Much Ado About Nigeria’s Corruption Ranking — by Suleiman A. Suleiman 

Much Ado About Nigeria’s Corruption Ranking  —  by Suleiman A. Suleiman 

Last week, the Transparency International (TI), through its Nigerian affiliate, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), published its 2019 Corruption Perception Index (CPI). This ranks Nigeria 146 out of 180 countries, with a score of 26 on a scale of 100, falling by a point (27) and two places (144/180) from 2018. These are the bare facts of the report as it relates to Nigeria, but it soon sparked an uproar in the national media. The Federal Government, through the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offenses (ICPC), all dismissed the report as not reflecting the “facts on the ground” about anti-corruption in Nigeria.

Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) all hailed the report as an “indictment” on President Buhari and his government’s anti-corruption credentials. For a non-partisan observer like this writer, however, the furore is unnecessary and beclouds public understanding of the issues involved. There are three important questions here. What precisely does the Corruption Perception Index say about corruption in Nigeria? Is corruption increasing or decreasing over the past few years? And finally, how can we measure corruption and anti-corruption efforts independently?

First, perhaps the most useful TI data for Nigeria is not the index itself but its supplementary details, which indicate whether the corruption situation in a given country is getting better or worse over several consecutive years. For example, these details show that Cote d’Ivoire has improved 8 points from 27 in 2013 to 35 in 2019. Ghana has declined by 7 points in the same period. Nigeria has stayed much the same over the eight years since 2012, with an average annual score of 26.6 out of 100. In other words, while the corruption situation may be getting better in Cote d’Ivoire but getting worse in Ghana, in Nigeria, things have stayed much the same. The score of 26 out of 100 in 2019 merely reinforces that point. But with some caveats, other reports by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) indicate that some kinds of corruption in Nigeria have decreased significantly since 2017.

However, corruption is more than just bribery, and it is not clear whether high-level corruption such as embezzlement of public funds have declined in any significant sense. There is presently no existing measure of these kinds of corruption. And there is no reliable and transparent mechanism for evaluating the performance of anti-corruption efforts of this or any other government. There has been some notable policies and valid indications of increased anti-corruption activity in the past few years. These include the Treasury Single Account (TSA), Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), Know-Your-Customer policy in the banks, tracking the use of funds budgeted for constituency projects, Beneficial Ownership policy for improving transparency in the oil and gas sector, assets recovery and the whistle blowing policy that supports it etc.

Furthermore, there appears to be a systematic and purposeful approach to fighting corruption as each of these policies is targeted at different forms of corruption in different sectors since corruption itself exists in many complex forms in different institutional spaces. This is the way to go for a country with the scale of corruption such as ours. The problem is that no one knows whether or not these policies are working, how they are working or to what extent.

Is the TSA policy working effectively, and how? Have public officials found ways to game this policy already? Does the Freedom of Information Act work effectively across most agencies of government? Are provisions of the Public Procurement Act applied impartially across most tendering processes? Are there clear and impersonal criteria for prosecuting and enforcing anti-corruption laws against all accused persons regardless of their station or connections? Where are the assets recovered? So long as there are no clear and definitive answers to these questions, perceptions of corruption will remain high and Nigeria’s score on the CPI will stay much the same or get worse, regardless of how much the government and anti-corruption agencies believe they are performing.

This is the crux of the matter. Ultimately, no one in Nigeria should lose too much sleep because of the country’s score on TI’s Corruption Perception Index. The index is useful in drawing attention to comparative levels of corruption, but it is of limited value as a policy tool for fighting corruption. What Nigeria needs is an independent and reliable measure of high-level corruption and a transparent framework for evaluating the performance of anti-corruption. The bottom-line is that without the necessary measures, anti-corruption will remain a winking in the dark and the perception of Nigeria as a “fantastically corrupt” country will not change.


Dr Suleiman, a most recent DFID research fellow in Collective Action and Anti-Corruption Behaviour Change in the Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria, Keffi and Assistant Professor in Politics and Communication in the American University of Nigeria, Yola.


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