Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues
October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007
Methods of Tackling Corruption in Nigeria
Baba J. Adamu
Confab IT Advisor
April 29, 2005
Few would disagree with the contention that in Nigeria today, nepotism, extortion and bribery have become a way of life and not just with politicians except that in their case it is exhibited more shamelessly. Corruption has become systematic. Despite Obasanjo's tremendous effort, corruption is still institutional at all levels in such a way that it has become an integral component of the administrative, social and political culture in Nigeria. It evokes strong emotional reactions within our societies, strong negative sensation like an itch and there is widespread concern about its extent.
People’s frustration and disenchantment with the rising level of corruption has given way to cynicism and a sense of resignation and despair. They no longer believe that anything meaningful will ever get done to control it and punish those perpetrating such crimes. They appear to have accepted corruption in the public sector as inevitable and uncontrollable, on the plea that societies as a whole is corrupt and beyond correction. This school of thought also argues that the rather low-level of active societal resistance to corruption reflects how people have taken corruption in their stride, accepting it as a part and parcel of a transaction with public agencies.
One could wonder, it is not that corrupt practices are not found in the public sector in other societies. Corruption exists in one form or another in all societies. The major difference in the case of Nigeria is the extent of its persuasiveness and its implications for governance and the value system in general and the political culture in particular. The growth of that negative sensation became like dominoes rising instead of falling, collecting waves of feeling which released internal energy so invigorating, so frustrating simply from an ordinary itch that could otherwise have being ignored.
I wonder many times the reasons behind persistent corruption? Could it be attributed to the collusion by foreigners with our disgruntled leaders who defraud and found safe refuge and acceptance in UK, the United States, Switzerland, and most other developed countries? Or perhaps due to the enslavement of our people for many centuries, an enslavement that some contend continues today, disguised in several forms. Or largely because the poverty level is so high that people find it difficult to access information and be well informed, making them cheap to bribe during election and hence elect bad leaders again and again. Or perhaps, it is a matter of greed, the need to accumulate more and more at others expense?. Whatever the reasons, it appears that there is an unprecedented growing scale of corruption, the scandals involving political leaders, senior civil servants and legislators, the inadequacies, ineptitude and persistent disregard for the rule of law by the elites in the country are gnawing deeply into the vitals of our societies. The credibility of those in high places could never have been lower than what it is today despite effort to eradicate corruption. Since citizens are the eventual financiers of the administration machinery they rightly feel indignant that their trust has been betrayed and the resources provided to the public sector are misspent and misplaced.
For us in Diaspora the feeling is two fold. Due to bad publicity, international media amplifies our dilemma. For example, one has only to turn-on TV in Europe and especially in North America to see how Africa is cast, often with fabricated sorry scenarios with images of African famine with naked, malnourished, fly-infested kids and fragile-looking women holding empty bowls in desolate villages. We see these misconception and try in our little ways to ameliorate the situation and ask ourselves what our African leaders doing? We must restructure our system that grants discretionary powers to those in authority and then protects them through secrecy and immunity clauses in our Constitution.
The Basic Strategy for Effective Governance
Nigerians are very good at talking about how bad the Nigerian economy has been; how the rate of crimes has gone up, the rise of communal, religious and ethnic clashes, the down of Naira etc., without tangible solutions. But as long as we do not transform our words into deeds, into action there will NEVER be progress. Growth is fundamentally achieved by having in place some basic elements of economic development. Elements like stable electricity, water, security and standards for accountability, with workable, measurable and within-time frame economic reforms like China did in 70s and 80s.
1) There should be no justification whatsoever for the lack of stable power supply, water supply, and low crime rate across the country. Without these, there will be no economic developments at all.
2) There should be rules and criteria simple to understand and administer and the information made readily available: For instance, several activities in Nigeria undertaken by the government put it in a monopolistic position. And if a number of criteria have to be taken into consideration in arriving at a decision, then an element of subjectivity and judgement is involved. The problem may not necessarily be the degree of discretion but the extent to which the process is opaque and shrouded in mystery. Therefore, if the rules and criteria simple to understand and administer and information about them is readily available, then the government’s decisions could be challenged or improved by the citizens.
3) There should be a wider distribution of the information on the rules, a better specification of the criteria, and greater transparency in respect of decisions reached and the institution of a system of appeal will help reduce the element of collusion and the abuse of the discretion that is built into the nature of the activity. For instance, transparency could be introduced in the selection of a school teacher by first specifying weights for academic and professional qualifications and the grades obtained and making this information public. Next, after the interviews have been conducted, the merit list could be published displaying, separately for each candidate, the marks allotted for qualifications and for performance in the interviews. The adoption of such a procedure will enable each applicant to, check if he has been assessed fairly, and whether the final selection was based on merit.
4) There should be appropriate reporting systems and supervisory controls and legislation on people’s right to information on decisions taken or actions initiated by the Government. For example power corrupts when it is wielded without fear of accountability and reprisal. And when supervisors are in collusion with their subordinates it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to have an effective arrangement for accountability. The problem is accentuated by the difficulties of measuring both the performance of personnel as well as the impact of their decisions. The problem becomes more difficult to resolve simply because of the lack of appropriate reporting systems and supervisory controls, especially if cases involving disciplinary action take years to conclude or never.
Moreover, even under this definition, accountability is viewed more as a problem with the organisation and not as the accountability of the service-provider to the recipient of the service, the consumer, which is the most important level of accountability. The users of the service generally do not know the rules governing service provision, especially regarding service standards, partly because such standards have seldom been developed. Current legislation in Nigeria does not require the government or public agencies to disclose information on decisions taken or actions initiated. The public has also been brought up on the tradition that they have no right to any information and hence do not protest against the lack of information and the secrecy maintained on even the most basic matters hence, they are simply unaware of their rights and the recourse available to them if these rights are denied to them.
Even the political leadership wants to operate behind a cloak of secrecy, like the bureaucracy, and is not concerned at the denial of such a fundamental right to the ordinary citizen. The immediate, although limited, advantage of hiding the truth since it suits the party in power-has far reaching long-term implications in which everyone loses, does not prevent public representatives from taking a myopic, extremely short-term view. This situation is skilfully exploited by the bureaucracy, which is the real long-term beneficiary of a regime operating under the cloak of secrecy, confidentiality and immunity clauses.
Furthermore, most citizens do not encounter corruption on a daily basis, but on the basis of distinct episodes involving interaction with public agencies in specific circumstances. If a citizen is not exposed to corrupt practices frequently (from which he or she also does not benefit directly), he/she is less likely to invest time and effort in taking up cudgels against it and lobby vigorously for structural and systemic reform.
Methods of Tackling Corruption
Corruption can be the product of collusion, in which both parties co-operate willing to enter into a transaction, for example, transactions involving award of contracts, deal fixing, fiscal concessions, rulings in favour of a party either at the expense of someone else or by depriving the agency of revenues from penalties imposed on transgressions, etc.
Then there is corruption involving forced extractions in the form of bribes for rendering certain services or granting permissions, even of a routine nature, taking advantage of the plight in which the supplicant finds himself.
Other forms of corruptions are bribes paid in the hope of getting a favourable ruling. Much of the corruption of this variety is a product of the tradition under which people have been brought to keep in good humour the authority with the mandate to grant a permission; at times the purpose may not be to obtain a favour but to simply remain in the good books of the person carrying the authority to take a decision.
Bribes paid either to extract favours or to ensure a level playing field, "in keeping with the traditions of the Ministry involved" are not only difficult to detect but also difficult to address by enlisting sizeable support for reform. It would be relatively easier to garner support against corruption involving award of contracts, deal fixing, fiscal concessions, rulings in favour or forced payments.
This meaningless cancer (corruption) could be uprooted systematically through the proposed solutions below. The two standard methods to tackle the menace are as follows:
1) Since corruption emanates from the top, it can be checked by putting honest people in position of authority. This statement, however, begs the obvious question where Nigerians of integrity can be found.
a) The accountability mechanism provided by elections has failed to cleanse the system. The electorate, which laments the corruption of the present crop of politicians, has repeatedly voted them back into the legislature during elections. What enables the current system to perpetuate itself? Why don't the voters (specially the less privileged ones) revolt and refuse to vote for looters and plunderers and vote for those who propose reforms? From the behaviour of the people it seems that they prefer to vote for someone who can arrange the most favours from the system (and these favours could be rights being denied to them). It is these expectations of favours in gaining an unfair advantage and in getting around the system that partly explains why the less privileged voters do not refuse to vote for looters and plunderers and vote for someone who promises reforms instead. They have little hope that the system will be fair to them and that it will ever function in accordance with the norms of civilised societies.
b) Low salaries coerce most public servants into corruption. Whereas one would concede that salaries of public sector personnel need to be increased, one does not subscribe to the view that this measure alone will be enough for tackling the issue of corruption.
We undoubtedly need a significantly leaner but a professionally competent and well-paid bureaucracy (less bureaucracy of-course). Substantial salary revisions should be able to attract the more educated and enterprising young men and women into the public sector. However, their entry into the public domain is more likely to improve productivity and efficiency, a commodity also in desperately short supply in the public sector, its impact on the level of corruption is likely to be marginal, without strong accountability mechanism.
But then we have seen (and argued above) that without greater openness and transparency and without a radical restructuring of a system that grants discretionary powers to those in authority and then protects them through secrecy, immunity and denial of information, layers upon layers of supervisory cadre and elaborate disciplinary procedures will simply fail to make the bureaucracy accountable to the citizenry.
c) Therefore, to address these issues in a meaningful manner we will have to reduce the opportunities for indulging in corrupt practices; by reducing the incentives for public office, through greater privatisation and deregulation of the economy, decentralisation, merit based recruitment, disclosures of the incomes and wealth of all representatives and key public functionaries. A beginning in this direction will have to be made by first reforming the economy just like in China, and at the same time reforming the political process (like the on-going Political Reform Conference - www.nprc-online.org) . The way in which political parties are financed, particularly around elections, is central to this issue.
d) Next we need to identify areas where control of corruption will be relatively easier and the gains will be high, especially in economic and political terms similar to South Korea. Some of the obvious proposals in this regard would be the following:
2) There should be a requirement that all reasons advanced to justify the use of the discretionary power should be documented and accessible to all parties to the transaction. By introducing transparency, the practice of exercising discretionary powers frequently and with impunity, without fear of accountability, will be automatically curtailed.
a) People should be having access to information on the decisions and actions taken by public authorities. The right to information is critical to the effective functioning of democracies. The Freedom of Information Act needs to be promulgated after appropriate revisions.
b) Service standards need to be developed and the citizen should have information on the procedures and mechanisms for obtaining redress and the institutions to be approached for the associated remedial action. Wider distribution of such information will go a long way in empowering citizens to challenge corruption and abuse of power. It will be essential here to understand clearly what has and has not worked, and to pour greatest resources resolutely into those approaches that stand the greatest chance of continuing growth.
c) Today the media is playing a major role in exposing corruption, thereby rendering a laudable service. There is the need to restructure the NTA so that it is accessible at every comer of the country. Brands of attractive programs and informative issues should systematically be added and aired. It can strengthen the bands of crusaders against corruption by supporting and extolling the efforts of such people.
d) The chambers of commerce and various other associations of businessmen can collectively take the stand that they will not be a party to corrupt practices. So far, despite their complaints on the pervasiveness of corruption, they have chosen to remain silent on how this issue should be tackled. We all know the reason for this stance. Individual entrepreneurs only take into consideration the short-term interest of their own corporations, regardless of the fact that the business culture is being damaged in the process.
Eventually, however, awareness and commitment on the part of public representatives and opinion makers to control corruption will determine the degree of success of the initiatives taken to check the growth of this cancer and to cleanse the system. We cannot expect the elite, the beneficiaries of the present system, to change a system that is heavily biased in their favour by devising mechanisms that will result in the withdrawal of their present privileges and the elimination of the rents that the current system confers on them. They will have to be shown the wisdom or forced them into responding to organised and persistent pressure from groups in civil society for the reform and restructuring of the system.
At present Nigeria does not, like countries with long standing democracies, implement corrective and institutional arrangements restraining the excesses of the decision-makers. However, a host of changes are taking place both at the international and domestic levels which will facilitate the development of institutions, mechanisms and processes to bring to book the dishonest running of the national apparatus. In this regard, the most important opportunity today is being provided by the rapid pace at which barriers of knowledge and communication are being removed.
The Information Revolution
Nigerians must be made to take advantage of the Internet and satellite communication. The Internet allows us to seek out the information (learn, communicate, conduct business, find entertainment etc) we want and ignore the rest. The material we seek comes to us in a text-based e-magazine or database. This information revolution will improve our knowledge on the initiatives and efforts being taken by other nations, and make government job much easier and better, and provide fast and reliable medium of other information (such as the cases of corruption against political leaders pursued, vigorously in developed countries), and to check the scourge of corruption. Nigerian government must re-assess the tariffs imposed on all computers and other communication devices and devise better means of promoting the advantages of computers in the whole country. For example by computerizing all government institutions, facilitating computer training and giving incentives to citizens who individually pursue these knowledge.
Basic Strategic Method - The Practical Aspect of It
In sending out this new force of curtailment of corruption, we prepare them into a life and death battle equipped with government support and into most restrictive government institutions, either giving them an appointment (at all levels) to watch what goes on, appearing as soliciting for contracts, or just as ordinary citizen seeking for some information etc. Clearly, God’s grace is sufficient to pursue the radical reform. But the government also need to be good stewards. To this end it must maximize the effectiveness of the vision specialists by massive media campaign in spreading even a trivial disclosure of an act of corruption and systematically relegate or discharge the perpetrators. As with any battle, the outcome will be influenced by a number of factors.
Two of these are superior personnel and superior training and their degree of patriotism. The third factor will be continued superior strategy that will be too much to present in this article. But to help develop an understanding of the overall strategy, there is the need to see it within a broader context. Though some will disagree, I believe that each of these Basic Strategic Methods must be taken for each of the groups, sowing many good seeds while allowing other efforts to be pulled if necessary. The first factor is initial willingness of the Government to accept the method of change.
Finally I would like us to remember that, we Nigerians face great challenges. On the surface, there are communities that would prefer to separate, rather than share a country. There is a strong minority that fears marginalization and its distinctive culture overwhelmed. There is unfair struggle for power. There is a rich resource base, and a sense of great potential waiting to be realized, but serious disparities exist among the regions. The once “great Nigeria’ appears to be drifting further apart. Yet, I have not seen a single issue of substance that is insurmountable. Because the fact of the matter is that the Greatness of Nigeria is in its present COMPOSITION. Nigeria is the so-called giant of Africa because we share diversity in different forms within a single nation, an advantage that if properly channelled will lead to true GREATNESS and indeed the Giant of Africa. Though some will disagree with me, but the fact remains that Nigeria is the One single country with the largest black people in this planet. I have been privileged to look at the Nigerian public life from outside (objectively) from across Europe up to North America, and have been into most part of Nigeria where I met, talked and listened to thousands of Nigerians from across the board. Throughout that experience, I have not met one single person who proclaims that there are irreconcilable differences in Nigeria. There are, of course, different views about the appropriate power of the government, or the appropriate role of the government, or this right and those rights, or Senate this and that, President this and that or a thousand other important issues. Even those that advocate for balkanization eventually say that we have more to benefit from working together under one umbrella.
In my judgement, many of these issues, such as those mentioned above, and the issue of national reconciliation are urgent and cannot be simply ignored. They are real issues, and by God not unsolvable. I believe what will come out of the present National Conference will be such that every Nigeria and part of the country will come out a winner, and Nigeria a more united than ever. Because I understand that none of those divided issues are so fundamental that they should cause a country to fail; particularly a country that, by any objective standard, deserves the best for it has the best. Nor does the sum of those differences warrant balkanization of the country that has so much in common, so much to gain from our differences.
Successful countries today, were those whose citizens, at one time or the other, under strong leadership, rose above personal, sectional, political or religious differences and worked together to build a viable nation in order to guarantee the welfare of its citizens.
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