Not only has Nigeria slipped from 144th to 146th on the pecking order of the 2019 Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index, the country fell by 26 points, a minus of one when compared to its score in 2018.
According to the global anti-corruption watchdog's latest index, Nigeria's latest ranking of 146 out of the 180 countries that were surveyed worldwide shows that its score of 26 is way below the global average of 43 and the 2019 average score of 32 for the sub-Saharan Africa region.
Indeed, Nigeria is ranked 32 out of 49 countries in the sub-region.
In the entire West African sub-region, Nigeria is ranked higher than only Guinea Bissau whose score is 18.
The report of ranking which was released on Thursday has drawn the ire of authorities in the country. The Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, and the anti-graft agency, EFCC, have condemned the report, saying TI was obvlivious of the "achievements" of the Buhari-adminstration in its resolve to tackle corruption, one of its three cardinal campaign promises.
Mr Malami, during an interview on Channels Television's LunchTime Politics, on Thursday, said "the facts on the ground do not correlate with the information dished out by the group".
"In terms of the fight against corruption, we have been doing more, we have done more, and we will continue to do more out of inherent conviction and desire on our part to fight against corruption devoid of any extraneous considerations relating to the rating by Transparency International," Mr Malami argued.
On its part, the anti-graft agency EFCC in a communique on the same day, described the report as baseless and appalling.
"The claim and inference by TI that Nigeria ranks the fourth most corrupt country in West Africa is totally unacceptable, as it is evidently not supported by any empirical data, especially when placed side-by-side with the remarkable achievements of the Commission in the past years," the EFCC said.
EFCC's sister anti-graft agency, ICPC, too has faulted the report. The Presidency also tried to ridicule the report, saying it was not based on "facts", but on perception and hearsay.
But what exactly does it mean for a country to ranked high or low on the index?
'Perception of corruption, not corruption itself'
Established in 1995, the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) is Transparency International's flagship research product with which it measures the glimpse of perceived corruption in the public sector of surveyed countries.
Due to the fact that "there is no meaningful way to assess absolute levels of corruption in countries or territories on the basis of hard empirical data," CPI reflects how a country is perceived corrupt; it doesn't measure corruption in the real sense of the word.
On its frequently asked questions page, the organisation says it doesn't rely on reported cases of prosecutions or scandals due to bribery and other crimes as they only show how effective prosecutors, the courts or the media are in investigating and exposing corruption in a country.
Hence, it submits, "capturing perceptions of corruption of those in a position to offer assessments of public sector corruption is the most reliable method of comparing relative corruption levels across countries."
Auwal Rafsanjani, Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), a subsidiary of Transparency International in Nigeria, told PREMIUM TIMES that the index does not consider prosecutions made by the EFCC or ICPC.
He explained that, instead, "it is about the perception of Nigerians on the Immigration (Service), the Custom, the National Assembly, the judiciary, ease of doing business, getting employment, gaining admission."
He added that the index examined the lack of compliance for the rule of law, public procurement and disregard for extant law in the country, especially the FOI.
Until it revised its methodology to allow for comparison of scores from one year to the next using scale 0-100 in 2012, countries were ranked on the basis of scores between 0-10.
For Nigeria, the CPI 2019 relies on nine different data sources from different institutions that capture perceptions of corruption within the past two years.
These institutions include: African Development Bank Country Policy and Institutional Assessment; Bertelsmann Foundation Transformation Index; Economist Intelligence Unit Country Ratings; Global Insight Country Risk Guide.
Others are: PRS International Country Risk Guide; World Economic Forum Economic Opinion Survey; World Bank Country Policy and Institutional Assessment (CPIA); World Justice Project Rule of Law Index; and varieties of Democracy projects.
While ranking of countries is relative to the performance of other countries, the index is based on the results of surveys from these institutions. Countries are scored from zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).
Nigeria's performance over the years
Over the last decade, Nigeria has scored relatively low on the ranking. Between 2011 till date, Nigeria's score has varied from 24 to 28 per cent and its ranking from 136th to 148th.
Since 2012 when the scale of 100 was first used, 2016 was Nigeria's relatively best year.
The country had a score of 28 and ranked 136 out of the 176 countries surveyed. With a score of 25, 2013 was perceived the country's most corrupt year, when it ranked 144 out of 177 other countries.
The Chairman, Network Against Corruption, Olanrewaju Suraj, said "perception will continue to be perception but it can be real or not".
He explained that the private sector is not covered by the ranking, and it means it left out a major cycle for corruption.
He added that "the best that can be done is for the government to take the rating on face level and improve on some of the issues raised in the report."
"It is not enough to say Nigeria is corrupt. Corruption is all over the world. But what stands every country out is the ability of the state to bring people to book," Mr Suraj said.