After the Second World War, West Germany “worked its passage” back to international respectability by building a dynamic economy and eschewing militarism in favor of good works. Part of those good works came in the form of assisting developing countries with technical assistance and by participating in international agencies. That meant that Germans popped up in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. One of these Germans was Peter Eigen (1938- ), who worked on economic development projects for the World Bank for a quarter century. That gave him a lot of exposure to the corruption endemic in many developing countries. In 1993, convinced that corruption posed a formidable barrier to development and democratization, Eigen and some others formed “Transparency International.” This Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) does a bunch of things to expose and counter corruption world-wide. One of the things it does is publishing an annual index or ranking of Least Corrupt to Most Corrupt countries.
Last year Nigeria ranked 144th out of 177 countries. As a country, Nigeria is wealthy. It has huge oil reserves, ranks seventh among oil exporters, and has the largest economy in Africa. However, most Nigerians are very poor: 62 percent of its people live on less than $1/day. How is this possible? People in authority are as crooked as a dog’s hind leg, that’s how.
In early 2014, the head of Nigeria’s Central Bank announced that he had found that the state oil company couldn’t account for a missing $20 billion and that the government’s special reserve from oil revenues had dropped by $9 billion in only a year. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan immediately suspended the indiscreet head of the Central Bank. But wait, there’s more! Somehow, criminals manage to steal 100,000 to 400,000 barrels of oil a day, often by tapping into pipelines. Somehow, the police never catch up with the gangs. In a rare case of a Nigerian politician convicted for corruption, the governor of one state piled up $250 million in bribes in eight years. As any plumber will tell you, “shit runs down-hill.” Every layer of Nigerian government is permeated by corruption that enriches government employees while robbing Nigerian citizens of services and even simple dignity.
Another facet of the corruption appears in the inequitable division of the national wealth between the Christian South and the predominantly Muslim North. In 2002, the hostility to government theft combined with a Muslim religious reform movement to create Boko Haram. “Boko Haram” means “Western education is forbidden.” That sounds very anti-modern and anti-progressive. However, if you were living in some poverty-stricken village that was constantly being robbed by a government filled with people holding fake BAs from “Western”-style universities, you might well think that the return to a more traditional morality was just the ticket. In any event, this movement sought creation of an independent state by peaceful means. By 2009, when Boko Haram had gained many followers, the Nigerian government had become alarmed. Boko Haram’s leader, Mohammed Yusuf, was arrested and died in police custody.
Yusuf’s successor abandoned peaceful means for armed struggle. Often, that violence is atrocious, eye-catching, and directed against civilians. The April 2014 kidnapping of 300 school girls from Chibok is the least of Boko Haram’s crimes. Curiously, however, observers don’t believe that radical Islam drives most of its soldiers. Rather, they hate the government of crooks. This doesn’t match well with the standard story on radical Islam versus the West.
 “Africa’s troubled giant,” The Week, 20 June 2014, p. 11.