NIGERIA’s recent downgrade in the Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index has understandably generated great furore, with the government faulting the basis for the grading. But for those who have been living in a fool’s paradise, thinking that, by mere force of government pronouncement, corruption could suddenly be put to flight, this is the time to wake up and face the stark reality of pervasive corruption in Nigeria.

No doubt, this is a development that has dealt a stunning blow to the Federal Government’s anti-corruption posturing, which is why many aides of President Muhammadu Buhari have decided to kick against the rating. This, they have claimed, is not a fair reflection of the efforts of the government to stamp out endemic corruption from public life. From a lowly position of 136th out of the 176 countries surveyed in 2016, and a miserable 28 points out of a possible 100, the country crashed 12 steps down the ladder to 148th in 2017, with a score of 27 points from a possible 100, out of the 180 countries surveyed.

The latest CPI is even more damaging because it came after the President was recently made the champion for the anti-corruption campaign by the African Union. What it amounts to is that Buhari’s anti-corruption fight has made no dent in the level of corruption in the country, especially in the eyes of the experts and business community whose opinions form the basis for the assessment. With the next round of elections just a year away, it will be very difficult for the government to justify its performance, especially as the All Progressives Congress was voted into power on the strength of its anti-graft credentials.

But for those still bent on faulting the current CPI, it is a time to take a long, hard look at the performance of the government in its anti-corruption campaign since it was sworn in on May 29, 2015. If the truth be told, it has been a performance long on promise, but short on delivery. While the government has done a lot in loot recovery, it is still disappointing that very few, if any, of the notable office holders who had their fingers in the till have been successfully prosecuted and put behind bars.

Fighting corruption is not just about collecting the loot and asking the looter to go and sin no more; it is about bringing them to book to serve as a deterrent to others. In the absence of this, many obvious corrupt acts are coming out even among the President’s close circle of aides. Such is the situation that people are beginning to believe that becoming an APC member is all that is needed to shield them from scrutiny by government’s anti-corruption machinery.

To be fair, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the government anti-graft watchdog, has done creditably. But even its little efforts are being hobbled by a cabal within the Presidency and the other agencies with which it was supposed to work closely to achieve the desired results. It is surprising that, up till now, no heads have rolled after the failed confirmation bid of Ibrahim Magu as the EFCC Chairman, following contradictory reports that emanated from the Presidency, which stalled that confirmation.

Perhaps, more surprising is the President’s response to the smuggling of Abdulrasheed Maina, a fugitive from justice, back into the civil service. Although he ordered the swift sacking of the man who was on the wanted list of the EFCC for allegedly stealing pension funds, he suddenly got cold feet when it was time to punish those who were responsible for his reinstatement and double promotion. Buhari’s handling of the Maina case, coupled with his slow response to allegations of corruption brought against the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, has done great damage to the government’s anti-corruption credentials.

Despite gaining worldwide notoriety as a very corrupt country — with the immediate past British Prime Minister, David Cameron, describing the country as “fantastically corrupt” two years ago — Nigeria had actually recorded some incremental advances in her bid to curtail the malaise in the past, as acknowledged by TI itself. In 1996, 1997 and 2000, Nigeria came last in the TI rankings, and second to the last in 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2003. But the country was able to rise to 121 in the 2008 perceptions index, out of the 180 countries under consideration.

Since then, it has been a downward trend for Africa’s largest economy, which has negatively affected the quality of life of the citizens. Today, 80 per cent of Nigerians are poor and living on $2 a day, according to the African Development Bank, while the level of infrastructure has been deplorable. A former Executive Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Tim Okon, said Nigeria reaped over $300 billion from oil sales between 2010 and 2014. Yet, much of the money disappeared into private pockets, leaving the country largely impoverished.

Instead of dissipating energy on questioning the CPI, which had been warmly embraced in the past, this is the time to sit up and take the war against corruption more seriously, knowing that the rest of the world is watching. Just as the TI founder, Peter Eigen, once said, the CPI should be seen as “a wake-up call to political leaders and to the public at large to confront abundant corruption that pervades so many countries.”

If Nigeria wants to make progress in the war against corruption, she can find good lessons from Eigen’s advice. It is even heartening that Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo is thinking along that line, going by his recent response to the TI rating. He saw it as “an opportunity to continue building on the many successes that have already been recorded by this government in all key sectors.” Confronting the monster is the only way to succeed in this war against graft; not by living in denial.

Culled From Punch

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