Nigeria’s worsening corruption rating

Site internet The Punch
By Editorial Board,
Friday, 4 Dec 2009


With the lack of political will being displayed by the present administration in fighting corruption in recent times, it was least surprising that Nigeria slipped in the 2009 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. In the report, the country dropped nine places to 130th position out of the 180 countries ranked globally. In 2008, the country had moved up 27 places to rank 121 out of 180 countries and placed 10th out of the 16 West African countries. In the current report however, Nigeria obtained a score of 2.5 out of a possible 10 points, emerged 27th out of the surveyed 47 nations in sub-Saharan Africa, and 33rd out of the 53 countries in Africa.

As always, the 2009 report shows that there is a strong link between transparency and good governance in any country. For instance, Botswana that emerged first in both sub-Saharan Africa and the continent as a whole with a global ranking of 37 and a score of 5.6 is also one of the best governed countries on the continent. TI says bribery, cartels and other corrupt practices undermine competition and contribute to massive loss of resources for development in all countries, especially the poorest ones.

Sadly, corruption cuts across both public and private sectors in the country. Earlier, the TI had criticised the banking sector for massive corruption. The global corruption watcher said the failures in the banking sector were ascribed to fraud “committed by bank owners and managers, who had granted unsecured loans, resulting in high levels of bad debt and a loss of liquidity”. The global report, with a theme, “Corruption and the Private Sector” said the massive scale of global corruption resulting from bribery, price-fixing cartels and undue influence on public policy is costing billions and obstructing sustainable economic growth.

The major challenge facing the Yar’Adua administration’s anti-graft crusade is not the apprehension of corrupt officials, but the tendency to compromise the prosecution process. TI says stemming corruption requires “strong oversight by parliamentarians, a well-performing judiciary, independent and properly resourced audit and anti-corruption agencies, vigorous law enforcement, transparency in public budgets, revenue and aid flow, as well as space for independent media and a vibrant society.”

Regrettably, most of these are still lacking in Nigeria. Since it came into office in 2007, the Yar’Adua administration has been dithering on major corruption cases. Locally, more than two years since they left office, most of the graft cases involving top political leaders, especially ex-governors, have not been resolved. At the international level, the administration, for instance, has not brought to justice anybody mentioned in connection with Halliburton, Willbross and Siemens scandals. But in May 2007, two finance chiefs working for Siemens, were arrested by German authorities in connection with a multi-national bribe scam.

Later, a German court named four former Nigerian telecommunications ministers as well as other Nigerian officials among the alleged Siemens’ bribe recipients. The Halliburton case, which preceded the Siemens scandal is still being swept under the carpet.

For the scandal involving Willbross of United States, some senior FG officials, stalwarts of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, top managers of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, National Petroleum Investment Management Services and Shell Petroleum Development Corporation were named as beneficiaries from another $6 million bribe distributed by the company. However, while the Willbross International’s former general manager is facing prosecution under the Foreign Corrupt Act in a United States court for being the mastermind that distributed $6 million, Siemens has been convicted in Germany.

Other graft scandals involving Germany’s Siemens and Willbross of US also appear to have been stalled as all Nigerian officials named in the scams have not been prosecuted despite the government’s assurance that the matter had been handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

Except in a few cases, the Yar’Adua administration has been unwilling to cooperate or collaborate with friendly countries handling corruption cases involving Nigerians. It is generally perceived that the Attorney-General and Justice Minister, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa, who is expected to be the chief prosecutor of corrupt officials, is shielding the suspects.

For Nigeria to break out from the ranks of the most corrupt countries in the world, the government must show greater commitment to fostering transparency and accountability in governance. While international cooperation and mutual legal assistance is important, the notion of asset recovery should also be pursued. On January 8, 2009, the United States Department of Justice filed a forfeiture action to recover nearly $3 million held in three Singaporean bank accounts by some corrupt officials.

Apart from the need to pass the Freedom of Information Bill into law, the nation’s judiciary should rise to the challenge by handling graft cases more diligently and expeditiously.