On December 9, Nigeria will join 185 other nations to mark International Anti-Corruption Day, the 15th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Convention against Corruption. It is important to raise awareness about the harm caused by corruption, demonstrate the progress made by the international community to unite against corruption, and reaffirm the urgency of this fight.
Countries around the globe have struggled to overcome poverty, underdevelopment, and inequality. All are exacerbated by corruption, which saps national and individual resources and erodes trust in government. No country, region, or community is immune to this crime.
In 2015, Nigerians elected President Muhammadu Buhari, in part thanks to his pledge to tackle corruption. Famously stating, “If we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill us,” he promised to prevent public officials from looting the coffers.
According to a 2017 Gallup survey, 80 percent of Nigerians thought that corruption was rampant in the government, and 76 percent believed that it was rampant in the private sector. Yet, there is reason for hope. The 2018 Afro-barometer poll in Nigeria shows that 59 percent of those surveyed reported that the government was doing “fairly well” or “very well” in the fight against corruption.
But there is much more to do. Today, corruption still constitutes one of the greatest threats to Nigeria’s sustainable and equitable development.
The conviction rate for corruption is low. Authorities are slow to adopt and implement critical reforms. The anti-corruption fight appears plagued by selectivity and the apparent complicity of key officials and cover-ups, including unaddressed, longstanding allegations of corruption against several state governors.
More than three years after the current administration took office and promised to fight grand corruption, no ‘big fish’ suspected of corruption has yet been sent to jail. The rare exception is the recent jailing of two former governors. And it seems unlikely that many of those facing grand corruption charges will be successfully prosecuted before the end of the administration in May 2019.
In the National Assembly, several states of the federation, and federal ministries, corruption occurs every day and every hour, especially in the budget process, the power sector, the education sector, the water sector, the health sector, and other important public sectors. Corruption continues to directly affect the lives and well-being of millions of Nigerians across the country and to erode public trust in public institutions and leaders.
There is uneven implementation of the rule of law and democratic processes, limited citizen participation in policy processes, and deliberate disobedience of court orders and judgments.
Judgments that serve to increase transparency are routinely ignored, allowing corruption to continue. For example, SERAP recently obtained a Federal High Court order for the government to publish widely and account for how recovered stolen funds have been spent since the return of democracy in 1999. Another judgment SERAP obtained that orders the government to tell Nigerians about stolen assets allegedly recovered from corrupt officials is only partially enforced.
One of the best measures of a country’s progress toward transparency and accountability is respect for the rule of law. The law ought to command the highest level of respect by the government immediately obeying orders and judgments of competent courts. The fight against corruption won’t succeed if the government continues to selectively adhere to law or refuse to rectify any disobedience.
As the world marks Anti-Corruption Day, Mr. Buhari has an opportunity to revolutionize his anti-corruption fight and raise his game in his government’s efforts to rid Nigeria of corruption, poverty, and underdevelopment. Nigeria can and should lead the way for the rest of the world to entrench a culture of the rule of law and good governance. Nigerians need to see real commitment and high-level investment in promoting a culture of clean government and total obedience to the rule of law.
This would have a beneficial effect, not only in terms of gaining the trust and confidence of Nigerians in his professed anti-corruption campaign, but also in ensuring that Nigeria effectively contributes to the global efforts to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
The international community must stand united against corruption not just in words but in concrete action if the global efforts to lift people from poverty and economic marginalisation are to be successful.
Timothy Adewale is deputy director of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a Nigerian nonprofit that promotes human rights, transparency, and accountability in governance.