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An uphill battle to fight corruption and strengthen democracy in Nigeria

CISLAC Nigeria

Last month, during the presidential and parliamentary elections, corruption was one of the main topics at the forefront of political debate. Yet, despite promises to prioritise anti-corruption efforts nationally and across the African Union, Nigeria has yet to show serious results.

While recent elections highlighted a need for improved electoral transparency and stronger security reforms, they also showed that Nigeria has a long way to go in restoring citizens’ trust and confidence in anti-corruption efforts and democratic institutions.

Low scores on the Corruption Perceptions Index

Democracy and corruption is a key theme in this year’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), where Nigeria scores 27 out of 100, well below the regional average of 32 in the Sub-Saharan Africa region.

Unchanged in score since last year, Nigeria has neither significantly improved nor declined on the CPI in the past six years, with scores oscillating between a low of 25 in 2013 and a high of 28 in 2016.

Unfortunately, this poor track record earned Nigeria a place as a ‘country to watch’ in the 2018 CPI, alongside Angola (19), Botswana (61), South Africa (43) and Kenya (27).

City of Lagos, Nigeria (Image: Dami Akinbode/Unsplash)

Failed promises and commitments

Recently re-elected, President Muhammadu Buhari originally rose to power in 2015 with a key campaign promise to fight corruption. However, so far, he has not lived up to expectations. Of the various anti-corruption commitments made by Buhari’s administration, less than a quarter have been completed over the past few years.

For example, despite calls for the appointment of a National Procurement Council (NPC) to oversee national procurement activities and ensure transparency, the government has yet to deliver results despite its claims to the contrary. Corruption in procurement is responsible for approximately 70 per cent of corruption crimes.

Legislative bottlenecks and few investigations

In addition, legislative bottlenecks are hampering progress. For example, at least 60 leadership positions across various institutions, including agencies vital to fighting corruption, are still unfilled or unconfirmed. This lack of leadership undermines the strength of democratic institutions and the ability of the government to combat corruption.

Since the current administration came into power, there have been very few investigations or prosecutions into corruption cases, let alone convictions. Despite evidence, many politicians and businesspeople accused of corruption seem to be above the law and out of reach of law enforcement.

Money laundering and political party financing

Current measures against money laundering crimes and tax evasion in Nigeria are not in line with international standards and can contribute to higher corruption rates. These crimes lead to a massive financial outflow, damaging the country’s economy and hurting the poorest in society.

According to a recent report by Global Financial Integrity, which measures how much illicit money flows in and out of countries, approximately US$8.3 billion left Nigeria between 2006 and 2015. At the same time, around half of Nigeria’s population live on less than US$2 dollars a day, making the country home to the highest number of people living in extreme poverty in the world.

According to the report, in some cases, these laundered funds ultimately find their way back into the country, but usually at the expense of ordinary citizens. Laundered money is often used for political campaign financing and vote-buying during elections. While campaign financing laws exist, compliance is low and often unenforced.

In this way, stolen funds flowing back to Nigeria can hinder free and fair elections and endanger the very essence of democracy.

Corruption in defence and security

When it comes to opaque funding mechanisms, the defence and security sector is a main problem area. While the Nigerian defence budget has increased by more than 500 per cent in the last 10 years, huge sums of public money are being misused or outright embezzled.

For example, ‘security votes,’ are reserved for covering unforeseen security needs and may be provided to certain federal, state and local government officials. These cash payments are not subject to legislative oversight or independent audit because of their sensitive nature. Poor accountability is a huge problem, considering that approximately US$670 million is spent on security votes each year.

The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and other civil society groups consistently advocate for making defence budgets more accessible to public scrutiny, allowing civilian oversight in military procurement and encouraging a culture of reporting corruption within the rank and file of the Nigerian armed forces.

Attacks on CSOs and journalists

Yet, despite solid recommendations from civil society groups, anti-corruption experts and activists, these suggestions are often ignored or only partially implemented by the government.

Even worse, the military and police frequently attack international organizations and journalists for speaking out against corruption and carrying out their lawful activities. The unlawful arrest of journalists and shooting of unarmed protesters is a sad reality of political participation in Nigeria.

Reporting corruption and other forms of misconduct is seriously discouraged by the absence of legislation protecting whistleblowers. Dismissal, harassment, discrimination, threats and physical attacks can be the consequences for those who are brave enough to speak up.

Improvements in anti-corruption

While Nigeria has a long way to go to fight corruption effectively, there have been some positive developments in recent years. Special anti-corruption courts are getting faster and better in seizing ill-gotten assets in non-conviction-based trials.

For example, between May 2015 and October 2017, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in Nigeria successfully recovered US $2.9 billion in stolen assets. Non-conviction based forfeitures, which are similar to unexplained wealth orders in the United Kingdom, occur when anti-graft agencies go after assets of individuals whose expenses are not commensurate to their income. Recently, the Supreme Court affirmed an interim forfeiture of about US$7.8 million linked to a former first lady of Nigeria.

Another anti-corruption improvement is in the implementation of a new public accounting system, which helps reduce inefficiencies and corruption in government agencies. According to president Buhari, the Nigerian government saves about US$78 million monthly due to the implementation of this new accounting system.

Other improvements

Other steps in the right direction include the establishment of a presidential advisory committee against corruption, the improvement of the anti-corruption legal and policy framework in areas like public procurement and asset declaration, and the development of a national anti-corruption strategy. However, these efforts have clearly not yet yielded the desired results.

In addition, to reduce chances of financial fraud, Nigerian banks are now required to issue customers a universal banking identification number that links multiple accounts owned by individuals.

Finally, the 2011 Freedom of Information Act has been instrumental in slowly increasing transparency of public institutions by ensuring a way for citizens to access vital information.

The situation in Nigeria clearly shows that the fight against corruption needs to be holistic and a joint effort between state actors as well as non-state actors like an independent media, civil society, the international community and other players.

For Nigeria to tackle corruption effectively and strengthen democracy, CISLAC calls on the Nigerian government to:

This blog is part of a series entitled, “CPI 2018 in focus,” which highlights country content from the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).

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