It is distressing that three years after the President Muhammadu Buhari administration commenced the fight against corruption, every survey, current global assessments and Nigeria’s internal statistics indicate that the government’s effort has not made a dent on the malaise. The latest bad news was delivered by the EY organization, a global group which conducts annual surveys and investigates current issues in business ethics, security and other studies. In a survey of 2,550 business executives across 55 countries including Nigeria, it found that 30 per cent of global executives still believed bribery and corruption are prevalent in business despite numerous regulations and the imposition of $11 billion penalties for violations since 2012. Even more troubling is its finding that the under-35 age group would be more likely to act unethically to meet financial targets than older respondents.
The organisation discovered differences in the levels of corruption between countries with 20 per cent of respondents in the developed world indicating that bribery is still prevalent compared to 52 per cent of those in the emerging markets, and 90 per cent of Nigerian respondents. This goes to buttress the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) survey last August which found that 95 per cent of Nigerians indulged in bribery between June 2015 and May 2016. The Amnesty International, the Transparency International reports and the US Human Rights Report on Nigeria discovered that indeed the incidence of corruption has risen.
The government would have realised by now that the fight against corruption is not a game for the chicken-hearted. It requires commitment, courage and a sustained adherence to principles of equity, fairness and justice. It is a good and just fight and worth all the efforts the government is willing to invest in it. It is commonplace now to remind Nigerians that no nation can develop in a situation where corruption is widespread. We admit that after 30 years of military dictatorship in which corruption was rampant and the rule of law went on holiday, it is extremely optimistic to expect a quick turnaround in a system where corruption had eaten so deep into the socio-economic fabric. That is why it is bound to be difficult to win the struggle unless there is political will, a nation-wide consensus and total enlistment of leaders at every level of society to participate in the struggle.
The Buhari administration has always affirmed that it ran for election promising three things: to enhance the security of the country, to revitalise its economy and to stamp out corruption. We had expected the administration to co-opt the legislature into these worthy national objectives. But in the fight against corruption, we think the National Assembly seems to be indifferent when it is not actually opposed to the fight. Indeed, recent revelations concerning the arbitrary earnings of its members seem to indicate that the legislature is out of step with the generality of Nigerians. Yet the fight against corruption must be backed by appropriate legislation like the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act (2004) and the Fiscal Responsibility Act (2007) which ought to serve as a check on corruption but which are hardly enforced with diligence.
We regret that Nigeria hits the top of most negative global ranking indices, a fact which comes with consequences. First, foreign investors do not rush into countries with infamous characters. Thus, corruption is dangerous to the health and growth of our economy. Former Finance Minister and Co-coordinating Minister for the Economy, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has blamed our lack of strong institutions which should act as a check on the excesses of officials. We urge the government to encourage the development of such institutions and to discourage every trace of impunity. When senior officials are under suspicion for corruption, they must be promptly investigated and the result of such inquiries must be made public to assure Nigerians of the fairness of the investigation. We must enthrone due process to encourage distinguished leadership which is the only means through which we can rid our country of corruption. We must emphasise service as the true objective of public service and that self-enrichment and service cannot go together.