Archive for July, 2012

A few months ago, I received a forwarded email from a friend, transcribing his pastor’s preaching from that Sunday morning. This preaching included intricate details and accusations that summarily described Islam as a violent religion, a religion that is designed to bring down Christianity & all mankind, and a religion that is dedicated to tearing Nigeria apart.

After three or four reads of this email, I was at the brink of a full-blown panic attack. Not panic because I believed or even cared about the content of this preaching, but panic that a number of people would believe every single aspect of this preaching, in their blind followership of yet, another religious leader and his interpretations of the holy book.

Today, I have decided to quietly reflect on what all of this means to me, and to put things in context, on religion, and on a number of other issues.

I am a young Christian-Catholic, who has been privileged to travel all around the world, break bread with people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, be shown hospitality and love by all kinds of people, despite our differences in language, race, culture, religious beliefs or sexual orientation. I have tried ceaselessly to gain insight into some of the workings of other religions and ethnic backgrounds, as well as the perspectives of people of different sexual orientations. In simple terms, I may have become so open-minded, that my brain is finally ready to fall out ☺

Through all of these, I have come to develop certain perspectives on life and life’s issues and I would like to share a few musings, and hopefully get other people thinking.

According to the New Oxford American dictionary –
Pluralism |ˈplo͝orəˌlizəm| (noun)
A condition or system in which two or more states, groups, principles, sources of authority, etc., coexist.
a. A form of society in which the members of minority groups maintain their independent cultural traditions
b. In Philosophy, a theory or system that recognizes more than one ultimate principle.

In a previously shared article, by Isaiah Berlin on Pluralisms (, he points out that “If pluralism is a valid view, and respect between systems of values which are not necessarily hostile to each other is possible, then toleration and liberal consequences follow, as they do not either from monism (only one set of values is true, all the others are false) or from relativism (my values are mine, yours are yours, and if we clash, too bad, neither of us can claim to be right).

I have over the years, embraced pluralism in many aspects of life and life issues, and it may account for my open-mindedness, respect and appreciation of different ways of life and all kinds of differences between people. It may also account for some of the views expressed here.

Muslims are Terrorists? 
On December 25th, 2011, there were a series of church bombings in Nigeria, and I listened to many young Christian Nigerians bash Islam and make all forms of reckless accusations about how Islam is a religion of violence and how all suicide bombers are Muslim and how Christianity is such a perfect religion and all else is wrong. I also received a lot of social media backlash, from some people who thought I was Muslim or Atheist, because of my utterances.

It is verifiable fact, that through the history of mankind, Christianity as a religion has shed as much innocent blood, as any other religion. And also a fact that every religion has extremists. It is also known that the Holy book of every religion is subject to manipulation and different interpretations.

My knowledge of Islam, though limited, shows that Islam is as much a religion of love and peace as Christianity itself. The holy Qur’an teaches about your individual war against your flesh and your humanity, in your aspiration to be as Allah has made you to be. This war, the holy Jihad, has quite often been interestingly (and in my opinion, wrongly) described as an individual war against Christians and infidels. Islam teaches kindness, understanding, love and strive for perfection. Christianity teaches the very same things. However, local and global media would always like to maintain a stereotype and paint a picture of Islam as violent, a production line of terrorists and a people with primitive practices. All the news and half the movies emphasize this. Almost no one is taking time out to point out the basic fundamentals and foundations of Islam and Christianity, and how they share more similarities than differences. The few people who do are branded atheists, confused or ignorant.

On what basis do people say that Muslims are terrorists? Is it possible that a misguided Christian can be used to shed innocent life? Will such a Christian be branded a terrorist? Is it possible that terrorists and suicide bombers are just people, whose faiths and beliefs are manipulated to the benefit of others?

The holy Bible teaches us Christians, that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and that no one can go to the father, except through Christ. Some will argue that “the way, the truth and the life” is guaranteed by believing in Jesus Christ (ultimately declaring Christianity the only viable religion). The real question however is “Was Jesus teaching us that the way, the truth and the life, is simply living a Christ-like life of kindness, understanding, love and perfection?” This interpretation of “the way, the truth and the life” complements every other teaching of Jesus and the bible, and is definitely my personal standpoint!

We Christians are regularly taught that we are nothing without the grace of God, that none of us knows the extent of God’s grace, that none of us can know exactly what God plans for us and that we are not allowed to judge. Half the world might be made of Christians, but the implication of these teachings is that none of us knows exactly how God will judge us, in regards to his teachings or our fellowship of his will.

Is it not then presumptuous to think and say that we do know how God will judge, especially when our understanding of the holy book is limited? Is castigating another religion, not abuse of the teachings of the Bible?

I do not claim to understand any religion completely, not even my own. I however know enough to know that Religions are perfect, but man is not. I know that time and time again, man’s fallibility has resulted in a manipulation of religion and faith, to political and economic benefits. I know that this will not stop after you and I are dead!

My simple reply to the aforementioned friend, whose email kicked off these thought process? “Be careful not to spread messages that will incite people to violence, based on a shallow or misguided understanding of another’s beliefs!

My religion has taught me to love, to understand, to be kind, to strive for perfection. This means that I must openly welcome and respect religious pluralism. I must openly welcome an opportunity to teach my religion, and yet, understand if the other person believes differently. Most importantly, I must teach the misguided and also cooperate with the next person in our strive to fish out men who do evil and manipulate people’s beliefs in order to secure political and economic points. My Muslim friends want the same. My Muslim friends want you to see their religion for what it really is.

I believe that Christianity and Islam both mandate that we understand and love each other, despite our differences!

Homosexuality is evil?
I am a law-abiding citizen. However, obeying the law can never be interpreted as agreeing with the law. Men, for men, make laws. This means that we are all allowed to disagree with a law in theory, and we are allowed to protest a law, within the confines of existing laws. This means that I can be outspoken about my disagreement for any law, so long as I am not disrupting law and order or constituting a nuisance.

I completely disagree with anti-gay laws. I believe that anti-gay laws infringe on the rights of individuals, on arguments of usually a cultural and religious nature. I believe that laws must not promote or advocate discrimination based on racial, ethnic, religious or sexual orientations. I believe that laws must protect the individual, every individual. Laws can never be designed to only protect the majority, at the expense of the individual. If an individual or a group of individuals are among the minority, they too must have laws that protect them.

The laws of a number of countries are anti-gay, and it is only right that people, who live in these countries, obey the law. It does not however make the laws fair, just or equitable. Laws are meant to make the world a better, more peaceful place. A law that fuels hate and discrimination is definitely not fulfilling this requirement.

Sexual orientation is complex in many ways, whether from environmental, social, psychological or medical perspectives. It is too simple minded to describe it as a choice that people make, and therefore one that can be unmade. Having been privileged to live with and work with many people of different sexual orientations, I am quite confident that we, who are heterosexual, can never fully understand homosexuality. In our fear of something that we do not clearly understand, we apply a label and quickly resort to discrimination and simplifications. We are quick to pull the religious cards and apply the socio-cultural stamps.

As a young, tech-savvy, Nigerian, Christian, I fail to understand how we can go against something purely on the basis of it being “foreign” to our culture or it being branded “evil” by our religion. We have embraced non-traditional religions, technology and entrepreneurial skills that are foreign to our culture. Very little of what makes up our every day lives, reflect the traditional African culture of yesteryears. Additionally, Christianity and Islam both mandate that we understand and love each other, despite our differences. They also mandate that we show kindness and strive for perfection in our lives as individuals. I am not really sure how well we are practicing the teachings of our holy books, if at the slightest show of a difference, we seek to take up arms and brand and ostracize. Is this what our religions really teach us?

If Homosexuality is “wrong” by virtue of religion, and hating, abusing & discriminating homosexuals is wrong by virtue of religion, how then can we, so-called religious people, make it right? Ever wondered about that?

How would you feel to be branded and ostracized because you are Nigerian or black? How would you feel about being branded and ostracized because you are Christian or Muslim? How are these brandings different from the ones we apply to homosexuals? Aren’t we all already branded and ostracized enough, for one thing or another?

Ethnic divides within Nigeria
A lot has been said about ethnicity in Nigeria and power shifting and geo-political zones, that it is redundant doing a recap. A lot has also been said about how there are too many Hausas, Igbos, Yorubas, Northerners and Southerners, and not enough Nigerians. I will only share a small narrative, and some questions that keep me up at night.

I recently wrote a friend, about how I have failed to understand the need for Geo-political zones in Nigeria and how I do not understand people casting a vote for a weaker politician or leader, on the basis of an ethnic bias and how it makes no sense to hire a less qualified individual for a job, simply because we share a similar ethnic root.

He replied thus:

You know that you have to be careful with the Northerners, they have been holding unto power for a long time and do not want to relinquish it. It is not fair or right. We need to rule small. The zoning is good because now, power can shift and everyone can do something small for his or her people, when they are in power. Development will be going around, through the zones and everyone gets their shot eventually. It does not matter who the better politician is, we must utilize the zones and make the best of our time to rule, as southerners.

As for the Yorubas, wait till you marry or work with one of them. They dislike you just because you are Igbo. They say you are disrespectful, greedy and not well exposed. They always want to have discussions in their language and they only plot to favor their own people, while leaving you out in the cold.

This response came from my 25-year-old Nigerian lawyer friend, who is obviously Igbo.

I cannot even begin to highlight how flawed this argument is. None of the added arguments, that other people have thrown out make any sense either or can stand up to scrutiny.

The questions I ask myself are a lot.

Do you even know what people from other tribes think of you, on the basis of your tribe? When you allow each tribe or ethnic group, to tell you their opinions of the other tribal groups, will there be anything left to like about any of the groups? What does it matter who is ruling or where he is from, if we have a democracy that fights corruption, improves health and education, creates jobs, improves transportation system, invests in industry and infrastructure, revitalizes our judiciary and purges the oil and gas sector of misdemeanors? What does it matter who is ruling or where he is from, if every state and corner of the country gets adequate support, defined by a transparent need assessment? How come my Yoruba or Hausa friends, colleagues and housemates never liked me less or cared that I was Igbo? How come I lived with people from different tribes, through Uni and we never cared about who was from where? Was this all because we were living outside Nigeria? If we see ourselves firstly as Nigerians, when we are outside the country, why do we not see ourselves firstly as Nigerians, when we are in the country? 

These questions keep me up at night!

One of the problems with ethnic divides and wars, is that neutrality does not always keep you away from the crossfire. In a country, with intricate dynamics, it is even worse, because so many people are either neutral, biased or are just not sure of what the war really is about, and they all get caught in the crossfire.

When you ask for a division along ethnic or religious lines, do you even understand what it means? When you make sentimental choices, based on ill-defined subjectivity, do you really understand the implications?

The Hypocrisy of it all
I will end this, by insisting that my views are mine. I will insist that my views are not meant to convince you or to demand that you discard your beliefs and take up mine.

I am only putting out my musings. I am only pointing out the hypocrisy of selectively utilizing religion to fuel our hate for people of different religious or sexual orientations. I am only pointing out the hypocrisy of putting ethnic allegiance before national allegiance (even though it is at the detriment of the whole country), while we are daily advocating for a better country and for better governance.

You probably disagree with at least one point made here. You probably find a flaw with at least one argument. Share your perspectives in the comments’ section. And please remember, we do not have to agree. A difference in ideology or opinion is in itself the basis of diversity, democracy and a free spirit.

One love….

Have you ever wished that instead of choosing a single answer on a multiple choice exam you could write an essay instead to show how you are thinking about the question? It happened to me many times, particularly on my medical board exams, where the object seemed more to guess what the question writers were thinking than to get at the depth of my knowledge. And even though each question typically had a menu of 5 possible answers, the message was binary: right vs.wrong. There was never room for anything between these two extremes. Yet this middle ground is where most of our lives take place!

This “yes/no” is a digital philosophy, where strings of 0s and 1s act as switches for the information that runs our world. These answers are easily quantifiable because they are easily counted. But what are we quantifying? What are we counting? Has the proliferation of easily quantifiable standardized testing led us to more and deeper knowledge? I think we all know the answer to that question. Yet are heading in the same direction with electronic medical data? Let me explain what I mean.

There was an interesting discussion yesterday on a listserv I am a part of about structured vs. unstructured (narrative) clinical data. I don’t often jump into these discussions (believe it or not), but this time I had to make my views heard, because I believe they are similar to the views of many clinicians.

My understanding of one of the comments was that the narrative portions of the medical record are less valuable, since they are more difficult to digitize, and, therefore, do not represent data per se. The narrative, it was stated, serves more as a memory and communication aid for the clinician, and furthermore it frequently misses patient perspective. Right or wrong, what I walked away with is that “narrative parts of the record are not as valuable as the structured parts.”

I responded:

Isn’t the point of the narration to synthesize the structured data into a coherent whole that feeds into the subsequent plan? I completely agree that the patient perspective is often missing, but the two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I see the synthesis of both narratives giving rise to most valuable interpretation and channeling of the “objective” data.

When I was in practice, I often had patients referred to me in consultation for lung issues. And while the S and O parts of the SOAP note (Subjective, Objective, Assessment, Plan) lent themselves relatively naturally to structured data, the A and P parts really did not. In the A I waxed poetic about how the S and the O fit together for me and why (why I thought that diagnosis X was more likely than diagnosis Y), and in the P I discussed why I was making the recommendations I was making. And while… this was a way to communicate with other docs and to jog my memory about the patient when I saw him/her next, this was the most valuable part for me, since it had already contained the cognitive piece of the process. And yet this was the part that was most challenging to fit into a predetermined structure of a EMR.

The richness of patient participation would come in a dialogue between clinicians and their patients, which I still think requires a narrative, no?

And then someone else piped in and talked about two-dimensional holes being forced to hold the multidimensionality of our health and being, and the disruption that this represents. And I have to say this is exactly my recollection of my interactions with the (very early) EMR that my group adopted. I had loved to sit and write my SOAPs by hand, even the S and the O, but especially the A and the P. There was something about the process that solidified and imprinted for me the particular patient. The printed dictation was secondary to that somehow, and I always tended to refer to my hand-written note. This is how I knew my patients. That was slow medicine.

Perhaps this was a byproduct of how I grew up — largely analog, not anywhere near as digital as the younger generations, and much more inclined to put my thoughts on paper through the interaction of my brain, hand and pen. Strangely, today I have a hard time writing by hand, and my preferred method is to type on my keyboard. So, perhaps some brain rewiring has taken place. All I can say is this: for me the act of writing down my thoughts about the patient made the encounter real and memorable. Even more, I think it lent a certain level of respect to the individuality of each encounter. It is possible that if I were in practice today, I could achieve the same by typing my note.

But the writing medium is somewhat separate from “structured vs. unstructured” data. The “ideal” structured record is all about yes/no checkboxes. Having to fit our analog thoughts into such limited and limiting digital environment is distracting. And a lot of data from brain science suggest that it takes us a while to get back to the same level of focus on a task or a thought once we have been distracted. A clinical encounter is woefully brief, and these distractions can and do reduce its efficiency and integrity.

As a health services researcher, I rely on digital data for my work. Yet as a clinician I railed against it, as many clinicians continue to do today. Is the answer to abandon all electronic pursuits? Of course not. But I am baffled by the attitude that it is clinicians’ duty to adapt to the digital way of thinking rather than the other way around. There does not seem to be a recognition that the purpose and meaning of a clinical record is different to a clinician from what it is to a researcher or a policy maker. Yet the current EMR development seems to focus on the latter two constituencies virtually ignoring the clinical setting. Given our vastly improved computing capabilities over the last decade, why does a clinician still have to think like a computer? Moreover, if medicine is indeed a mix of art and science, do we really want our doctors to fit strictly into the digital model?

I believe that it is a lazy way out for developers. They are the ones that need to step up and create an electronic record that does not gratuitously disrupt the clinical encounter. This record needs to fit the work flow of clinical medicine like a glove. We cannot wait for some miracle to come along and magically transform our sick healthcare system. Today’s EMR will not succeed unless it takes into account the art of medicine. The narrative parts of the record must be preserved and enriched by patient collaboration, not eliminated in the interest of easy bean counting. Because several smart people tell us that “not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” It’s time to pay attention.

Marya Zilberberg, MD, MPH, is a physician health services researcher with a specific interest in healthcare-associated complications and a broad interest in the state of our healthcare system. She is the Founder and President of EviMed Research Group, LLC, a consultancy specializing in epidemiology, health services and outcomes research. She is also a professor of Epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Dr. Zilberberg blogs at Healthcare, etc. This article was originally published here: 

The Surge of Corruption

The absence of a Constitution and the lack of rule of law permitted the growth of an inimical culture of corruption. By 1989 corruption had penetrated virtually every agency in the public sector. Virtually every agency in the public sector was riddled with corruption. West Africa reported, “The Nigerian Ports Authority has failed to account for the sum of N4.6 million provided by the federal government in 1987 to pay the salary arrears of dockworkers” (July 31-Aug 6, 1989; p. 1266). Chief Olu Falae, secretary to the federal military government, announced after a debt verification exercise that “over N30 billion (or $4.5 billion) of Nigeria’s external debt was discovered to be `fraudulent and spurious’” (West Africa, Sept 25-Oct 1, 1990; p. 1614). According to Washington Post (July 21, 1992), “corruption robbed Nigeria’s economy of an estimated $2 billion to $3 billion each year” (p. A16). “An audit task force appointed by the Nigerian Government said on 1 November 1996 that it had discovered 28,000 `ghost workers’ on the state payroll . . . “The `ghost workers’ are either fake, retired or dead persons whose names remain on the payroll for fraudulent officials to claim their wages” (African News Weekly, 11-17 November 1996, 17). Revenue collectors are notoriously corrupt, pocketing part of tax proceeds, waiving taxes if they receive large enough bribes.

Those at the top were themselves hopelessly corrupt. The Babangida regime did not account for the $10 billion in oil windfall occasioned by the Gulf War in January 1991. When the Lagos correspondent of the Financial Times, William Keeling, charged a misuse of this bonanza in August 1991, he was promptly deported from Nigeria with less than 24 hours notice. But this allegation was confirmed by a report presented by Pius Okigbo, chairman of the panel on The Reform and Reorganization of the Central Bank of Nigeria. The report, presented to Gen. Sani Abacha on Sept 27, 1994, noted:

“Nigeria’s military rulers squandered more than $12 billion of oil revenue without proper accounting between 1988 and June 1994. The money had been placed in special accounts set up in 1988 for special projects and to receive a windfall of oil revenue from the Gulf War. But Pius Okigbo called the handling of the accounts “a gross abuse of public trust.” He said $21.2 billion — more than a third of the country’s total foreign debt — was spent in less than 6 years on “what could neither be adjudged genuine high priority nor truly regenerative investment. Neither the president nor the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria account to anyone for these massive extra-budgetary expenditures,” Okigbo said (African News Weekly, Oct 14, 1994; p.3).

“Government contracts in Nigeria, say international businessmen, are among the most expensive in the world `mainly because of excessive margins built into such contracts for personal interests.’ Those personal interests can be seen attending expensive schools in Britain, or parked outside plush government villas: a Maserati or Lamborghini is quite normal for an army chief” (The Economist, 21 August 1993; Survey, 5).

It is important to remember that, during this period, no one was following any rules. The government showed no restraint on its profligacy. Civil servants endlessly invented rules in order to extort a bribe. Files would disappear and instantly “found” upon the payment of a bribe. Every government position was lucrative and could be exploited for private gain. Almost every public official was on the take. Said Anthony Ebeh in African News Weekly (May 27, 1994):

“A major cause of our problems in Nigeria is that our leaders have a primitive concept of public office. Public office in civilized societies, including some non-Western nations, is seen as a way to provide selfless service to one’s nation. It is a way to give back to one’s country. Public office is cherished and respected. Public office holders are generally accountable to the people they serve. However, in the Nigerian context, public office is seen as a huge opportunity to enrich self and kindred. This explains why Nigeria is now one of the poorest nations in the world. In Nigeria, public office is seen as a means to acquire wealth and personal aggrandizement. By all standards, this concept of public office is primitive (p.7).

Unsubstantiated rumors were rife about corruption and illicit enrichment by President Babangida and other members of the government. These rumors led Uchendu Egbezor to suggest that “a panel be set up to investigate the accounts of the President of Nigeria, Vice Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, and other members of the AFRC” (West Africa, July 31Aug 6, 1989; p. 1264). In April 1989 the Christian Association of Nigeria revealed that more than 3,000 Nigerians held Swiss bank accounts and that Nigerians were near the top of the list of Third World patrons of Swiss banks (West Africa, April 10-16, 1989; p. 570). As if to confirm this, Chief Olu Falae, secretary to the federal military government, announced after a debt verification exercise that “over N30 billion (or $4.5 billion) of Nigeria’s external debt was discovered to be `fraudulent and spurious’” (West Africa, Sept 25-Oct 1, 1990; p. 1614). In other words, it was added on, and payments went into the pockets and overseas bank accounts of corrupt officials. Indeed, the Lagos National Concord (Aug 16, 1990) reported that the staggering sum of $32 billion owned by Nigerians in foreign bank accounts was equivalent to Nigeria’s huge foreign debt.

Most Nigerians trace the root of corruption to the decades of military governments that ruled Nigeria before Obasanjo’s election in 1999. The treasury, flush with money from some of the world’s most productive oil fields, became a personal bank account for a succession of generals. The rot oozed down to lawmakers, governors and judges. Civil servants, who in some cases went months or years without receiving their salaries, collected what they could by selling their services.

Between 1970 and the early 2004, more than $450 billion in oil money flowed into Nigerian government coffers, which simply vanished into private pockets. Nigerians are now asking what happened to the “oil money.” The situation deteriorated so rapidly that Nigeria often ranked as the most corrupt nation and the scam capital of the world. According to Chief Eke Urum-Eke, an ex-major of the Biafran war and exiled in New York, “The only two flourishing business in Nigeria today are the business of government and the business of smuggling. Smuggling is not for self-respecting individuals, however lucrative it may be. Therefore the only avenue open for our leaders to maintaining their known lifestyle is the business of government — pen-based robbery and signature abuse by those inside, and fraudulent contracts for those outside, government. And for them to get any of these fraudulent contracts, state or federal, they must sing Abacha’s tune” (Nigerian Times International, 16-31 January 1996, 8).

The September 1996 issues of Nigeria’s news magazines, Tell and This Week, screamed about “How [Military] Administrators Plundered the States.” Ike Nwosu, the ex-administrator of Abia State, “spent some 16.875 million naira ($214,000) on himself between March 1995 and March 1996″ (African News Weekly, 28 October – 3 November 1996, 17. Then a 27 September 1994 audit (The Okigbo Report) revealed that a total of $12.4 billion — more than a third of Nigeria’s foreign debt — was squandered by its military rulers between 1988 and 1994. Pius Okigbo fled the country after handing in the report.

Indeed, within two weeks the death of General Sani Abacha, local newspapers reported that, his wife, Maryam was seeking “seeking political asylum in a Middle East country thought to be Lebanon,” according to the Nigerian Democratic Movement. She was reputed to have inherited “the vast fortunes of her husband estimated at $5 billion including an oil refinery in Brazil and had contracted a private security outfit to guard the family, whilst she assesses the situation.”

Following Abacha’s timely and mysterious death in June 1998, elections were held by his successor, General Abdulsalam Abubakar. Upon assuming power on May 29, 1999, President Obasanjo found the country ungovernable. A near government paralysis resulted from wrangling over distribution of power between the executive and the legislative. For 18 months (Feb 1999 to August 2000), Nigeria’s 109 senators and 360 representatives passed just five pieces of legislation, including a budget that was held up for five months. Immediately upon taking office, the legislators voted for themselves hefty allowances, including a 5 billion naira ($50 million) furniture allowances for their official residences and offices. The impeached ex-chairman of the Senate from President Obasanjo’s own People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Chuba Okadigbo, was the most predatory:

“As Senate President, he controlled 24 official vehicles but ordered 8 more at a cost of $290,000. He was also found to have spent $225,000 on garden furniture for his government house, $340,000 on furniture for the house itself ($120,000 over the authorized budget); bought without authority a massive electricity generator whose price he had inflated to $135,000; and accepted a secret payment of $208,000 from public funds, whose purpose included the purchase of `Christmas gifts’” (New African,, Sept 2000; p.9).

More than $1.3 billion of Abacha’s loot was believed to have been siphoned through London banks; one popular British bank alone was reported to have handled more than $170 million of funds suspected to have been looted from the Nigerian treasury by Abacha’s military regime. The Abacha family and associates area argued that they had an immunity deal from General Abdulsalam Abubakr’s transitional regime that briefly ruled Nigeria after Abacha’s sudden death on June 8, 1998 before Obasanjo came to power on May 29, 1999. The family and associates said General Abubakr’s government had agreed that if they returned “some money” (and they duly returned $750 million), they would be given immunity from criminal prosecutions. In May 1999, General Abubakr’s regime acknowledged that some money had been returned. Since then, more Abacha-associated accounts have been discovered in 19 Western banks, but the Abacha family still insist that the deal with General Abubakr’s government must stand. They have subsequently gone to court in Britain to stop the British government from handing over the results of its investigation into the morney to the Nigerian and Swiss authorities” (New African, Nov 2001; p.10).

Upon assuming office, President Obasanjo vowed to recover the loot of former head of state, General Abacha. He established the Corruption Practices and Other Related Offences Commission. Much public fanfare was made of the sum of about $709 million and another ₤144 million recovered from the Abachas and his henchmen. But, alas, this recovered loot itself was quickly re-looted. The Senate Public Accounts Committee found only $6.8 million and ₤2.8 million of the recovered booty in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) (The Post Express (July 10, 2000). Uti Akpan, a textiles trader in Lagos was not impressed: “What baffles me is that even the money recovered from Abacha has been stolen. If you recover money from a thief and you go back and steal the money, it means you are worse than the thief” (The New York Times, Aug 30, 2000; p.A10).

In May 2000, Jack Blum, a partner of Lobel Norins and Lamont, experts in transparency and corruption, testifying before the US House of Representatives Sub-committee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Jack Blum, revealed that “From independence to the present time, past leaders in Nigeria have either stolen or misappropriated state funds estimated at N400 billion ($40 billion . . . The amount also involved funds received on behalf of the country by key government officials as international assistance, loans from international financial institutions, kick backs to government officials involved in purchasing and special arrangements for currency conversion. The amount includes misappropriated oil revenue emanating from international oil deals between Nigeria and her customers abroad. ‘The amounts which were taken were so large that they have become embarrassing and destabilizing. Theft has disrupted the economies of major countries such as Nigeria, Mexico and Indonesia,” Blum added (Post Express, June 1, 2000; web posted).

According to David Blair of London Telegraph (June 25, 2005):

“Nigeria’s past rulers stole or misused £220 billion ($412 billion). That is as much as all the western aid given to Africa in almost four decades. The looting of Africa’s most populous country amounted to a sum equivalent to 300 years of British aid for the continent. Former leader Gen Sani Abacha stole between £1bn and £3bn. The figures were compiled by Nigeria’s anti-corruption commission.

Nigeria’s rulers pocketed the equivalent of six Marshall Plans. After that mass theft, two thirds of the country’s 130 million people – one in seven of the total African population – lived in abject poverty, a third was illiterate and 40 per cent had no safe water supply. With more people and more natural resources than any other African country, Nigeria is the key to the continent’s success.”

Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, set up three years ago, said that £220 billion ($412 billion) was “squandered” between independence from Britain in 1960 and the return of civilian rule in 1999. “We cannot be accurate down to the last figure but that is our projection,” Osita Nwajah, a commission spokesman (Telegraph, June 25, 2005). The stolen fortune tallies almost exactly with the £220 billion of western aid given to Africa between 1960 and 1997. That amounted to six times the American help given to post-war Europe under the Marshall Plan.

Collapse of Infrastructure

Infrastructure decayed and crumbled rapidly during years of military rule in Nigeria. Roads, schools, and telecommunications systems were in shambles Empty bookstore shelves greeted visitors to university campuses. Many school buildings showed obvious signs of decay and disintegration. Most buildings had not even seen a coat of paint since the colonialists departed. The quality of education deteriorated sharply. Nigeria’s 38-school university system, for example, was in ruins. Students could not get books. Nor could professors do research. Ahmadu Bello University was one such facility in a dilapidated state. Dormitories were overcrowded, laboratories lacked chemicals to perform experiments, and some buildings were collapsing.

When the vice-chancellor of a major Nigerian university wanted to resign, he called a press conference. As Linus U. J. Thomas-Ogboji, a Nigerian scholar based in Asheville, described it: “His reasons for abandoning the job were a pathetic commentary on the putrid demise of a once-promising nation: admission and grades were being sold openly; dormitories for adolescent females had become brothels; threats of death and mayhem by gangs were rife on a campus that had gone without electricity or running water for years” (African News Weekly, 26 May 1995, 6).

In most places in Nigeria, telephones did not work; they “bit back.” Electricity and water supplies were sporadic. What are called roads were often passageways truncated by crevasses large enough to swallow a truck. Hospitals lacked food and medical supplies. Doctors even had difficulty finding paper on which to write prescriptions. Often patients were requested to bring their own blankets and bandages. Communicable diseases such as yellow fever, malaria, and cholera — once believed vanquished — reappeared with a vengeance.

In the cities, many banged-up and unrepaired vehicles moved sideways in a crablike manner. Even government buildings reached advanced stages of dilapidation. Broken window panes abound while offices reeked of mold, rust, and dust. Civil servants, and even diplomats, went for months without pay. One Nigerian civil servant at the Ministry of Works in Lagos, George Adeleye, “died from exhaustion while waiting for hours to collect monthly wages of 1,500 naira ($20)” (African News Weekly, Sept 16-22, 1996, 26). “He complained that he had not eaten for two days as he was without money,” said one of his colleagues.

On 5 March 1995, Nigeria’s radical lawyer and human rights activist Gani Fawehinmi launched the National Conscience Party (NCP) in defiance of General Sani Abacha’s ban on the formation of political parties. Thousands of NCP members and supporters then staged a mass rally in Lagos, chanted anti-Abacha slogans, and handed out leaflets denouncing the state of the nation. The leaflets cited among other things, the lack of food, transportation, health facilities, electricity and no free press. Trigger-happy soldiers immediately sprang into action, arresting some of the protesters. Police had to borrow Fawehinmi’s vehicles to convey the accused to court. When Lagos State acquired 400 vehicles for its anti-crime outfit, Rapid Response Squad (RRS), 104 of the vehicles were stolen by soldiers running the operation (P.M. News 26 July, 1999).

Collapse of the Banking System
During this period under military rule, there was no rule of law. No one followed any law; building contractors made up their own “laws” as did bankers. In November 1992, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) declared 46 banks as “insolvent.” Alhaji Abdulkadir Ahmed, the CBN governor, “pinpointed huge debts that are doubtful or bad, fraud and forgeries, boardroom quarrels and inept management” (West Africa, Feb 1-7, 1993; p.148). The governor explained further that:

“Most Nigerian banks, especially the state-owned ones, have poor loan portfolios — for state government-owned commercial banks, the proportion of classified loans (bad and doubtful) was 66.3 percent in 1991; while the proportion of privately-owned banks was 32 percent, and for merchant banks (all privately owned) the classified loan portfolio was only 27 percent (West Africa, Feb 1-7, 1993; p.148).

Fraud soon started to threaten the integrity and stability of the banking system. Between 1988 and 1990, fraud cases rose 800 percent. In 1991, for example, a total of N360.2 million was lost. Of this, the loss to privately-owned commercial banks was N25.5 million and N28.3 million for merchant banks. The bulk was incurred by state-owned banks. In May, 1993, the CBN took over the management of five state-owned banks: African Continental Bank, Cooperative & Commerce Bank, Mercantile Bank of Nigeria, New Nigeria Bank and Pan-African Bank. In January, 1994, the CBN revoked the operational licences of two banks (Financial Merchant Bank and Kapital Merchant Bank) for “total erosion of their capital bases and dissipation of the depositors’ funds” (African Business, May 1994; p.31). Three weeks later, the Republican Bank Limited and Broad Bank of Nigeria Limited, were suspended. But few of the fraudsters were prosecuted as most had fled the country.

To bring sanity into the banking system, both the government and the CBN resorted to desperate ad hoc measures to mop up excess liquidity. On April 5, 1989, the CBN it issued a directive that the commercial and merchant banks should within 21 days recall all loans and advances with offshore guarantees and collaterals, since such loans were guaranteed with foreign exchange that should have been repatriated. About N1.03 billion (or $144 million) was involved. The directive sent panic in the banking system. Nineteen banks could not comply with the 21-day ultimatum.

In May 1989, the government followed CBN action by ordering all government agencies’ to withdraw their funds from commercial and merchant banks and other non-bank financial institutions. This order “spread fears that some banks were about to collapse” (African Business, Oct 1989; p.25). Panic set in, triggering a run on the banks. Though the Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation was established in 1988 to protect depositors against bank failures, only N5,000 was covered, exposing large depositors to bank failures. “One notable multi-millionaire caused panic when he gave his bank the mandatory seven days’ notice to withdraw his N200 million ” (African Business, Oct 1989; p.25).

To be fair, the CBN’s culpability in the banking crisis was limited. With a gun pointed at its head, it lacked room for independent action. Even when it took an independent action, this could always be overridden by the marauding federal government hijacked by a military junta. But the CBN exacerbated the banking crisis with its own autocratic style of management. In April, 1993, CBN yanked a whopping N33 billion ($1.31 billion) from the vaults of the banks. Before banks could recover from the cash squeeze, CBN introduced Open Market Operations, selling N250 million in Treasury Bills. But in late August, CBN reversed itself and “released N1.5 billion in the form of loans to bail out 14 banks which were adversely affected by the withdrawal of government funds from the banks” (African Business, Oct 1989; p.26). But “By Sept 1, 1993, literally all the banks were unable to meet their obligations to customers. Depositors were in most cases not allowed to withdraw amounts in excess of N1,000 (in some cases, even less), irrespective of their credit balances” (African Business, Oct 1993; p.17). The banking system had in effect collapsed.

Decay of State Institutions

State institutions and commissions became paralyzed. Laxity, ineptitude, indiscipline and unprofessionalism thus flourished in the public sector. Of course, Nigeria had a police force and judiciary system to catch and prosecute the thieves. But the police were themselves highway robbers, under orders to protect the looters, and many of the judges were themselves crooks.

“On Oct 16, 2001, armed robbers had operated for about four hours along the Osogbo-Ikirun road, dispossessing their victims of valuables. Villagers in the area subsequently mobilized themselves and descended on the suspected robbers. They were however shocked, according to reports, to discover that the persons caught at the scene were a police inspector and other policemen. “When the policemen were accosted, they fled into the bush abandoning their vehicle. The inspector was however caught and subsequently beaten up by the angry villagers. Reports of the armed robbery prompted police authority to send two patrol teams to the scene, but on arrival, the teams were attacked by the mob who accused them of complicity in the robbery operation. A total of three police vehicles with registration numbers PF 5737, PF 5730 and PF 5660 involved in the whole incident were all lying in the bush at the scene” (The Guardian, October 17, 2001).

In another case,

“Two Nigerian policemen were among a gang of eight armed robbers arrested as they attempted to snatch cars passing a major Lagos bridge. Police Assistant Superintendant Paddy Ogon said the two, whom he declined to name, stopped cars crossing the 3rd Mainland Bridge linking Lagos island and the continent while their accomplices forced the passengers out, robbed them and snatched the cars. Acting on a tipoff, police stationed detectives at points overlooking the bridge and caught the robbers and their police colleagues redhanded, he said” (Daily Times, 11 August, 1998; p.3).

“Nigeria had aany fine lawyers, but the judiciary wis tainted by trials settled with bribes. It had fine academics, but universities were tarnished by the trade in diplomas. It had respected chiefs, but the nobility had been mocked by the sale of chieftaincy titles. In many ways, the institution which has suffered the most under this military regime was the military itself. `Military men are not soldiers anymore’ is a common Nigerian observation (The Economist, 21 August 1993; Survey, 6). Nigerian cities have fire departments, but often there is no equipment. When a three-story apartment building and a bakery were destroyed by fire in Umuahia “one volunteer, Mr. Timothy Nwachukwu, said that the fire service did not help because they had no working vehicles” (African News Weekly, 24 February 1994, 12).

Institutional break-down and the failure to provide the most basic essential services created an environment inimical to development. The cost of doing business in such an environment increased enormously. Simple, routine applications took weeks to be approved. Security of persons and property could seldom be guaranteed. Increasing production became chancy, given intermittent disruptions in the supply of electricity and water.

There were no checks against brigandage. The worst was the military — the most trenchantly perverted institution in Nigeria. In any normal, civilized society, the function of the military is to defend the territorial integrity of the nation and the people against external aggression. In Nigeria, the military was instead locked in combat with the very people it was supposed to defend. Wole Soyinka (1996) handed the postcolonial soldiers a blistering rebuke:

“The military dictatorships of the African continent, parasitic, unproductive, totally devoid of social commitment or vision, are an expression of this exclusionist mentality of a handful; so are those immediately postcolonial monopolies that parade themselves as single-party states. To exclude the sentient plurality of any society from the right of decision in the structuring of their own lives is an attempt to anesthetize, turn comatose, indeed idiotize society, which of course is a supreme irony, since the proven idiots of our postcolonial experience have been, indeed still are, largely to be found among the military dictators.” (139).

A simple rule of thumb on Nigerian development emerged: The index of economic well-being of the country was inversely related to the length of time the military held political power. The longer it stayed in power, the greater the economic devastation. Said African News Weekly in its September 1, 1995 editorial:

“No military coup in Africa has produced a vibrant economy to replace the bankrupt one it set out to redeem. In almost every case, the army boys have imbibed the ways of the corrupt politicians they pushed out of office and even taken their crookedness to a higher level” (7).

Fed up with their antics, West Africa magazine, in its June 20-26, 1994 issue, offered them this advice:
“Military people belong in the barracks not in the corridors of political power. Since independence, Nigeria has had an obscenely high number of military governments; they cited corruption and waste if taking over from a civilian government and something else if overthrowing another military junta.
Needless to say, the Nigerian populace is fed up. The armed forces cannot claim not to realize this. If a soldier should become bored, he can always go and play ping pong; it is good for keeping fit. (1078)

The military soon became the most thoroughly discredited institution.A Nigerian pro-democracy activist, Arthur Nwanko, wrote devastatingly from jail:

“National wealth and resources have been scandalously pillaged by a band of armed bootyseekers and their retinue of civilian collaborators. Not content with the destruction of the economy; not content with inflicting enormous social dislocations on the polity; not content with raping democracy; people and fundamental rights; not content with instituionalizing corruption as a national art form; and not content with causing the decay of the nation’s agricultural, industrial, and social infrastructure, including the environment, the health and educational system through their planlessness and visionless leadership, these singleminded despots have moved into the area of violating the nation’s honor, sense of worth and dignity, and through that caused the massive debasement of the humanity of Nigerians in the eyes of the rest of civilised humanity” (Post Express Wired,. 17 June 1998).

The longer they stayed in office, the less they had “upstairs,” becoming “hardened coconuts.” In fact, one of them, V.I. Okafor, a retired Nigerian army Captain, confessed: “We are perceived as a class of marauding mediocres, vast in wastefulness, corruption and all sorts of vicious behavior a class devoid of men of honor and integrity, a class enveloped in infamy” (The Vanguard, 14 July 1998, 2). Yet, within six months of assuming power from the late General Sani Abacha, General Abubakar granted himself the country’s highest award, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic. He also honored all past military heads of state, with the exception of the late General Sani Abacha. Some honor!

Nigeria’s military rulers proved themselves to be most incompetent in handling any task. When they took on the task of shepherding the country through a transition to democratic rule, they rather made the transition process itself permanent! From 1980 the ever-competent military vagabonds tried on NINE occasions to return the country to democratic rule. On the ninth attempt, they even annulled the June 12, 1993 election, which was won by the late Chief Abiola. The Lagos newspaper, Weekend Concord reported that the Supreme Court judges had accepted Mercedes Benz bribes from head of state, General Babangida for a favorable ruling on the annulment. The judges employed one of Nigeria’s most prominent lawyers, Chief Rotimi Williams, to file libel suits against the paper, claiming $40 million. The Concord objected, complaining that the case would come up before the Supreme Court — that is, the judges would sit in judgment on their own case! But the “Chief Justice ruled that he was competent to hear the case and far from throwing it out, sought an accelerated hearing for the case” (New African, May 1994, 41).

It was during this period that Nigeria’s military regime pompously offered South Africa “technical assistance” for its transition to democratic rule. Mr. Banji Oloruntegbe, the executive secretary of Nigeria’s National Committee Against Apartheid, said that “Nigeria will train 500 black South Africans as part of its technical assistance to the world’s youngest democratic country. The training which will begin soon, will educate South African blacks in the key areas like local government, customs and immigration services, taxation, budget and communication development” (West Africa, June 6-12, 1994; p.1005).

The most egregious display of incompetence occurred in Nov 1995 when Abacha’s military regime set out to hang human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa on trumped-up charges of treason and murder. It took FIVE attempts to execute the dastardly deed because of equipment malfunction. An irate Kwesi Obeng of University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana, wrote “to register his protest and revulsion at the way African leaders have been disgracing the black race. Just look at the way Ken Saro-Wiwa and Co. were hanged like pigs without the benefit of an appeal” (The Ghanaian Chronicle, 18-22 January 1996, 4).

When it comes to beating up and shooting unarmed civilians, Africa’s security forces can do with efficient relish. But how really courageous were the security boys? On July 23, 1998, Colonel Anthony Obi, Osun State’s military administrator, strutted pompously to deliver a speech at a state function at Osogbo in the southwestern part of Lagos. As the Daily Champion (24 July 1998) reported:

“Panicstricken Nigerian officials ran for safety when first a rat and then a python, apparently drawn by the smell of the rat, made a sudden appearance. The officials leapt up from their seats when the rat, described as having a “long snout and offensive smell,” appeared from beneath the carpet by the high table. Colonel Anthony Obi, Osun State’s military administrator, and his entourage nervously returned after security agents intervened and killed the beast. (p.1)

The Constitutional Vacuum

Customary law is the cord that keeps a traditional society together; the Constitution is the yarn that weaves the fabric of a modern state together. Without it, a nation becomes an anarchy or a police state in which citizens have no guaranteed rights or freedoms and their obligations to the state are not defined. Also ill-defined or non-existent are the functions of state organs or institutions, such as parliament, the judiciary and the security forces. Under a constitution, parliament, for example, provides oversight over executive actions and the role of the judiciary is to ensure that the rule of law is upheld. Without a constitution, there is no oversight over the executive, which means the head of state can literally do whatever he wants. Further, without a constitution, there is no law for the judiciary to uphold except decrees or diktaks from the executive. More importantly, democracy, separation of powers, checks and balances are all non-existent without a constitution. Neither are the principles of accountability, transparency and probity which vanish completely because there is no rule which stipulates how the head of state, the chief justice or the police chief should be chosen or held accountable and by whom.

The absence of a constitution also has deleterious economic consequences. The constitution defines the parameters within which economic activity can take place. Since there isn’t one, nobody is sure what constitutes a legitimate business activity or not and uncertainty prevails, which discourages investment – the key to economic growth and development. This creates a situation where hordes of businessmen must seek “approval” from the head of state before undertaking a venture and the head of state, often crooked, may demand a bribe or percentage share of the business before granting approval. Even business contracts become meaningless. Suppose a businessman wins a contract to construct roads. Half-way through the contract, suppose the government arbitrarily cancels the contract. Under a constitution, he may sue the government for breach of contract but there is no constitution. He might take the case to court anyway but there is no constitution which authorizes the court to hear such cases. Or the president can order the judge to throw the case out.

Socially and more generally, a nation’s life hangs in abeyance when there is no constitution. Since there are no clearly defined rules or laws, uncertainty prevails. Nobody is sure about what is legal and illegal or how to deal with one another. In such a situation, people or groups may fall back on their traditional (customary) laws, religious laws or make up their own “laws” as they go along. The police, civil servants, armed robbers and even scammers may do so as well. A tapestry of “laws” comes into existence and applied an ad hoc basis. There is no predictability as these ad hoc laws can change suddenly. Inevitably, a clash of laws frequently occurs. Ordinarily, a constitution resolves such clashes but there isn’t one, which means they must be resolved by the head of state. And when one is dissatisfied with his verdict, there is no guaranteed right of appeal.

More pernicious and incurably damaging are the effects on the youth. In the absence of a constitution, they grow up without knowing the principles and values that serve as a glue holding the nation together. They don’t know what is right or wrong and what is social or anti-social. These young people become increasingly confused, disaffected, lost, and restless. Poorly educated and jobless, they have few role models with moral stature. The value system has collapsed because there are no values celebrated by a constitution. Hard work and entrepreneurship no longer assure success and wealth because what one builds can be wiped out in an instant because there is no rule of law.

Disenchanted by their own society, the youth become susceptible to radical ideas and drift toward religious extremists — not just the Islamist fanatics in northern Nigeria and Somalia, but also the Christian variety (the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda) and the traditionalist (the Mungiki sect in Kenya). Some seek escape in rickety boats to Europe. Others turn to crime (drug trafficking, Internet scams), prostitution, and extremist groups that seek violent change.

In sum, the absence of a constitution breeds lawlessness, government dysfunction and retards economic development. The moral and value system collapses in a constitutional vacuum. The youth become disoriented and lost. It is like driving on a road without traffic laws. One would be lucky to reach one’s destination in one piece.

Military Rule in Nigeria – No Constitution, No Rule of Law

After seizing power, the first thing a military junta does is to suspend the constitution. Libya is the African country that holds the record on such suspension. After seizing power in 1969, Col. Muammar Khaddafi ruled without a constitution for 41 years. Togo is next, checking in with 38 years. Nigeria clocks in third with 29 years of military rule without a constitution. Here is the slate of military dictators that ruled the country:

• GENERAL Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, Jan 16 to July 29, 1966
• GENERAL Yakubu Gowon, Aug 1, 1966 to 29 July 1975
• GENERAL Murtala Mohammed, July 29, 1975 to Feb 13, 1976
• GENERAL Olusegun Obasanjo, Feb 13, 1976 to Oct 1, 1979
• GENERAL Muhammadu Buhari, Dec 31, 1983 to Aug 27, 1985
• GENERAL Ibrahim Babangida, 27 Aug 27, 1985 to Aug 26, 1993
• GENERAL Sani Abacha, Nov 17, 1993 to June 8, 1998
• GENERAL Abdulsalami Abubakar, June 8,1998 to May 29, 1999

All were generals. From Jan 16, 1966 to March 1999 – a period of 33 years, the military monopolized power except when briefly interrupted by the civilian government of Shehu Shagari (Oct 1, 1979 to Dec 31, 1983) and the three-month interim administration by Ernest Shonekan (Aug 26 – Nov 17, 1993), leaving 29 years under military rule. It was during this period that the destruction of the Nigerian state began.

Reckless government spending by military vagabonds squandered away Nigeria’s oil bonanza. There was no constitution or institution to check government profligacy. The economy tanked in 1986, forcing the Babangida regime to seek relief from the World Bank to address the economic crisis. But one crisis after another followed each other. The currency, the naira –once the strongest in West Africa – collapsed. By 1993, the banking system was on the verge of collapse.

State institutions began to decay and crumble. Government ministries failed to deliver basic social services such as clean water, health care, sanitation, education and electricity. Nigeria’s Electric Power Authority (NEPA) was nicknamed “Never Ever Power Again.” Institutions such as the Police and the Judiciary deteriorated. The social fabric of Nigeria – whatever was left of it – began to shred, the government ceased to function, the moral and value system started to collapse, corruption began to spiral out of control and a whole generation of Nigerians was lost. In historical terms, 25 years is generally considered a “generation.” Therefore, a whole generation of Nigerians was reared without knowing the constitution, its value or significance. About 60 percent of Nigerians today are under 40 years old, meaning the vast majority were raised in a constitutional vacuum. People hold the government in abject contempt, regarding the government as irrelevant in their lives. Said Simon Agbo, a farmer in Ogbadibo, south of Makurdi, Benue state capital: “I heard we have a new government. It makes no difference to me. Here we have no light [electricity], we have no water. There is no road. We have no school. The government does nothing for us” (The Washington Times, Oct 21, 1999; p.A19).

By 1998, Nigeria was a certified coconut republic where common sense had been butchered and arrogant idiocy was on the rampage. There was no rule of law; bandits were in charge and the victims in jail. The state-mobile was essentially kaput. Nigeria, then, was a thoroughly wasted nation. So much potential, such wealth in natural resources and such dynamism in its people but all squandered. Said Linus U. J. Thomas-Ogboji, a Nigerian scholar:
“Nigeria, the comatose giant of Africa, may go down in history as the biggest country ever to go directly from colonial subjugation to complete collapse, without an intervening period of successful self-rule. So much promise, so much waste; such a disappointment. Such a shame. Makes you sick” (African News Weekly (26 May 1995, 6).

Former head of state, Gen. Abdusallam Abubakar, himself admitted the serious economic deterioration for the country as a whole: “Every human-welfare and development index measuring the well-being of our people is on the decline. Currently, we are the world’s 13th-poorest nation. Given our resource endowments, this sorry state is a serious indictment” (The Economist, 29 August 1998, 45). Nigerian scholar Felix Oti lamented that:
“We have come to be regarded as empty vessels that make a lot of noise. There is a difference between academic intelligence and common sense. The latter is the motor that effectively and successfully drives the application of the former. Unfortunately, the average Nigerian intellectual, though overwhelmed with the former, fails to exhibit enough of the latter to be taken seriously. The very same squabble is just a replica of what is, and has been, going on in the Mother continent — the inability to put heads together and form a united front; the root cause of Africa’s many problems (African News Weekly, 21 April 1995, 22).

Recall that the situation in Nigeria and many African countries can be described as: Bad driver, bad vehicle, bad roads and ANGRY passengers FED UP with lack of progress. Changing the driver without fixing the vehicle is pointless as the new driver would also land in another ditch. But since the 1970s, that is exactly what has been taking place. The dilapidated state vehicle remains kaput.

Reckless Government Spending

The discovery and exploration of oil fields in the early 1970s led to a booming economy. Oil quickly became the dominant sector of the economy, accounting for more than 90 percent of exports and providing the federal government with 80 percent of its revenue. As money flowed into Nigerian government coffers, military dictators went on a spending spree. They frittered away the oil bonanza on extravagant investment projects — a new capital at Abuja with a price tag of $25 billion, and highly ambitious Third Development Plans, upon the false projections of oil output and revenue. Agriculture was neglected and food imports rose rapidly. There was no accounting system as there was no constitution.

In 1981, oil prices fell precipitously. Export receipts plummeted from $22 billion in 1980 to $10 billion in 1983 and then to $6 billion in 1986. To maintain income and the consumption binge, Nigeria borrowed heavily. Its foreign debts quadrupled from $9 billion in 1980 to $36 billion in 1990. Federal and state budgets sank into deficits. These were financed with the accumulation of more debt and the depletion of international reserves. External imbalance caused difficulties with debt servicing and forced the country to go into arrears.

To help improve balance, the Economic Stabilization Act of 1982 was passed by the civilian Shagari administration. Stringent trade controls, the rationing of foreign exchange, a restriction on import licenses, an increase in duties, and the initiation of an import deposit program were adopted. These measures however failed miserably and an economic crisis emerged in 1983. Growth rates turned sharply negative. The GDP growth rate in 1983 was -6.7 percent; non-oil sector growth fell to -9.3 percent and petroleum sector growth to -2.5 percent. By 1985, the distortions in the economy had reached alarming proportions. The exchange rate was grossly overvalued and the budget deficit out of control. The government resorted to heavy domestic borrowing from the banking system to finance its profligacy.

Economic Ruination

The supreme irony about Nigeria’s economic development is that, despite the flow of substantial oil wealth, the country entered the new millennium with real income per capita of about $290 today, which is nearly the same as it was at independence in 1960 and saddled with a foreign debt of $30 billion. About 60 percent of Nigeria’s population live on less than a $1 a day. The drop was more dramatic in the 1980s during military rule. In 1980, income per capita stood at $1029—the fifth highest in Sub-Saharan Africa. By 1990, it had dropped to a woeful $266. This sharp decline in economic performance was not due to external economic adversities but to grotesque mismanagement and brazen, unprincipled looting.

Back in the 1960s, 70 percent of Nigeria’s 110 million people lived on agriculture and the country was a major exporter of food. Benue state was known as the “food basket of the nation.” By 2000, Nigeria exports only cocoa, rubber and palm products and imports rice, corn, wheat and sugar (The Washington Times, April 13, 2000; p.A17). The value of food imports reached $3 billion in 2005.

The Collapse of the Naira

To stem the tide of inflation and rescue the economy, Maj-General Buhari changed the currency in 1984. It was a replication of a resounding policy folly by an economically illiterate military dictator, Fte./Lte. Jerry Rawlings in Ghana.

In February 1982, the military government of Ghana (the Provisional National Defense Council—PNDC) demonetized the 50 cedi note. The public was asked to deposit these notes in their banks in return for chits that were supposed to be redeemed later but never were as it was a ruse. Ghana shut its borders for two years. The official reasons were: to mop up excess liquidity in the system, to crack down on tax evasion, to punish corrupt politicians, and to render useless large amounts of the currency circulating outside the country. Additionally, the exercise was intended to crush currency smuggling and thereby shore up the external value of the currency. The government insisted that “the withdrawal of the 50 cedi note was not against the poor or the genuine rich but rather it was meant to withdraw excess liquidity in the hands of a few greedy and corrupt businessmen” (Daily Graphic, Feb 24, 1982; p.1). The other official reason for the currency change was to reduce excess liquidity in the banking system and ease inflationary pressures.

However, this was criminally dishonest. Borrowing from the central bank to finance soaring budget deficits was the primary source of excess liquidity in the system. Even Ghana’s own 1978-79 budget statement admitted that “over the past 5 years, more than 70 percent of every budget has been financed by the Bank of Ghana, resulting in the injection of substantial amounts of money into the economy” (p.2; paragraph 6).

On February 13, 1982, exactly one day after the deadline for the deposit of the demonetized 50 cedi notes in Ghanaian banks, the PNDC announced that those whose bank balances exceeded 50,000 cedis would be subject to investigative probes to determine their compliance with tax obligations. In one stroke, this inane policy shattered confidence in the currency and dealt a devastating blow to the banking system, from which it took decades to recover. Traders and innocent farmers, who had toiled and placed their savings in old currency under mattresses, suddenly found them worthless because they could not meet the deadline. Billions of the old currency were thrown into rivers.

In 1984, the Buhari administration copied exactly the same idiotic measure and in one stroke destroyed the value of the naira. At that time in the 1980s, the naira was even stronger than the dollar. It was the preferred currency for trading in West Africa. To facilitate trade and convertibility, most traders plying West African routes carried naira.

The official reason for changing the currency was that “there was too much money in circulation” (West Africa, May 28, 1984; p.1106). Nigeria’s Central Bank director of domestic operations at the time, Chief Nwagu, argued that the change was necessary to demonetize the N2 billion illegally acquired by corrupt politicians and held outside the country (West Africa, May 28, 1984; p.1107). But the fact of the matter is, when corrupt politicians rape and plunder their country, they take the booty out in foreign exchange, not in naira.

When Nigerians deposited their old currency to exchange for the new one, “persons who had deposited up to N5,000 were informed they would have to produce their tax clearance certificates, showing that they paid their taxes over the last 3 years, before they could be allowed to withdraw any money” (West Africa, May 28, 1984; p.1108). This was exactly the same ruse military dictator, Rawlings pulled off in Ghana. The Buhari regime changed the currency and sealed the country’s borders, ostensibly to “catch big-time hoarders who had tucked money away overseas” (West Africa, May 28, 1984; p.1108). Nigeria reopened its borders in March 1986 after two years of closure.

Those who take the local currency out of the country are generally illiterate traders and migrant workers who have no access to foreign exchange at the central banks and therefore use whatever currency that is acceptable to trade along the West African coast. Why should these innocent traders be punished for the actions of corrupt politicians?
When “the news of the exercise (50 cedi note demonetization) leaked out, many people in Accra and other parts of the country went on shopping spree, before the Feb 12 deadline to get rid of their notes” (West Africa, Feb 22, 1982; p.536). Exactly the same phenomenon was observed in Nigeria: “Several people went on spending sprees, buying among other things, cars, air-line tickets, anything that could later be sold” (West Africa, May 24, 1984; p.1106).

In Nigeria, the public responded similarly — shunning the banking system – just like in Ghana. To attract funds, banks offered fantastic rates for short-term deposits — 6 months or less. The banks had considerable difficulty attracting funds for long term. In both countries, loss of confidence and flight from the currency, also drove people to hold foreign currencies, which they could only obtain at the black market. The results were soaring black market rates and thus declining external value of the currency — a result clearly opposite to what the currency change was intended to achieve. Within one year, the black market rate for the cedi jumped from 40 to 100 to the dollar. In Jan 1995, the rate was 1,200 cedis to the dollar. In Nigeria, N1 exchanged for a dollar in the early 1980s. By Jan, 1995, it had reached N100. The naira, whichwas the preferred legal tender among West African traders, lost its pre-eminence because traders who held large amounts of old naira outside Nigeria suffered heavy losses because they could not get into Nigeria to exchange the old for the new naira as the borders were closed.

The currency change exercises in both Ghana and Nigeria were maddening. If the military juntas wanted to mop up excess liquidity from the system, they should have looked at their own profligate government spending. According to Ralph Osayameh, president of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, “The cause of that is government expenditure” (West Africa, Feb 1-7, 1993; p.153).

And if they wanted to catch corrupt politicians, they should have gone after those gallivanting under their very noses. What did innocent traders and peasant farmers have to do with excess liquidity and corruption for them to be punished by rendering their savings in the old currencies worthless? If a genuine currency change is necessary, there should be no deadline, nor should the borders be closed. As it was, the change was not genuine but a ruse.

Nigerians chose to keep their money balances outside the country after the currency change. Who would keep their savings in a Nigerian bank and be subjected to probes by military coconut-heads? The Morgan Guaranty Trust Company estimated that Nigeria’s foreign debt of $32 billion would have been only $7 billion had there been no capital flight (Business Week, April 21, 1986; p. 14). Capital flight accelerated in the 1980s as policy zig-zags further undermined confidence in the banking system. By 1990, as the Lagos National Concord (Aug 16, 1990) reported, the staggering sum of $32 billion owned by Nigerians in foreign bank accounts was equivalent to Nigeria’s huge foreign debt. As a result, commercial banks in Nigeria still have difficulty attracting deposits, having to offer spectacular rates for short-term deposits — 6 months or less.

Buhari was overthrown by General Babangida, who seized power in 1985, but he was no better in terms of economic management. He respected no rules. Laid-down budgetary procedures were flagrantly skirted by top government officials. In 1986, Gen. Babangida publicly bragged that Nigeria would never seek any relief from the IMF or the World Bank. Then his administration secretly signed a SAP agreement with the IMF to rein in extra-budgetary spending and escalating defense expenditures. But even before the ink on that accord had dried, he had started the formation of his own private army (called the National Guards). He ignored the agreement and showered the officers of the Armed Forces with gifts of cars worth half a billion naira. In July 1992, his military regime took delivery of 12 Czechoslovakian jet trainers (Aero L-39 Albatros) in a secret deal believed to be part of a larger order made in 1991 year and worth more than $90 million. Earlier in 1992, Nigeria had taken delivery of 80 British Vickers Mark 3 tanks, worth more than $225 million.

Heavy outlays were made on grandiose investment projects with little economic viability. Among them is the Ajaokuta Steel Plant, which was commissioned in 1979. It cost more than $3 billion, never produced a single sheet of steel and was eventually grounded in the 1980s. Another was the Aluminium Smelter Project at Ikot Abasi at a cost of $1.2 billion — 60 percent more costly than a comparable project elsewhere in the world.

In August, 1987, Gen. Babangida limited debt-service ratio at 30 percent of export revenue, sending foreign investors scampering for cover. On March 5, 1992, the foreign exchange market was deregulated but in December, trading was suspended for about a week to probe irregularities. Foreign exchange controls were re*-imposed in Oct 1993 when Gen. Sani Abacha seized power. Believing in the power of the gun rather than the market, he fixed the value of the naira at N22 to the dollar. Interest rates were also pegged, stifling bank profitability and pushing several banks to the brink of financial collapse. In Jan 1995, Gen. Abacha reintroduced the second-tier system, leaving the official rate fixed at N22 to the dollar while the rate on the parallel (autonomous) market was N80. Nothing, it seemed, had been learned.

By Jan 1988, the Structural Adjustment program had stalled. The banking system was in disarray. Financial controls were either non-existent or hopelessly ineffective. To finance its reckless spending the Babangida administration borrowed heavily from both the commercial and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), injecting excess money into the economy. The money supply registered a staggering 43.9 percent growth, against a ceiling of 15 percent. The rate of inflation accelerated. In March 1989, the rate was 45 percent compared to 25 percent a year earlier. Were these not the same reasons why the currency was changed in 1984 – to mop up excess liquidity? A banking crisis was looming.

The myriad of Nigeria’s complex and inter-twined problems can be daunting and debilitating in unraveling or solving. Some Nigerians yearn for another military coup for a military dictator to knock heads and solve their problems. This proposal, in my view, is out of the question. First, the record of military rule in Africa is abysmal. Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, Zaire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Togo, and Chad, among others including Nigeria, were all ruined by military coconut-heads. They were all generals. Even General I.B. Babangida (rtd), himself remarked that: “Every military regime is a fraud. Anybody who heads a military regime subverts the wishes of the people”(The African Observer, Jan 18-31, 1999; p.6). Second, the entire West African region is fed up with military coups. ECOWAS will never support a coup in Nigeria. Witness ECOWAS response to the coups in Mali and Guinea-Bissau.

Some Nigerians have suggested a break-up of the country. This is also a non-starter. Even the hopeless African Union would not support that because it would set a dangerous precedent for the continent. Africa has more than 2,000 ethnic groups and if each aggrieved group were to break away, we might end up with over 1,000 little “Djiboutis,” each with its own national flag, anthem and perhaps a Swiss bank account for its president. And Nigeria could also end with over 250 mini countries.

Still other Nigerians say a strongman is needed to end the nonsense and clean up the mess but this is a wrong approach. Remember what President Obama said in Accra in July 2009: “Africa doesn’t need strongmen; it needs strong institutions.”

Road Analogy – Traffic Laws

A useful way of analyzing Nigeria’s problems is to use a road analogy. In Nigeria, drivers are required to drive on the right and to stop at STOP signs or when the traffic light turns red. They must yield to pedestrians in crosswalks or zebra crossings and must obey the speed limit. If they are making a turn, they must switch on their turn signals. They must obey one-way signs and so on. The body of these rules and regulations is called TRAFFIC LAWS. If ALL drivers obey the traffic laws, there would be sanity on the roads and it would be possible to get from Point A to Point B SAFELY and in good time.

Now, imagine a situation where only a few drivers obey the rules of the road or traffic laws. Assume some big buffoon thinks he can drive anyway he likes at whatever speed – even the wrong way. Assume another nitwit insists on driving on the left side of the road because he is left-handed. Guess what would happen on the roads. There would be horrendous carnage, chaos, fatal accidents, and wreckage.

Ever driven on the streets of Lagos? The last time I was driven through the streets of Lagos in 2009, I tried to find and count the number of commuter buses without a single dent on it. I couldn’t. I also tried to see if drivers would stop at traffic lights, if you could find them. Few did. I will never forget the taxi ride to the airport – at break-neck speed. My heart was in my palm, thumping. Obviously, driving in Lagos would be much, much safer if all drivers obey traffic laws. But the federal government couldn’t ensure that. It built itself a new capital at Abuja and FLED from Lagos!

This road analogy can be applied to the general Nigerian or most African societies. In any organized society, there is a body of rules and regulations which EVERYONE must obey and follow if the society is to survive, rejuvenate itself and progress. A society cannot exist without rules and principles that govern relationships between a person and other persons, the community, and the environment as well as handle problems that may arise within these relationships. A set of such rules, codified or not, may be termed “law.” Six may be distinguished: Natural, contractual, statutory, customary, religious, constitutional laws.

Natural law constitutes the body of rules people must follow in order to live and work in peace. First, they must avoid physical harm or damage to another’s work and property. Second, they must honor their obligations or contracts with others, and, third, they should compensate those on whom they inflict harm and whose property they damage. When people conduct their lives in this “live and let live” way, the natural order of human world is respected. There is peace and natural law prevails. The human world consists of many separate individuals, each capable of feeling, thought, speech, and action. Inevitable interactions create a web of inter-relationships and boundaries that separate one person from another in his words, works, and actions from those of other persons. When people respect that order and the boundaries that define it, they act justly – justice being nothing else than the will to respect the order of the human world and to recognize in word and action what belongs to another.

When people act justly, they refrain from treating another person as something other than a person or as some person other than he is and from treating what belongs to one person’s as if it belonged to another. They minimize and may even eliminate confusion about who said, did, or produced what. This in turn makes it possible to attribute responsibility, praise and blame, merit and demerit, to whom it is due. Thus, when people behave justly, they do not threaten one another’s life, freedom, or property, but act towards one another in peaceful, friendly ways. (van Notten, 2001; p.14). There are some groups who prefer natural law to laws promulgated by the state. For more, see this link:

A contract creates a set of binding rules but it applies to only those who have specifically agreed to it. It is rather limited in its scope and does not empower a signatory to infringe upon the rights of others who are not party to the contract. The “contract” may be a verbal agreement or a promise to repay a loan in the presence of a “witness” and actions to be taken in case of default.

Statutory laws are “rules of conduct designed by government employees, legislated by a parliament, promulgated by a government official such as a king or a minister, and enforced by a police force controlled by that official” (van Notten, 2001; p.16). The police typically have a monopoly over the use of force or the weapons required for redressing injustices. In a dictatorship, statutory laws are decrees or diktats of the ruling despot. In a democracy, statutory law is “politician’s law.” The people have little say in its design, promulgation and enforcement. Their representatives do so in their behalf but there is no guarantee that they will do so or promulgate laws that protect life, liberty and property. Statutory laws can be oppressive. “While these powers (laws) are supposed to be used to defend every person’s right to life, liberty and property, the truth of the matter is that they are regularly used to restrict those very rights. Politicians do this with impunity by first establishing a monopoly over the country’s policing powers” (Heath, 2001).

Customary laws are not commands or legislated rules. They “are conventions and enforceable rules that have emerged and are respected spontaneously, without formal agreement, among people as they go about their daily business and try to solve the problems that occasionally arise in it without upsetting the patterns of cooperation on which they so heavily depend” (van Notten, 2006; p.15). Customary law does not mean every custom is recognized as “law.” However, when a particular custom is repeatedly recognized in a traditional court, it may become law.

Religious laws are by definition those laws that are derived from the Bible or the Qu’ran. For example, the Ten Commandments and the Sharia lay down laws, enjoining their followers to obey. Many of them are straight-forward injunctions such as “Do not steal.”

A Constitution may be regarded as a social contract between the rulers or government and the governed. Constitutional laws are those derived from the Constitution and when freely negotiated, is the law of the people, defining how their society is to be organized and governed. Constitutional laws specify the rights of the people and the limits of government. They are supreme, taking precedence over all laws. They are also sovereign, meaning they cannot be abrogated by one individual or political party with a majority in Parliament. The supremacy of Constitution law is due to the fact that a nation may be composed of different ethnic and religious groups. While each group may have its own particular laws, there must be one law – Constitution – that keeps or is binding on all groups within the nation.

Thus, every society must have some body of laws to govern itself by. For example, one does not arbitrarily go and steal or seize someone else’s property. All societies disallow that. Nor does one grab, rape and impregnate a woman if one wants to have a child. When everyone obeys and follows the same law, “the rule of law” is said to prevail, meaning it is the law that rules, not the whims of some autocrat. Thus, it is this body of principles and rules – or the rule of law — that stands between sanity or progress in the society and utter chaos or anarchy. Similarly, traffic laws are what stand between sanity and order on the roads and total chaos and carnage.

The rule of law is not something that is alien to Africa. Each traditional African society also has a body of principles and rules which everyone – including chiefs and kings – must follow. It is called customary law. It may cover a wide area — from nationality, land, chattels, marriage, testamentary disposition, defamation to modes of enforcing payment of debts. For example, ownership is generally recognized as arising from original acquisition or legitimate transfer by way of gift, purchase, etc. When a person applied his labor, superior mental powers or business skills to a piece of previously un-owned land and generated a product or developed an artistic motif, traditional law allow them to retain ownership of such land, product or motif.

In traditional Africa, one did not take the law into one own hands. There are customary ways of resolving disputes. A dispute may be taken to native courts – called gacaca in Rwanda – for a resolution. Among the Arusha of Tanzania, “there was a very strongly held value that disputes should be settled peacefully by persuasion and by resort to the established procedures for settlement” (Carlston, 1968:310). Similarly, the Tallensi of Ghana abhorred killings and violent resolutions of conflicts. For precisely this reason, they celebrated the Golib festival, during which all feuds and hostilities between clans were prohibited. This festival emphasized “the themes of food, harmony, fecundity, and the common interests of the people as a whole” (Carlston, 1968:109).

Customary laws enjoin respect for elders and parents, especially mothers. The elders are regarded as the fonts of wisdom and experience, while mothers are regarded as the pillars of society. This is captured by the African proverb: “Educate a man and you educate a single person but educate a woman and you educate an entire nation.”

Everyone, including chiefs and kings, are required to obey customary law. Even in the rigidly-controlled Kingdom of Dahomey in ancient times, Boahen and Webster (1970) found that,

“Although the king’s word was the law of the land yet he was not above the law. Dahomeans like to recount how king Glele was fined for breaking the law. When gangs of men were working cooperatively either on state roads or building a house for one of their members, it was a law that a passerby must approach the leader and make an excuse as to why he could not break his journey to assist in the work. Permission was almost inevitably given, the law being largely designed to reinforce courtesy. King Glele’s procession passed one such group without asking to be excused. He was stopped by the headman and fined many cases of rum and pieces of cloth for breaking the law…The fact that the kings of Dahomey (now Benin) were prepared to obey the laws they themselves created was the difference between arbitrary despotism and despotism which realized that its power and position rested ultimately, no matter how indirectly, upon the will of the people (p.108).

Traditional African custom required that the elders, the “old men” instruct the youth in native law and custom. As instructors, the elders were expected to be of good behavior and comport themselves well to serve as role models for the youth. Consequently, contraventions of the law by elders were viewed more seriously and punished more severely because the elders were expected “to know the law.” Consider the following cases from Schapera (1957):

Among the Kgatla, a man who had refused on demand to give up cattle that he was looking after for someone else was not only ordered to do so, but was also fined, `because he is an old man and ought to know the law’ (Kgamanyane Pilane v. Ntwai Moeng, 22/1938).

In a matrimonial dispute among the Ngwato, the husband’s conduct was found especially reprehensible , `because he is an old man, from whom younger people should learn how to behave’ (Dikeledi v. Makgoeng, 153/1938).

And in another Ngwato case, a village headman who had abducted another’s wife was fined more heavily than usual because in his position he was expected to set a good example to others (Monyanda v. Radipitse, 151/1938).

The chaos and carnage in modern-day Somalia is a telling example of what happens to a society when some groups refuse to abide by the SAME law. The road analogy is even more pertinent and applicable here: Somalia is a country where some groups refuse to obey the same traffic laws.

The Somali are ethnically homogenous and proud people. They are fiercely republican andbase their society on their customary law called xeer. They refuse to accept an alien system imposed upon them. Heath (2001) expressed it well:

“Most Somalis prefer their customary laws and institutions, which they call xeer. In their experience, the xeer constitutes the heart of the Somali nation. They believe that without the xeer the Somali nation would fall apart, lose its identity, forgo its solidarity, forfeit its civilization and relinquish its culture. The xeer is the cord holding the house of the Somali people together. Indeed, it is thanks to their customary law that the traditional political system of the Somalis took the form of a kritarchy, not a democracy.

But Somali politicians had other ideas. They hold the xeer in abject contempt and prefer contrived statutory law which will allow them to lord over the people. As van Notten (2006) noted:

“During the 20th century, the Somalis were subjected the heavy-handed policies of the colonial powers. These powers left a form of government behind that was at odds with indigenous Somali political culture. It took the Somalis 30 years to get rid of it and return to their pre-colonial political structure. Many problems arose in the course of this, but gradually the Somalis are resolving them. Foreign observers fail to understand what they are doing; they think the Somalis have been trying to establish a democratic government and constantly failing to do so. In reality, the chief aim of many Somalis is to clean their indigenous legal and political system of its foreign elements (p.139).

In short, the crisis and carnage in Somalia is due to a clash of laws. Not all are following the SAME traffic laws. The Somali prefer the customary law, the xeer. The colonialists, political elites and the Islamists prefer other laws. When the colonialist tried to impose their own laws on the Somali, they fought them and gained their independence. When dictators and political elites tried to impose decrees and statutory laws on them, the Somali fought them too and drove dictator General Siad Barre out of office into exile. Obviously, if the Islamist group, al-Shabaab, tries to impose the sharia on the Somali, they will fight it too.

Clearly, the solution to the crisis in Somalia does not lie in having a strongman impose the Ten Commandments on the people; they will fight it. Nor does it lie in breaking up the country. For one thing, the Somali are a one-tribe nation (ethnically homogenous), so one can’t have one tribe going this way and the others going the other way. Even then, Puntland and Somaliland broke away but no country has recognized them. The obvious solution is get ALL Somali to obey the SAME traffic laws.

Now, which LAW must ALL Nigerians follow and obey: Natural Law, Statutory Law, The Ten Commandments, The Sharia, or The Constitutional Law? If you said, the Constitutional Law, you are right but has it been followed? And what happens when the president holds the Constitution in vexatious contempt, refuses to follow it and blurts, “I don’t give a dam”?

We explore these issues next.

There are duplicity of roles, improper accountability and unequal distribution of the healthcare, all stemming from the aforementioned problems. It’s obvious we are trying to build our healthcare system on the tertiary institutions, which means we are roofing the house before laying the foundation.

If Health is Wealth we are indeed a poor country

Roemer (1991) defined a health system as “the combination of resources, organization, financing and management that culminates in the delivery of health services to the population.”2

WHO defined Health system as, all activities whose primary purpose is to promote, restore, and maintain health.

A health system has three overarching goals:

  • Maintain or improve people’s health;
  • Aim to provide services that respond to legitimate public expectations (both medical and non-medical); and
  • Ensure all households receive a fair share of public services and are protected equally from financial risk.

Here we are at the close of the 21st century and the Nigerian healthcare system is still almost non-existent. There are many factors attributable to this problem but taking a closer look it’s obvious it’s the impaired clarity of mind of the government that has placed the healthcare system in such doldrums, putting square pegs in round holes. The new health bill in the works also places most of the health delivery burden on the yet to be concretized shoulders of the Nigerian Primary healthcare development agency.

Taking a look at the Nigerian healthcare system as it is designed brings up many issues such as: funding, who controls what at what level, what is the role of the federal government, state government and the local government? How do the various non-governmental organizations fit into the whole healthcare delivery? The State governments who ought to be in charge of 2nd level of healthcare delivery are foraying into tertiary level of healthcare delivery, totally obliterating the 2nd level of healthcare delivery, the state government also are the ones to disburse funds for the local governments to run the- bed-rock of any healthcare delivery system- primary healthcare delivery.

There are duplicity of roles, improper accountability and unequal distribution of the healthcare, all stemming from the aforementioned problems. It’s obvious we are trying to build our healthcare system on the tertiary institutions, which means we are roofing the house before laying the foundation.

The definition of primary healthcare delivery in Nigeria has been reduced to the healthcare delivered by CHEW’s and Nurses and occasionally, that corper Doctor who is posted to that locality for a period of one year, whose training has not fully equipped him in delivering primary healthcare. Reading through the health bill I do not see the place of a doctor as part of the workforce in primary healthcare delivery. It goes to say that, we are still not ready to strengthen the system as it were. Neither are we ready to reduce the burden at the tertiary level, which will go a long way to cut down overhead costs.

While the role been foisted on NPHCDA is in theory a good idea as it will help knock out the multiplicity of funds and allow more accountability in the system, the fear is that politicizing the office of the DG will take eyes away from the Ministry of health, since bulk of the money will be disbursed by NPHCDA. We know that where the money is, is where the politicians will want to control and as such the plan will be derailed.

When we take a look at the aforementioned goals of the healthcare system, it is clear that Nigeria’s healthcare system does not meet these. My submission therefore is that, we go back to the drawing board and start building from the scratch our health system if the generations unborn are to have a future!

Little wonder why majority of the population still do not have access to care when they need it. One can make an educated guess as to why the country is still struggling to swim out of the deep wells of high burden of diseases and high mortality rates.

In part 1 of this series, I expounded on the private financing system of health in Nigeria and how it hinders majority of the population, especially the poor from accessing health services and treatments at the time of need. I explained that a health system where most of the health care costs are paid by individuals out of their own pockets at the moment of seeking treatment is not equitable, as it undeniably limits access to only the rich who can afford to pay, and leaves out the poorest members of the society. In this second part, I will be explaining the public financing system of health and its role in delivering care to the Nigerian populace.

As I mentioned in part 1, the public financing of health care includes allocation from government’s budget, social health insurance funds and external funding (which includes external borrowings, donations from international agencies and NGOs). The recent statistics by the World Health Organisation shows that general government expenditure on health, as a percentage of total health expenditure in Nigeria, is just 36.7%. In the face of rising health care costs and an annual population growth rate of about 2.4%, this amount of government spending is not sufficient to effectively fund any of the primary health centres, state general hospitals or the teaching hospitals in the country – the health needs of this fast growing population are not being met!

Also, government’s allocation to health care as a percentage of total government budget in 2008 was 6.4%. This seriously falls short of the 2001 Abuja declarationby the heads of state of African Union countries to allocate at least 15% of their annual budget towards the improvement of their health sectors. To worsen the case, in the proposed budget by the federal government for year 2012, government’s allocation towards health care instead of going upwards, was reduced by almost 0.4% to 6.07%. This just reflects the lack of governmental commitment to improving the health of Nigerians.

Consequently, this has resulted in the poor performance and the inability of the health system to deliver effective and efficient health care. We still do not have enough government health facilities to adequately take care of the masses – 2,000 Nigerian must fight for one hospital bed! Many of the facilities that are available are ill equipped and they often lack the resources and supplies to function effectively. There is paucity of health workers – 1 physician for every 2500 patients, who are not well remunerated or motivated to provide quality health services. This failure by the government to effectively and efficiently finance health care has inadvertently and continuously led to an increase in private hospitals and out-of-pocket payments. In addition, government hospitals and clinics now accept user fees at the point of access to care in order to finance cost of supplies and the daily running of their facilities. Little wonder why majority of the population still do not have access to care when they need it. One can make an educated guess as to why the country is still struggling to swim out of the deep wells of high burden of diseases and high mortality rates.

Previously, there was no form of programme that could financially protect the poor and allow for shared risk of health care costs among every member of the population. Recently, the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) was created. The NHIS, based on a social health insurance system was established in 2005 with an overarching goal of universal health coverage by the year 2015. Exemption of user fees for pregnant women and children under five years has been possible through this scheme, but a lot still needs to be done. An in-depth analysis of the NHIS will be done in the next part of this series.

The difficulty of paying out of pockets put most Nigerians in a great deal of financial risk and restricts them from having direct access to health care when they need it. Majority are even forced to sell their assets or go into debt in order to pay for health care costs.


How is health care paid for in Nigeria? If you find it difficult to answer this question, you may want to read this. This article is the first in a series that will try to explain how Nigeria’s health financing system works and how it hinders people from accessing care at the time of need.

How health care is paid for is part of the major functions of the health system of any country called health financing. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), health financing is concerned with the mobilisation, accumulation and allocation of money to cover the health needs of the people, individually and collectively in the health system. This simply means the ability of the system to organise health care in such a way that even the poorest households living in the remote villages can receive needed care anytime without having to worry about the financial cost of the health services. This is one of the hallmarks of an equitable or fair health system.

In Nigeria, health care is paid for through an uneven combination of different mechanisms. First is through allocation from government’s budget; secondly, through out-of-pocket payments; thirdly, via health insurance (social and private) and lastly through external funding.

Each of these mechanisms can be grouped under either private financing or public financing. Private financing refers to health care costs paid via private out-of-pocket, private health insurance and direct service payments by corporations. When it is financed through allocation from government budgets, external funding (which includes external borrowings, donations from international agencies and NGOs) and social health insurance funds, it is regarded as public financing.

So the question is, how does the current health financing system hinder people from accessing care at the time of need? Let me first expound on the private financing mechanisms. In my following article I will discuss in details the public financing mechanisms.

In Nigeria, majority of health care is currently financed privately. Private expenditure on health as a percentage of total health expenditure is 63.3%1; that is about two-thirds of the total amount spent on health care. And out of this, prepayment through private health insurance plans is only 3.1% and a huge 95.4% is paid out-of-pocket. Multinational companies usually sponsor the very few Nigerians covered under the private insurance. This means that an extremely large percentage of the population including the poor pay for health care out of their pockets at the time of access. As stated earlier, one of the hallmarks of a good health system is to be equitable and allow for the financial risk of paying for health care to be evenly spread among members of the population, whether rich or poor. A health system where most of the health care costs are paid by individuals out of their own pockets at the moment of seeking treatment is not equitable as it undeniably limits access to only those who can afford it (the rich), and leave out the poorest members of the society.

Nigeria is characterised by a very high level of inequality – as rich as having Africa’s richest man and the richest black person in the world, with a net worth of $11.2 billion, and as poor as having about 70% of its population living on less than $1 a day. With a large informal sector and over half of its population living in the rural areas, it is the poor that bear the brunt. The difficulty of paying out of pockets put most Nigerians in a great deal of financial risk and restricts them from having direct access to health care when they need it. Majority are even forced to sell their assets or go into debt in order to pay for health care costs.

No wonder we are still lagging behind in achieving most of the millennium development goals1 (MDGs). The private out-of-pocket payments, which is the major way health care costs are being paid for in our country has created a barrier and is therefore not equitable in providing care to all members of the population.