Corruption, Godfatherism and the Funding of Political Violence
Despite record-setting government revenues in recent years, corruption and mismanagement remain a major cause of Nigerias failure to make meaningful progress in improving the lot of ordinary Nigerians. These financial factors are closely entwined with the rampant political violence in Nigeria. Public revenues are not only stolen and misused, but often pay for the services and weapons behind the political violence. Because violence and corruption make political competition a very expensive endeavor in Nigeria, many politicians are far more accountable to powerful and violent political godfathers who sponsor them than they are to their constituents.
Corruption and Poverty in Nigeria
Corruption pervades all levels of government in Nigeria.86 In 2006 the head of Nigerias Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Nuhu Ribadu, estimated that Nigeria lost some US$380 billion to corruption between independence in 1960 and the end of military rule in 1999.87 Nigerias corruption epidemic has continued since then. Exact figures are impossible to come by, but some western diplomats estimate that Nigeria lost a minimum average of $4 billion to $8 billion per year to corruption over the eight years of the Obasanjo administration.88 That figure would equal between 4.25% and 9.5% of Nigerias total GDP in 2006.To put those numbers in perspective, a loss of 9.5% of the United States GDP to corruption in 2006 would have translated into $1.25 trillion in stolen funds or $222 billion (GBP 108.6 billion89) in the case of the United Kingdoms economy.90
Human Rights Watch has documented the human rights impact of systemic corruption and mismanagement in Rivers StateNigerias largest oil producer and the wealthiest state in the nation.91 In Rivers the state and local governments have failed to make meaningful improvements in the states badly dilapidated primary health and education sectors in recent years despite per capita spending far in excess of many West African countries at the state level alone.92 Instead, an unprecedented influx of revenue into state and local government coffers has been squandered or stolen. At the same time, the rising financial stakes have helped push struggles over political office to become more violent.93 The 2007 elections in Rivers surpassed even the dismal nationwide norm in their brazen rigging by government officials.94
The situation in Rivers is by no means unique. While Nigerias government earned an estimated $223 billion during the eight years of the Obasanjo administration alone, between 50 and 90 million Nigerians live on less than one US dollar a day and per capita income stands at one-third the level it had reached in 1980. Nigeria also has some of the worst socio-economic indicators in the world.95 The link between violence and corruption that has become so vivid in Rivers State is now reflected throughout many parts of Nigeria.
Not all aspirants to political office in Nigeria can raise on their own the substantial resources usually necessary to compete in the countrys violent and corrupt political systemespecially if they do not enjoy control over public resources to begin with. As a result, in many parts of Nigeria, successful candidates are often those who are sponsored by wealthy and powerful individuals known in Nigerian parlance as political godfathers.96
These godfathers are not mere financiers of political campaigns. Rather they are individuals whose power stems not just from wealth but from their ability to deploy violence and corruption to manipulate national, state or local political systems in support of the politicians they sponsor. In return, they demand a substantial degree of control over the governments they help bring into beingnot in order to shape government policy, but to exact direct financial returns in the form of government resources stolen by their protégés or lucrative government contracts awarded to them as further opportunities for graft. Godfathers also require their sponsored politicians to use government institutions to generate patronage for other protégés.
Former Oyo State governor Victor Olunloyo explained the relationship between politicians and their godfathers this way:
In some cases godfathers are themselves public officials, using their access to public funds to sponsor lower-level officials.98
Godfatherism is both a symptom and a cause of the violence and corruption that together permeate the political process in Nigeria. Public officials who owe their position to the efforts of a political godfather incur a debt that they are expected to repay without end throughout their tenure in office. Godfathers are only relevant because politicians are able to deploy violence and corruption with impunity to compete for office in contests that often effectively, and sometimes actually, exclude Nigerias voters altogether. But their activities also help to reinforce the central role of violence and corruption in politics by making it even more difficult to win elected office without resorting to the illegal tactics they represent. Nigerias godfatherism phenomenon is not unique to the ruling PDP, but as with many of the other abuses described in this report it is seen most often in the conduct of PDP officials as both a cause and a result of the partys success in maintaining itself in power.
This report provides detailed accounts of human rights abuses fueled by the activities of two of Nigerias best-known political godfathers. The Oyo State case study below describes the power wielded by Chief Lamidi Adedibu. Adedibu, a dominant figure in the PDP in Oyo, has been instrumental in preventing free and fair elections and placing violence and corruption at the heart of politics in his state. The Anambra State case study discusses another of Nigerias iconic political godfathers, Chris Uba, who is a member of the PDPs national Board of Trustees.
There is a direct relationship between corruption and political violencemany public officials use stolen public revenues to pay for political violence in support of their ambitions. As one Niger Delta academic who maintains that his 2003 Senate campaign was derailed by the violent efforts of the PDP to intimidate voters and rig the vote told Human Rights Watch, Most of these politicians are linked to cult groupsthey finance them, they maintain them, they sustain them. And all of this is out of the use of government funds.99 In Gombe State, a leading lawyer and former minister in the federal government published allegations in the national press that the state government was funding the activities of Kalare thugs using public money.100
The money that is poured into mobilizing political violence in Nigeria is substantial, even if the amounts that filter down to low level thugs sometimes are not. As one civil society leader in Katsina State explained to Human Rights Watch, They [local politicians] will just come and gather the youth to cause mayhemnot even for N5000 ($38), just N1000 or 500. To someone who is doing nothing, N50 (38 cents) can be something to him.101 Or as one former cult member in Port Harcourt put it: The youth have no moneyif you show them the bag of money or the bag of guns, they will work for you.102
The amounts paid to violent actors become less trivial higher up in the chain of command or for more important operations. One engineering graduate student in Anambra State told Human Rights Watch that he had been paid N25,000 ($190) by the campaign office of PDP gubernatorial candidate Andy Uba to help organize thugs that chased elected delegates away from polling areas on the day of the PDP gubernatorial primaries in late 2006. He said that he was bused to the voting centers along with at least two to three busloads full of other cult and gang members who received the same payment. As of then, N25,000 was more than three times the starting monthly wage of many civil servants in Anambra State.103 We are contracted to do this, the man said. I earn money through my civil engineering and through politics. I get more money in politics.104
The leader of an armed gang whose primary stronghold stretches across part of Port Harcourt told Human Rights Watch that in 2003 he and numerous other cult and gang leaders had been paid between N3 million and N10 million ($23,000 to $77,000) each to disrupt the election in favor of our governor [Peter Odili] [w]e stood at the election grounds so people would not come [to vote], he said. There was no election.105 Similar payments were reportedly handed out during the 2007 elections in Rivers.106
The use and funding of political violence is by no means restricted to the PDPthe 2007 elections saw violent abuses committed on all sides. As one prominent lawyer in Oyo State put it: often rival politicians are fishing from the same pond. They all make use of thugs.107 A group of young men affiliated with the outlawed Oodua People Congress (OPC) told Human Rights Watch that they would work for anyone able to pay them to carry out acts of violence ahead of the 2007 elections.108 We are not interested in your writing, one of them told Human Rights Watch. Your writing does not feed us. Bring money, bring guns, bring the logistics. It is war now and we want to see action.109 But because the PDP controls the machinery of state in much of Nigeria, it is often better positioned to mobilize the resources necessary to fund political violence than other parties.
One former cult member in Port Harcourt, who had been involved in violence on behalf of the PDP during the 2003 elections, explained to Human Rights Watch that most armed groups in Rivers State prefer to work for the PDP even where alternative sponsors present themselves:
Other individuals interviewed by Human Rights Watch also expressed skepticism about the rewards involved in working against the PDP. One police officer in Oyo State expressed contempt for what he saw as an effort by the opposition Action Congress to buy the sympathy of the police in the state. He said that one official allegedly linked to the partys campaign efforts in the state gave cash to police commanders to be distributed throughout the force. Every junior officer got N200, he said. I left the money with my boss; its not even enough for one beer!111
Many politicians lure unemployed young men into committing acts of political violence by making extravagant promises of employment or other forms of illegal government patronage that those officials are unlikely, and perhaps unable, to deliver. Members of one criminal gang in Oyo State who said they had performed contract killings and other acts of violence for the PDP in 2007 told Human Rights Watch that they expected to be awarded contracts for security, construction and logging after the 2007 elections. One of the gang members added, There is one man [another gang member] I know in Ogun state, he got a logging concession, he gets nine million Naira per month.112 And another member of the same gang expressed an even more unlikely expectation of the possible rewards for carrying out electoral violence:
He laughed and added, That is why you get the worst Nigerians in London! 113
The failure of politicians to deliver on such extravagant promisesall of which would be entirely illegal in and of themselves even were they honoredhas had lasting consequences. In Rivers State, for example, state government officials armed and mobilized criminal gangs to rig the 2003 election in favor of the PDP.114 Many of those groups feel that they were subsequently dumped when the officials they helped rig into office failed to honor promises of government jobs and other forms of patronage. This has led to a breakdown in relations between armed cult groups and their former sponsors. Many of those former political thugs have put the arms and experience they acquired rigging the 2003 elections to use in more generalized forms of violent crime. This has given rise to a long and ongoing wave of uncontrolled criminal violence in the state. The situation in Rivers is discussed in more detail below.
86 The World Bank and the non-governmental organization Transparency International generally define corruption as the abuse of public office for private gain. The World Bank notes that this definition includes situations when public officials accept, solicit, or extort bribes; and when private actors offer bribes to subvert or circumvent public policies for competitive advantage and profit. Corruption can also occur in the absence of bribes. For example, the World Bank considers patronage or nepotism by government officials, theft of state assets, or the illegal diversion of state revenues as corruption. The World Bank, Helping Countries Combat Corruption: The Role of the World Bank (Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 1997), p.8; and Transparency International, Frequently Asked Questions About the Corruption Perceptions Index: 2002, press release, August 28, 2002.
87 Nigeria Leaders Stole $380 Billion, BBC News Online, October 20, 2006, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6069230.stm (accessed July 12, 2007).
88 Human Rights Watch interviews with diplomatic officials, Abuja, April 2007; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with western diplomatic official, June 18, 2007. That estimate includes money lost to corruption from the budgets of Nigerias federal, state and local governments along with money stolen or otherwise diverted from parastatal companies including the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. Ibid.
89 Calculated at an exchange rate of 1USD = GBP .4895.
90 According to the CIA World Factbook, in 2006 the GDP of the United States stood at $13.21 trillion, while that of the United Kingdom was estimated at $2.346 trillion. Available online at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/us.html (accessed August 4, 2007).
91 Human Rights Watch, NigeriaChop Fine: The Human Rights Impact of Local Government Corruption and Mismanagement in Rivers State, Nigeria, vol. 19, no. 2(A), January 2007, http://hrw.org/reports/2007/nigeria0107.
93 Ibid. See also Human Rights Watch, The Unacknowledged Violence; Human Rights Watch, NigeriaRivers and Blood: Guns, Oil and Power in Nigerias Rivers State, February 2005, http://hrw.org/backgrounder/africa/nigeria0205.
94See Human Rights Watch, Nigeria: Polls Marred by Violence, Fraud; Stakeholder Democracy Network, Further Rigging: Election Observation Report, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers States, pp. 14-20 and 34-40.
95 See Jean Herskovitz, Nigerias Rigged Democracy, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2007; Human Rights Watch, Chop Fine, pp. 40-43. Nigeria has the worlds second-highest number of maternal deaths each year after India; one in five Nigerian children die before the age of five, many from easily preventable diseases. Ibid. Between 50 and 90 million Nigerians are believed to live in absolute poverty. The UKs Department for International Development (DFID) estimates that 90 million Nigerians live in absolute poverty. DFID, Nigeria Country Assistance Plan, 2004-2008, http://www.dfid.gov.uk/pubs/files/nigeria-cap.asp (accessed November 6, 2006). The World Bank has put the figure at 37 percent of Nigerias population. World Bank, Nigeria Country Brief, updated April 2006. Nigeria is ranked 159th out of 177 countries on the UNDPs Human Development Index. Current rankings across all countries with data can be found online at http://hdr.undp.org/hdr2006/statistics/ (accessed November 28, 2006).
96 See, e.g., Jibrin Ibrahim, The Rise of Nigerias Political Godfathers, BBC Focus on Africa Magazine, November 10, 2003, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3156540.stm (accessed July 12, 2007).
97 Human Rights Watch interview with Victor Olunloyo, Ibadan, February 8, 2007.
98 To cite one relatively minor example, in Rivers State it was widely believed that the chairman of Etche local government was rigged into office with the backing of a Commissioner in the State government at the time. Opponents of the chairman alleged that he made regular payments to that Commissioner out of local government coffers. Human Rights Watch, Chop Fine, pp. 64-75.
99 Human Rights Watch interview with Ben Naanen, University of Port Harcourt, April 16, 2007. During the 2003 elections Naanens wife was forced at gunpoint to vote for his PDP opponent. Ibid.
100 Mohammed Ibrahim Hassan and Gombe Unity Forum Open Letter to the President and Head of EFCC on Financial Crimes in Gombe State, Leadership, October 1, 2006. The use of Yan Kalare gangs by politicians in Gombe is discussed in the Gombe State case study below.
101 Human Rights Watch interview with civil society activist, Funtua, Katsina State, April 20, 2007.
102 Human Rights Watch interview, Port Harcourt, April 12, 2007.
103 Starting civil servant salaries in Anambra were reportedly pegged at N7000 in 2007.
104 Human Rights Watch interview with cult member, Awka, February 14, 2007.
105 Human Rights Watch interview, Port Harcourt, April 12, 2007.
106 See below, Rivers State case study.
107 Human Rights Watch interview, Ibadan, February 9, 2007.
108 The OPC is a violent Yoruba self-determination group responsible for widespread human rights abuses in the past. See Human Rights Watch, Nigeria The Oodua Peoples Congress: Fighting Violence with Violence, vol. 15, no. 4(A), February 2003, http://www.hrw.org/reports/2003/nigeria0203.
109 Human Rights Watch interview, Ibadan, April 8, 2007.
110 Human Rights Watch interview, Port Harcourt, April 12, 2007.
111 Human Rights Watch interview with police sergeant, Ibadan, April 6, 2007.
112 Human Rights Watch interview, Ibadan, April 6, 2007.
113 Human Rights Watch interview, Ibadan, April 6, 2007.
114 See below, Rivers State case study. See also Human Rights Watch, Rivers and Blood pp. 4-6.
115 Human Rights Watch interview, Katsina, April 19, 2007.
117 For a detailed explanation of security votes and their links to corruption, see Human Rights Watch, Chop Fine pp. 32-33.
118 Human Rights Watch interviews with PDP Youth members, Katsina, April 23, 2007.
119 See Nigeria: Presidential Election Marred by Fraud, Violence, Human Rights Watch news release, April 25, 2007, http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/04/24/nigeri15763.htm.
120 Human Rights Watch interviews with PDP Youth members, Katsina, April 23, 2007.
123 See Muiyawa Idris, Police Cordon off Katsina Venue of Buhari Rally, Daily Triumph, April 12, 2007, http://www.triumphnewspapers.com/archive/DT12042007/police124207.html, reporting that, trouble started when a campaign vehicle of PDP arrived at the campaign revenue of Gen. Buhari and some PDP thugs came out from the vehicle and started harassing people. Ibid.