Transparency International recently delivered its annual verdict on the corruption status of Nigeria, as it did for other countries. Although it confirmed the fears of many Nigerians that the anti-corruption effort of the Buhari administration has been a case of motion without movement, the government seemed shocked by the verdict.
President Muhammadu Buhari, in a statement, berated the organisation, faulting its methods and conclusions and likening its report to fiction. Although Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, later tried to soften the harsh tone of the presidency by likening the report to a wake-up call, it is clear the administration was disappointed by the report. This is understandable, though it is also an indication that the administration is unduly optimistic about its attainments in that regard.
The 2017 Corruption Perception Index scored Nigeria 27 per cent, which was just a point below its 28 per cent score for 2016. Yet, it pushed Nigeria’s ranking down 12 places from 136 to 148 out of 180 countries. It was the second worst score for the 18-nation West African sub-region, atop Guinea Bissau. Detailed analysis shows that Nigeria retained its positions on most indices. The one index on which the country fell short was the “Economic Intelligence Unit Country Risk Service.” Other indices like the Transformation index, Policy and Institutional Assessment Index, Country Risk Ratings, Rule of Law were stable.
It is undeniable that the government has taken certain visible anti-corruption measures to counter leakages through the Treasury Single Account (TSA), the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Auditing (PICA), which has plugged payroll leakages said to amount to N5.7 billion monthly thus saving the country about N120 billion in purging 50,000 ghost workers from the wage bill. Enhanced remittances by government agencies are indications that progress has been made in revenue collection, with the Nigeria Customs Service leading the charge with the remittance of more than a trillion Naira for the first time in its history; the biggest surprise was the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board which astonished the nation by turning in N7.8 billion from its activities in 2017, a sharp contrast with its average remittance of N3 million in previous years. We acknowledge that good news was also reported in several other agencies. The new “whistle-blower” policy got 5,000 responses as at July 2017 and 365 of which were ‘actionable.’
We agree that Vice President Osinbajo’s definition of the Transparency Report as a wake-up call is the right one. The government must realise thatTransparency as an organisation gathers data about people’s perception, institutional assessment of the country, the international perception, especially, of the investor community to whom the issue of corruption is more than academic. The global business community and multilateral institutions are growing less and less tolerant of corruption. The grievous damage corruption has done to Nigeria and other African and Third World countries is such that the government must be seen to be on top of its game at all times. There must be no back-sliding or complacency.
But, before Transparency International, there was the National Bureau of Statistics which reported late last year that 83 million bribes valued at N403 billion were given and taken in Nigeria within the first year of the Buhari administration. The average Nigerian has not felt any relief from the fight against corruption, apart from hearing the news reports of stupendous amounts occasionally announced as having been recovered. Corruption at our police check-points, police stations, and in our ports goes on with the police and the Customs officials showing no change of behavior. Corruption in our licensing offices, in our traffic, in public service offices, goes on for the simplest permits and services, in our courts and prisons. Even worse are the high profile cases like the “grass cutting” scandal which involved the former Secretary of the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, the contentious Abdulrahman Maina recall, the recall to service of Prof. Usman Yusuf at the Nigerian Health Insurance Scheme while being investigated, the unbelievable $43.4 million cash caught with the Director-General of the Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NIA), all of which occurred within the purview of the Presidency and the Attorney-General. These issues were not resolved in a manner that assured Nigerians of absolute integrity or that due process has been followed.
If Transparency International had factored some of these cases into its computations, an even lower score should have resulted.