Corruption and Good Governance in Nigeria

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According to World Bank study of sub Sahara Africa (SSA), The problem of Africa’s Development is a crisis of governance; the study affirms that because of the countervailing power that has been lacking, state officials in many countries including Nigeria have served their own interests without fear of being called to account.

Although corruption is a global scourge, Nigeria appears to suffer tremendously from this malaise. Every one appears to believe that the nation has a culture of corruption; Nigeria is a rich nation floating on oil wealth, but almost none of it flows to the people. The countless reforms and lack of integrity on the part of leaders have left Nigeria as corrupt as ever.

Politicians are expunged and later re-admitted into their parties; then, what hope is therein for good governance when the leadership is deeply entrenched in corrupt practices.

Corruption is a complex multifaceted and persistent cancerous phenomenon which bedevils Nigeria. In Nigeria, as in many African states, it is a malaise that inflicts the Society. The effects of corruption on a nation’s socio-political and economic development are myriad. The negative effect impacts on economic growth as it, among other things, reduces public spending on education. Corruption has taught the Nigerian a dangerous and wrong lesson that it does not pay to be honest, hardworking and law abiding. Through corrupt means, many political office holders acquire wealth and property in and outside Nigeria; and many display their wealth (which is beyond their means), but the society does not blink.

It also makes a nation to lose international aids. Corruption affects investment, economic growth and government expenditure choices; it also reduces private investment and fuel inflation. 

Corruption has mainly contributed to the backwardness and failure of good governance in Nigeria. The country has not been able to implement policies which promote good governance and facilitate the development and success of the democratic process due to the prevalent existence of corruption at both high and low levels. There is no doubt that this development threatens the moral integrity of the nation and hampers her social and economic development. 
If good governance is conceived to include the capacity of a government to manage resources efficiently in order to improve the well being of the citizens, then bureaucratic corruption can thus be regarded as one of the main obstacles to good governance and development in Nigeria. Corruption has assumed a normal pattern of life in Nigeria.

Consequently, the situation has rendered the Nigerian state a non-delivery state.

Corruption has denied the Nigerian people the beauty of good governance. Thus, corruption is now largely responsible for the seeming collapse of everything we hold dear. Public offices are now seen as avenues for self-enrichment rather than service.

Today, Nigeria has gradually become a country where no service is rendered without money exchanging hands. The system has brought out the bestial underpinnings of the human nature. There is a deliberate attempt by everyone to outdo the next person in corrupt practices. If you proclaim holiness or righteousness as a public officer, you stand a chance of becoming endangered species. The more daring and innovative you are in this vice, i.e. corruption, the more you earn public recognition through chieftaincy titles, honorary doctorate degrees while many women queue up to join your harem.

Democracies all over the world are denominated by a public service whose function is to efficiently translate government policies into implementable dividends in terms of infrastructural development that the people can relate with. Indeed, if we are to take the new discourse of institutions and institutionalism to heart, institutions define the very essence of the difference between poverty and prosperity.

This is the stimulating thesis that undergirds Acemoglu and Robinson’s successful 2013 book, Why Nations Fail.

According to them, existing explanations on why some nations are wealthy while some are languishing in poverty can no longer be founded on culture, geography or even on leadership ignorance about the right policies. 

On the contrary, the real issue lies in the kind of politics a nation plays and the type of institutions that emerge from the political games of nations. It is this type of politics that therefore create the difference between inclusive democratic institutions and extractive authoritarian institutions. Thus, Euro-America is wealthy while the third world is impoverished because while the leadership of the latter is driven by greed, rent seeking, nepotism, etc. encapsulated in their extractive politics, the leadership of the former is denoted by a set of inclusive institutions that allows for democratic participation.

An effective institution is one that can be assessed on a scale of performance that allows such an institution—agencies, ministries, departments and other organisational entities that make up the government at the local, state and federal levels—to increase the quality of life of the citizens through its capacity to deliver on the goals and objectives of government.

The locus of reform for institutional effectiveness is therefore the public service. The public service system inherited by Nigeria after independence was, until 1966, adjudged one of the best in the Commonwealth of Nations. This was because it was founded upon the value-based old Weberian bureaucratic tradition of efficiency and performance that enabled the colonialists to translate their pernicious policies into effective delivery of stated objectives. It also initially allowed the postcolonial Nigerian government to get some things done in terms of managing a nascent plural state just learning to cope with its postcolonial realities. 

However, things soon began to fall apart. And one good reason for this is the entry of the military and the injection of its command structure into politics. It was a downward spiral from then on. Two immediate consequences emanated from this. The first is that it soon became glaring to Nigerians that the government, despite its initial desire to assume the commanding height of the economy, could no longer get the development train moving in the right direction.

Since the Nigerian Civil War ended, institutions have gradually lost their capacity to deliver on anything. And this is very sad because that has persisted even until the commencement of the democratic dispensation in 1999. The second consequence of the failure of government is the emergence of non-governmental, non-state, private organizations who have displaced the state in the business of governance. A pretty good example lies in the educational sector with the proliferation of private educational institutions at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels.

We definitely may not be justified to think that the institutional story has been all gloom since independence. There have been landmark policy initiatives over the years that have transformed certain aspect of the Nigerian polity.

However, the effectiveness of these successful policies has been undermined by the pervasive presence of stunted, failed, abandoned and epileptic policies. This translates, unfortunately for Nigerians, into an understanding of state failure in terms of crippled infrastructures—galloping crime rate as a result of security collapse, pandemic poverty, palpable corruption, roads that are death traps, healthcare facilities that are comatose and give free reins to sicknesses and diseases, unedifying educational sectors, and so on.

The duty of governments everywhere is to create structures that address specific challenges and problems. Once created, these institutions justify their continued existence by developing consistent and effective operating system, modus operandi, expertise and competences to administer effective solutions to complex problems and challenges in a manner that would be strongly valued by internal stakeholders (policy makers, politicians, et al) and external stakeholders, and that generates trust and support.

The capacity of public institutions to generate exceptional returns is then dependent on several factors. Three are particularly significant here:

(a) the kind of politics that the nation plays and the type of institutions that emerge in the cauldron of that game;
(b) the decision-making quotient of the political and bureaucratic leadership to deliver on their problem-solving responsibility, and
(c) government’s capacity to attract, retain and develop the right workforce. 

In the Nigerian context, the focus of public service effectiveness is the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), and we need no empirical metrics to know that the MDAs are not performing to optimality. The answer to the next question of why this is so can only be a multicausal analysis that factors historical, administrative and political analysis into one unfortunate package of institutional ineffectiveness.

Behind the present configuration of the public service in Nigeria is a historical understanding of the inherited public service institution whose operating system was far from being citizen-friendly. In other words, it was essentially an extractive set of structures that was not oriented towards democratization, democratic service delivery, contractual relationship. One particular operational example will suffice.

Corrupt practices are not issues just beginning today in our society; its history is as old as the world. Most countries around the globe are noted for their area(s) of specialization. Nigeria is best known for her corrupt practices, and this has been on for decades.

The country formally came into existence about a hundred years ago and more precisely in 1914 with the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates by Lord Lugard. There was no objective criterion for the amalgamation except for the administrative convenience of the British colonialist. The Northern and Southern protectorates had little or nothing in common.

From 1960 to date, the word ‘corruption’ has become the order of the day in every facet of our national life. No wonder that the Transparency International (TI), an organization based in Germany has consistently rated Nigeria as one of the most corrupt country over the last one decade.

It is extremely appalling that despite the long years of independence, Nigeria, the so called “giant” of Africa is still battling with the problem of good governance. The crop of leaders that have attained leadership position since independence had in one way or the other lacked vision, most of them have been engrossed with corruption and political bickering leading to the enthronement of maladministration and mismanagement of public resources, and consequently economic setback and abject poverty as nation heritage.

Since Independence in 1960, corruption has persisted and grown enormously in variety and magnitude. Pervasive corruption endures in both the private and public sectors of the Nigeria society; however, the emphasis here is on public sector corruption which contributes more than 70% of the corruption cases in Nigeria and as well, seen as the source of heightened divide between Nigeria‘s wealth and its poverty.

Significantly, Nigeria is among the countries of the world endowed with immense natural and human resources that are capable of improving socio-economic status and living standards of the citizenry; but the reverse has always been the case. In view of this ugly trend, one begins to wonder what kind of superficial “giant” position Nigeria claims to hold in Africa, after Sixty (60) years of independence with nothing to show for it.

Even though no country in the world is corrupt free, corruption in the case of Nigeria has become very worrisome because she has consistently been placed among the most corrupt nations in the world. 

There are varieties of corruption as they manifest in Nigeria, these include: political, bureaucratic, private, public, materialistic and non-materialistic corruption, petty corruption and grand corruption, systemic and non-systemic corruption, etc.

Grand corruption, otherwise known as “State Robbery” in the public sector is the main problem in Nigeria. ‘State Robbery’ is a variety of corruption where members of the political and bureaucratic elite simply plunder the national treasury through brazen theft, or through other ingenious methods ranging from deliberate alteration of documents, facts and figures to make money; outright collection of bribe, the type we heard so much about in the National Assembly, which led to the removal of a Senate President who allegedly demanded and obtained cash incentives from a Minister of Education; deliberate embezzlement of funds, such as is acted out in Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to mop up unspent funds before the close of the financial year.

Other varieties of ‘State Robbery are falsification of contract figures through inflation, over-invoicing, periodic upward reviews of contract sums, a practice that still goes on in MDAs; contract splitting, an offence for which a Political Party Chieftain who was Chairman of the Nigeria Port Authority (NPA) went to jail; fraud, graft, misappropriation and misapplication of funds for personal aggrandisement; payoffs and contract kickbacks; and several others such as profiteering, shadiness, prolificacy, distortion, doctoring, falsification, etc.

Experiences in Nigeria seem to support the view that political and administrative malfeasance feed on each other. Over centralization of authority, and under or over-elaborated rules of authority is a major contributory factor to governmental corruption. The evil called corruption at the highest level distorts competition by denying the public access to competitive market place.

Also, great inequality in the distribution of national wealth; the reliance on political office as the primary means of gaining access to wealth; the conflict between changing moral codes; the weakness of social and governmental enforcement mechanism; and the absence of strong sense of national community have been identified as other causes of corruption.

As a matter of fact, corruption in Nigeria has resulted to a reduction in the quality and quantity of goods and services available to the public as reflected in poor infrastructures, poor quality of education standards, poor health facilities and high cost of living and rising social insecurity. On the aspect of political development, corruption has often led to the inability of the nation to develop and consolidate its democratic practice as excessive corruption has often led to erosion of government legitimacy, defective leadership input and democratic destabilization through military takeover of government and truncation of civilian rule.

There is no doubt that at the root of corruption quagmire in Nigeria is the failure and virtual collapse of governance, the contamination of democratic values, the erosion of accountability procedures, and the prevalence of bad leadership. Thus, the consequences of corruption can be disastrous. Corruption and carelessness are said to be at least partially responsible for the very heavy death toll in the massive earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010.

There is no doubt that the scourge of corruption has impacted governance significantly in developing countries where it is mostly perpetrated. Corruption undermines the legitimacy of government and democratic values of trust and tolerance. Corruption increases the cost of business through the price of illicit payments. It generates economic distortions in the public sector by diverting public investment into capital projects where bribes and kickbacks are more plentiful. Corruption also lowers compliance with construction, environmental, or other regulations, reduces the quality of government services and infrastructure, and increases budgetary pressures on government.

Also, some other consequences of corruption include the fact that it can make other people suffer for the corrupt practices of an individual. An example was a situation where the education of a child is stopped because of corrupt practice of people in leadership position who have failed in their responsibility in addressing the education problem in the country.

The effect of corruption is grave that many organisations have been established to monitor corruption and promote efforts to reduce it in governance globally. Corruption causes a reduction in quality of goods and services available to the public, as some companies could cut corners to increase profit margins. Corruption affects investment, economic growth, and government expenditure choices; it also reduces private investment and fuels inflation.

Empirical evidence from a number of researches shows that corruption contributes immensely to inhibition of economic performance and consequently affects investment and economic growth which is antithetical to national development. Moreover, corruption can also upset ethnic balance and exacerbates problems of national integration in developing countries. If a corrupt but popular ethnic leader is replaced in his or her position, it may ‘upset ethnic arithmetic’, the cohorts may revolt and this may engender the disintegration of the state.

Moreover, the legitimacy of a particular government can be destroyed by corruption. It has been a stumbling block to the people enjoying the economic and social fruits of democracy. Furthermore, corruption is said to have contributed significantly to mass poverty in Nigeria. It has rendered several millions of Nigerians jobless and uneducated. There is no doubt that corruption has been attributed to mass poverty which has been breeding all forms of extremisms in the country, most especially the Niger-Delta crisis and the Boko Haram insurgency which threatened the security, unity and co-existence of Nigeria as a nation-state.

The most damaging effect of corruption is that if left unchecked, it grows, intensifies and spreads like cancer to vital centres of government with powerful influences on the public. Already, the negative multiplier effect of corruption in Nigeria has manifested in the mass spread of poverty and the nation‘s unenviable position in the list of poor and underdeveloped countries of the world.

Corruption causes a serious development challenge, in the political sphere; it undermines democracy and good governance by weakening political processes. Corruption in elections subverts accountability and representation in policy making, in the judiciary it suspends the rule of law and in the public service it leads to unequal distribution of services. Corruption wastes skills because time is often a huge waste to set up anti-corruption agencies to fight corruption and also to monitor public sectors. Above all, corruption diverts scarce public resources into private pockets, it weakens good governance; it also threatens democracy and erodes the social and moral fabrics of a country.

Within the context of the Nigerian state, it is not as if successive governments have not realized the problem posed by corruption to the socio-economic and political development of the country. Without doubt, successive governments at one point or the other have made series of attempts at combating corruption through series of anti-corruption campaigns. What is in doubt, however, is what the impact of this anti-corruption campaign is?

Combating Corruption in Nigeria

Corruption in Nigeria has reached an all time high; the country’s social, economic and cultural spheres are full of it. This negative phenomenon brings significant damage and spoils the lives of citizens by inhibiting the development of various industries. The country needs to eliminate this problem as soon as possible. But first of all, the major causes of corruption in Nigeria should be pointed out.

Since ancient times, power and corruption have been inseparable. Throughout history, along with the evolution of the state, corruption has continued to evolve. At the dawn of the statehood formation, payments to priests, leaders or military commanders for personal appeal for their assistance, was considered a universal rule. Later, with the complication of the state apparatus, professional officials who usually received only fixed income also began to request some transfer of bribes.

The world has really changed, and so has the scale of corruption. Globalization and the formation of the world economy have allowed corruption to reach international levels and become one of the most massive and dangerous phenomena of our time.

In Nigeria, corruption takes place not only in the upper echelons of power but also in all private and public institutions. It is a custom that has been passed from one generation to another. It has become a norm for people in all aspects of the Nigerian society to constantly engage in obtaining power, influence and other personal gains through illegitimate means.

More surprising is the fact that no punitive measures are place to curb this. In most processes you are often presented with the normal and slow way or the faster and palm greasing alternative. Corruption has eaten so deep that when you find someone who is not corrupt it becomes surprising. What then is the cause of corruption you might ask?

Let us consider some problems typically faced in Nigeria today to understand what has led to such circumstances. Below are some causes of corruption in Nigeria.

1. Fundamental
The imperfection of economic institutions, political decision-making system, underdeveloped competition, excessive state intervention in the economy, monopolization of certain sectors of the economy, state control over the resource base, low level of development of civil society and inefficiency of the judicial system are the fundamental causes of corruption.

2. Poverty
Corruption fuelled by poverty often occurs when the basic need of the common man has not been met. The poor often becomes desperate and engages in corrupt practices.

When there is poor remuneration and compensation in the system, it breeds unsatisfied workers. These works become easily swayed and engage in illegal acquisition of compensation. This can be curbed if the entire labour remuneration system is overhauled to fit the high standard of living in society today.

3. Acceptance of Corruption  by the Populace
This is often the case where we see individuals who have been convicted of corruption with public titles and awards. This sends an underlying message and in the eyes of the public there is the feeling that “if Mr. A was corrupt and still got an award or title, then there is nothing wrong in engaging in corruption”. 
Public perception plays a large role in shaping the future of corruption in Nigeria today. If the public says “NO” to corruption then individuals will think twice before engaging in it.

4. Weak Government Institutions
When there is a weak political and legal institution in the society, corruption is given the opportunity to thrive. Also, when the bureaucracy causes delays in passing of budgets and things such as supplies including salaries are delayed, worker tend to start thinking of other ways to substitute their income and this paves way for corruption.
The situation is further worsened if the legal arm fails to catch up with corrupt public officers and this practice finds its way into the private sector and eventually the entire society.

5. Greed
When the desire for accumulation of wealth becomes widespread then corruption is eminent. Political positions are often tagged as been associated with power and wealth due to the huge amounts of funds allocated to political office holders.

Therefore, a greedy individual perceives the attainment of a political post as a means to more wealth. The desire to continue holding the political office is high and they would often result to do anything possible to maintain that position. This includes engaging in corrupt practices.

6. Legal
The weakness of the law, the lack of a clear legislative framework and frequent changes in economic legislation, non-compliance with the international law, inadequate penalties for corruption deals, the possibility of influencing judicial decisions and the existence of norms that allow subjective interpretation of normative acts are legal causes of corruption.

7. Organizational and economic
Weaknesses in the system of control over the distribution of public (especially natural) resources, the difficulties of managing a large territory, a cumbersome and inefficient bureaucracy, relatively low wages of employees, discrimination in access to infrastructure networks, rigid trade protectionism (tariff and nontariff barriers) and other forms of discrimination fall under this category.

8. Information
The opacity of the state mechanism, lack of real freedom of speech and press, availability of offshore zones and lack of research on the problem of corruption fall under this category.

9. Social
The social causes of corruption include clan structures, the traditions of nepotism, the exploitation of “friendly ties”, the tradition of “giving” bribes as gifts, low literacy and education.

10. Cultural-historical
Wrong existing system of norms of bureaucratic behavior, mass culture which forms an indulgent attitude to corruption, features of historical development and little regards for the concepts of honesty and honor fall under this category.

11. Poor Education and Illiteracy
When the number of educated persons in a society is high they will be gainfully employed and will have a good understanding of the consequence of corruption. They will also be able to hold their public officer to account and demand transparency in the rule of law.

Corruption fuels ignorance and the class of people that are poverty stricken is the poorly educated and illiterate. They are often desperate to get out of their status quo and are easily influenced by way of bribes. This has become the norm as it is often said that you need to “settle” to get things done.

A sincere Government and legal system will go a long way in curbing corruption. Public officers who engage in corruption should be brought to book and this will serve as deterrent to others.

What is the Solution to Corruption in Nigeria?

To combat corruption, the following steps must be taken:

• Strict regulation of actions of officials.
• Simplification of bureaucratic procedures.
• Severe supervision over observance of high ethical standards.
•Toughening of legislation.
• Increasing the independence of the judiciary (with high salaries and privileged status of judges).
• Imposing economic sanctions for giving bribes or refusing to participate in anti-corruption investigations.
• Harsh actions, up to the dismissal of customs officers and other civil servants.
• Increase of salaries of officials and preparation of qualified administrative personnel.

Despite the fact that corruption is quite often compared with a hydra, there are effective methods of combating this complicated phenomenon which have been proven by world practices. Not fighting bribery and corruption in Nigeria means supporting them. Taking into account the destructive consequences of this inaction in all spheres of society, the problem of countering this “internal enemy” should be considered in every country. So it is very important to study causes of corruption.

It is necessary to not just fight the weed that is corruption alone, but to also fight its seeds. By understanding the nature of corruption, exploring this phenomenon and studying the experiences of other countries in resisting it, we can get knowledge on how to fight it; and knowledge is known to be power. However, there will also be need to properly apply the results of our findings, and this requires both political support and the support of the entire society. Otherwise, the fight against corruption will be lost.

– Alhaji Yusuf Omale
 Former Chairman, Ankpa LGA, Kogi State and  Founder/Director, Alh. Yusuf Omale Centre for Ethics and Public Accountability


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