How Corrupt Nigerian Ruling Elites Use “Legalism” and “Technocracy” As Defence -By Adeolu Ademoyo

Filed under: National Issues |
Adeolu Ademoyo

Adeolu Ademoyo


As Petroleum Minister under General Olusegun Obasanjo in the 1970s, I could not travel abroad until I had taken a memo to the Federal Executive Council asking for estacode. Now, everybody does what he wants

– President Buhari, August 11, 2015.

In the fight against corruption, it is very difficult to be neutral. For some members of my generation it is also very difficult to forget good memories about some of the finest and the most morally inclined leaders Nigeria ever had.

So when President Buhari point blank told members of the Abdulsalam Abubakar Peace Committee who recently paid him a visit that as Petroleum minister, he could not travel until he took a memo to the Federal Executive council asking for estacode, and that today what we have is political and moral anarchy, Buhari’s words remind me of ex-Governor Adekunle Ajasin’s public and moral service as governor of Ondo state.

I had the privilege of personal knowledge of Governor Ajasin’s moral code because my uncle was responsible for overseeing his travel account when he was governor. Each time Ajasin returned from a trip outside Akure, he would always return the balance of his travel expenses immediately. I knew because each time governor Ajasin did this, my uncle would return home and celebrate the Spartan moral code and transparency of Ajasin’s public life as a way to encourage us in the family.

In Governor Ajasin, it was about how the law and the legal are guided by and subsumed under the ethical. Some of us grew up on this public morality, hence our intense rejection of the looting of our commonwealth by members of Nigerian ruling elite in all Nigerian ethnic groups.

So talking about the corruption of the Nigerian ruling elite, Nigerians need to be aware of the two devious moves of this elite to checkmate the dogged fight against corruption. One is the use of crass legalism. In this regard, the corrupt Nigerian ruling elite will deploy their lawyers to appeal to “due process”. No one can argue against legitimate due process, and we all are obliged to defend due process. Due process is a given position. It is a moral and legal obligation.

But the question is: what is due process which corrupt members of the Nigerian ruling class appeal to when in a fundamental sense the laws and judiciary on which the corrupt rely on in appealing to due process violate the life process of Nigerian working people? Which is more fundamental – the life process of Nigerian working people and sustaining it or the due process corrupt members of Nigerian ruling elite rely on to violate the life process of the working people?

It is interesting that members of the ruling elite do not talk about due process when they are looting the Nigerian treasury, but they cynically resort to “due process” when they are being investigated. For example, if as reported some ministers are planning soft landing for themselves by agreeing to return some of their loot, what due process did they follow in amassing such insane and sickening wealth while calling it their own wealth?

Where was due process when the private jet of Pastor Oritsejafor (CAN President) – the friend of ex-president Jonathan was involved in the laundering of $9m to South Africa? What is due process if as it was reported the United States government told the Nigerian government that a former minister under ex-president Jonathan stole close to $6b? Where was due process when arms purchase and oil sales became the pretext under which billions of dollars were looted under ex-president Jonathan? Where was due process when ex-president Goodluck Jonathan put the revered weight of the Nigerian state and his corrupt presidential stamp behind corruption when he cynically declared, “Stealing is no corruption?”

Is the skewed Nigerian notion of due process the reason the United States government reportedly told the Nigerian government to look into the Nigerian judiciary and rid it of corrupt judges if the government is to be able to seriously prosecute the anti-corruption fight? Or can there be any defensible “due process” in the looting of the public treasury? How can “due process” be separated from the ethical in our life the way elite defenders of corrupt politicians want it separated?

Having failed in their argument about “due process” corrupt members of the Nigerian ruling elite deploy “scholarly sounding” persons, “technocrats” who spew “technocracy”, especially “economic technocracy”, and its propositions in defence of corruption. These “technocrats” turn upside down the obvious meaning of economic management of society whose primary purpose and meaning (contrary to the views of the “technocrats” who use technocracy to launder the image of corrupt politicians) rest on the how such “economic” “wizardry” impact on the lived experiences and conditions of the working people. In other words our “technocrats” forget that all economic wizardry are suspect and self-serving if they do not lift the working people they are supposed to serve out of poverty.

In this regard, economics, financial engineering and banking become corrupt instruments in the service of the elite class if so-called “technocrats” would without citing any example in the world where this happened, stand logic on its head by arguing that the anti-corruption process would sting capital and capital investment; will not put capital in our capitalism; and will lead to disinvestment. This mode of thinking is suspect, an ugly red herring – which is the economic sibling of the crass legalist “due process” deployed by lawyers of corrupt politicians to shelter the corrupt politicians and ministers in the Nigerian society.

It is a different argument if these so-called world bank, IMF, foreign research centre, NGO “technocrats” argue that in a practical and pragmatic sense, no where in the world is completely free of corruption because it is humanly difficult. And that is a completely different type of argument. But it is disingenuous and an attempt to use “knowledge” to launder the image of corrupt the Nigerian ruling elite to argue that anti-corruption fight will lead to disinvestment. This is one scare-mongering, a false slippery slope and false dilemma that must be rejected by the Nigerian people and the Nigerian establishment.

Each time so-called “technocrats” argue that anti-corruption stings capital investment, the “technocrat” and “scholar” should be challenged to produce one country in the world where that happened. At least the value of scholarship is and ought to be its concrete nature and its empirical and practical outcomes.

In the attempt to ambush and arrest the dogged attempt by all of us to rid our society of corruption, the defenders of sleaze have gone wild, “sophisticated” and “scholarly” through their appeal to “due process” and “technocracy” and their subtle deployment of “scholars” and lawyers to launder their image and create soft landing for them.

But “due process” and “technocracy” let loose and which are not guided by the ethical must be seen for what they are: a structural vote for the continuation of corruption and a poor defense of corrupt Nigerian ruling and political elites. Under the Change Mission, Stealing of Nigerian Commonwealth by anybody is an intolerable crime worse than corruption.

Adeolu Ademoyo, [email protected], is of the Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.