Wednesday, 4th October 2023

NISER citizens survey and quest for behavioural anti-corruption measures

By Armsfree Ajanaku
08 April 2023   |   4:00 am
Since the advent of Nigeria’s current democratic dispensation in 1999, one of the factors identified as militating against the development and transformation of the country is the challenge of corruption.

Since the advent of Nigeria’s current democratic dispensation in 1999, one of the factors identified as militating against the development and transformation of the country is the challenge of corruption. Little wonder successive governments, in a bid to defeat this monster, have put forward several initiatives to respond to corruption and its effects in terms of the delivery of governance outcomes. Efforts to combat corruption have included the passage of laws, and the implementation of policies, which would drastically deter the practice and its effects on the polity.
Section 15(5) of the 1999 Constitution as amended makes it clear that the “State shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power,” but man can only propose. Similarly, institutions such as the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) have become engrossed in the tooth and nail fight to vanquish corruption and its effects on everyday citizens. Notwithstanding the valiant efforts, exertions and dedication of these institutions, corruption and all its complexities continue to undermine development and accountable governance in the country. A look at Nigeria’s score on Transparency International’s (TI’s) Corruption Perception Index (CPI) from 2016 to 2022 indicates that Africa’s economic powerhouse continues to slide in both scores and ranking. From a score of 28 out of a possible 100 in 2016, Nigeria has dropped to an unenviable 24.

Importantly, there is universality in the assertion that corruption undermines the capacity of the state to provide basic social goods and services to citizens. Be it in education, health, community development or peacebuilding, corruption has been documented as a known cancer, which undermines the integrity of governments as well as trust in key institutions of the state. Civil society groups campaigning to rid the polity of corruption have often talked about the need for Nigerians not to merely agonise, but that citizens should organise to defeat corruption. This charge has led to questions about what constitutes the most effective approach to address the existential threat posed by corruption in Nigerian society. This is the crux of the issue, which has preoccupied the attention of anti-corruption experts and researchers at the Nigeria Institute of Social and Economic Research (NISER).
The institute led by its Director-General, Prof. Antonia Taiye Simbine, has always made the case for a robust and holistic anti-corruption programme. Behavioural change, the Institute has always advocated, must be situated at the core of such interventions. Subsequently, the Institute with funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has been researching and collecting data to document the efficacy of the behavioural change approach in interventions aimed to reduce corruption, especially in the public sector.
The project titled ‘Research Support for Corruption Control through Behavioural Change Approach’ is being implemented by NISER. NISER is part of a wider cohort of MacArthur Foundation grantees investigating the possibility of tackling corruption in Nigeria through behavioural change approaches. NISER’s unique role in the cohort is to provide empirical evidence, which will form the basis for a behavioural change solution for corruption control in selected public agencies in the country. Importantly, the Institute is collecting data to help stakeholders in the public sector gain an understanding of the concept of corrupt behaviours, the motivator-enabler-barrier nexus and hence a solution identification process. Thereafter, pilot behavioural change solutions will be carried out in selected agencies.

This effort assumes nothing and starts from fundamental premises. It asks the question: Does the citizen actually understand what corrupt behaviour is? NISER researchers have gone to the field to collect data on citizens’ perceptions about their lived realities and experiences as it relates to corruption. NISER’s most recent data collection effort took the form of a large scale citizen’s survey, which is meant to situate corruption within its social sense. In terms of its scope, the survey was conducted using the Sense Maker methodology across selected states in the six geo-political zones and the Federal Capital Territory. Researchers at NISER have stressed the point that the nationwide survey is the first step in developing a behavioural change approach for corruption control in Nigeria. This would in turn affect the design of appropriate behavioural change interventions. According to the project team, the usefulness of the survey is in the collection of stories from a very large respondent base. Thereafter these stories would be used to shape the context of corruption discourses.
From the draft report of the citizens’ survey, the complex phenomenon of corruption was examined in terms of its wrongness, the power dynamics in play, the ethical underpinning, the decision-making nexus and the psychological motivation for corruption. Thus, the survey captured respondents’ view about the fact that corruption is wrong because it went against law and order. Thirty-eight per cent of respondents used the law and order prism to back up their position that corruption is wrong. Next is the group of respondents who took the position that corruption mostly takes the form of abuse of function. Respondents in this category constituted 46 per cent.
The draft report noted: “With regards to the ethical dimensions in corruption, there was a diversity with regards to the three dimensions of independence in decision-making”, “Accountability” and “Fairness”, however, the poll (28 per cent) seemed tilted towards corruption as a loss of accountability within the system.”
According to the draft, the overwhelming response in the survey, (41 per cent) was that corruption is a matter of calculating the balance between risks or rewards. This seems to relate to the individualistic sense of identity that fuels corruption (79 per cent), even much more than Tribal or Social cohesion. Social relations explored corruption in terms of “competitiveness”, “collaboration” and “compromise”. The findings reveal that competitiveness, the sense that I must be better than my neighbour (78 per cent) is a driving force of corruption.
Importantly, the survey threw up some important findings with respect to gender and the realities of corruption. The survey findings brought to the fore issues of convergence and divergence when it comes to male and female opinions with regards to corruption and its control. According to the data, while men responded that the institutionalisation of better systems and structures were needed to control corruption, more women opted for the use of penalties.

“Also, while more males regarded the government to take responsibility for corruption control, females put the responsibility with the people/civil society. While men perceived that corruption was an outcome of calculated risk/reward nexus; females regarded it as a decision to do right or wrong. This also reflected in higher female proportion seeing corruption as being against the good of the people,” the survey data read.
Based on the data, the survey reached the conclusion that the pervasiveness of corruption, and its dependence on individual abuse of power and a weak system of accountability in public institutions are key issues, which have to be addressed.
“Thus, the impetus for leadership in corruption control lies with the government in strengthening its institutions and enabling clear rules for decisive engagement.”
The citizens group, which constitutes the followership, may thus be better motivated to make the right rather than the wrong decisions.

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