Understanding Nigeria’s complex history with endemic corruption

The complete history of Nigeria is inextricably linked to the nation’s ever-evolving dynamic with corruption. From the euphoric highs of our immediate post-independence arrangement to the present fractured realities of our 21st century existence, the widened scope of corruption, in part, tells the story of our nation’s inability to fulfil its promise despite abundant natural resources and human capital. Per Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI), Nigeria is one of the most corrupt nations in the world, regularly making an appearance in the lower rungs of the CPI’s ranking. It is estimated that billion of dollars – money that should be used for economic activities – are illegally diverted annually, thereby impeding growth in Africa’s most populous country.

In lots of Nigerian minds, there is a certain conception of what corruption looks like: big-time political figures in public office, diverting funds from public coffers to safe havens all over the world for their benefit. But despite the ubiquity – and damaging repercussion – of that sort of corruption, its presence is not limited to one aspect of life in the country. A more nuanced look at corruption reveals that it is interconnected, blurring sectoral lines, and involving a number of actors that goes beyond the political sphere. Corruption exists in the petroleum, trade, industrial, agricultural, infrastructure, security, and health industries indicating that corruption is abetted by a form of social acceptance and casual ambivalence towards it by Nigerians.

But where corruption is most active is in the petroleum sector. According to a paper published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “petroleum revenues are the lifeblood of official corruption in Nigeria because they constitute over 75 percent of total government receipts and well over 90 percent of export earnings.” Petroleum resources in Nigeria are often divided illegally along state, ethnic, and political lines with little oversight or proper accountability. One former minister has been accused of embezzling millions of dollars during her time as minister and funding elections with state funds in 2015.

Institutions responsible for state security are not exempt. The Nigerian police remains one of the most corrupt bodies in Nigeria using its possession of arms to intimidate, extort, and terrorise Nigerians. Very few people have any faith in the police with many believing that their service is reserved for the highest bidders. One of the most sweeping social movements that has taken place in Nigeria in recent years, #EndSARS, was a direct response to the brutality of the Special Armed Robbery Squad but, more so, a result of public dissatisfaction with corruption within the police ranks and the violent means employed to extort citizens.

For all the criticisms about corruption in Nigeria, it remains a distinctive part of public life in the country, often times willfully offered by Nigerians for reasons that can range from escaping a fine to gaining undue advantage during a bidding process. A survey carried out by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) in 2019 indicated that 22.4% of it’s 2549 respondents will offer bribe if they can afford it and a further 35.3% will offer bribes if the service rendered were “exceptionally good.” Most likely, people who are open to giving bribes will want bribes given to them in a position of authority and then a picture of an unending cycle of undue influence starts to paint itself. It is estimated that, in 2016, Nigerian officials received over 82.3 million bribes rounding up to $4.6 billion, according to a nationwide study carried out by the UNOCC.

Other forms of corruptions exist that are often recognised as “official” in a sense, one of which is having ghost workers on the payroll of agencies. In March 2018, the accountant general of the federation announced that there were over 80,000 ghost workers in the Nigeria Police Force working out to ₦14.3 billion annually. Undeclared revenues are one aspect of the corruption problem, before the Buhari administration came to power in 2015, Nigerian agencies ran several bank accounts where revenue were domicile, but the administration forced those parastatals to close down those accounts and remit revenue to the Treasury Single Account in a bid to push through anti-corruption reforms.

Even bodies established to tackle corruption are not exempt to its perverse nature. These agencies – including the EFCC, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, and the Code of Conduct Bureau – have faced accusations of corruption in the past. Recently, the acting

Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, was suspended by the Presidency after he was accused of corrupt practices. Critics have also repeatedly pointed out that these organisations have found themselves used vindictively by incumbent administrations to go after political rivals and adversaries while shielding people in the governing party.

To tackle the ubiquity of corruption in public and private life in Nigeria requires effort across board and a new socialization for the general populace as regards how corruption halts national growth and the domino effect on all the aspects of our lives generally.

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