Essays / The Pontifical Papers



Nigerians have an understandable—if somewhat childish and sometimes nasty—habit of singling out a trait in one of their rulers and examining critical arguments from the perspective of that trait every time. Take the Jonathan administration, for example: when critics raised an issue, Jonathan apologists would direct the argument to “But he is a nice (or good, meek, humble) person” or worse: “You are saying this because he is from an ethnic minority”. Or in Lagos, when Fashola’s spending was criticised: “But he is working, compared to others.”

This social behaviour is generally amusing, but it becomes dangerous when it starts to repress the space for critical thought.

And now, with the budding sycophancy of the Buhari regime, this attitude continues. Buhari apologists tend to review every criticism of current Nigerian politics and government from the perspective of: “But he is fighting corruption”.

Hey, Buhari is disregarding the rule of law. “But he is fighting corruption.

Look, Buhari is not managing the economy. “But he is fighting corruption.”

Buhari is ignoring religious/ethnic minorities with grievances. “But he is fighting corruption.”

This particular defence mechanism is even more understandable because—who in Nigeria doesn’t want to fight corruption? Corruption is the sum total of Nigeria’s political experience, and we must all put our foot down and, fight it! Why, even some blatantly corrupt politicians now claim to fight corruption!

“Sai Baba. Buhari is fighting corruption.”

But we ought to examine this claim more critically. Is Buhari actually fighting corruption? Or, is the anti-corruption mantra—and the “Dasukigate” affair in particular—a sideshow to distract Nigerians from the, so far, unimaginative policies of this administration? Or, maybe, the president is genuine in intent but just clueless in execution?

A lot of us, Nigerians, use the word “corruption” by rote. We rarely think of what it means and so we have no conscious idea of its social dynamics. If we consider it at all, we mostly confine it, simply, to an illegal benefit from public funds. This definition, if the presidential media chat is anything to go by, is also the one favoured by the current administration.

But, is this all there is to “corruption”?

To be clear, corruption shows up in Nigeria in its two primal forms: as the corruption of need; and as the corruption of greed. There is a third, but we will come back to that.

Now, almost every type of society suffers from the corruption of greed (e.g., misusing public funds or public office or otherwise defrauding the public through private means). In this sense, even the Western countries are all corrupt countries. The difference in effect is, however, determined by the extent to which legal processes in a society can automatically and efficiently handle its occurrences.

The corruption of greed is derived from a condition of human nature that exploits weaknesses in any political or economic system. An increase in the corruption of greed isn’t the cause of negative social conditions—it is, in fact, a negative social condition itself. Thankfully, it is a social condition that can be cured through a sound legal system. To handle the corruption of greed as efficiently as possible (because we really can’t wipe out human criminality totally), a society can simply shore up weaknesses in the existing system: usually by capping regulatory loopholes, strengthening the capacity of the police, upgrading prosecuting authorities, promoting respect for the rule of law, and assuring the independence of the judiciary. It is under this process that Mr. Dasuki and his merry men should be handled. The Obasanjo and Yar’Adua administrations utilised these processes—to a limited extent. GEJ stalled its progress with characteristic indecisiveness and misguided pardons. Buhari, so far, seems to be following in Obasanjo’s steps. In any case, utilising the legal process to convict offenders is a normal, system-preserving, expectation that is hardly worth the socio-political energy and hysterical “support” that is currently attached to it in Nigeria.

On the other hand, the nature and causes of the corruption of need are much more complicated and requires the full participation of society. This is because the corruption of need is a symptom of a dysfunctional political or economic system. The corruption of need is peculiar to underdeveloped or developing countries. It is a corruption of survival that emerges from our daily trade-off between a patriotic desire to obey seemingly good laws, and a deeper, natural, instinct for self-preservation from the unjustifiable adverse effects of the system.

The corruption of need is the corruption of our daily lives: from negotiating a bribe with the (poorly paid) policeman to avoid lateness for work, to reconnecting your electricity line illegally (because “NEPA” wants to frustrate you). This is a corruption that exists because the price of honesty far outweighs—sometimes fatally—the consequences of corruption. This is the corruption that destroys us.

And it is this corruption of need that any serious Nigerian leader ought to tackle, first. But this is, almost, asking for the impossible; because the corruption of need stems directly from the nature and design of the political and economic system in which it flourishes.

And so: in an economic system where the government owns and controls all land, minerals, and other resources of production, the corruption of need necessarily emerges from the ensuing patronage system.

In a political system where, despite the heterogeneous nature of the society, all effective policymaking power is concentrated in the central government and local authorities have little or no efficient policymaking, the corruption of need necessarily emerges.

In an economic system where the relationship of a manufacturer to political power—and not his “brilliance” or innate productive capacity—determines profit-making, the corruption of need will necessarily emerge.

In a political system where the economy relies on the government’s budget and the government’s budget does not have to rely on the economy, then the corruption of need will necessarily emerge.

In an economic system where almost 70% of the revenue from economic resources goes into maintaining the government—and not the society—then the corruption of need will necessarily emerge.

Yet, somehow, in these underdeveloped or developing countries, the success of any government is assured if it can convince the population that the socio-economic gaps that allow the corruption of need to thrive stems, not from the systemic dysfunctions, but from the corruption of greed displayed by a “previous administration”.

Hence, in Nigeria (and a lot of other African countries) from 1966 to date, this singular argument has been a major justification of revolutionary power transitions. But history shows, again and again, that this argument is untrue. Instead, after every transition, the system merely resets the cycle.

And, no, we cannot cure the corruption of need just by strengthening the police or increasing the independence of the judiciary; not by arresting people or building more prisons. It requires, instead, the dissolution or reformation of the political and economic structures of the dysfunctional system. This takes imagination, innovation and persuasive charisma. It requires a working knowledge, by the politicians, of how to structure a productive economy.

But how can people who have not really worked for money, who get paid just for showing up, understand how to structure a productive economy?

But, does Buhari understand how to? Does Buhari understand that limiting productive activity (e.g., through erratic foreign exchange controls) is part of what breeds the corruption of need in black markets and borders? Does he understand that trying to run Nigeria—instead of trying to reform Nigeria—factors into the corruption of need? Does Buhari understand that the Federal Government of Nigeria is, in fact, the number one culprit?

But Buhari is fighting corruption. We should all stand with him.”

I understand that Buhari has some economic gurus around him, but it is hard to believe that these people, almost of all whom have risen to their positions through the system, are capable of advising the president to set in motion the steps to dismantle the same system.

Well, as some try to argue, maybe Buhari is fighting the corruption of greed first, as a process of reform. But this position is hard to support considering that: (i) this approach has been taken before, and it solved nothing permanently—after all, even the Dasuki loot is derived from the “anti-corruption” crusades of the early 2000s; (ii) nine months in, and the Buhari government hasn’t processed the Dasuki case alone efficiently enough to secure any conviction—not that this will solve anything in itself; and (iii) even worse, the Buhari government questionably accommodates, at least, three people in the cabinet with dubious reputations from their time in state governments.

It seems more realistic to consider Buhari’s anti-corruption agenda as: the usual settling of private or public political scores with specific members of previous administrations—like almost every other Nigerian ruler before him; or—to put it very nicely—as evidence that the president has no clue what corruption in Nigeria really means.

In short, President Buhari is not quite fighting corruption. I believe that the president can perform much better if: (i) as Femi Falana has impliedly advised, he disengages from his overt personal interest, particularly in just one case of the corruption of greed, and “allow” the legal process to fully handle all instances of its occurrence without the presidency’s involvement or influence; while (ii) he concentrates on and engages fully, instead, with the political and economic reforms necessary to eradicate the more intricate corruption of need.

Whatever. But he is fighting corruption. Let us stand with him. Nine million Nigerians will march foBuhari.

And this insistence on mindless “support” is proof of the third way corruption manifests in Nigeria: the corruption of mind—or mental slavery.

Follow @ayosogunro on twitter for more engagement, buy my books, and—if you really like stimulating, if sometimes annoying—very annoying—thoughts on socio-legal philosophy—enter your email in the right sidebar to get notifications of fresh talk on this fine blog.

Oh, and my most recent book “Everything in Nigeria is Going to Kill You” was listed by Pulse, Channels TV Book Club, and Guardian Newspaper as a top book of 2015. Say cheers!



    • I don’t quite agree with this analysis. I find it academic, and non-contextual. While I agree with the definitions and distinction between corruption of greed and corruption of need, my take is that corruption of need is a result of institutionalized corruption of greed, which results in systemic dysfunctions and impunity, and then it trickles down, through the system until it becomes a cancerous growth like what we have in Nigeria, permeating every sphere of the society. A good look at some developing African countries with emerging corrupt leadership but a citizenry with a value system, would be indicative of this…


      • You seem to have made the same point as the author. Except you emphasise the terms “institutionalised corruption” and “value system”
        I think corruption became institutionalised when the institutions are unable to fight the corruption of greed effectively. That breeds impunity, robs an otherwise honest person of the motivation to be upright, pauperizes the middle class, and ultimately destroys the “the value system”. Dignity of labour is lost the the expediency of meeting needs. Value-system be damned.


      • I can’t help but endorse this.

        As usual, the sequence of the problem is known but as counter-intuitive as it seems, the solution is to fight the fallout which will then provide enough back bone to fight the initial cause. Anything else would be filled with drama and distractions as we have all witnessed since we started fighting corruption in 1966


      • I agree with the writer, corruption of need is borne by a certain helplessness in a dysfunctional system; take for instance: our wages in this country, our civil servants are so poorly paid – their salaries can not pay their house rent, feed their families, or even pay school fees. A person in the above helpless state of existence will steal & take bribes in order to meet his needs.I always say that our systems as they are currently, are designed to FAIL, it will continue to breed & foster corruption amidst the chaos.


  1. Hmm.well written.although an excergerated version of the reality on ground. Theres no tangible prove of the fact that the presidency is mismanging the economy.If the present prudent activities from the govt is to go by,the inconveniencies may subside asap and by when we ll acknowledge the reward of being regarded as corrupt in the mind.we ve gone beyound the days when our thought s and hopes can be constantly dampened and depressed by prolific critics.buhari is fighting CORRUPTION.we just need to cooperate and see the fight from the Top till it gets into the whole framework called nigeria.


  2. Nicely written. While I agree with your conclussion, that Buhari’s so called anti-war ructions fight will lead to nought, I disagree with the analysis around the corruption of greed versus need.

    Without going into too much turanchi, I think addressing both types of corruption simultaneously is vital.

    Fighting high level corruption (greed) is vital because it sends a message and provides a short term indication to the masses that the government is doing something about the few big men who’s been chopping ‘our money’.

    This is particularly important because restructuring the political and economic system to address the ‘corruption of need’ will take a while. People need to see that the big boys are being targeted as well, otherwise it would be hard to get support for the for fundamental changes required.

    We need to be tackling BOTH kinds of corruption.


    • Well, I see your point, but I think, as I’m sure Ayo wanted to communicate too, that it is better for a doctor to treat the underlying cause of a medical condition than to merely treat its symptoms. If the argument that the corruption of need is the one causing the one of need is sound (and it seems so), then it follows that the proper thing to do is to cure the former, and the latter would naturally be attenuated.

      Nevertheless, when things begin to run out of hand with a patient, and the diagnosis is not proceeding positively, then the doctor should at least treat the symptoms, if only to put the patient at temporary ease — but *only* as a last resort, since, no matter how much you treat the symptoms to the negligence of their cause, the condition will remain.

      But I’m not sure Nigeria has reached that stage yet (i.e., an irrepairable state). Thus I support that more attention should be paid by the FG to tackling the con than the cog.


  3. You will understand that there are peculiarities to Nigeria’s situational problems and it is that they defy normal solutions. You rightly allude to a sound judiciary being left to tackle corruption and other social crippling vices, when it is quite glaring that nothing as changed much from the Judiciary of the yester-years and that of today.
    Even though it is quite bitter to admit and a typical case of fart and salt in mouth, we may uncomfortably deny that the institutional processes are not warped from years of moral decay, but what we cannot deny is that the stench is crippling our socio-economic survival as a country.
    There is a problematic which you have created. That the Federal Government choose to fight graft wars through legal means and I would presume your reason for such, to forestall a precedence where might rules other than the law. But you may also agree that firmness with the utmost utilitarian goal serves the purpose social survival when perceived to be sincere which is what I presume your stance aims at.
    When there is an obvious distrust of the system, how sensible is it to continue to trust our fight against the monstrosity it has birthed to that same system except for we resorting to a necessary instilling of order? Did you consider the flip side of your argument enough to see his actions for the society’s greater good? With cases entrusted to this same judiciary, how many has been successfully prosecuted without political sincerity and willingness?
    I am an advocate of Rule of Law and what endures human sustenance but I am confident that we are higher animals because we have powers to change situations to fit for solutions.
    It is a gripping detail to call for order when what a system understands is chaos. You do not speak English to a man that understands just French. We have to engage problems beyond the temperance with which they were created. And we best understand that it is chaos does not mean all hope is lost, as chaos is most times an order we do not understand yet.


  4. To the writer, the need to fight your “corruption of greed” with respect to the Dasuki gate becomes clear if only you can imagine the number of lives that could have been saved if the $2.1bn arms funds was not diverted. The truth is “corruption of need” is not directly observable and as such can not be squarely fought, though the old War against Indiscipline (WAI) attempted to achieve a semblance of that. It is only when the “need” is met that you can make any significant progress in this regard. Meeting need however is a different task altogether and would take a much longer time.


  5. There’s an over simplication of corruption of need by the writer even if, he tries to implied its complexities. Nonetheless, one may agreed with most of the arguments but… perhaps not a long term solution, but fighting corruption of greed will, so to say, give us the masses, a mental ‘satisfaction’ though, we’re, as you put it, mentally enslaved.
    I’m on thesame terms with almost all other things, moreso, federation, policy making… Great article & thanks for sharing.


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  7. If the corruption of greed and impunity are tackled, if the institutions that hold nations afloat are rebuilt and strengthened, if the curse on the black race were removed…if, if, if.


  8. Ayo well done, this is my first of reading your article. To the business of the day allow Buhari to fight curruption till end of May,block all the leakages and let’s the proper work commence.


    • Very well researched commentary. My conclusive belief is that Corruption in Nigeria is fuelled by the Centralised Governance. Until & unless Nigeria is properly Federated as obtained in the sixties, corruption will continue to grow and morph into more sophisticated forms, until it finally destroys this Multi-everything country.


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  11. Ayo Sogunro is falling victim to a framing bias that Feyi Fawehinmi describes as “fake purse ninjitsu.” He’s letting his idealized vision or wishes for how Nigeria should be reformed get in the way of the actionable, pragmatic plan for reform that Buhari has set in motion. The perfect is the enemy of the good.

    “Oh Buhari has implemented a Treasury Single Account, thereby institutionally preventing the theft of leftover funds. But why hasn’t he amended the Constitution to make local governments independent of state governments? He’s a failure!”

    We know that the judiciary has in the past proved unable to prosecute occurences of “corruption of greed” within the system – Odili, the pensions scam, Igbinedion etc. What we are seeing here is Buhari’s EFCC using the loopholes in bail law to hold suspects until the Itse Sagay committee can present its plan for judicial reform.

    Ayo accuses Buhari of settling scores with Saraki, Dasuki etc. What evidence does he have that their cases were prompted by the President? Conspiracy theories tend to prevent their holders from perceiving reality for what it is, rather those who buy into a conspiracy theory go down a confirmation bias spiral and start to deny facts that do not fit within their narrative.

    All the best!


  12. The act of changing, or of being changed, for the worse; departure from what is pure, simple, or correct; that’s corruption

    To solve a problem, you must first define the problem to identify it.


  13. This piece is well-articulated but highly deficient in intellectual substance. Where do I even start from? First, the distinction between corruption of need and greed makes some sense quite alright but the suggestion that the former is more important than the latter is highly suspicious as I do not expect an author at this level not to understand that it is corruption of greed that gives rise to corruption of need. If public officers are uncorrupt and do their jobs correctly, the policeman’s salary or other low level economic agents may be quite sufficient for their needs. Prices of goods would not be astronomically prohibitive because the uncorrupt public officer would not have so much money to spend on few goods. Have you ever asked yourself why for instance, properties in Abuja are the most expensive in Africa? Why a 3-Bedroom apartment in Sandton, area of Joburg with better infrastructure would sell for far less an amount than similar property in Abuja?
    You also dabbled into the merit and demerit of political systems without displaying a proper grasp of the debate in this area. For your information, there is no evidence that highly centralized political system cannot do well. In the contrary, contemporary evidence reveals that those countries that have been successful in reducing poverty and achieving significant economic transformation are states with highly centralized model of decision making. If you don’t understand what I am talking about, pay a visit to a library and pick up any literature on China’s economic transformation.
    Perhaps nothing is more pedestal and insulting in your presentation that the cheap suggestion that corruption can be effectively and efficiently fought in an atmosphere of freedom: free judiciary, free this and free that. In this country of ours where financial factor plays significant role in our administration of justice what kind of successful prosecution of war against corruption do you expect from freedom of judiciary? Or how do you expect a model of administration of justice that is conceptually defective in allowing a criminal to go free on technical ground to successfully help us prosecute the war on corruption. I can go on and on but my time is precious. I have better things to do. My parting advise to you is that you can do better things with your energy and intellect than committing them into this cheap engagement of doing the bidding of some guys who have brought our otherwise great country to its present sorry state.


  14. Great post and analysis.
    However, judging from majority of the comments you are indeed so correct that everything you said still has no effect on anybody, just as you predicted.
    Perhaps, that is what you mean by corruption of the mind: when all reason becomes babash.


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