Fighting corruption in Nigeria: Two timely interventions and one anti-climax
Continues from yesterday
It seeks to demonstrate how “this holistic approach would better position public institutions to engage Nigerian society in anti-corruption efforts.”
Among its major recommendations, the Chatham House report suggests that “anti-corruption efforts may have the greatest chance of success if they stem from a shared sense of responsibility and urgency – and thus foster collective grassroots pressure.” The consequences of this point for both analysis and strategy are radical. It means that the beginning of any anti-corruption strategy lies in political economy and inclusive civics. Unsurprisingly, Chatham House advocates an analysis and framing that gives “ownership and agency to Nigeria’s citizens.” The absence of a shared sense of common citizenship or the presence of fragmented national identity breeds competitive asset stripping of what should be a collective patrimony. It is the failure to realise or reflect this that makes the NACS so awfully deficient.
How this occurs is the focus of the contemporaneous, 56-page OXFAM report: “Inequality in Nigeria: Exploring the Drivers.” This report demonstrates a clear correlation, verging indeed on causation, between deepening inequality and growing corruption in Nigeria. As a point of departure, it asserts that Nigeria’s growing inequality and poverty problems are the result of “the ill-use, misallocation and misappropriation” of resources underpinned by what it calls “a culture of corruption and rent-seeking combined with a political elite out of touch with the daily struggles of average Nigerians.” One of the major drivers of this growing inequality is the prohibitive cost of governance “because it means that few resources are left to provide basic essential services for the wider, growing Nigerian population.” Far from serving as a tool of equity Nigeria’s tax policy, to the extent one exists, is “largely regressive: the burden of taxation mostly falls on poorer companies and individuals.” This feeds a system of dependency on one natural resource, hydro-carbons. Underlying edifice of elite plunder that the report identifies is a deliberately manufactured policy innumeracy, such that the country cannot and does not know how much oil it extracts or lifts. To camouflage this egregious failure, we use the template of “grand crude oil theft” for which, by the way, no one has ever been held to account. This manufactured state incapacity drives institutional failure which is merely the symptom that the NACS focuses on.
This, precisely is the reason why the NACS document disappoints terribly: it focuses on a few symptoms without attempting to show an understanding of the underlying ailments that condemn successive anti-corruption efforts in Nigeria to certain failure. Had it attempted to do so, the strategy would have anchored its approach on enlightened political leadership that seeks to build a more inclusive and more equitable society for all in the country. It would have addressed the need for an economic programme that offers hard working Nigerians a path to legitimate livelihood and a stake in paving such a path. It would also have addressed the need to develop a common vocabulary to embed popular ownership of this anti-corruption effort. With no effort to contemplate, let alone include these in the document, the NACS could well end up like its predecessors: much heralded but tragically stillborn. It was not supposed to be such a missed opportunity.
Odinkalu is Senior Visiting Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at the London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) & a member of the Board of Directors of The Integrity Organisation