In spite of Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari’s much-touted anti-corruption war, public officials still collected about ₦400 billion (the equivalent of $4.6 billion in purchasing power parity) in kickbacks, a report published on Wednesday shows.
The amount is equivalent to 39 per cent of the combined federal and state education budgets in 2016.
According to the report, a bribe is not payable in cash alone, though it is “the most important form of bribe payment.” Sexual favours, provision of food and drink, the handing over of valuables or the exchange of another service or favour, also exist.
The report, prepared by the country’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) with a focus on the quality and integrity of public services in Nigeria, shows that 32.3 per cent of Nigerian adults who had contact with a public official between June 2015 and May 2016 had to pay, or were requested to pay, a bribe to that public official.
It represents a damning verdict on the Buhari administration that was ushered into power in 2015, largely on people’s disenchantment with President Goodluck Jonathan’s government and Buhari’s campaign promises which had a total onslaught against corruption at its core.
While the government has recorded a few instances of victory against corruption – most recent being the confiscation of a $37 million luxury apartment complex of a former oil minister accused of fraud and money laundering as well as rental proceeds from the properties – the report shows that corruption in government offices is still a major national problem.
“The magnitude of public sector bribery in Nigeria becomes even more palpable when factoring in the frequency of those payments,” the report indicates.
“The majority of those who paid a bribe to a public official did so more than once over the course of the year. According to the survey, bribe-payers in Nigeria pay an average of some six bribes in one year, or roughly one bribe every two months.”
Corrupt police and judiciary
While a series of Department of State Services sting operations, which led to the arrest of selected high, appellate and supreme courts justices in October 2016 on allegations of corrupt enrichment were widely impugned, the NBS report shows that the Nigerian judiciary is the second most corrupt public institution in the country after the Nigerian police, regardless of the fact that fewer people “come into contact with judiciary officials than with police officers.”
The DSS said its October 2016 raids were conducted due to lack of cooperation of the National Judicial Council who refused for the judges concerned to be interviewed by the secret police services in April of that year.
The raids might have enjoyed a presidential consent. Almost a year earlier, President Buhari accused the judiciary of being at cross-purpose with his anti-corruption war. He alluded to a connivance between the bar and the bench to deliberately stall high profile corruption trials.
“Government’s attempts to recover such assets in accordance with the law are often faced with dilatory tactics by lawyers sometimes with the apparent collusion of judges,” said President Buhari while declaring open the All Nigeria Judges Conference on November 23, 2015.
“These tactics are often not directed at reaching any conclusion or affirming innocence or guilt, but at stalling trials indefinitely, thus denying the state and the accused person the opportunity of a judicial verdict.”
But the then chief justice of the federation Mahmud Mohammed insisted the ‘Gestapo-style’ raids were an instrument of intimidation aimed at coercing the judiciary to do the bidding of the executive.
“We viewed these actions as illegal and unconstitutional and a threat to the independence of the judiciary and must be aimed at intimidating the judiciary and the legal profession.
“These military-style operations are totally unacceptable in a democratic society. They are unacceptable against private citizens but even more so against serving justices of superior courts,” he said.
Corruption an entrenched adult culture
In a country of an estimated 193 million people, a total of roughly 82.3 million bribes were paid in the 12 months prior to the survey, the report says. This represents an average of 0.93 bribes paid per adult or almost one bribe paid by every adult Nigerian per year.
The problems highlighted in the report are not limited to the frequency of bribery. In fact, it is estimated that an eighth of the national annual salary average is spent on bribes.
“The average sum paid as a cash bribe in Nigeria is approximately ₦5,300, 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 ₦18,900.
“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 ₦28,200 annually on cash bribes ― equivalent to 12.5 per cent of the annual average salary.”
No trust in anti-graft agencies
Though both the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission have been in existence for more than a decade, they are viewed, largely, as a couple of ineffectual brothers.
34.6 per cent of bribe-payers sampled in the report said they did not bother to report to any authority because doing so would likely yield no action. Another 33.4 per cent indicated that corruption has become so commonplace such that it is pointless to report.
In some cases, bribe-payers did not report their experience because they did not know to whom to report it (6.5 per cent), the report states. 5.8 per cent, however, refrained from reporting because they were afraid of reprisals.