud: This is ‘any behavior designed to trick or fool another person or entity for one’s own or a third party’s benefit’. Again this has been demonstrated above, particularly with regard to be Toronto and Farouked.

• Embezzlement: This is the ‘taking or conversion of money, property or valuable items by an individual who is not entitled to them but, by virtue of his or her position or employment, has access to them’. The former Speaker of the House of Representatives in Nigeria, Dimeji Bankolewas arrested for fraud and embezzlement in the inflation of procurement contracts for providing material resources to the House of Assembly. Many of you may remember my, literally, “whist blowing” exercise in the House on this issue.

• Favoritism: Favoritism itself is ‘the normal human inclination to prefer acquaintances, friends and family over strangers’. In relation to corruption it is specifically ‘when public officials demonstrate favoritism to unfairly distribute positions and resources‘. Nepotism and cronyism are two forms of favoritism. Nepotism occurs where public officials offer unfair favors to family members, while cronyism refers to the favorable treatment of friends.

• Extortion: This relies on a process of coercion where a person, company or institution forces another party ‘to pay money or other valuables in exchange for acting or failing to act’. TheFarouk episode provides ample illustration of how this can back fire.

Other forms of corruption include:

• Abuse of discretion: This is where officials utilize their ‘vested authority to give undue preferential treatment to any group or individuals or to discriminate against any group or individuals for personal gain’.

• Conflict of interest: This is when the personal interests of a public official improperly influence decision-making and the performance of an official’s duties and responsibilities.

• Illegal contribution: These occur when political parties or a government receives bribes in exchange for non-interference—or alternatively favoritism—towards those making the contribution.

It is also pathetic that the very institutions that Members of National Assembly are supposed to oversight under right all their expenses including brown envelops.


It is in the light of the above that we shall be proceeding to examine some of the negative impacts of legislative corruptions some of which could be listed as follows:

–   It weakens and erodes the legislative and over sight functions of the legislature and their capacity to act as checks and balances on the Executives.

–   It undermines the ability of the legislature to perform their oversight functions effectively.

–   It could portend danger of turning the legislature to mere rubber stamp of the Executive thus leading to Civilian dictatorship.

–   It will impact negatively and poorly on service delivery in terms of non-implementation of budgets and thus lack of qualitative and quantitative infrastructure to support development.

–   It will impact negatively on the quality of democratic governance and capable of undermining the rule of law.

–   It impact negatively on the electorate as they tends to lose confidence in democracy.

–   It sends wrong signals to international community and discourages flow of foreign investments and confidence.

–   It impacts negatively on probity, accountability and good governance.

–   It impacts negatively on the economic development and growth of the country.

The Repercussions for Democracy and Good Governance

The following are some of the likely repercussions of legislative corruption for democracy and good Governance.

–   Total loss of confidence in the democratic dispensation by the electorate and the populace,

–   It leads to voter’s apathy which eventually gives rooms to electoral malpractices, vote buying and financial inducement.

–   It could lead to absolute compromise of the electoral umpire by Executive and power of incumbent.

–   It may lead to electoral violence, thurgery and manipulations.

–   It could impoverish the citizenry through misplacement of economic priority and poor service delivery leading to frustrations and aggravated systemic anger.

–   It will invariably affect the quality of legislation and justice System in the country.

–   It could lead to gross national insecurity due largely to systematic dissatisfaction.

–   It undermines legislative integrity leading to isolation by international community.

–   It could lead to protest, popular revolution or Military intervention to terminate the democratic dispensation.

The Civil Society Organisation as Vangaurd for Accountability:

The important role Civil Society Organizations can play in order to ensure accountability, transparency and good governance has already been demonstrated above.  I have sought to argue in this paper, that it is only Civil Society and constituencies that can keep assembly members honest. CSO’s the “creative Maladjusters” Dr. King envisaged, practiced preached and ultimately sacrificed his life for. He was forty-two when he died, younger than many of us today. He, like many of his creative maladjusted predecessors changed the world, from Moses to Prophet Mohammed (SAW), from Emmaline Pankhurst to Rosa Parks, from Ghandi to Mandela, creative maladjustment is a tried and tested formula for success.   Its power has been proved recently in Nigeria again, when Civil Society rose up to hold government accountable for its stewardship of the economy and management of the petroleum subsidy. It forced the House to investigate the matter. And, despite the “Farouk imbroglio”, has resulted in Government prosecuting some of the perpetrators for fraud and embezzlement.  But Civil Society, as the subsidy protests demonstrate is at an informational and expertise disadvantage to the government. This disadvantage can be overcome with greater coordination and sharing of knowledge, know-how and techniques among CSO’s in Africa. We must support each other technically, financially and professionally.

Civil Society as Vanguard for Accountability.

The following roles can be played by CSOs in serving as vanguard of accountability and agents of change; this will directly create a better society and reduce the obvious spate of money laundering and terrorist financing:

·    Deliberate effort to find relevant information that deals with corruption and gather valid evidence on each case.

·     Whistle blowing: CSOs should be the voice that will cry out to the media, law enforcement agencies, stakeholders and the general public.

·    Advocacy and mobilization: CSOs are to carry out advocacy activities concerning any issue, conduct research, mobilize the populace, raise a bill and influence policy making process.

·    Establish and working within networks: there is need to put energy together and work with other similar minds to address any arising issue.


In conclusion, I will like to stress that this paper focuses on issues in Nigeria as a touch bearer for the region, it is important to note that the magnitude of corruption in each country might be different, however, Civil Society in all countries should know and understand the patterns of legislative corruptions, which has no boundary, and proposed building a robust response mechanism in addressing the ugly situation. So, in this sense, this paper has provided broad framework in understanding what our expected response should be as Civil Society. Finally, I will like to point possible spring board we can benefit from as CSOs in the region. We in Nigeria could have benefitted from the Information Technology experts who helped co-ordinate the Egyptian Revolution. We could have benefitted from the professional support from professional associations such as the Medical Doctors and Lawyers provided during the Arab Spring demonstrations. Every little helps as we make effort and sacrifice for the greatest good for the greatest number.  There will be set backs along the way, but if we keep our eye on the prize, and with the help of Almighty God, in the word s of Britain’s King George VI, “we shall prevail.”

Thank you.

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