NBS Bribery Survey: A Hard Pill to Swallow 

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Monday Discourse 

For a government that likes to flaunt the success of its anti-corruption war, the report of the corruption survey carried out by the National Bureau of Statistics, in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, is a rude awakening, writes Tobi Soniyi

The revelations contained two in the report: ‘Corruption in Nigeria. Bribery: public experience and response 2017’ released last Wednesday by the National Bureau of Statistics and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime were quite chilling.

It must also be a rude re-awakening for ‎a government that takes delight in blaming past administrations for whatever ills it comes across.

 The report, among other findings, stated that 95 per cent of Nigerians would accept a bribe when offered or pay a bribe when demanded.

The survey found that only 5.3 per cent of Nigerians would either refuse to pay a bribe when asked to or refuse to accept when a bribe is offered to them.

The Nigerian Corruption Survey, first of its kind by the NBS gave graphic details of corruptions in different shades and how it affects daily life of the average Nigerian citizen.

Misconceptions  

Government’s attempt to shift the blame isn’t going to work. The response of the Chairman, Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property, Okoi Obono-Obla to the implication of the report, to say the least, was baffling.

Reacting to the report on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily Show, he said, “It is chilling, daunting, outrageous and shocking but I am not surprised because corruption has become pandemic and endemic. Most Nigerians are pathologically corrupt.

“This government wants to fight corruption but what is the challenge? Nigerians do not want to support the fight against corruption; the judiciary and the legislature do not want to support the fight against corruption. It is as if only the President and the Vice-President are in support of the war against corruption.”

His self righteousness was a clear demonstration of lack of understanding of what the report shows. It is also an admission that those saddled with the responsibility to lead the anti-corruption war are ill-prepared for the task because they lack the requisite knowledge required to deliver on that mandate. One does not need to be a genius to understand that the government is merely fighting the symptoms of corruption and not corruption itself.

Obono-Obla, claimed that Nigerians had refused to support the anti-graft crusade of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration because they are pathologically corrupt. Why should they, if the president is unwilling to prosecute his friends that are corrupt? Why should they when children of highly placed people were given employment secretly in well paying public institutions while their children, more qualified, continue to roam the streets for lack of jobs? As long as those leading the anti-corruption war do not understand that fighting corruption is not just about breaking the houses of judges at night, the country should expect more damning reports in the future.

If Obono-Obla’s position is baffling, the position taken by Professor Femi Odekunle, a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption can not be defended. He said the report was not an indictment on the federal government led by President Muhammadu Buhari. If the Nigeria Police Force is corrupt, who takes the blame? Who appoints the Inspector General of Police? If the federal civil service is corrupt, whose duty is it to reform it? Just because the president is fighting corruption does not mean he should not accept responsibility for not able to stop public sector corruption as shown by the report. Or is it the president of Ghana that should take the responsibility? 

Another misconception is that the report shows that government is not fighting corruption. That can’t be the truth. Even the authors of the report in question admitted this much when they said: ‎”Over the years we have seen the effect of corruption manifesting across all sectors of society with collusion across the public to private sectors to sports bodies and even civil society. 

“Sadly, Nigeria as a country has experienced this menace for a long time but now appears to be tackling it head on. 

“It is for this reason that the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) partnered with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to carry out this survey on the quality and integrity of public services in Nigeria, the results of which are published in this report.” That is not a comment these two organisations would have made three years ago. The report admitted that the government is fighting corruption but proved that the effort isn’t comprehensive enough.

 No Doubt Government is Fighting Corruption

‎When compared with Dr Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, this government is indeed fighting corruption. Although, the government is fighting corruption but it lacks the basic understanding of what drives it in Nigeria. This weakness reveals why it has concentrated on punishment without addressing the socio-economic factors driving corruption. It is making the same mistake every successive administration made and the result will be the same. The president made the same mistake in 1984 when he was a military head of state: he believes (he still does) clamping people into jail and sentencing them to donkey years will stop corruption. The NBS’s report has shown that he is wrong.

The perception from the South-east and South-south is also understandable. Many from these two zones do not believe the government is fighting corruption. The reverse would have been the case if the research was carried out while Jonathan was in the office. The perception clearly shows the frustration of the people of the south-east and the south-south with an administration that has chosen to reduce their influence in governance. It is this same perception, justifiable so in our view, that is driving the clamour for restructuring. For one, if President Muhammadu Buhari is genuinely interested in leading a united country, he should bend backwards to accommodate the south-east and the south-south. The government should stop relying on technicalities to support its argument that it is not discriminating against the two zones. 

Another misconception is‎ that only members of the Peoples Democratic Party are being prosecuted. First, there is nothing wrong with prosecuting members of the PDP since they were the ones that ran the country for the past sixteen years before Buhari took over. They must be held acountable. Besides, members of All Progressives Congress are also being prosecuted. While those who do not belong to any political parties are also being prosecuted. 

Another misconception is that this government lacks the political will to fight corruption. I think the will is there. In recent time, no one has shown as much political will as the Buhari-led administration.  

What then is the problem?

To begin with, the report proves that Buhari was right to make the fight against corruption one of the policy thrusts of his ad‎administration. 

The report stated: “The above findings could explain why, after the high cost of living and unemployment, Nigerians consider corruption to be the third most important problem facing their country, well ahead of the state of the country’s infrastructure and health service.” 

A Flawed National Anti-Corruption Strategy

In May, when the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, (SAN), released the National Anti-Corruption of Strategy (NACS), two international non-governmental organisations, namely the Royal Institute of International Affairs, better known as Chatham House and OXFAM published separate reports which clearly showed that the approach adopted by the present administration in the fight against corruption was not working and would not lead to a reduction in grafts.

Reviewing the NACS and the reports of these two respected international NGO, a former Chairman of the Governing Council of the National Human Rights Commission, Dr Chidi Odinkalu, observed that inter-agencies rivalry did not allow the federal government to come up with a strategy that could help the fight against corruption

He said: “From the wreckage of this conflict, the Attorney-General’s department emerged victorious. The result was that other ministries, departments and agencies with complementary expertise on the subject were either relegated or excluded from the process. This absence of joined up thinking is evident in the resulting document. It is confused, self-contradictory and arguably worse than no strategy at all. It is an anti-climax.”

 According to him, the new strategy, which had been approved by the Federal Executive Council, lacks any clear diagnosis of why fighting corruption in Nigeria has proved so intractable.

“The result is that the NACS document does not in any way offer any assurance that this current phase of fighting corruption in Nigeria will suffer a fate different from its predecessors”, he added. 

Other deficiencies he identified in the NACS include lack of coherent narrative of the corruption challenge and non recognition of other actors in shaping or fighting it beyond the narrow halls of government as well as failure to evince any need for popular ownership of the fight against corruption. It also does not see any relationship between the nature and incoherence of the Nigerian state and Nigeria’s chronic corruption pandemic. 

With these shortcomings, analysts knew that the new anti-corruption strategy was unworkable and therefore dead on arrival. The UNODC and NBS’ reports have further validated the observations raised by Odinkalu. Since the report was not written by PDP or job seekers as the Presidency likes to describe those opposed to its policies, it will be difficult to wish away the damming findings contained therein.

Fighting Corruption the Wrong Way

Away from the myopic anti-corruption strategy, the two reports address most of the shortcomings inherent in the Nigerian government’s document. To begin with the Chatham House’s report, Nigeria lacks a holistic approach to the fight against corruption.

The report said: “President Muhammadu Buhari has shown sincerity in his commitment to lead anti- corruption efforts in Nigeria, including through strengthening whistleblowing incentives and protections, high-profile investigations of prominent individuals for large-scale theft of public funds, and the recovery of billions of naira by Nigeria’s anti-corruption agencies.

“These efforts are essential, but cannot by themselves foster a sustainable, comprehensive reversal of long-established assumptions and practices in the absence of a decisive shift in public apathy and a collective will to achieve collective behavioural change.

“Nigeria’s ongoing anti-corruption efforts must now be reinforced by a systematic understanding of why people engage in or refrain from corrupt activity, and full consideration of the societal factors that may contribute to normalizing corrupt behaviour and desensitizing citizens to its impacts.

“This holistic approach would better position public institutions to engage Nigerian society in anti-corruption efforts.” 

The report diagnoses what drives corrupt behaviour in Nigeria and identifies beliefs that support corrupt practices. It is a must read for anyone serious about fighting corruption in Nigeria. It examines corruption in Nigeria from the perspective of social norms that serve as embeded markers of how people behave as members of a society.

It exposes one of the fundamental weaknesses in the federal government’s anti-corruption strategy when it said: “In the context of anti-corruption in Nigeria, understanding these underlying social drivers helps to identify which forms of corruption are underlined by social norms, and which practices are driven by conventions, local customs or circumstances.

“Identifying the specific social drivers of specific collective practices is critical to designing targeted and effective policy interventions to change those practices.”

For example, because punishments for certain offences are unknown, unclear and uneasy to inflict, people find that bribing their way out is the fastest way to go. Many police officers and drivers don’t know the punishment for driving without a driver’s licence. So the drivers end up paying bribes to the arresting officers. This also happens in traffic offences. Yet a government that is fighting corruption does not know how to fix this!

The report also finds that lack of exemplary behaviour by leaders encourages corruption as it robs the government the needed public trust to fight corruption. It said: “Routinely abusive behaviour by public officials is an obstacle to building public trust and stimulating collective action.”

While exposing the flaws in the new anti-corruption strategy, Odinaklu said: “In what could easily be a summary of the shortcomings of the NACS, the Chatham House report laments that Nigeria’s focus has mainly been on ‘traditional’ legal and governance-based measures, emphasizing the reform of public procurement rules and public financial management, anti-corruption laws and the establishment of various agencies tasked with preventing corruption and punishing those who engage in it.’

“While acknowledging the importance of these measures, the report emphasizes the need ‘to foster a comprehensive shift in deeply ingrained attitudes to corruption at all levels of society.’ Its central argument, therefore, is that ‘Nigeria’s ongoing anti-corruption efforts must now be reinforced by a systematic understanding of why people engage in or refrain from corrupt activity, and full consideration of the societal factors that may contribute to normalizing corrupt behaviour and desensitizing citizens to its impacts.'” 

OXFAM report titled: “Inequality in Nigeria: Exploring the Drivers” although focuses on why many Nigerians remained poor while the economy was expanding, it nevertheless provides rare insights into why corruption remains inevitable in the country.

It states: “Poverty and inequality in Nigeria are not due to lack of resources, but to the ill-use, mis-allocation and misappropriation of such resources. At the root there is a culture of corruption and rent-seeking combined with a political elite out of touch with the daily struggles of average Nigerians.”

It also strikes at the root cause of corruption when it said, “The overlap between political and economic power bends the allocation of opportunities, income and wealth to vested interests, and biases policy-making in favour of the rich.” The result of this is what it described as the astronomical cost of governance. Paying members of the National Assembly so much while the people continue to languish in abject poverty. Despite budgeting so much for provision of water, the larger percentage of Nigerian population don’t have access to water safe for drinking. 

Unemployment has also continued to rise. While the Buhari administration was quick to file charges against a former minister, Abba Moro for his role in the 15th of March 2014 recruitment scam when 6.5 million people applied for 4000 vacancies which left 16 people dead, no one has been queried for secret recruitment that took place when Buhari took over government. Yet, both are corrupt practices. By allowing the secret recruitment to stay, this government has lost the credibility to ask Nigerians to support its anti-corruption crusade. 

A government who chose to constitute a civil panel to investigate allegation of corruption against the Secretary to Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal and the Director General of National Intelligence Agency, Ayo Oke but would not allow the National Judicial Council investigate corrupt judges should not expect Nigerians to support its corruption crusade.

There is nothing Ibrahim Magu is doing now that Nuhu Ribadu did not do when he was the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. There must be a missing link. The tragedy of the Nigerian system is such that some of the people Magu is hounding today, may turn out to be the people who will determine his fate tomorrow. 

The Report

According to the report, an estimated N400 billion, or the equivalent of $4.6 billion in purchasing power parity (PPP), representing 39 per cent of the combined federal and state education budgets in 2016, is paid out as bribes to public officials in Nigeria annually. 

The National Corruption Report, which covered the period between June 2015 and May 2016 also showed that almost a third of Nigerian adults (32.3 per cent) who had contact with public officials between June 2015 and May 2016 had to pay, or were requested to pay a bribe to such public officials.

According to the report, the magnitude of public sector bribes in Nigeria becomes even more palpable when factoring in the frequency of the payments, adding that the majority of those who paid bribes to public officials did so more than once over the course of the year. 

Bribe-payers, it added, pay an average of some six bribes in one year, or roughly one bribe every two months.

“Roughly 400 billion Nigerian Naira is spent on bribes each year. Taking into account the fact that nine out of every ten bribes paid to public officials in Nigeria are paid in cash and the size of the payments made, it is estimated that the total amount of bribes paid to public officials in Nigeria in the 12 months prior to the survey was around 400 billion Nigerian Naira (NGN), the equivalent of $4.6 billion in purchasing power parity (PPP). This sum is equivalent to 39 per cent of the combined federal and state education budgets in 2016,” the report said.

It equally revealed that bribe-payers spend an eighth of their salary on bribes, noting that the average sum paid as cash bribe in the country was approximately N5,300, which is equivalent to roughly $61(PPP).

“This means that every time a Nigerian pays a cash bribe, he or she spends an average of about 28.2 per cent of the average monthly salary of approximately NGN18,900.

“Since bribe-payers in Nigeria pay an average of 5.8 bribes over the course of one year, 92 per cent of which are paid in cash, they spend an average of NGN 28,200 annually on cash bribes—equivalent to 12.5 per cent of the annual average salary,” it added.

The report, which is the first of its kind in the country in terms of scope, said Nigerians consider bribery the third most important problem facing their country.

“Public sector bribery is not the only form of corruption affecting Nigeria: the prevalence of bribery in relation to selected employees of private companies is 5.5 per cent, meaning that bribery is also significant in the private sector in Nigeria.

“However, the payment of bribes to public officials is the most familiar and widespread form of corruption directly experienced by the population and the one that most affects the lives of ordinary citizens,” it noted. 

Giving an insight into how bribery works in the country, the report said public officials in Nigeria show little hesitation in asking for a bribe, noting that the vast majority of bribery episodes are initiated either directly or indirectly by public officials (85.3 per cent), while almost 70 per cent of bribes are paid before a service is rendered. 

It stressed that with such a large portion of public officials initiating bribes, which are paid up-front, it seemed that many public officials show little hesitation in asking for a kickback to carry out their duty, adding that bribery is an established part of the administrative procedure in Nigeria. 

“While money is by far the most important form of bribe payment in Nigeria, the survey shows that other forms of bribe payment, such as the provision of food and drink, the handing over of valuables or the exchange of another service or favour, also exist. 

“Qualitative research shows that such exchanges may sometimes include sexual services, although the actual extent of that particular form of bribe payment is unknown,” the NBS report said. 

The survey showed that a large proportion of bribes in Nigeria (42 per cent) are paid to speed up or finalise an administrative procedure that may otherwise be delayed for long periods or even indefinitely, thus making bribery the most effective option for facilitating that service. 

According to the report, the second largest proportion of bribes (18 per cent) is paid to avoid the payment of a fine, a frequent request in citizens’ encounters with the police, while 13 per cent of all bribes are paid to avoid the cancellation of public utility services, an indication that the provision of the most basic amenities, including water and sanitation, can be subject to abuse of power by public officials in Nigeria.

On the categories of public servants indulging in bribery, the report said law enforcement and the judiciary were areas of particular concern. 

“Police officers are the type of public official to whom bribes are most commonly paid in Nigeria. Of all adult Nigerians who had direct contact with a police officer in the 12 months prior to the survey, almost half (46.4 per cent) paid that officer at least one bribe, and in many cases more than one, since police officers are also among the three types of public officials to whom bribes are paid most frequently (5.3 bribes per bribe-payer over the course of 12 months) in Nigeria. At the same time, the average bribe paid to police officers is somewhat below the average bribe size.

“Although fewer people come into contact with judiciary officials than with police officers over the course of the year, when they do, the risk of bribery is considerable: at 33 per cent, the prevalence of bribery in relation to prosecutors is the second highest, closely followed by judges and magistrates, at 31.5 per cent.

“The experience of corruption in encounters with public officials whose duty it is to uphold the rule of law can lead to the erosion of trust in public authority,” it said.

The report put the prevalence rate of corruption in the public sector at 32.3 per cent, and the average number of bribes paid to public officials by bribe-payers at 5.8. 

The total number of bribes paid to public officials in Nigeria in the 12-month period also stands at 82.3 million, while per capita number of bribes paid to public officials by the adult population was 0.9 per cent. 

The contact rate with public officials in the review period was 52.2 per cent; the prevalence rate in the rural setting was 31.0 per cent while 34.8 per cent was posted in the urban setting 

On the average number of bribes paid to public officials by adult Nigerians in the period, by zone, the North-west recorded 0.86 per cent; North-east 0.78 per cent; North-Central 1.1 per cent; South-West 1.13 per cent; South-South 1.05 per cent; and South-east 0.60 per cent.

The NBS said the data presented in the report was collected in the National Survey on the Quality and Integrity of Public Services, otherwise known as the Nigerian Corruption Survey, a project funded by the European Union and implemented by the UNODC in collaboration with the National Bureau of Statistics of Nigeria (NBS).

The statistical agency noted that Nigerian Corruption Survey was designed as a large-scale household survey, representative at the level of the Nigerian states, with the aim of collecting baseline information.

The report is the first comprehensive nationwide household survey on corruption to be conducted in Nigeria and in Africa at large, and covers all states of the federation, including the Federal Capital Territory. 

According to the NBS, the report provides very valuable and reliable information, which will support the national efforts at reducing the corruption menace, as well as blocking loopholes in public services.