NIGERIANS have been given a poignant reminder that their country is sinking deeper into corruption. This is, at least, the verdict of the annual Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International. TI adjudged the country to have crashed three places from the 2019 exercise. Based on eight parameters, the global anti-corruption watchdog ranked Nigeria a woeful 149 out of 180 countries, scoring 25 out of 100 points. It tallies with the unpleasant reality on the ground where good governance has sunk to an abysmal level.
In West Africa, Nigeria is now the second most corrupt country, finishing just ahead of Guinea-Bissau. Nearly six years into the Buhari regime, corruption, which he had vowed to crush as a major plank of his campaign, is mutating explosively. Apart from the public agencies that are usually associated with sleaze, nepotism has been added to the ugly mix. TI says that Nigeria scored low because of “an absence of transparency, nepotism, lack of adequate anti-corruption legal frameworks, the prevalence of bribery and extortion in the Nigeria Police and corruption in the security sector.” This conclusion can hardly be faulted.
Corruption is primarily driven by the structure of the country’s political system itself and the role that Nigeria’s political leadership plays in it. Despite promised reforms, the police have been no better. In 2020, the callous extortion of youths by the police ignited the #EndSARS protests in major cities. The protests were brutally put down by military might, currently the subject of a woolly inquiry across the country. Collaborative studies in 2017 and 2019 by the National Bureau of Statistics and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime cited the police among the most corrupt public agencies assessed. Nigerians paid 117 million bribes totalling N400 billion annually, the report said. It is partly the reason Nigeria recorded its worst CPI rank since it finished 144th in 2013.
Nepotism has reached an unprecedented level under Buhari. Public agencies like the Federal Inland Revenue Service, the State Security Service and the Central Bank of Nigeria have been mentioned in secret recruitments or giving employment to people from the state of origin or local government areas of the heads of these agencies. Recently, the Federal Character Commission, an agency established to promote the federal character principle, was engulfed in a controversy over alleged sectional staffing.
At the highest levels, the security structure is unfairly staffed with officers from a section of the country. Merit and fairness, the hallmarks of transparency, are swept aside. Unfortunately, corruption is contaminating hitherto safe sectors, including the judiciary. In a pilot study, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission said between 2018 and 2020, lawyers bribed judges with N9.45 billion. In a stinking case, a serving judge of the Federal High Court was charged for receiving $200,000 in his bank account over a two-year period. The charges were dismissed by the Court of Appeal on “procedural grounds.” Plainly, the system is too weak to take on the corrupt elite. Though sub-Saharan Africa is the lowest performing region on the CPI 2020, Seychelles, Botswana and Cape Verde, however, scored high marks of between 58 and 66.
Other symptoms of corruption manifest in the oil industry, education, health and the security sectors. The registration of citizens by the National Identity Management Commission is tainted by bribery and extortion by officials cashing in on the rush by Nigerians to meet the deadline. At the seaports in Lagos, the never-ending gridlock has created a conduit for the security agents to extort bribes from truckers. In the aftermath of the #EndSARS protests in October 2020, the lid blew on the mismanagement of the COVID-19 palliatives funds donated by the private sector. State governments and individuals stashed the items away without distributing to the needy.
The tax system is also inefficient. By one account, the wealthy owe about N14 trillion in tax backlogs, but are usually not prosecuted for evasion as is the case in elsewhere. For years, the public has tried unsuccessfully to access the true earnings of National Assembly lawmakers. Such secrecy reeks of absolute corruption. With no clearly defined strategy and lack of coordination, the regime’s anti-corruption fight is a hopeless case. Corruption trials take forever. Although a number of former governors have been jailed, some of those undergoing trial since 2007 have managed to escape sanctions through legal manipulation.
A study by global accounting firm, PwC, said corruption cost each Nigerian $1,000 as of 2014 and could rise to $2,000 per head or 37 per cent of GDP by 2030. Among others, it retards foreign investment, as international investors are unsure of what to expect, fuels poverty and insecurity, subjecting the people to bribing for health services and education.
Instead of reflecting soberly on the rating, the Buhari regime condemned it, arguing petulantly that it was the work of its critics. That is absolute rubbish. On this score, the regime is a disappointment, no better than the preceding government of Goodluck Jonathan. Many officials who served then are still being prosecuted for various offences, including the $2.1 billion military arms fund diverted to private pockets.
Corruption is rife in Nigeria because democratic institutions are feeble and ineffective. TI claims a direct link between corruption and the level of democracy in a country, wherein full democracies averaged 75 on the corruption index and autocratic regimes just 30. The result is a vicious cycle, where corruption undermines democratic institutions and, in turn, weak institutions are less able to control corruption. On Buhari’s watch, the country has failed drastically to meet democratic values, norms and traditions.
To escape the rot, Buhari should fight corruption systematically rather than the current haphazard method tainted by base ethnic sentiments, nepotism and partisan politics. The solution lies in ensuring the independence of the judiciary, a reformed police force and a strong political will by the President in leading by example. Along with swift prosecution using the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, the regime should appoint clean and courageous people to head the Justice Ministry and the anti-graft agencies.
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