Corruption is the single greatest obstacle preventing Nigeria from achieving its enormous potential. It drains billions of dollars a year from the country’s economy, stymies development, and weakens the social contract between the government and its people. Nigerians view their country as one of the world’s most corrupt and struggle daily to cope with the effects. Yet few analytical tools exist for examining the full range and complexity of corruption in Africa’s largest economy and most populous country.
Corruption in Nigeria appears to be ubiquitous and takes many forms: from massive contract fraud to petty bribery; from straight-up embezzlement to complicated money laundering schemes; from pocketing the salaries of nonexistent workers to steering plum jobs to relatives and friends. Some officials enjoy perquisites so excessive that they are widely seen as a form of legalized corruption.
Nigeria is seen as one of the world’s most corrupt country.
Political Party Corruption
Kleptocratic capture of political party structures is a sine qua non of gaining power and thereby unlocking corruption opportunities across a range of other sectors. Little distinguishes Nigeria’s two main political parties—the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party and the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP)—in this regard. Both are constellations of fluid national, state, and local elite networks. Both are almost identically structured, non-ideological organizations. Both rely on misappropriated public funds to finance election campaigns.11 Neither values internal party democracy, allowing money and high-level interference to corrupt candidate selection processes.12
Individual political gladiators jockey to secure high-level backing for their ambitions or to be granted lucrative public appointments. Working-level party operatives, meanwhile, seek to monetize their influence over internal party processes by soliciting cash from or seeking to be co-opted by aspiring politicians. According to the chairman of a national political party, “Party officials are not supposed to receive money for expenses and allowances but they make money, sometimes in many, many crooked ways. The party sells membership cards but party officials at that level keep the money for themselves. People who want to run for office virtually bankroll the parties in their localities.
“Sometimes they even decide who becomes the chairman in their ward or the secretary of the party. They actually pocket the person, they take care of his daily needs. Party officials have no other business other than running the party. They also have to find a way of running their families, so the way they do it is through this very indecent manner.” he added
Although Nigeria has a vibrant and mostly free press, brown envelope journalism is rife: for both media moguls and the journalists who work for them, accepting or even soliciting cash from politicians is a perquisite of the job. Over 85 percent of journalists admitted to accepting such financial gifts, euphemistically referred to as “transport money,” “matter,” “load,” and “kola nut.”
When journalists are not paid, they are prone to being compromised. This boils down to the popular aphorism that says “the music that hunger plays in your stomach makes you deaf to reason.” You don’t begin to preach ethics to a hungry man.
Above the working level, editors and publishers often receive even bigger bribes to manipulate their coverage and quash stories that might embarrass their political patrons.
Such grand corruption not only erodes press freedoms and fuels media bias, it also sustains many fly-by-night media outlets that rely on brown envelope journalism to stay in business.
In Nigeria, electoral corruption is not merely a means to an end that being the perquisites of public office, it is also a lucrative pursuit unto itself.
Each of Nigeria’s thirty-six states also infuse millions of dollars each year into State Independent Electoral Commissions tasked with conducting sham local government elections on behalf of the governor in power. This undermines Nigeria’s democratic development right at the grassroots level.
Although corruption has been a defining feature of Nigerian elections since 1999, one recent example stands out. According to EFCC prosecutors, former petroleum minister Diezani Alison-Madueke used $115 million to bribe INEC officials to secure victory for the PDP in the 2015 election.
Although electoral corruption did not alter the outcome of the presidential poll, it almost certainly skewed many gubernatorial and legislative races. Likewise, as Ayisha Osori’s election memoir, Love Does Not Win Elections, illustrates, corruption pervades political parties’ primary and candidate selection processes—much to the detriment of Nigeria’s democratic development.
Nigeria’s national assembly and thirty-six state legislatures are supposed to be a first line of defense against executive branch corruption. Like its U.S. counterpart, Nigeria’s legislative branch is empowered to act as a check on executive power, approve and adjust budgetary expenditures, confirm key appointments, and undertake rigorous oversight of government activities.
In the Nigerian context, the term “bureaucratic corruption” groups together several idiosyncratic examples of official corruption that awkwardly occur outside of the clear-cut sectors outlined above.
While most of the aforementioned kinds of corruption involve two or more people, “auto-corruption” defines activities that create a one-way flow of benefits to a corrupt official. These include various types of embezzlement as well as property misappropriation, salary fraud expenses, and revenue diversion.
Unreported revenues. The failure to report revenues―or remit them to the Treasury Single Account (TSA)―has historically been a major avenue of official corruption.
Misappropriation of property. Officials at all levels of government are free to use government property―vehicles, computers, smartphones―for their own personal needs with impunity. After they leave office, ministers, legislators, and other top government officials often misappropriate vehicles and even official residences.
Salary and pensions fraud. Employing ghost workers is a common form of official corruption at all levels of government. In March 2018, Nigeria’s accountant general discovered the government was losing ₦14.3 billion ($39.7 million) in corrupt payments to ghost police personnel annually.
Re-looting. Although only a small percentage of stolen public funds are ever recovered, those that are seized domestically or returned by international partners are vulnerable to being re-looted by serving officials. These stolen assets—whether in the form of cash or property—are not handled transparently nor are they governed by clear cut policies or laws.
Granted, corruption is a global menace. Still, it is quite prevalent in African countries, Nigeria included. For many years, Nigeria has earned a considerable sum of money from its natural resources, such as gas and oil, with a considerable portion going down the cesspool created by corruption.
Basically, a considerable portion of the money the country earns finds its way into the pockets of a few, leaving millions impoverished. As a result of corrupt leaders, Nigerian society has gradually become more and more corrupt. There are numerous institutions and departments where one cannot be served without parting with a bribe. This has made the menace one of the biggest problems facing Nigeria today.