Editorial: Transparency International’s latest report on Nigerian Corruption

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The combative riposte by the federal government against the latest alarm bell on the rate of corruption in Nigeria sounded by the global anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International, though hardly surprising, is scandalous and unacceptable, given that Nigeria’s diverse and growing security challenges are partly rooted in widespread poverty and unemployment, which in turn, are outcomes of pervasive corruption. The Nigerian government on Thursday discredited the country’s latest position on the 2019 global corruption perception index, where Nigeria is currently ranked 146 out of the 180 countries. In global comparison, Nigeria slipped down scoring 26 out of 100 points, dropping from the 27 points that it has maintained since 2017. This blight on the image of Nigeria is a reflection of the dismal failure and sad inability of the government to tackle corruption and deploy Nigeria’s wealth to the socio-economic betterment of its citizens; and this should worry President Muhammadu Buhari; who must understand that progress and credibility in the fight against corruption can only be won through concrete, well-thought-out policies, not cheap self-eulogizing slogans.


In the 2019 report, Nigeria was also ranked the fourth most corrupt country out of the 19 countries in the West African region. Transparency International said the position of all countries in the report is based cases of corruption “from fraud that occurs at the highest levels of government to petty bribery that blocks access to basic public services like healthcare and education, citizens are fed up with corrupt leaders and institutions.” Transparency International’s chair Delia Ferreira Rubio asked the government to urgently address what she describes as the corrupting role of big money in political party financing and the undue influence it exerts on political systems.


However, Nigeria’s attorney-general and justice minister Abubakar Malami said there are no proofs by Transparency International to rank Nigeria 146 out of the 180 countries on the 2019 corruption index. In an interview on Channels TV LunchTime Politics, Malami said the “facts on the ground do not correlate with the information dished out” by TI. “In terms of the fight against corruption, we have been doing more, we have done more and we will continue to do more out of inherent conviction and desire on our part to fight against corruption devoid of any extraneous considerations relating to the rating by Amnesty International,” Malami said.


Malami’s ostrich evasion reflects the typical reaction of the government that has often been one of denying the patently obvious; or combative defence, instead of dignified silence; or better still, a solemn resolve to do something about the cankerworm. This indeed is a greater tragedy. However, this is not the first indictment of Nigeria over corruption. Indeed, since the inception of the fourth republic, the nation has come under scrutiny over corruption and Nigeria has always ranked amongst the most corrupt countries in the world. The point must however be stressed that corruption is a serious socio-economic and political issue that was used in the past as a justification for military intervention and therefore remains a veritable source of instability in the nation.


Corruption aims mainly at the conduct of public business in a manner beneficial only to government officials and their cronies and turns them to mere sinecures. Good governance is its first major casualty, giving rise to a criminalized economy, decrepit infrastructure, worsening insecurity, impoverished citizenry and a totally disoriented polity. It diminishes the stature of Nigeria and assails the pride of its citizens in the comity of nations. This is a tragedy for Nigeria; and there’s little doubt that Nigeria’s economic and security challenges are partly rooted in widespread poverty and unemployment, which in turn, are outcomes of pervasive corruption. The report painted a picture of the deep-rooted nature of corruption in Nigeria and noted specifically that corruption is on rampage and that it has never been this bad. It went further to take a swipe at the pervasive influence of money in politics and how this has corroded and undermined the democratic process and institutions. 


The time has therefore come for the government to tackle this challenge headlong. There is need to articulate a national strategy, which must begin with exemplary conduct of the President, who must claim the moral high ground through self-purging. Corruption, apart from being systemic, is also partly a question of character failure, and the presidency is pre-eminently a place for moral leadership. Given the quantum, gravity and monstrous nature of the scourge, Nigerians were shocked and disappointed to hear President Buhari, sometime ago, moaning over corruption fighting back. Buhari’s lamentations proffer no solution to the problem; rather, it reeks of self-defeatism and is not the appropriate way to tackle an endemic problem. 


President Buhari, a retired military general, is in a better position to appreciate the art of war. A general in the fog of war cannot be taken seriously when he constantly complains that his enemies are fighting back. The President is in charge and should decisively confront the scourge instead of lamenting in seeming exasperation. Nigerians want concrete results. Did Buhari expect corrupt Nigerians to fold their arms and watch themselves destroyed with their ill-gotten wealth? Before embarking on the anti-graft war, he ought to have known that this would be no tea party. It would not only task his government’s energy, it would fight back to the death. If the perception outlook of corruption in Nigeria is to improve in 2020, Buhari must seriously address the threat posed by corruption to Nigeria’s future. Certainly he can do better than he has done in tackling corruption.


Therefore, what the times call for is a grand strategy with the anti-graft agencies on the frontlines. The war against corruption must be relentless, and the best weapons deployed to ensure those accused are speedily and openly tried and, if found guilty, punished to deter others. However, unnecessary drama and grandstanding which yield no results should not be part of the weapons of that war. Much as the government deserves commendation for the renewed momentum in the anti-graft war, the EFCC has failed to restrain itself from unwarranted showmanship in the conduct of its duties. The agency seems addicted to the public drama and attention-seeking which has become its trade-mark. This is troubling and unacceptable.


The public expectation is that the anti-graft agencies would place a premium on professionalism and decorum; working discretely on cases until investigations are concluded before making arrests. The present situation in which a suspect has hardly been fully or thoroughly investigated and he is not only arrested but also publicly disgraced like a convicted criminal, indicates the EFCC does not understand that its effectiveness is neither on the number of persons announced through the media, as having been arrested or detained. EFCC’s success is also not in the raids on the offices or homes of suspects. Only through diligent investigations, prosecutions and eventual convictions can the anti-graft agencies assist the government and people of Nigeria in fighting the war against corruption.


Finally, a “Naming and Shaming” process should form part of the strategy. Corrupt public officials must not only be identified and put on trial. They should be publicly stigmatized and kept on an Eternal Roll of Dishonor, because corruption is driven partly by the absence of a sense of shame. The grand strategy should also include capacity building for anti-corruption within the bureaucracy of government, especially horizontal accountability, which involves annulling and righting actions and inaction of state institutions. Some time ago, President Buhari pledged that Nigeria would begin the full implementation of the principles of Open Contracting Data Standards (OCDS), in furtherance of his administration’s ongoing anti-graft war. Buhari said the federal government would apply the OCDS to major projects in the oil, power, health, education, transportation, and other sectors. Buhari also pledged that Nigeria will sign up to the Common Reporting Standard initiative, in order to improve on the current legal procedures and ease asset recovery procedures. The publication of OCDS data and documents at all stages of the contracting process ensures greater transparency in public contracting, and can support accessible and in-depth analysis of the efficiency, effectiveness and integrity of public procurement systems. Nigeria is already collating this information through the Extractive Industry Initiative (NEITI) process and should extend it to other sectors. 


Above all, the proposed strategy should include remodeling Nigeria’s politics, removing its current commercial value and making it attractive only to genuine servants. Politics has now become the only business and this desperation for public office fuels corruption in ways unimaginable! Central to this is a drastic reduction in the cost of governance in the executive branch, the legislature and the civil service. The journey may have to begin by expunging from the national psyche a mentality in which politics is perceived and practiced as the only business with the highest returns. Of course, attitudes must change. And the breakdown of values must be addressed through the family system and a nationwide school curriculum that emphasizes ethical re-orientation. This is necessary to keep the future of Nigeria away from the claws of corruption even as the battle goes on to wrestle its present from its jaws.


As the Buhari administration begins its final term, the President must raise the stakes and demonstrate the will to rise to the occasion and tackle corruption head-on. Now is the time to break from the past because presidential dilatoriness invites unholy pressure which crystallizes into wrong appointments as has been seen time and time again with this administration. Every leader must lead by example and Buhari owes himself the duty of not being an exception. So far, he has been. The President has the ultimate and unique responsibility to build the confidence that politics and public offices are not primarily a means to fleece the citizens. He must take the lead in saving Nigeria from corruption.