By Kehinde Ogunyale of We the People’s Communication Team
The latest Corruption Perceptions Index ranking by global anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International has placed Nigeria as the second most corrupt country in West Africa. Nigeria tops the list of 15 most corrupt countries in the region. Transparency International revealed that Nigeria scored 24 out of 100 points in the index; one point lower when compared to its ranking in 2020, indicating an increasing corruption problem in Africa’s most populous country and largest economy. Nigeria managed an unenviable 154th position out of 180 countries surveyed in the report.
The CPI is Transparency International’s tool for measuring levels of corruption in the systems of various countries around the world. The maximum points a country can score is 100 , and the least is zero. Zero signifies the worst performing countries and 100, the best-ranked. The seven weaknesses which pushed Nigeria’s ranking downward include security sector corruption; failure to investigate high profile corruption cases; illicit financial flows (IFFs); absence of asset recovery, protection of whistle-blowers, and other key anti-corruption legal frameworks; judicial challenges; corruption in the COVID-19 response and the Twitter ban, shrinking civic spaces and intimidation of human rights defenders.
It is likely that the federal government will dismiss the latest ranking by the agency, as it has done to previous rankings, describing it as wrongly calculated and questioning the methodologies utilized in arriving at the scores.
The 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index sparked major debates at the time on the successes and shortcomings of Nigeria’s fight against corruption. In that year, Nigeria ranked 148th (alongside Comoros and Guinea) among 180 countries surveyed. Previous ranking for 2016 placed Nigeria at the 136th position with a score of 28 out of a possible 100. The 2017 report demonstrated clearly that corruption had gotten worse. However, in a statement released by the Presidency in response to Transparency International’s CPI ranking for that year, the criteria and methodology used in arriving at the ranking was questioned and the government described it as fictional and unfortunate.
In 2020, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed said the report for that year did not reflect “the great strides by the country in its fight against corruption.” He stated further that ”for instance, following the release of the 2019 TI-Corruption Perception Index, the government initiated reforms to improve on Nigeria’s Ease of Doing Business indices. This is because we found that up to 40 per cent of the country’s corruption perception survey indices relates to business processes and general public service delivery processes. “Government’s swift action has led to major reforms in the processes at our ports and business process points.”
A media aid to the President, Mr. Garba Shehu, also speaking on Nigeria’s 2019 ranking described it as a “sensational and baseless rating on Nigeria and the fight against corruption’, insisting that the ‘Buhari administration deserves credit for diminishing corruption in the public service and will continue to vigorously support prevention, enforcement, public education and enlightenment activities of anti-corruption agencies.’
Nigeria’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice equally took a swipe at Transparency International. According to him, the “facts on the ground do not correlate with the information dished out by Transparency International… 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’.
Pushback in 2021
While President Buhari and the ruling All Progressives Congress were voted into office on the promise of fighting the endemic scourge of corruption, there have been concerns that it is not committed to doing so. Indeed, the Nigerian government’s fight against corruption has suffered several setbacks over the years. While the fight against corruption has failed to produce any high profile conviction of any politically exposed person associated with the Presidency or the ruling party, there have been several accusations of corruption in those quarters. Indeed, the majority of Nigerians perceive that while making a show of prosecuting cases of corruption involving members of the opposition political parties, the government is shielding members of its own party from prosecution even when there are widespread complaints about corruption involving officials as high up as the Presidency.
It is also evident that the government has been rather negligent in investigating and prosecuting major corruption cases. For example, officials exposed in the Pandora Papers, those indicted in the mismanagement of COVID-19 relief funds , those mentioned in the mismanagement of bailout funds, those indicted by several NDDC investigation reports for having been complicit in the mismanagement of the Commission’s funds, etc. are yet to be prosecuted. Similarly, ahead of the 2019 election elections, video evidence emerged of the Governor of Kano state- a staunch supporter of the President- receiving bribes from a contractor and stuffing the dollar bills into his pockets. While this evidence elicited the condemnation of Nigerians, it received no serious mention by the Presidency, in fact, a short while later, President Buhari campaign in Kano where he openly celebrated the governor and asked members of people of the state to vote him back into office. Till now, there has been no official statement or investigation into that incident, and the whistle blowers unfortunately became a target. .
Perhaps nothing demonstrates the failure of the government in its fight against corruption than the fact that it is still unable to curb endemic corruption in the Police force and other law enforcement units . Despite the many promises of the government, it has been utterly powerless in sanitizing the police force of corruption, or bringing corrupt officers to justice. The frustrations of Nigerians recently manifested in a series of actions under the banner of #endsars aimed at forcing reforms of the Nigerian Police. As is typical with this government, that citizens’ campaign was dismissed as ‘politically motivated’.
Can Nigeria be corruption free?
Ahead of the elections in 2015, Muhammadu Buhari blamed corruption and insecurity for most of the challenges facing Nigeria and promised to confront both challenges heads-on. According to him, ‘the fundamental issue facing this country is insecurity and the problem of the economy which is being made worse by corruption. I assure you that we are going to finally assemble a competent team of Nigerians to efficiently manage the country.’
Going by the latest CPI report, Nigeria does not seem to be doing so well in this fight. While in the first two years of the administration, it appeared efforts at combating corruption were working, since 2018 however, the reports show that the country has consistently rolled back..
One way of reversing the trend of worsening corruption is for the federal government to take a closer look at the indicators used in arriving at the annual Corruption Perceptions Index, and examine ways it can fix the gaps that so urgently need fixing. These efforts must necessarily involve measures that will take the fight against corruption away from campaign rostrums and the pages of newspapers; to arrests and prosecutions. Continuing to deny the failure of the government’s current anti-corruption strategy amounts to denying the truth. Whether this is possible in the remaining months of this administration is left to be seen.