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Corruption in Nigeria: Is it a perception?

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By Tonnie Iredia

There appears to be some measure of unanimity among analysts both within and outside Nigeria that the nation is a highly corrupt society. The country’s successive governments since the return of democracy in 1999 do not quite agree. This can be deduced from certain viewpoints that are usually officially canvassed on behalf of the nation. The first is that there is corruption everywhere, making it obvious that it is not peculiar to Nigeria. Some say, if the British knew nothing about corruption, the term would not have evolved as an English word.

The second point is the argument that corruption in Nigeria is over exaggerated by some unpatriotic citizens; prominent among them are Nigerian journalists – a group to which this writer belongs. It is said that instead of embracing developmental journalism, they are always washing their nation’s “not too clean linen” in the public. Journalists of other countries, it is argued, are not that reckless with the image of their own countries.

A third point which naturally flows against this backdrop is that corruption in Nigeria may not be as real as it is perceived. This is because Transparency International -a global organisation that often projects Nigeria as one of the most corrupt countries in the world is fond of speaking from two sides of the mouth by stating that it arrived at its damaging conclusion on the basis of perception.

Well, if corruption in Nigeria is not in essence a reality but a mere perception, it seems germane to identify whose perception it is. The Central Bank of Nigeria is certainly not one of its sources considering the occasional warnings by the Bank on the subject. Only 2 weeks ago, the apex bank disclosed that high level corruption among other challenges accounts for the bane of the nation’s development. The bank spoke through its Deputy Governor (Operation), Mr. Tunde Lemo at the Egba Economic Summit in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital.

In earnest, the CBN has always been blunt in its warnings; apportioning blames when necessary. At the Monetary Policy Committee of last August, for instance , the Bank’s Deputy Governor (Corporate Services), Alhaji Suleiman Barau revealed that corruption in the public sector was being fuelled by Governments’ deposits and borrowing which undermine competitiveness of banks. According to Barau, governments were over-borrowing and wasteful in the management of public resources.

Earlier, the Governor of the Bank, Sanusi Lamido had himself fingered corruption as a major problem facing the economy which can deny the nation long term investment. This probably explains why the CBN has this year aggressively moved to checkmate corruption. One of the steps was the withdrawal of licenses of several forex dealers. The Bank’s Trade and Exchange Department, said the licenses of 238 Bureau de Change (BDC) operators in the country were withdrawn to forestall the herculean activities of money launderers in the country. The CBN was obviously not dealing with a perception considering its finding that in 2012 alone, billions of dollars were ferried across the ports of the country to locations like Dubai, France, Egypt, and Austria etc. By checkmating the operators, the CBN sought to stop political and private sector partnership greed in the country.

From what has been said so far, it is difficult to count the CBN among those who think that corruption in Nigeria is a mere perception; otherwise how do we explain the pains of the Bank in dealing with the increase of dud cheques recorded in the nation’s banks? According to the CBN, over 167,507 dud cheques, with a total value of N166 billion were processed by Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) between January and December 2012. In liaison with financial institutions and law enforcement agencies therefore, the CBN decided to stem the tide of dud cheque issuance which was adversely affecting the stability of the financial system. Accordingly, the Apex bank decided to henceforth forward the account details of errant customers to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for further investigation and prosecution.

How does the EFCC itself see corruption in the nation? The answer appears to lie in the way the commission shouted itself hoarse the other day over its finding that about $129bn has been fraudulently transferred out of Nigeria in the last 10 years through various sources such as corruption, tax avoidance and evasions, illegal mining activities, drugs and human trafficking. The EFCC says it has tackled the subject head-on by collaborating with the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to address illicit financial flows out of the country from which it recovered about $13 million. The Chairman of the Commission Ibrahim Lamorde, made these disclosures at a strategic regional workshop in Abuja.

Well, no matter the popularity of the claim that corruption is a mere perception, it is no doubt a worrying one that semantics cannot dismiss. Only last week, the media reported the anxiety of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) over the level of corruption within the justice sector in the country. According to the report, NBA President Chief Okey Wali (SAN) was said to have urged the EFCC, to make public the names of all the sitting Judges currently under investigation, saying it will be in the interest of the nation to ‘name and shame’ such judicial officers.

The point that has obviously been made is that virtually everyone is worried about what a few people often classify as a mere perception. In fact, an analyst may not be too far from correct if he describes a political office in Nigeria as a temptation considering the list of indicted former political office holders in the country. As it is now, it seems as if the difference between those indicted and those yet to be so treated may not be more than luck. More importantly, if as we hear, a third of our oil is stolen, it is foolhardy to say that corruption in Nigeria is a perception because such a posture would certainly hinder the nation from frontally attacking it as well as making it hard for her to differentiate its real cause from the symptom.

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