The Uncomfortable Truth

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Monday Discourse

The Corruption Perception Index just released by the Transparency International confirms what many Nigerians already know: Corruption remains pervasive, writes Tobi Soniyi

When the News was Good
In November last year‎, when the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report for 2018 was released which showed that Nigeria jumped 24 places in ease of doing business, the Presidency rolled out the drums.
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The report placed Nigeria in the 145th position, 24 positions better than the 169th position the nation was ranked in the 2017 report.‎

Nobody queried the methodology adopted by the World Bank in determining which country is doing better or otherwise in the ease of doing business.
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A statement by President Muhammadu Buhari’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, the president welcomed most heart‎ily the phenomenal improvement of Nigeria on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business latest rankings.
The statement said: “The President congratulates all Nigerians on this very significant step forward, which symbolises the real success achieved by the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council, the National Assembly and state governments in making it easy for people to register their businesses speedily, and obtain licences and approvals from government agencies without unnecessary bureaucratic bottlenecks.”
Buhari was also quoted as saying that the development reflected government’s efforts to make it easy for foreign business visitors to obtain visa on arrival, pass through airports and do their business with ease and speed.
The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo also‎ expressed excitement over the report and congratulated all stakeholders who worked with the federal government to achieve what he described as a significant result.

The Bad News
For a government that likes to celebrate reports from international organisations, last week‎ was a stark reminder that relying on reports of such organisations has its downside especially when the report is unfavourable to the government.
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According to the Transparency International, the perception of corruption in Nigeria worsened between 2016 and 2017.‎
TI’s Corruption Perception Index ranked Nigeria 148 out of 180 countries assessed in 2017 on the perception of corruption.
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The index showed that out of 100 points signalling maximum transparency and no corruption, Nigeria scored 27 points.
The results show a slight deterioration in perception of corruption in public administration in Nigeria compared to 2016.
In 2016, Nigeria scored 28 points and ranked 136th in the ranking of countries.
With the one-point reduction in the score, Nigeria slipped in the country-ranking by 12 positions, from 136 in 2016 to 148 in 2017. The rankings are from 1 to 180, with 180 indicating the country having the worst perception of corruption.‎
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‎The report noted that while the rest of the world has
improved in the perception on corruption, Nigeria slips further down as the fight against corruption stagnates.
On the African continent, Nigeria ranks 32nd out of 52 assessed countries in 2017.‎
‎The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) is one of the most respected international measurement of corruption trends. It was established in 1995 as a composite indicator used to measure perceptions of corruption in the public sector in different countries around the world. The CPI draws upon many available sources which capture perceptions of corruption.

Uncharitable Response
This obviously is not the news President Muhammadu Buhari expected. ‎Not after the scathing allegation contained in the public statement by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The presidency kicked. A statement issued by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Garba Shehu accused Transparency International of writing fiction.
The statement reads: “‎The Presidency notes that, while it welcomes constructive criticisms from the anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International (TI), the organization has a responsibility to reflect the larger picture of the concrete and verifiable achievements of the Buhari administration since it came into office in May 2015.

“The government is still wondering the criteria or facts used by the anti-corruption watchdog to arrive at its very misleading and unfair conclusions in its assessment of the federal government’s efforts in this anti-corruption crusade.

“Political will is the first major component of fighting corruption in any country and President Buhari has made a huge difference by demonstrating not only the political will but also the extraordinary courage to go after high profile looters, including former military service chiefs and judges.

“It was once unthinkable to touch or prosecute the ‘‘big men’’ for corruption in Nigeria but President Buhari has ended impunity for corruption.

“Today, the Buhari administration has made accountability the bedrock of governance and corruption is no longer fashionable because it attracts consequences.‎

“Blocking leakages for corruption through the rigid enforcement of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) had made life tougher for corrupt officials. He regretted that these efforts were not acknowledged by the Corruption Watchdog.”

The Presidency also stated that figures published by the EFCC revealled that N738.9 billion was recovered in just two years of the Buhari administration adding that this impressive and unprecedented record should have been worthy of mention and acknowledgement by anybody genuinely looking at the larger picture of the country’s progress in the war against corruption.
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“Anybody who knows where Nigeria was coming from would not believe that corruption is worse under the Buhari administration,” the statement added.

The Presidency then wondered where Transparency ‎got its facts from.

It said: “At a time, they are alleging increase in the incidence of corruption under this government, the whole of Africa is applauding by choosing President Buhari as the continental champion to lead the fight against it.
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“In the end, this whole episode may turn out to be just a political distraction, given the strong views some of TI’s patrons have expressed against the Buhari administration.

“This notwithstanding, facts are facts, and those facts won’t cease to be facts even if you don’t care to pay attention to them.”‎

Unfortunately, many people do not share the position of the Presidency. Shortly after Transparency International released the report, the senator representing Kaduna Central, Shehu Sani reacted this: “Nigeria’s current corruption rating by the Transparency International is dismal. Its a direct opposite of the marks and the applause we give to ourselves.We have a choice now;to condemn them as anti Government or anti Nigeria or we reset our drive and make amends.”

Also the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, (CISLAC) said: “It is CISLAC’s view that the negative perception is mainly a consequence of the inability to combat grand corruption and astronomical plundering of public coffers costing the Nigerian tax payers around 25 per cent of annual GDP.”

Suffice to point out that ‎it is this kind of mindset from government that makes winning the war against corruption very difficult. When you live in Aso Rock, you are insulated from reality. Obviously, President Buhari does not know what the situation is in the country. He believes and relies on what his aides tell him. As a leader, the president should find a way to find out the reality. He should hold town hall meetings and listen to the people.
Yes, when he became the president in 2015, many believed that the president would fight corruption but that perception died a long time ago. The president should accept the blame if many Nigerians do not believe in his anti-corruption crusade any longer. So, rather than calling Transparency International names, the government should ask the organisation what it is not doing right so that this can be addressed. Or better still, the Buhari administration should ask Botswana what it is doing right and learn from it. Nobody is too ig to learn.
The Presidency’s reaction to Transparency International’s corruption perception index is significant for what it did not say. We appreciate and commend the president for the achievements recorded so far. But unfortunately, these are not enough to change public’s perception. The president has damaged the anti-corruption war to the extent that it now lacks credibility.

Before going into what the Presidency conveniently ignored in its statement, it is apposite to remind the All Progressives Congress-led government that not long ago the National Bureau of Statistics and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released a report that is similar to that of the Transparency International.

The revelations contained in the report titled: ‘Corruption in Nigeria. Bribery: Public Experience and Response 2017’ released in August last year by the National Bureau of Statistics and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime were quite damning.
The report entitled “Corruption in Nigeria – Bribery: Public Experience and Response”, covered June 2015 to May 2016.
It concluded that law enforcement agencies and the judiciary were the highest receivers of bribes in Nigeria. The study, which covered the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, also said that “police officers are the type of public officials to whom bribes are most commonly paid in Nigeria.”
‎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.
Since the report was released, the government did nothing to address the issues identified therein. It is sheer naivety to expect the report of the Transparency International report. The government should tell Nigerians what it did differently since that report was released.
When Dr Goodluck Jonathan was president, police extorted money from motorists along the roads, today under Buhari they are still busy collecting bribes along the roads.

The statement from the Presidency forgot to tell Nigerians what the government has done to stop police corruption which the NBS-UNODC confirmed was widespread. Nothing was done. Rather the government went after Senator Isah Misau for exposing corrupt acts in the police. Yet, the government wants an improvement in perception of corruption!
In case those in government have forgotten, the UNODC-NBS report stated that the magnitude of public sector bribes in Nigeria became 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, paid 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 spent 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.
Before Jonathan left, those who applied for international passports paid more than the approved fees, under Buhari you are not likely to get a passport until you pay a bribe. Those who refuse to pay have to wait indefinitely before they eventually get it, if they are lucky.

Nigerians wonder why a government that reinstated the Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof. Usman Yusuf while allegations of corruption are pending against him expected to be rated highly in the fight against corruption.
In disputing Transparency International’s rating, the Presidency forgot to tell Nigerians the grand conspiracy to cover up the scandal of the year, the return of the former Chairman of the Taskforce on Pension Reforms, Abdulrasheed Maina and how he was rewarded with double promotion at the Ministry of Internal Affairs. A government that aids and abets corrupt acts should not expect to be taken serious. Even though the president has ordered that he be sacked from the ministry, those who orchestrated the fraud have remained in office.
While the government is quick to showcase how much the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had recovered, it has refused to help the commission to do better. Today, EFCC is underfunded, understaffed and overstretched. Yet, without the commission, there will be little to show for the anti-corruption war. The Minister for Justice and Attorney General of the Federation is constantly seeking to undermine the commission. The Acting Chairman of the commission, Ibrahim Magu was humiliated when he went for screening at the Senate. There is an apparent lack of unity among those driving the anti-corruption war. The commission was prevented from carrying out its duty when its operatives were not allowed to arrest a former Director General of the Department of State Security, Ekpenyong Ita who is being investigated for alleged corruption. Is anyone still surprised that we are doing poorly in the anti-corruption war?

Moving Forward
Government has to look inward instead of blaming others for the poor performance in the fight against corruption. It should ask itself what it is not doing right. The idea of believing that it is running a perfect anti-corruption war while evidence suggests otherwise will not solve the problem. As a matter of fact, things are likely to get worse. More damning assessments are likely to emerge in the future if government continues to indulge in self adulation and blame game.
It is good to heed CISLAC’s observation. The group said: “Since the current administration has come to power on the anti-corruption ticket, no significant politically exposed person has been duly sentenced on anti-corruption charges.
“CISLAC notes that anti-corruption agencies have accelerated the rate of convictions on anti-corruption charges. Economic Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) for example has brought 286 cases.”

However, it observed that majority of the cases were insufficient cases with little impact of returned assets into the state budget and no effect on unfavourable public opinion.
According to the group, there is reason to suspect that the judiciary is either not able or willing to prosecute the VIP cases of senior public servants and elected politicians who have either directly plundered lucrative Nigerian state resources or are at least responsible for the catastrophic lack of oversight over public funds as mandated by the constitution.
It also explained that while the nation has made numerous international commitment toward fighting corruption, the majority of the commitments stay unfulfilled.
“Unless the justice system expedites politically exposed cases and forfeits meaningful amounts of recovered assets; unless the National Assembly stops political boycott of key appointments and passes much needed legislation and unless there is a tangible strategy of the government to damage-control shocking plundering of public resources, public perception on anti-corruption is unlikely to improve,” it said.
In its recommendations, CISLAC urged the government to make the 2017 anti-corruption strategy known to the grass-root level; prioritise anti-corruption courts and nominate judges with proven record of high integrity and no controversies; prioritise international cooperation and usage of international agreements to repatriate Nigerian assets abroad; and use foreign jurisdictions’ legal instruments such as recently passed, among others.

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has also urged “the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to see the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI), as a wake-up call to renew its oft-expressed commitment and raise its game to fight both grand and petty corruption, as well as end the legacy of impunity rather than simply dismissing the survey as ‘fiction’.”

SERAP in a statement today by its deputy director Timothy Adewale said, “While TI’s index only measures perceptions of corruption, their findings correspond substantially with the reality of impunity of perpetrators, as demonstrated by the low conviction rate, the authorities’ slowness to adopt and implement critical reforms, appearance of selectivity in the anti-corruption fight, apparent complicity of key officials and cover-up, as well as unaddressed alleged corruption against several state governors. The authorities should take the report seriously and use it as an opportunity to raise their game in their efforts to rid our country of corruption and underdevelopment.”

It called on government to make no mistake about this: “Nigerians know corruption when they see it’, saying that rather than simply criticising TI as publishing fiction or going after its board members, the government should accept the fact that its oft-expressed commitment to fight corruption has not gone to plan.

The statement reads in part: “The CPI may not be perfect, and in fact no index is. The CPI may not show actual evidence of corruption in the country, but perceptions are commonly a good indicator of the real level of corruption. In any case, the devastating effects of corruption in virtually all sectors providing essential public services are too glaring for Nigerians to ignore.

“While the government may have blocked some leakages in the systems and reduced the level of impunity witnessed under the previous administrations, it has not done enough to address longstanding cases of corruption, and the appearance of selectivity in the prosecution of corruption allegations especially when such cases involve those close to the seat of power. Today, corruption still constitutes one of the greatest threats to the country’s sustainable and equitable development.

“Almost 3 years after taking office, and promising to fight grand corruption, no ‘big fish’ suspected of corruption has yet been sent to jail. The situation has not significantly improved, and it seems unlikely that many of those facing grand corruption charges will be successfully prosecuted. Nigerians need to see real commitment and heavy investment in promoting a culture of clean government, and total obedience to the rule of law.

“Possessing the political will to fight corruption is not in itself enough if it’s not sufficiently demonstrated. Buhari should take the CPI to heart and initiate and actively facilitate the passing of tough anti-corruption laws, strengthening the capacity and independence of anti-corruption agencies, substantially improving the criminal justice system, obeying decisions and judgments of our courts, and ensuring the passing of the Whistle-blower Bill.

“Buhari can’t fight corruption successfully without significantly improving on the tools used by his predecessor former President Goodluck Jonathan. The government should as a matter of urgency implement governance reforms to advance effective functioning of government institutions, strengthen the quality of democratic institutions and rule of law, and reducing corruption, if Nigeria is ever going to improve on its global anti-corruption ranking.

“Public officials still use political power to enrich themselves without considering the public good. Selective application of the law is a sign that the law is not being followed strictly enough, and that the fight against corruption is not maximally prosecuted.”

“In several states of the federation, and federal ministries, corruption is taking place every day and every hour, especially in the power sector, the education sector, the water sector, the health sector and other important public sectors. Corruption continues to directly affect the lives and well-being of millions of Nigerians across the country, and to erode public trust in public institutions and leaders, threatening the foundation of our democracy.

“There is uneven implementation of the rule of law and democratic processes, limited citizen participation in policy processes, and deliberate disobedience of court orders and judgments, such as the judgment of Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court obtained by SERAP, which ordered the government to publish widely how recovered stolen funds since the return of democracy in 1999 have been spent.

“The best measure of a country’s progress toward transparency and accountability is a total obedience to the rule of law. The law ought to command the highest levels of respect by for example, the government immediately obeying orders and judgments of competent courts. The fight against corruption won’t succeed if the government continues to selectively adhere to law or refuse to rectify any disobedience. No country in which official position and orders claim a place in people’ s minds higher than the law can truly be said to fight corruption.

“Democracy works only if the people have faith in those who govern, and that faith is bound to be shattered when high officials and their appointees engage in activities which arouse suspicions of malfeasance and corruption.”