The 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index released by Transparency International last week shows that Nigeria scored 26 out of a possible 100 points and ranked 146 out of the 180 countries assessed. This is two places down when compared to our 2018 ranking of 144 and a step lower than our usual score of 27. The average score across the 180 countries assessed was 43 while the sub-Saharan African average was 32. Nigeria failed to meet any of these average scores. In the ECOWAS region, we only performed better than Guinea-Bissau which was ranked 168. The report simply states that Nigeria is not making progress in the fight against corruption, rather we have entered the reverse gear considering that we were ranked 144 in the year 2018.
Since the ranking was released, the Federal Government officials have come out strongly condemning the ranking as they believe that it fails to reflect on the current Nigerian situation. This discourse will review the fundamental issues of corruption in Nigeria and raise the poser on whether the Nigerian corruption situation is one of perception as stated by TI or a scenario founded on reality. Should the Buhari regime react negatively instead of a sober consideration of the rating with a view to making amends?
The starting point is the fact that no student examines and scores themselves. It is the duty of the teacher, a third party, to examine and score a student. The fact that the Federal Government trumpets anti-corruption slogans and declares the struggle against corruption as the centre piece of its policies will not change a bad performance. Also, what happens in Nigeria and is reported by our local print, electronic, digital and social media cannot be hidden from non-Nigerians. Technology has made the world a global village where nothing can be hidden. Thus, our displays of impunity after acts of grand corruption are available for the world to see and judge.
Nigerians are living witnesses to missed opportunities and developments which should have changed the narrative of corruption in the last couple of years. Let us start from the challenge of party and candidate finance during the last elections. The 2019 elections, from the presidency to the state legislative elections, witnessed broad daylight exchange of money for votes. The delegate primaries that produced candidates were simply bazaars where votes went to the highest bidders. It got so bad that Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the APC got angry when the media questioned him about two bullion vans laden with cash seen on his premises on the eve of a major election. He lambasted reporters for questioning the source and use of the funds. Thus, the idea of elections in Nigeria conjures inter alia the picture of vote buying and other vices.
The National Assembly amended the Electoral Act 2010 and inter alia mainstreamed the card reader to reduce manipulations of the electoral process so that the votes can begin to count. This was in line with various Supreme Court decisions after the 2015 elections. Curiously and for specious reasons, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, declined assent on three occasions. The National Assembly effected the corrections the President sought on each occasion and on the fourth occasion, his refusal was anchored on his theory that time was too short to introduce reforms into the electoral process. But everyone knows this theory was only a self-serving one that allowed the political elite to manipulate the vote by using the manual voter register considering that the card reader had no legal foundations.
In a bid to strengthen the anti-corruption struggle, the National Assembly in its wisdom repealed the Companies and Allied Matters Act and made a new law which introduces a compulsory disclosure of beneficial ownership of all companies operating in Nigeria. Nigerians watched with disbelief as Buhari declined to give assent to the bill. Again, the National Assembly passed the Audit Reform Bill to inter alia strengthen the powers and functions of the Auditor-General of the Federation as well as establish the Audit Service Commission. Again, Buhari played a wild card. He neither assented to the bill nor returned it to the parliament with reason(s) for declining assent. Further, the National Assembly passed the Petroleum Industry Bill which could have reduced the overflowing corruption in the petroleum sector but for specious reasons, the President declined assent. The Proceeds of Crime Bill also faced a similar rejection by Buhari. Now, for a regime with the avowed goal of fighting corruption, the aforementioned bills should have been executive bills which when passed by the lawmakers would have been given expeditious assent by the President. Even if the lawmakers made some mistakes in their provisions, the President and the legislators should have worked together to correct the mistakes to ensure that the bills became law.
Similarly, Nigerians watched in disbelief as the President and his deputy refused to make their assets disclosures public, relying on technicalities in the 1999 Constitution. However, the regime was quick in releasing the asset declaration forms of former Chief Justice Onnoghen and used the declaration to persecute him before the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Yes, the word used is “persecute” because Onnoghen was effectively removed from office by an ex parte order against all known canons of fair hearing and at a time he had appeared and was presenting his defence before the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Incidentally, the Code of Conduct Tribunal was and is still headed by a chairman whom the anti-corruption agencies had prepared, but withheld charges of corruption against. Further, the National Judicial Council refused to apply its precedents (especially the Abia State precedent) in dealing with the man who eventually made himself available to be sworn in as acting Chief Justice of Nigeria following this illegality. The entire process was tainted with abuse of power and corruption. As usual, the executive had its way.
Year after year, the Auditor-General of the Federation reports on the accounts of the federation showing a surfeit of violations of fiscal laws and regulations. A sample of the issues raised in the audits is imperative: 160 agencies defaulted in submission of audited accounts for 2016; 265 agencies defaulted in submission of audited accounts for 2017; while 11 agencies have never submitted any financial statements since inception. Chief executives of Ministries, Departments and Agencies collect Value Added Tax, withholding tax and other levies and spend them without appropriation while failing to remit them to the treasury. In all these, hardly is anyone prosecuted and punished. The Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative publishes the yearly heist going on in the oil and gas industry and the reports gather dust on the shelves.
The world gets the reports of these real-life stories and as the ostrich, we convince ourselves that no one is watching us. The ruling class puts up all kinds of self-serving infantile arguments to defend these massive deviations from civilised human conduct. Yes, the ruling class believes the world is waiting for us to finish our misbehaviour about 60 years after independence.
I conclude by affirming that the truth is that TI in the case of Nigeria is not publishing a Corruption Perceptions Index; rather, it is publishing a Corruption Reality Index. Here, corruption is so real you can touch it, everywhere.
Eze Onyekpere(firstname.lastname@example.org )