The 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) released globally by Transparency International today reveals that Nigeria has further slipped down in the perception of corruption in 2019.
The newly released index published in Nigeria, exclusively by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Transparency International Chapter in Nigeria, reveals that Nigeria scored 26 out of 100 points in the 2019 CPI, falling back by one point compared to last year. In the country comparison, Nigeria ranks this year 146 out of 180 countries – two places down compared to 2018 results.
The CPI aggregates data from a number of different sources that provide perceptions by business community and country experts of the level of corruption in the public sector. While the index does not show real incidences of corruption, it is a reliable indication of the perception of the Nigerian public and the international community about the state of corruption in the country. The index is 100% impartial, objective and globally well respected.
The negative result from this year provokes tough questions. Despite the proclaimed war on corruption, why is Nigeria perceived by Nigerians and the international community still as very corrupt? The Government of Nigeria claims winning the war on corruption, but is this statement backed by evidence?
As every year, when results are not favourable to the Government, the CPI, CISLAC and all other critical citizens will be dismissed, branded as unpatriotic and some activists may even be physically attacked. Instead of analytically discussing why Nigeria does not seem to be winning the war on corruption, the Government and her supporters will spend tax payers’ resources and precious time on denying the obvious – Nigeria does not make much progress in the fight against corruption!
CISLAC and other CSOs are not the enemy of the state! We have been consistent in recognising governmental successes where the credit is due. Since 2015, important reforms have been pursued and they have saved billions of Naira. The introduction of the Single Treasury Account eliminated enormous leakages in most MDAs, the launch of the Anti-Corruption Strategy has provided, for the first time ever, a clear national strategy on how to fight corruption. The rate of convictions on anti-corruption charges and the volume of confiscated assets has provided tangible deterrent to some corrupt officials. Introduction of the Know-Your-Customer policy in the financial sector has made it much harder to export proceeds of corruption abroad and may have reduced the rate of the billions of US dollars leaving Nigeria illegally every year. Some partial breakthroughs on the introduction of Beneficial Ownership database of true owners of Nigerian oil and gas sector provide some optimism that monumental corruption in the Nigerian oil and gas sector can be tackled at last.
These are tangible results, which the Government should be proud of. Why is it that despite these reforms, the image of Nigeria on corruption is so dismal? Here are some possible explanations.
1 Nigeria’s rule of law is selective – the rich and powerful do not play by the rules
All useful reforms in Nigeria are limited to those who cannot afford to ignore them. The pre-election period witnessed mind-blowing scandals, which stayed without consequences. Politicians stashing millions of dollars in kickbacks or having corruption charges upon them just need to switch political parties or stay loyal and charges are dropped against them. Despite evidences brought by brave media and civil society, prominent personalities in politics and business are untouchable by the Nigerian law enforcement and the executive.
2 Backlash against media and civil society damages Nigeria’s anti-corruption effort
Like previous years, last year witnessed further growth in civil society and media involvement and activism in anti-corruption. A lot more investigative journalists are risking their lives to expose corruption in procurement, constituency projects and government spending, while civil groups are collaborating to put pressure on government across the federal and local government levels to make duty bearers accountable. These efforts are helping to put corruption in the public consciousness and mobilize civic voices.
But the period also witnessed increased attacks on civil society and media. A perfect expression of corruption fighting back and government not doing enough to appropriate the partnership opportunities provided by renewed civic involvement in anti-corruption. We witnessed increased threats to civic space, targeted attacks and arrest of journalists and civil society activists. Exposing corruption of those in power was met with harassment and intimidation. One example was the attack on a journalist with the privately owned broadcaster, Rave Television, in Edo State, by a group of people on November 9, 2019. In another prominent example, Omoyele Sowore was dragged out of the court room while the judges were literally held at gunpoint by DSS. The whole world watched in shock as state apparatus became a major threat to public safety and justice in Nigeria.
3 Institutionalised corruption in political parties and political integrity
Nigeria’s system of governance and the foundations of democracy are for sale! We do not have political parties. We have platforms without ideology and any ideas to offer voters. Our politicians are masters of survival changing political parties as they please. Political party primaries are for sale to the highest bidder in a system of godfathers and criminals, who buy themselves the right to loot Nigeria from within the Government, National Assembly or other politically exposed positions.
Nigeria won’t win the fight against corruption when corruption is institutionalised within the political party system. At various arms and levels of government, see routine and systematic abuse of office which by many government appointees that has been elevated to a position of being celebrated and yet government has decided to not even acknowledge the serious negative impact of this on the failure of its anti-corruption campaign to bear substantive results.
4 Poor understanding of the definition of corruption and how to tackle it
The authorities lack consistency and understanding on what corruption actually is. Corruption thrives with incompetency and lack of technical understanding in sectoral areas. Take the example of the disastrous privatisation of the energy sector or botched defence contracts. In an environment where senior officials are nominated, promoted and advanced based on ethnic, religious and nepotistic criteria, technical understanding of governance, including the fight against corruption, is a scarce commodity.
5 Anti-corruption legal and policy framework is underdeveloped
Despite legal and policy provisions for many aspects of anti-corruption, we still lack crucial laws and policies. Take the example of asset recovery, which the Government takes as a big success. Our management of confiscated assets is questionable, if not dubious. Government has not created a transparent and accountable mechanism for the management of recovered assets and loots. It does not brief Nigerians on the whereabout of the recovered assts and loots, where it is being used and how. Nigerians are yet to see the results from the use of the recovered assets, if they have at all been put to us.
It takes an average of 10 years to confiscate criminally obtained assets. Nigeria has no legal and policy framework which would enable accountable confiscated assets management. The Proceeds of Crime Act that we have been negotiating for over 10 years has not been signed by the Presidency, probably due to the resistance of the anti-corruption agencies, which do not want any accountable and transparent system. While few profits from the chaos, Nigeria continuous suffering.
6 Inability to implement recommendations on anti-corruption
It does not matter how we are ranked on anti-corruption. It is obvious that we are NOT making progress. Nigeria is the world leader in the number of poorest of the poor. Insecurity has become epidemic everywhere in the country. The state of our roads, hospitals, schools is disastrous. One of the reasons is that we do not implement sound recommendations.
For example, government identifies procurement as the single source of corruption. It is inexplicable that the National Procurement Council (NPC) as provided in the Public Procurement Act is not in place! Government has a whistleblower policy, yet whistleblowers are attacked and sometimes even sent to jail! Even governmental data recently launched through the Second Bribery Survey shows that Nigerians do not report corruption because they are afraid of repercussions.
7 Corruption in vital sectors such as oil and gas and defence is endemic
As reported every year, Nigeria cannot make progress against corruption if some key sectors do not see rapid improvement. Corruption in the defence and security sector is even openly loathed by some government officials. Illegal checkpoints, secretive army defence procurement and corrupt usage of security votes fuel insecurity and insurgency.
Corruption in the energy sector, education, health and others, may not be as evident as by the police or security services but it eats out the social fabric of Nigerians. Every generation of Nigerians comes in less educated, less healthy and worse prepared than the generation before!
This year, we will not repeat any recommendations. The Government must make sure that their own recommendations are followed. Civil Society and well-meaning Nigerians can suggest, but the Government has to lead the fight.
The Nigerian elite needs to reflect on the state of Nigeria and look at the foundations why we do not progress. Rule of law needs to apply to all, not just those who are powerless. Government sectioned attacks on journalists and civil society discounts the little progress that we are making against corruption. Political parties and complete breakdown of political integrity are the real sources of Nigeria’s lack of progress.
Furthermore, we need to have an impartial discussion of what corruption is and how we can tackle it without political agenda behind it. The approach to legal and policy framework is dominated by hidden agendas. Those very corrupt who would be most affected if these laws and policies are implemented decide about the legal and policy instruments. We do not lack recommendations and technical solutions on anti-corruption, we lack the authority, which could enforce the implementation to the benefit of Nigerians.
In conclusion, corruption remains the biggest governance challenge in Nigeria with far reaching cost on democracy and public support and confidence in democratization in Nigeria. While government anti-corruption efforts in asset recovery are yielding results, the fundamentals necessary to ensure rule of law and freedom of expression of activists have not received enough attention. Anti-corruption stands the greatest chance of victory where there is collective action of citizens against corruption and strong collaboration between state and non-state actors; where there is no cherry-picking in terms of which corruption case to prosecute and the one not to be prosecuted; where there is alignment of purpose and commitment among the arms of Government – executive, legislature and judiciary, and where the anti-corruption campaign is transparent, inclusive and objective.
There must be no room for untouchables; no matter how close to government, power or influence. The anti-corruption campaign must be total as well, leaving no sector out of the spotlight. Critical revenue making sectors must be covered – the central bank, the extractive sector, customs, Nigeria Ports Authority and others in the business of managing huge resources accruing to the nation. There must be increased transparency and accountability in the management and use of recovered assets. The rule of law must be upheld in the fight against corruption. Non-state actors must be allowed the right to enjoy freedom of expression and speak out without intimidation.
Governments can achieve greater improvement in anti-corruption by forging stronger collaboration and coordination with non-state actors involved in anti-corruption. We can achieve more working together than what is possible working in silos!
Therefore, we call on President Buhari to prioritize and support urgent political reforms including the overhaul of the supervision of political parties. We wish to reintegrate our call on Mr. President to immediately initiate comprehensive electoral reforms to restore the trust of citizens in democracy. Furthermore, judicial corruption must be confronted head-on. There is also an urgent need to pursue and press on with security sector reforms to stamp out corruption in the security sector. Lastly, economic reforms in the extractive sector has to be pursued without further delays or excuses.
Above all, we appeal to all Nigerians, especially those in power, not to attack and critize the results of the CPI but to use this time for a critical reflection on tangible ways to introduce real reforms. Corruption rankings alone do not eliminate poverty or improve security. However, they are indicators on the impact of the policies and the state of governance. We hope that we can use the CPI results and this moment for a genuine reflection about real and tangible improvements necessary to strengthen the fight against corruption.