Nigeria’s Corruption Problem: The Causes and Attempts to find a Solution

Anti-Corruption Sign, "Corruption is the parent to poverty," Jos, Nigeria, Photo by Mike Blyth

Anti-Corruption Sign, "Corruption is the parent to poverty," Jos, Nigeria, Photo by Mike Blyth

NIGERIA - In the 1960s, most of Nigeria’s exports were agricultural products. But after the 1970s oil boom, Nigeria became a powerhouse economy, with large multi-nations flocking to the country to exploit its national oil reserves. By the late 1970s, Nigeria had the per capita income of around $1100, which made it the fastest growing economy in sub-Saharan Africa.

Today, Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa. While the oil industry has allowed Nigeria access to international capital markets and thus pursue ambitious private and public sector projects, the oil industry has also made Nigeria more susceptible to corruption. In a survey conducted by the German anti-corruption establishment Transparency International, a global coalition against corruption, Nigeria ranked 32nd from the bottom in their annual Corruption Perception Index.

There are many reasons why this corruption exists. Nigeria’s foreign debt problem incentivizes Nigerian officials to participate in money laundering schemes which includes government officials embezzling oil money for private enrichment. Some of the blame could also be attributed to Nigeria’s traditions and cultures. Traditional customs stress gift giving. Those in power, such as businessmen, politicians and other public servants are likely to trade gifts as a way to strengthen interpersonal connections. Nigeria is not the only nation fighting corruption that has evolved as a consequence of these traditions. China, for example, also has a gift giving culture and the government is battling corruption there as well. 

It is worthy to note that corruption isn't just driven by financial remuneration, because just as many powerful officials engage in this illicit behavior to assuage a deep seated psychological need to safe guard their positions. This is especially prevalent during times of political instability. In these instances, bribery is used to prevent being ousted from power, where they may in some cases be forced out into an environment in which they must try to rebuild their lives, but are unable to do so because of the many enemies they created while in power. Their sudden debasement, in particular with extreme cases where they didn’t secret away money, these officials can end up living in poverty.

In Nigeria, officials may be forced out of power by a coup d’etat or low public opinion polls. Much of the corruption in Nigeria is policy-induced, in other words, the regulations and standard operating procedures overseeing government officials affords them an unwarranted amount of freedom to manipulate the system in their favor, often in the form of large sums of cash hidden in off-shore accounts in countries like Switzerland known for its stringent banking privacy practices.

The anti-corruption campaign in Nigeria should not only rely on efforts of political retribution, but also incorporate economic and structural reforms. These reforms should employ punitive action in the form of a national policy for fiscal restructuring. This would include cutting down practices such as ‘rent-seeking’ which is quite prevalent in Nigeria and other African nations. This odd term describes a systemic corruption scheme in which a public officials seek affluence and wealth without working or minimal effort.

It is a form of corruption which predictably results in reduced economic efficiency because funds allocated for specific public safety programs or infrastructure improvements are siphoned off. The resulting decrease in revenue due to these misappropriation of funds, retards economic growth, depresses upward mobility, decreases job opportunities, and fosters income inequality. All of which forms the basis for failed states, and oppressive regimes ill-equipped and in most cases, unwilling to reallocate funds to their rightful purposes. This form of corruption has statistically led to economic decline on a national level.

The newly appointed Nigerian Police acting Inspector General, Ibrahim Idris vowed to reform the police to assist in combating corruption at the highest levels of government. This in and of itself is a gargantuan task given its infamous reputation for criminality and corruption that exist in many police departments. Yet, Idris has vowed to implement tougher legal enforcement measures designed to increase effectiveness in apprehending corrupt officials. During his inauguration ceremony last Tuesday, 21 June 2016, Idris gave a speech promising reforms that will require police officers to more seriously investigate citizens’ complaints against corrupt officials, and to pursue redress these complaints to a natural conclusion, even if it results in charges, trial, and possible conviction.

He also supports partnering with forensic libraries and operating centers throughout Nigeria to better coordinate investigatory efforts, establish standard operating procedures, and design protocols by which security agencies must abide. Without a unified approach, Idris’ promises will become just as ineffective as previous attempts to root out corruption, especially when the allure of extra money is tempting to police officers who are paid low salaries.

Despite these challenges Nigeria continues to be one of the most prosperous sub-Saharan countries. The Economist estimates that Nigeria’s economy will triple in size by the year 2030. However, foreign investment remains a vital component to maintaining this rate of growth. Therein lies the challenge, because the high risk of government officials absconding with the money, and low rate of return because of corruption and bribery, foreign investors are less likely to commit funds or support capital infrastructure projects. Nigeria’s fight against internal corruption is intensifying, but these efforts still have a long way to go.   

Contributing Journalist: @Helene_Serena
LinkedIn: Helen Huang