As Nigeria’s corruption perception worsens

THIS,  certainly, is not the best of times for President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration as its lacklustre performance on  the three cardinal programmes on whose crest it rode to power and secured a second term mandate has continued to be trailed by acerbic criticisms.  Specifically, it promised to improve the economy, secure life and property and rein in corruption but sadly, the public censure of government’s performance actually derived from the appalling reality on the ground. As it stands, the three planks upon which the administration could literally lean are dangerously weak. The economy is still tottering and public sector finance is over-burdened by both local and external debts. Similarly, the general perception in the land is that insecurity is exacerbating and the government is far from being on top of the situation.

Worse still,  recently, the country dropped on Transparency International (TI’s) yearly corruption perception ranking. TI’s verdict only confirms what the average Nigerian knows even though the government has been playing the ostrich. Every activity around the average Nigeria is still suffused with corruption; the whole system is corruption-ridden. For instance, the police still take bribes as usual. TI has simply shown that the government’s anti-corruption war is not working. Ironically, the anti-corruption agencies would appear to be intensifying efforts in tackling official corruption lately, even though there are criticisms in some quarters of their alleged partisanship and selective treatment of corruption cases. Something must therefore be fundamentally wrong for the seeming inefficiencies of these institutions as the TI’s verdict suggests.

The veritable issue is the doubtful efficacy of the current official approach to caging the monster. An approach that overly concentrates on therapeutic, at the expense of prophylactic, measures to curb corruption is bound to be ineffective. The logic is simple; as suspected corrupt persons are being brought to book by the anti-corruption agencies, many other undisciplined and crooked persons are engaging in sleaze because the existing loopholes that make corruption possible and attractive have yet to be blocked.  It is important to recognise that not a few Nigerians are inherently corrupt. This damning corruption index at issue was based on people’s perception of corruption in the public sector, but the private sector is no less corrupt. Corruption has become endemic in the country and it manifests in diverse forms and at different levels: from the vulcanizer who patched one hole on a flat tyre but fraudulently got paid for patching three holes to the chief executive of a bank who granted favourable and unsecured loans to himself or his private company.  Corruption has to be seen from this context, so that the extant solution prescriptions can be tweaked to tackle the challenge in all its ramifications.

Considering how deeply rooted corruption is in the society and the avalanche of challenges stacked against curbing it, the current official strategy can only scratch the menace on the surface. For instance, politics in the country, especially the party system, has sleaze deeply entrenched in it, such that success at the primary or general elections requires tons of money that cannot be spent by honest contestants or their sponsors who broke sweat to make such money. Even at that, such expenditures are devoid of altruism; they are incurred in expectation of returns that must come by way of official corruption. The constitutional provision for immunity too, even though transient for certain cadres of office holders, has been unhelpful as it engenders a sense of impunity in the beneficiaries.

The same applies to the implementation system of security votes where the president, governors and local government chairmen cannot be held to account for its utilisation by the National Assembly, state houses of assembly and councillors respectively. The electoral system, especially elections that are often fraught with avoidable malpractices, is another challenge. Indeed, many are of the view that no other form of corruption is worse than electoral heist that culminates in a stolen mandate.  There is also a sense in which the prevalent recourse to nepotism instead of merit in appointment into public offices fuels corruption; while the act in itself is a variant of corruption, nepotism has the tendency to throw up incompetent and corrupt public office holders.

Again, the burgeoning public perception of official disdain for the rule of law tends to provide a fertile ground for corruption and other acts of lawlessness to flourish. All these vices, including the inadequacies in the laws on governance that give limitless latitude to the operators, are bound to worsen the perception of corruption within the polity. Perhaps it should be stressed that the TI index is not a real measure of incidences of corruption but it is considered a reliable indicator of the perception of the Nigerian public and the International community about the state of corruption in the country.  We urge the anti-corruption agencies not to be despondent. Rather, they should see the TI’s unfavourable but dispassionate verdict as a wake-up call to do much more to combat corruption.

While the focus may be on the Federal Government, it is evident that governments at all levels and indeed the private sector, formal and informal, have roles to play to rein in the menace of corruption. This is not the time to live in self-denial or engage in recrimination; it is time to go back to the drawing board, re-strategise and tackle corruption head-on, and in such a way that premium attention is devoted to eliminating all factors, including but not limited to the emergence of warped value systems that make corruption attractive and possible.