Nigeria’s corruption problem needs ‘creative approach’

19 May 17

More innovative approaches could be key to tackling the scourge of corruption in Nigeria, a report by Chatham House has concluded.

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Corruption find. Credit: Nigeria's EFCC

A Nigeria anti-corruption investigator counts a hoard of illicit cash found hidden in an empty Lagos flat. Credit: Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

 

Published yesterday, the think-tank said that while traditional legal and governance-based measures, including public financial management reform and the use of enforcement agencies, are “critically important”, more unconventional, creative measures could be needed in conjunction.

The United Nations has estimated that almost $400bn was stolen from Nigeria’s public accounts over just 40 years (1960-99), while some $182bn in illicit cash flowed out of the country between 2005 and 2014 – some 15% of the value of the country’s total trade in that period.

Meanwhile, the country ranks high in levels of perceived corruption, according to Transparency International, with low-level graft such as bribery commonplace – and, Chatham House said, normalised.

Its report advocated for a more “holistic” approach that focuses on tackling the behavioural drivers of corruption and based in an understanding of why people engage in corruption and how the country became so desensitised to it.

The country’s president, Mohammadu Buhari, elected on an anti-corruption ticket in 2015, has embarked on a war against graft, but the think-tank said his efforts alone cannot foster a “comprehensive reversal of long-established assumptions and practices”.

 For instance, it highlighted that corrupt practices are motivated by societal norms in certain scenarios and beliefs about what other people are doing. In a survey conducted by Chatham House, Nigerians also frequently underestimated the extent to which their fellow citizens believed corruption to be wrong.

“If people were aware of how commonly held their personal beliefs are, they would be motivated to act collectively against corruption,” the report said. “Anti-corruption efforts may have the greatest chance of success if they stem from a shared sense of responsibility and urgency – and thus foster grassroots pressure.”

Another issue is that corruption is also often a “practical response to obstacles and inefficiencies” in administrative or economic systems.

Procedures surrounding penalties for traffic violations are “needlessly complicated and time-consuming”, the report said, with penalties sometimes unclear or disputable. Meanwhile official fine rates are often higher than bribes.

“It should be less costly and more efficient to abide by the law,” it stressed, noting mobile technologies could be used to simplify payment, adjudication, complaint and reporting procedures, while fine rates could be reduced.

Deterring public officials from engaging in corruption will be critical, it continued. “Leadership on anti-corruption can only be successful if it is by example”, with political and official individuals playing a major role in setting social trends and inspiring positive behaviour.

“Efforts to change the beliefs of a few individuals are not in themselves enough to induce a sustainable change in collective behaviour,” it said.

“That requires a systemic approach that is context-specific – and that, crucially, is undertaken, owned and sustained by a critical mass of local actors who want to force a ‘new normal’.”

 

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