Every year, the publication of the Corruption Perception Index (CPI), computed by Transparency International (TI) based in Germany and published in Nigeria by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), has drawn enormous media attention.
Unsurprisingly, the government and the public have been even more agitated this year due to the unfavourable rating with Nigeria scoring the worst since 2013 and the second most corrupt position in the ECOWAS region after Guinea-Bissau.
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The reactions and feedback on Nigeria’s CPI performance and the concurrent statement published by CISLAC might be categorised into two clusters. On the one hand, there was an official dismissal of the results and accusations of CISLAC and partners for not being patriotic in publishing the CPI ranking and commenting on the results. On the other hand, there has been unreserved support from the Nigerian public, who experience the daily reality of corruption in schools, hospitals, governmental offices, private business and all other aspects of Nigerian public life. Most Nigerian citizens are agreed in stating “we do not need TI to tell us that corruption is everywhere in Nigeria”.
CISLAC believes it is important to explain why Nigeria’s bad performance in the CPI, and other governance rankings, cannot be taken lightly moving forward. We also want to react to some inaccuracies and outright misinterpretations that have appeared in the Nigerian media since the CPI 2020 was launched.
First and foremost, on the part of the civil society, we consider to be the highest level of patriotism to constructively discuss the CPI and any other corruption and governance rankings. Let us recall that CPI and similar well-recognised, reputable and impartial rankings have direct and indirect impact on economies and the lives of people. For example, many multinational companies consider the CPI ranking when deciding where to invest. Governments around the globe include the CPI results in their political-economy analysis when deciding how to engage a particular country in terms of investments, development cooperation or diplomatic ties.
It is clear that ignoring the CPI, especially if the progress shows a negative trend, is extremely irresponsible and ignores the people’s struggle on the ground. It is unfortunate and politically dangerous to attack the messengers, in this case CISLAC/TI Nigeria and partners, and dismiss the results without reflecting constructively on the drivers behind the unfavourable ranking.
Secondly, Transparency International, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, CISLAC, CDD, BudgIT, SERAP and other think-tanks and international civil society organisations are not biased, partisan or incompetent. Every organisation has the right to conduct any type of survey it chooses provided that the methodology is evidence-based and opened for repeatability by others. As in the case of the CPI, the methodology has been consistent, audited by first-class academic institutions and transparent to everyone. Every methodology has its own limitations as to scope, method and other parameters which is why the CPI is not the only survey conducted by TI.
Every attack on widely accepted research methodology is rather a sign of desperation and lack of a policy that would make a difference. Instead of being obsessively concerned with the accuracy of the methodology of the ranking which was audited twice in the last 9 years (in 2012 and 2017) by the European Commission Joint Research Centre and found to be conceptually and statistically, an honest assessment of the policies should dominate the discussion. Unfortunately, since launching the CPI 2020, we have not witnessed this readiness to discuss corruption drivers and potential policy responses to address them.
It is interesting to highlight that in 2014, the then National Chairman of APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun issued a press statement welcoming the unfavourable CPI results as “an evidence of widespread corruption abound in our everyday life”. This means that in 2014, the methodology and the ranking seemed to be reputable and accurate; and we are forced to wonder what changed. It is equally ironic to witness statements by opposition political parties in 2021 referencing the CPI as evidence of corruption in the current government and politically and egoistically misusing the national failure to address corruption. No single political party is responsible for the miserable state of affairs today. It is a collective responsibility of the political establishment and leadership that transcends all political parties and indeed the Nigerian elite.
After all, in the case of Nigeria, the CPI is one of many indices that show that the corruption fight has not brought significant results. Let us not forget that perceptions are based on the reality on the ground. In the case of the CPI, many surveys and data sets are based on accounts of Nigerian business community, civil servants and other stakeholders, who have every day experience with the Nigerian public service. First of all, it is the governmental own data that suggests that corruption incidents, not just perceptions, are rampant.
The first and second national corruption surveys conducted by the government’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and released in 2017 and 2019 both revealed the massive extent of bribery and other types of corruption of Nigerians dealing with the Nigerian Police, judicial system, and other public institutions. It is true that anti-corruption agencies arrest hundreds of people on corruption-related charges every year but compared to the millions of corrupt transactions taking place, this is an insignificant fraction of offenders. The bottom line is that one has to be extremely unlucky to be caught, prosecuted and convicted for corruption in Nigeria.
Available data show that Nigeria loses billions of dollars every year on tax evasion, floating or ignoring procurement guidelines, defence procurement and others. Most of the international, anti-corruption commitments made by the government in recent years under the Open Government Partnership, London 2016 Anti-Corruption conference or the SDG 2030 agenda have not been achieved. It is this reality that drives unfavourable perception about the Nigerian State regarding the anti-corruption fight. We cannot fight corruption with making commitments around the globe and fierce rhetoric at home.
While the argument about passing important anti-corruption laws or policies attracting foreign direct investment is valid, the Nigerian experience on the ground shows that it is business as usual in the domain of public administration.
Let’s be very clear. There is no shortcut in driving global governance indicators in a positive direction. The implementation of cosmetic measures simply does not work and make no difference on the ground. Facts speak for themselves. As a way forward, we suggest an analytical approach to problem solving in specific governance areas. How do we stop tax evasion? How do we ensure transparency in public finance management? How do we comply with procurement guidelines? How do we nominate leaders of public institutions based on merit, not on political, ethnic or religious affiliation? Nigerians are very clear that the CPI accuracy is not their problem. We need to put all our efforts in making tangible progress on anti-corruption. Let us assure the Government and the public that when Nigerians start experiencing a positive difference, the CPI and all other indices will move in the right direction. In the meantime, the fight against corruption has to be about real results, not defensive media noise.
Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani), Executive Director CISLAC writes from Utako, Abuja and can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org