Despite the repeated promises by governments to fight corruption head-on, corruption appears to be getting worse in Nigeria, according to the latest corruption perception index (CPI) released by Transparency International (TI).
Today, Nigeria is still bogged down by corruption in spite of the good efforts by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration. The government made it a major mantra and campaign issue but seems overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the problem as there are piles of corruption cases involving government officials and politicians that are yet to be addressed over the years, with many who should be in jail moving about freely and possibly committing more corrupt acts. We recognise,though, that no country is immune to corruption just as no country in the world is totally corruption-free. However, some countries are better off than others in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI). It is, therefore, against this backdrop that we view with sadness the worsening corruption outlook in the country between 2016 and 2017 as revealed in a new report by TI.
In the report, Nigeria is ranked 148 out of 180 countries assessed in 2017, showing that the country scored 27 points which is a slight deterioration in the perception of corruption in public administration in Nigeria compared to 2016.
In 2016, Nigeria scored 28 points and came 136th in the ranking of countries. With the one-point reduction in the score, Nigeria slipped in the country-ranking by 12 positions, from 136 in 2016 to 148 in 2017.
The report also noted that while the rest of the world has improved in the perception on corruption, Nigeria has slipped further down as the fight against corruption seems to have stagnated. On the African continent, Nigeria ranks 32nd out of 52 assessed countries in 2017. The report shows that Kenya, which was rated more corrupt than Nigeria in 2016, has now overtaken Nigeria, moving to 143 from 145. The best in sub-Sahara Africa is Botswana (joint 34th), Rwanda (joint 48) and Namibia (joint 53).
Sadly, Nigeria has consistently maintained low ranking on the CPI since the rating started in 1996. The country, for example, scored 26, 27, 25 and 27 respectively in 2015, 2014, 2013 and 2012. This set of statistics only confirms that the incidence of corruption never went down significantly under any regime in the past, including the years succeeding the creation of the ICPC and the EFCC in 2000 and 2003 respectively. However, the latest TI ranking will no doubt come as a blow to the Buhari administration in spite of its professed anti-corruption credential. Although the administration has put many suspects on trial and seized assets of politicians and government officials, it has also been accused of condoning corrupt practices by top government officials within its fold.
In its response to the rating, CISLAC, a civil society anti-corruption group, remarked that "this fresh setback in the fight against corruption confirms that grand-corruption, political corruption, nepotism, favouritism and bribery persist in Nigeria at all levels, and that this negative perception is mainly a consequence of our inability to combat the grand corruption and astronomical plundering of public coffers which is costing the Nigerian tax payers around 25 per cent of annual GDP."
But the presidency has described the assessment, which reveals that corruption is getting worse under President Muhammadu Buhari as "incredible to anyone who knew where Nigeria was coming from," adding that the report was "very misleading."
As a newspaper, it is our considered opinion that rather than dismiss the report, this administration should study its details and use the information contained therein to identify its own operational weaknesses with a view to improving upon them. Government should be concerned not only about its citizens' perception of corruption but also about other peoples' perception of corruption in Nigeria.
As a way forward, this administration should, as a matter of urgency, make the 2017 anti-corruption strategy known at the grass-roots level; create special anti-corruption courts and nominate judges with proven record of high integrity. It should also prioritise international cooperation that can help in repatriating stolen assets hidden abroad. And for Nigeria to play a principal role in the African Union's initiative, which recently declared 2018 as the 'African Anti-Corruption Year' at its 30th Assembly of Heads of State and Government,Nigeria needs to re-examine its approach to the fight against corruption.
Corruption is an existential problem, just like poverty and unemployment, and tackling it is challenging and complex.
The latest ranking must be seen as a wakeup call for the government and its various anti-corruption agencies, especially the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, and the Economic and Financial CrimeCommission, EFCC.
Although the two agencies have recorded some successes since their establishment, they clearly need to do more to combat this dangerous cankerworm.