Despite a marginal improvement over last year's survey, Nigeria remained at the bottom of the heap on the global corruption index, having been ranked the 35th most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International (TI).
In its 2012 report released yesterday morning, the Washington DC-based body indicated that Nigeria scored 27 out of a maximum 100 marks to occupy the 139th place out of the 176 countries surveyed in the report.
With the latest ranking, Nigeria moved up four places from its ranking of 143 out of the 183 nations surveyed by TI in 2011. The country was ranked 134 out of 178 surveyed nations in 2010; 130 out of 180 nations in 2009; 121 out of 180 in 2008; 147 out of 180 countries in 2007; and 153 out of 180 surveyed nations in 2006.
But in its reaction to the latest ranking, the Federal Government said the marginal improvement was an indication that the President Goodluck Jonathan administration was fighting corruption head-on.
Nigeria was however not alone in the base rating, sharing the same position with countries like Azerbaijan, Kenya, Nepal and Pakistan.
Denmark, on the other hand, emerged first in the overall Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) ranking with a score of 90 to displace New Zealand, which came first in 2011 and 3rd in 2012 with the same score of 90.
However, Somalia came last for the third year running, with a ranking of 176 and a score of 8 out of a possible 100. It was closely followed by North Korea and Afghanistan as the second and third most corrupt countries respectively.
In the latest 2012 CPI ranking, which changed from a 2011 score range of 0 - 10 to a range of 0 - 100 in terms of cleanliness in perception of corruption in the public sector, Nigeria was ranked 14th in West Africa, while Cape Verde was ranked 1st in the region and 39th globally with a score of 60.
Ghana was ranked second in West Africa with a global ranking of 64 and a score of 45, while Guinea came last in the sub-region with a global ranking of 154 and a score of 24 out of 100.
This year's report also showed that countries like Togo, Mali, Niger and Benin fared better than Nigeria, having improved in their fight against graft.
On the African continent, Botswana was ranked first in Africa with a global ranking of 30 and a score of 65.
The CPI ranks countries and territories based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. A country or territory's score indicates the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of 0 - 100, where 0 means that a country is perceived as highly corrupt and 100 means it is perceived as very clean.
The Federal Government, however, said that the latest ranking by the global body showed that the present administration was addressing the menace of corruption head-on.
Speaking to THISDAY on the issue, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe said: "When compared to the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index of 2011, it shows clearly that Nigeria is gradually but steadily coming out of the cycle of most corrupt countries.
"In 2011, the Transparency International Report rated Nigeria 143 and in 2012, the same report said that Nigeria has moved down the leader to 139.
"That means that something is happening. Though the rating is not good enough, it is an indication that something tangible is taking place," the president's aide said.
According to Okupe, "When a student is rated 143 in 2011 and in 2012, the student improves from 143 to 139, it means that the student is gradually improving in his or her academic performance, but still needs to do some serious academic work to catch up with those that top the class.
"Even at that, the report of the Transparency International perceptions index on corruption is only a perception, it does not reflect the realities on ground.
"As much as one is not querying the report, the rating of Nigeria in 2012 is definitely different from the rating in 2011 and it shows that Nigeria has gained four points."
He also pointed out that Nigeria scored 24 points out of 100 and in 2012, 27 points.
"This simply shows that things are moving and improving for the better. The implication is that the president is indeed fighting corruption and with time, there would be a tremendous improvement.
"However, it is a perception not reflecting the realities on ground. What happens with perception is that it takes time to change it to reality.
"So the President Goodluck Jonathan-led Federal Government should be commended for what it has achieved within the period of between 18 to 20 months; that the country has gained four points in the fight against corruption," Dr. Okupe said.
He reiterated the Federal Government's determination to fight corruption, irrespective of who was involved, saying Jonathan has the political will to do so.
"However, he follows due process in whatever he is doing, he is not the type of person that will trample on citizens' fundamental human rights because he wants to please some others," he said.
His comments notwithstanding, he said that the presidency will hold a world press conference today to address in detail, the TI report.
In the same vein, the Federal Government appealed to the media and Nigerians to help it present a better image of the nation to the world.
Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mr. Labaran Maku stated this Wednesday while fielding questions from State House correspondents at the close of the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting.
According to Maku, both the TI report and a recent Gallup Poll that also showed that Nigeria was among corrupt nations globally were products of interactions with Nigerians and synopsis of negative media reports.
He said all these are perceptions of both the people and media practitioners, which fail to appreciate that the incumbent administration is taking steps to deal with corruption by employing systematic and institutional approaches that are gradual in yielding results.
Maku gave the example of the efforts the government was making in prosecuting fraudsters implicated in the fuel subsidy scam, investigation into the pension fund scandal, the geometric audit of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), and curbing of graft in the supply of fertiliser and seedlings to farmers.
He recalled that when the president promised to curtail patronage in the oil and gas sector, thereby introducing deregulation of the sector, Nigerians became hysterical and shut down the proposal by "mobilising to oppose it".
"Government has continued to take decisive measures against defaulters in the fuel subsidy scam. There are so many issues involved in dealing with corruption. When you are systematic, deliberate reform goes deeper," Maku said.
"The president does not seat in court to imprison people. There are institutions set up to do that," the minister observed, advising journalists to follow up on institutional proceedings to get to the root of matters and thereby unearth omissions and commissions, so that government will be able to track and act on them.
He agreed that Nigeria has been bogged down by corruption for many years but appealed that this trend could not just be eradicated with the wave of a magic wand. "If there are areas where things are not being done properly, journalists should follow up," he advised.
"The federal government will continue to support all efforts to fight abuses," he said, noting, however, that it will not squander the resources, material and human, available to it in doing so.
Also, when contacted, the resident consultant, media and publicity of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Mr. Folu Olamiti said yesterday that the anti corruption war was a work-in-progress.
He said that the commission had not studied the report and therefore could not compare the corruption ranking with other countries.
"We have not studied the report, but we hope that the next ranking will be better. ICPC is under a new leadership with a different approach to tackling corruption; we should not be vilifying our country, Nigerians should hope for the better," Olamiti said.
When contacted, the spokesman of EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren, told THISDAY that the commission did not want to be distracted from the challenge of tackling corruption and economic crimes in the country.
However, the Chairman, House Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes, Hon. Adams Jagaba described yesterday's ranking of Nigeria as the 35th most corrupt country in the world as disastrous but doubtful.
Jagaba said that he was not surprised that Nigeria still ranked among the most corrupt countries but said that the situation might be worse than TI reported.
"I have not read the report but I am surprised because I thought our situation was worse. In my personal opinion, if they rated us as the 35th most corrupt nation, then they did not even do their job well. If they did their job well, we cannot go beyond the first five countries on the list of corrupt countries.
"There are some indices they should have considered. One of them is the political will of the government to fight corruption. If the political will is not there, then there is no way we cannot remain one of the worst countries in terms of corruption.
"As far as I am concerned, there is even some politics being played in this report because corruption has reached a climax in Nigeria.
If you go by our ranking last year, Nigeria is actually getting worse not better. This is a wake up call for the government and the various anti-corruption agencies to sit up in the fight against corruption.
"But like I always say, you cannot fight corruption successfully without exemplary leadership. If you have leaders that refuse to declare their assets and if you have leaders that protect corruption, definitely corruption cannot go away.
"In every administration, people read the body language of their leaders and take a cue from there. The day the war against corruption will start is the day our leaders will change their body language. We have a long way to go," Jagaba said.
He said corruption had thrived in Nigeria because the anti-corruption agencies, EFCC and ICPC, have been arm-twisted and could not take independent decisions.