The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) recently faced a corruption probe constituted by the National Assembly during which the minister of Niger Delta Affairs revealed that some lawmakers were accomplices in the corruption scandal. Although this has yet to be ascertained as the lawmakers involved denied the accusation, this scandal shows how deeply steeped in cronyism and favouritism Nigeria has become.
Crony capitalism is a system in which business owners amass wealth because of their relationship with government officials. In the Ibrahim Index of African Governance 2018 (IIAG), Nigeria scored 2.8 in absence of favouritism. From the privatisation of electricity distribution to connections needed to reel in government contracts, crony capitalism can be seen all over Nigeria. The system has turned business into a political game leaving those who do not have the political clout out of the game and making the market uncompetitive.
Crony capitalism not only makes the markets uncompetitive as anyone with connections to government officials can bend the system in their favour, but also fuels anti-capitalist sentiments. In his article published by The Big Picture “It’s not capitalism, it’s cronyism,” Barry Ritholtz, co-founder and chief investment officer of Ritholtz Wealth Management LLC points out that the reason many people tilt more towards socialism is perhaps because the system has been rigged by cronyism. The rigged and corrupt crony-ist system is perceived to be capitalist by many. Although government control of resources may not be a popular idea in a country like Nigeria where the government has proven time and again that it cannot not be trusted with the citizens’ money, cronyism contributes to the anti-capitalist bias that exists.
However, cronyism is not free market capitalism. In an essay titled “Global Capitalism and Justice” published in the book “The morality of capitalism” June Arunga, the founder and CEO of Open Quest Media LLC makes a clear distinction between cronyism and free markets explaining that free trade is about free competition unlike cronyism in which certain organisations get favours from the government.
“Freedom of trade should be about free competition to serve the people, not special privileges for local elites who don’t want competition, or foreign investors who get special audiences with ministers.
It’s not “free trade” when international companies can get special favours from governments and it’s not “free trade” when local firms are blocked by their own government from the market. Free trade requires the rule of law for all and freedom for all to engage in the most natural of actions: voluntary exchange.”
More transparency in the use of public funds is needed no doubt. Nigeria scored 29.2 out of 100 in Access to Public & Legislative Information and on the IIAG. Public officials are usually left to conduct their affairs as they deem fit. It is unsettling to learn that Nigerians don’t know what is going on in these organisations until a scandal like the current one comes up. The lack of transparency and scrutiny plus their reputations for being money bags has made organizations like NDDC breeding grounds for corruption.
Investigations need to be carried out but Nigerians are no longer confident in the probes being carried out by the National Assembly. The chairman of the investigation committee stepped down as he was also an accused party in the case. This begs the question, ‘is the National Assembly the best place to carry out these kinds of probes?’ The House has been providing entertainment for Nigerians with public officers trading words and making a joke of the situation. At this point in time, we need an alternative to this.
Nigeria’s non-transparent and corrupt system has created a system posing as a free market though it is rarely talked about. As the conversations around the corruption problem continues and we work towards finding a solution, the issue of cronyism should not be left out.
Ogechukwu Egwuatu, Writes from Arlington, VA, United States.