The rage over TI’s corruption rating By Jerry Uwah

The rulers of Nigeria are angry with Transparency International (TI), the global corruption watch dog. For obvious reasons, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is the arrow head of the protest over TI’s ranking of Nigeria in its corruption perception index (CPI).

The agency rejected TI’s ranking of Nigeria as the second most corrupt country in Africa, after impoverished and coup ravaged Guinea Bissau. Nigeria slide from 144 in 2018 to 146 in 2019 among 180 nations in TI’s corruption ranking.

EFCC has every reason for its outrage. It expected TI to notice its achievements in the fight against graft and allow them to inform its ranking of Nigeria in its CPI.

EFCC has recovered N871 billion and 407 mansions from looters in the last three years. It secured 890 convictions in the first 10 months of 2019. For the first time in Nigeria’s history, three former governors are serving long jail terms.

Two of the former governors are seating senators. One of them, Orji Uzor Kalu, won his senate seat on the platform of the ruling party, the All Progressive Congress (APC).

 He decamped from the main opposition party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) at the height of his trial for stealing N7.3 billion when he was governor of Abia State.  Everyone expected his sins to be forgiven, but the Federal High Court in Lagos ignored his perceived immunity as a member of the ruling party and slammed a 13-year jail term on him.

EFCC expected TI to regard that as an indication that the federal government was impartial in its role as a thief catcher.  Unfortunately those figures did not matter to TI as it pushed Nigeria two rungs down its CPI ladder.

Unlike the verdict of credit rating agencies that rate countries in the international money market based on incontestable empirical indices, TI’s ranking is based on perception.

That probably makes it even more dangerous. Perception in many instances is more dangerous than the reality on ground. If 70 per cent of a bank’s depositors hold the perception that their bank is in distress, their action would almost certainly cause the collapse of the bank no matter how strong it is.

Few would contest the fact that the current administration in Nigeria has confronted corruption more than all its predecessors.

However, that is not an indication that Nigeria is less corrupt than it was before.  The numerous convictions, N871 billion and 407 mansions recovered from looters in the last three years has not changed the perception of western foreign investors about Nigeria.

Members of the European Union and North America no longer invest in Nigeria.  The major reason is that their countries jail bribe givers and takers. They know that no one does business in Nigeria without bribing someone. Siemens officials in Germany who bribed Nigerian government officials over a contract have been tried, convicted and punished appropriately along with their company. Those they bribed in Nigeria are still walking tall.

The American firm that bribed Nigerian government officials over liquefied natural gas contract has been punished for the crime.  The Nigerian officials who collected the bribe are role models. Investors from the western world are avoiding prosecution at home by refusing to invest in Nigeria. Corruption has driven them away.  

TI’s ranking of Nigeria in its CPI tallies with the perception of western investors and would be extremely difficult to contest anywhere in the world.

Nigeria is only attracting direct foreign investments from China and India, two countries where corruption ranks perilously close to that of Nigeria. About 80 per cent of the foreign direct investments coming to Nigeria are from China and India, because no one cares about business ethics in the two countries.

Corruption in Nigeria is highly de-centralised. That is partially responsible for the high cost of doing business. A messenger who is not bribed could hide the file from reaching the director who would order payment for a transaction. That escalates the cost of doing business.

Three weeks ago the de-centralisation of corruption prevented thousands of school leavers from obtaining the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) forms because they could not secure national ID cards. Low ranking officials at the few centres handling the registration for the National ID card created artificial scarcity and extorted N6, 000 from each applicant. JAMB had to waive the national ID card requirement.  

Nigeria has a notorious healthcare delivery system despite government efforts to improve the situation. Corrupt officials from directors to messengers frustrate government efforts.

In some states and local governments, the bill for ante-natal care for pregnant women right down to delivery is a scant N2, 000.

Ironically, in some of the primary healthcare centres (PHCs), cashiers on salary grade level four extort something close to N2, 000 before registering the pregnant women.  Those who cannot afford the bribe quietly enlist the services of quacks. Some die in the process.

Some doctors block patients in critical conditions seeking admission in government hospitals, on claims of lack of bed and divert them to their ill-equipped private clinics.

Corruption has inadvertently turned Nigerian judges into electoral umpires. It is now the courts rather than the electorate or the electoral commission that determine who wins an election.

Politicians openly buy votes. Vote buying was very conspicuous even in the elections that produced the leadership of the current National Assembly.

Judges have soiled their hands with bribes. The raid on judges’ residences three years ago was adjudged illegal, but it exposed the level of corruption in Nigeria’s judiciary. Huge sums of money in different currencies were recovered in the homes of their lordships.

Tax officials collect bribes and under-assess tax payers. Nigeria lost more than $9 billion to crude oil theft in 2018. Government officials know the thieves.

Corruption has eaten deep into the fabric of Nigerian society. The federal government should be more worried about how to tame the monster. The umbrage about TI’s ranking is irrelevant.

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