Corruption: Perception and reality indices
The Transparency International (TI) unveiled its yearly Corruption Perception Index (CPI) and the verdict on Nigeria is still unfavourable despite its noisy anti-corruption agenda. The body ranked Nigeria 146th of the 180 countries assessed. In the previous year, the country was ranked 144th position. Logically, the country has gone down the ladder, thus illustrating the point that the country has not improved from the scourge of corruption.
Although, the country has been ensconced within the lower rungs of the ladder since 2000, the current state minders have been upset by the report. They have argued that the respected international body lied about the state of corruption in Nigeria. Two institutions were riled by the report, namely, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the office of the attorney general and minister of justice.
The prime anti-corruption body, the EFCC, stated inter alia that TI rating was “a far cry from the evident strides and achievements so far accomplished by the anti-graft agency in the fight against corruption, particularly under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.” It went further to note that, “The claim and inference by TI that Nigeria ranks the fourth most corrupt country in West Africa is totally unacceptable, as it is evidently not supported by any empirical data, especially when placed side-by-side with the remarkable achievements of the commission in the past years.” On its part, the Attorney General Abubakar Malami, averred that, “In terms of the fight against corruption, we have been doing more. We have done more and 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 Transparency International.”
Government reaction comes along a worn pattern of living a lie. Domestic or international criticisms are useful because they provide the prism to gauge government policy and allow perhaps the latter to make amends. This is not the time to play the ostrich. The perception about corruption in Nigeria cannot be otherwise. The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) indicates the path to tread to the effect that, “the authorities should not simply dismiss the ranking. Going forward, Nigerian authorities must embrace the recommendations by TI and set some benchmarks for anti-corruption improvements in the coming years. The authorities should take the CPI to heart and initiate and actively ensure full enforcement of all court rulings and respect for the rule of law, including at least five judgments obtained by it.”
It is right that the government and agencies are aware that the CPI ranks countries “by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, as determined by expert assessments and opinion surveys.” Although CPI may not be based on hard facts, yet it does point to levels of corruption in societies. Nigeria is no exception. Indeed we note that perception sometimes approximates reality. In Nigeria’s case, corruption pervades all institutions of government such that it is palpable to a passive observer. The anti-corruption agencies appear to be working at cross-purposes. Indeed, Nigerians are asking a lot of questions. Since 2015 when the incumbent administration came into office more and more looted monies have been recovered from overseas including the ones looted by the late military dictator, General Sani Abacha.
Ironically, the prevailing administration that espouses the goal of fighting corruption is denying Nigerians the knowledge of what has been recovered from the anti-corruption crusade. It does so in ways that indicate an industry in the so-called war against corruption. Besides, there are extant reports on cases of corruption that are yet to be pursued to their logical conclusions. These include Okiro report on Halliburton, and more recently, Okoi Obono Obla revelation. It would be recalled that Mr. Obla was the chairman of the Special Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property sacked by the president for alleged “falsification of records and financial impropriety.”
But in defence, he had alleged persecution because he stepped on the toes of powerful lawmakers. No one has yet followed this lead. Nonetheless, there was the case of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation who was indicted and seemed to have gone without serious prosecution. Above all, in the countdown to the last general elections, the ruling party enticed opposition party stalwarts with pledges of remission of sins if they crossed over to the ruling party. Well-known corrupt politicians made the leap and some are now serving ministers. These instances paint a picture of a corrupt public sector and TI could not have been farther from the truth.
In all of this, leadership is required. The Nigerian leadership should accept in good faith the ranking from TI and take remedial measures instead of self-denial that leads nowhere. Government should be bold enough to punish offenders in cases of corruption no matter whose ox is gored.
It should be well-advised that its goal of growing the economy will remain a chimera with a tainted image. To be sure, a perception by the international community of the absence of the rule of law and the prevalence of risk due to corruption in the system will lead to a belief in the threat to investment. The latter cannot be protected because market repression is counterproductive to the realisation of the goal of investment capital.
So, the government should accept the reality that arresting a few selected individuals before investigation is not the same thing as fighting corruption in the perception of the public. Besides, the anti-graft crusade should begin with blocking loopholes and pulling down corruption infrastructure in the civil service where graft is still endemic.