Transparency International, TI, released its annual Corruption Perception Index, CPI, on Wednesday, February 21, 2018 which immediately dealt the Federal Government of Nigeria a big blow with regard to its anti-corruption war. According to TI, Nigeria now ranks 148 among 180 countries by the end of 2017. In 2016, our country was ranked 136.
The 12-point drop in just one year should trouble right thinking Nigerians who had pinned their hope for the much desired change on President Muhammadu Buhari's perceived capacity to prosecute the anti-graft war to make Nigeria a country where corruption will no longer be an acceptable way of life.
Unfortunately (and predictably), the Federal Government has chosen to dismiss the report. However, it must be borne in mind that matters such as corruption perception have acceptable global models which supervene whatever government officials think of their own records in their countries.
Nigeria was not the only country polled using the same metrics of assessment. Whether we like it or not, this report will definitely be used by global players, especially in the areas of investment and economic transactions, to make their decisions as to which countries to approach and those to shun.
However, we are not surprised at the TI report. Nigerians have watched with consternation as a government which was elected to scale back the impunity associated with corrupt self-enrichment by public and private sector officials, started to deviate by creating its own group of untouchables.
By turning itself into a clearing house which is lenient with perceived sacred-cow offenders, the signal was sent that corruption is permissible depending on who you are. That, obviously, cannot be the foundation for an effective and sustainable war on corruption.
We on this forum have, time and again, pleaded with the Federal Government to make the anti-graft war all-encompassing. Even when government hesitantly succumbed to public pressure to remove indicted officials, little effort was seen to be made to prosecute them in the same manner that opposition elements and officials of the immediate past government have been pursued.
We, again, call on the President who is the main driver of the anti-graft war, to regard the TI report as a wake-up call rather than merely dismiss it. The anti-graft war must be retooled and made holistic.
More importantly, we must shift emphasis to prevention of corruption rather than chasing the horse after it has escaped. Technology is indispensable in preventing corruption.
We pray that the Egmont Group does not blacklist Nigeria as a result of keeping the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU, firmly under the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, rather than granting it autonomy as required. If that happens, Nigeria may become a pariah in international financial transactions.