Transparency International’s (TI) latest report shows that corruption is worsening in Nigeria. According to TI’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI), Nigeria ranked 148th out of the 180 countries surveyed in 2017 with a score of 28/100, whereas it ranked 136th in 2016 with a score of 27/100 out of the 168 countries surveyed. This means that Nigeria has not made significant progress in the fight against corruption. This is surprising given the fact that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has anti-corruption as a priority objective of governance. Indeed, Nigeria occupies the 32nd position out of the 52 assessed countries in Africa in the 2017 ranking. In West Africa, Nigeria is the second worst country out of 17 countries, leaving only Guinea Bissau behind. Nigeria’s score of 27/100 is far below the African average of 32/100.
The report buttresses the claim by critics of the government that the anti-corruption war has been weak and targeted at critics of the government or opposition figures, and that grand corruption has been condoned within governmental circles, hence the persistence of nepotism, cronyism, favouritism and bribery at all levels in the country. In fact, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, stated at a book launch in honour of the Registrar of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Professor Ishaq Oloyede, in February that corruption had not reduced in the country. The Sultan decried the absence of statesmen in the country, adding that, these days, Nigeria only had “men of state.” It should also be noted that in his press release earlier in January, former President Olusegun Obasanjo complained that the president’s inability to enforce discipline among those who were close to him had led to an increase in corruption, nepotism and clannishness, with adverse consequences for governance and service delivery.
The TI report provides some insight into the relationship between openness and corruption. In countries where openness and media independence are absent, corruption thrives. The report called on the government and private sector organisations to support free speech and media independence. Importantly, too, government must allow the opposition and civil society to engage it. The government must give life to the Freedom of Information Act which has not been allowed to operate because of hostility by public office-holders to request for information on the basis of that law. President Buhari assumed the reins of leadership on the back of a campaign promise to crack down on endemic corruption. His slogan was that “if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria.” Now, he must ensure that corruption does not kill Nigeria by ensuring that graft is effectively sanctioned.
Since 2015 when the current government took the reins of power, very few high-profile corruption cases have been concluded. Convictions have been very scarce. The claim by the government that the judiciary has been largely compromised, thereby undermining the anti-graft war, cannot be a valid excuse. The government has to re-engineer public institutions to address corruption. The government must lead in transparency by proactive disclosure of important data such as budgets, company ownership, public procurement and political party financing through open data formats.
Although the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission (ICPC) claim to have recovered huge sums of money, the size, location, owners and basis of the recovered funds have not been provided for public scrutiny. Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State has challenged the government to make public the identities of those who have refunded stolen public money. We support the idea. Indeed, some Nigerians fear that such funds would likely be re-stolen by government officials who are shielded by the government. It seems that both the EFCC and the ICPC have become agencies for the recovery of stolen public money without detailed public accountability for such recovered funds. The fight against corruption must go beyond such claims. It must be done with openness. Above all, those found guilty of stealing pubic fund must be sanctioned.