By Dr. Matthew Ayibakuro

Transparency International has just released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index for 2019.  There are no surprises on Nigeria’s position on the global Index. For 2019, the country is ranked 146 out of 180 countries, with a dismal score of 26 out 100.  This is in keeping with the trend over the last decade where Nigeria has consistently scored in the mid-twenties out of a total score of 100.  Despite repeated restatement of commitment by government and broader stakeholders to address corruption in the country, this report indicates that the situation is actually getting worse.

A more in-depth analysis of the report shows that Nigeria’s score of 26 is way below the global average of 43 and the average score for the sub-Saharan Africa region, which stands at 32 for 2019.  A more disturbing fact is that, within the West African sub-region, Nigeria is ranked higher than only one country – Guinea Bissau with a score of 18 – on the Index.  In the context of sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria is ranked 32 out of 49 countries. This is very concerning at a time when the President, Muhammadu Buhari, is the African Union’s designated Anti-Corruption Champion. 

Whilst these dismal results might not be shocking to many, it is important to contextualise them to understand the factors that explain the extant state of corruption in Nigeria and why little progress has been made in addressing the problem generally over the last couple of decades. 

More Transparency; Little Accountability

One area where Nigeria has made considerable progress in recent times is in the introduction of mechanisms to improve transparency in governance.  Nigeria joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in 2016 and has since introduced considerable reforms in furtherance of transparency in key areas such as access to information, anticorruption and asset disclosure, citizen engagement and empowerment.   This is in addition to other existing mechanisms such as the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and innovative budget tracking platforms created by civil society organisations and government agencies.

The problem however is that the large amount of data produced through these transparency initiatives have led to little accountability, especially with respect to perpetrators of political and grand corruption.  Even though 2019 came to an end with the conviction of the former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu – it is possible that this event was not taken into consideration in gathering data for the CPI considering how late in the year it took place – many high profile cases of corruption remain unresolved or were withdrawn during the year.

At the end of 2019, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission announced that it had secured no fewer than 890 convictions in 2019 and recovered over 200 billion Naira.  However, it is not surprising that this did not affect the perception of corruption in the country.  Most of these cases are for cybercrimes, internet fraud and bureaucratic corruption, rather than the high-profile cases of political and grand corruption.

Political Interference in Anticorruption Efforts

Secondly, the role of political interference and instrumentalisation of anticorruption efforts in Nigeria has been a long-standing problem.  Unfortunately, this trend has persisted through various administrations since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999 and the commencement of the current regime of anticorruption.  Nigerians have witnessed numerous instances where anticorruption institutions such as the EFCC have commenced or withdrawn prosecutions of corrupt public officials in accordance with political expedience and events.

Considering the CPI measures the perception of corruption in a country, it is not difficult to see why events like that puts the state of corruption in Nigeria and anticorruption efforts in a bad light.

The Interdependence of Anticorruption, the Rule of Law and Democratic Practice.

As much as anyone else, Nigerians know how much corruption affects every aspect of society.  Corruption cannot therefore be addressed in isolation without adherence to the rule of law and sound democratic practice.  The many events that took place in the course of 2019 that challenged the rule law and the state of democracy in Nigeria were, of themselves, a demonstration of corruption, albeit not of the economic kind.  These include the repeated refusals of law enforcement agencies to obey court orders to release detainees such as the activist Omoyele Sowore and the former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki.

The 2019 General Elections also saw unprecedented levels of vote buying and electoral fraud that were a taint on Nigeria’s democracy.  Considering political financing and electoral integrity were some of the themes highlighted by Transparency International in its report, the Nigerian government needs to take steps to improve on the electoral process in subsequent elections to enhance its ranking on indices such as that of Transparency International

Are There Valid Grounds to Challenge Nigeria’s Score and Ranking?

For as long as the CPI has existed, governments have always supported or criticized their ranking on the Index depending whether they improved or deteriorated respectively.  There are admittedly long-standing issues with the fact that the index measures perception rather than the reality of corruption in countries.   Other issues include the sources from which scores are aggregated which appear over-concentrated on economic indicators and actors rather than reflecting a more robust view of citizens who experience corruption.   Over the years, Transparency International has refined its methodology to address some of these concerns and continue to do so.

Notwithstanding, the results of the CPI correlates with other studies on the state of corruption and anticorruption.  For instance, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)’s report of its second survey on corruption as experienced by Nigerians and released in December 2019 showed that about 30 per cent of Nigerians who had contact with public officials paid a bribe or were asked to do so. Furthermore, the report showed that, in terms of frequency, Nigerian bribe-payers paid an average of one bribe every two months to access public services, meaning that about 117 million bribes are paid every year in Nigeria.  Evidence like this provides little basis to challenge the results of the CPI

Going Forward

Going forward, it is obvious that more action is required to address Nigeria’s corruption challenge.  Instead of criticising the results of its ranking by Transparency International, government and other stakeholders must be more strategic and take pragmatic steps to deal with the problem.  A good starting point would be to ensure that the gains in transparency and increased data on governance leads to more accountability: the corrupt must be punished and victims of corruption provided with remediation.

Also, Nigeria needs to communicate its success stories – where they occur –  in the fight against corruption to the outside world more effectively.  In this regard, there is need for synergy amongst the anticorruption agencies and other stakeholders saddled with the task of prosecuting offenders and providing recovered proceeds to victims of corruption.

Moreover, the over-fixation on fighting corruption has borne little fruits over the years.  Our experience in Nigeria – as much as elsewhere – shows that achieving economic development, respect for the rule of law and a strong democratic ethos might be just as important or even more important that a politically charged and instrumentalised “fight against corruption”.

Dr. Matthew Ayibakuro is ANEEJ Senior Research and Social Norms Advisor