18 August 2017

Nigeria: Our Critical Institutions Are the Most Corrupt

Photo: This Day
Allegations of bribe.

The findings from the survey carried out by the National Bureau of Statistics and published yesterday by Daily Trust are frightening. The most critical institutions in the dispensation of justice - police officers, judges and prosecutors are the most corrupt public officials in Nigeria. The damning report came the same day the United Nations Office for Drug and Crimes (UNODC) released its own corruption report that said Nigeria spent N400bn annually on bribes to public officials. According to the 2017 National Corruption Survey, 46.4 per cent of Nigerian citizens have had "bribery contact" with police officers, 33 per cent with prosecutors and 31.5 per cent with Judges/magistrates. The survey which was entitled "Corruption in Nigeria - Bribery as Experienced by the Population" was focused on real life experiences of Nigerians. Those at the forefront of demanding and receiving bribes are custom officers, judges, magistrates and prosecutors. The NBS estimated that the average bribe paid to Custom officers as N88,587, Judges/magistrates N18,576 while prosecutors received an average of N10,072 as bribes from Nigerians. The survey also listed police officers and tax/revenue officers as public officers to whom the highest number of bribes were paid. It said 29.7 per cent of all bribes are paid to police officers upon a direct request before the service is provided. In the private sector, employees of insurance companies, teachers in private schools and doctors in private hospitals have highest bribe prevalence in Nigeria, the survey revealed.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the NBS survey is that young Nigerians have the highest prevalence of bribery in the country as 36.4 per cent of the Nigerian population aged 25 to 34 years are the people with highest bribery prevalence. Further analysis of the report showed that 37.7 per cent of people with the highest prevalence of bribery have attained tertiary education with people earning N100,000 and above as those with highest prevalence of bribery.

The 125-page UNODC report titled "Corruption in Nigeria, Bribery: Public Experience and Response also published yesterday, gave N400bn as the amount spent on bribes annually. The report also listed policemen and the judiciary as topmost on the list of bribe takers. Nigerians, it pointed out spend 28.8 percent of their earnings on bribes. The Statistician General of the Federation and CEO of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) of Nigeria Dr. Yemi Kale and the UNODC Nigeria Representative Cristina Albertin said the report was based on data collected in a survey of 33,067 households. It was conducted in April and May 2016 across the 36 states of the federation and the FCT and it is the largest corruption survey ever conducted in Africa.

In a country where the police, prosecutors and judges routinely demand for bribes to act on what is before them, it means there is no justice, especially for the poor. Investigation of crimes, their prosecution and judgments are all procured for a price. This means that there is no rule of law and there are no values related to the public good. The State exists in practice to operate arbitrary decisions on behalf of those who have money, meaning essentially those who have already stolen from the public purse.

Nigerians are not equal before the law. The rich and powerful person and the poor and common person are not equal before the law. Filthy rich Nigerians have moved from the procurement of high quality lawyers who use skills to produce desired outcomes to the direct purchase of judges. When corruption becomes pervasive in the judicial system, justice is thrown out of the window. Our situation is worse because the few thousand people who have stolen billions can each buy their own "justice" creating total anarchy in the system. The few judges that have been found guilty of wrongdoing are simply retired so that they can have sufficient times to enjoy the billions of Naira they have received as bribes. That is simply not good enough.

Our Constitution has given the leadership of the Judiciary to the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the National Judicial Council and for some reasons that no one understands; they have completely abdicated the leadership and continue to watch in silence as the judiciary ridicules itself on a daily basis. We cannot sustain our democracy when judges from different courts of coordinate jurisdiction give contradictory judgments on a daily basis and both criminal and political actors have become very aware that there are Jankara judges ready to sell judgments and rulings for a fee without any worry about their personal or institutional reputation.

One year ago, I devoted this column to castigating the explosion of Jankara conflicting judgments on the then festering leadership crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which at that time had witnessed fifteen conflicting judgments. The case was finally concluded recently at the Supreme Court. The problem that was revealed however was that so many actors have been aware that they could secure not only a ruling that they desire, they could even time it to a particular date and the time they want it delivered. I have heard that lists are circulating of judges who are ready to deliver any ruling for a fee; the said judges have been very busy delivering irresponsible judgments with reckless abandon.

My concern is that we now a have a generic crisis of reputational erosion affecting our key institutions. Over the past two years, the reputation of the National Assembly has been dragged in the mud with numerous court cases against the Senate President Bukola Saraki and the budget padding allegations against Speaker Dogara. The judiciary assumes an even more important place in the scheme of things, as it should have been able to provide confidence that it could adjudicate in a manner in which justice could be delivered not withstanding the hierarchical position occupied by the accused. What we are witnessing today however is that the reputational erosion occurring with the Judiciary is even worse than that of the Legislature. Who then would save our democracy, which is based on the principles of the "Rule of Law" of the "Separation of Powers"? The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has had occasions to come out to complain to the Nigerian public that its constitutional role of monitoring political parties had been compromised by different judges directing it to monitor and not to monitor party conventions or to recognise or not recognise factions - all delivered the same day. This is after receiving over one dozen conflicting rulings or judgments on the same matter in a matter of weeks.

The judges whose houses have been raided and vast sums of money had been found that could only have been proceeds of crime and bribes have been taken to court and freed in a cavalier manner "for lack of proof". The message from the judiciary is that it is determined to protect its corrupt brethren. Unfortunately for Nigerians, even the few who have been found guilty are not really punished. The National Judicial Council has established a tradition of simply retiring judges who have been guilty of taking bribes or passing Jankara judgments. As most of these judges have become stinking rich precisely because of their criminal behaviour, it is unacceptable that their only "punishment" is retirement. It is actually complicity because they are simply given all the time they need to enjoy the ill-gotten wealth. The NJC must come out to criminalise such behaviour. The Judiciary owes Nigerian citizens explanations and apologies for allowing the Judiciary run wild and an assurance that they will correct the scandalous practices currently taking place.

One thing that has been scientifically proved about corruption is that when the system is able to punish those involved in corrupt practices the quantum decreases steadily. When there is immunity for engaging in corrupt practices however the quantum and scale of corrupt acts grows astronomically. Following the successes of Nuhu Ribadu in the EFCC and the way he was bundled out of the institution for doing his work well, confidence returned fully to the practitioners of grand corruption in Nigeria. Nigeria became the only country in the civilised world where corrupt persons could get court injunctions stopping the prosecutorial agencies and the courts from investigating and prosecuting their corrupt acts. Even the future looks bleak as younger Nigerians have even less qualms about engaging in corruption than the older ones. It is always important to make the point that not all Nigerians are corrupt and in all institutions, islands of integrity exist. The point however is that there are simply too many actors from critical institutions that are selling their souls and country for money.

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