Traditional approaches to tackling corruption in Nigeria have not yielded the desired results. Instead, certain emerging issues including ethnic, religious and political threads tend to undermine the successes of the fight against corruption and the rule of law. Recognising the enormity of the bane of corruption on development in Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari once said at the beginning of his administration that “I will kill corruption before corruption kills us”. Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu has also made statements which indicate that even though the Nigerian government is keen on the fight against corruption, corruption is fighting back. What this means is that the authorities and institutions addressing corruption issues in Nigeria recognise that there is some level of resistance to the anti-corruption campaigns.
The magnitude of the issues confronting the corruption fight in Nigeria may have been underestimated. Ban Ki-Moon, former UN Secretary General, said at the launch of the ‘Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) Initiative’ on 17 September 2007, that “Corruption undermines democracy and the rule of law. It leads to violations of human rights. It erodes public trust in government. It can even kill when for example corrupt officials allow medicines to be tampered with, or when they accept bribes that enable terrorist acts to take place.”
In presenting this strategic case – context and the need for intervention by the Anti-Corruption in Nigeria programme (ACORN), the DFID (Nigeria) stated that corruption is rife in Nigeria mainly because of three factors. One, the institutions and systems supposed to ensure sound management of resources are weak. Two, an ineffective sanctions regime persists and results in a culture of impunity, and three, social acceptability of certain corrupt behaviours encourage a culture of corruption. Therefore, Nigeria’s resources have consistently been plundered for the purpose of creation and maintenance of an equilibrium of power through deep-rooted network of patronage not for poverty reduction, or equal distribution to all. This context noted by the DFID made reference to ActionAid Nigeria‘s Corruption and Poverty in Nigeria Study published in 2015.
During a roundtable at the Behavioural Exchange Conference organised by the Behavioural Insights Team in 2016, several points were made regarding corruption and behaviours. One of such points was that the extent to which corrupt behaviours were perceived to be widespread in society was likely to affect people’s expectations of honesty, and so their own corrupt behaviour. We update our beliefs of social norms with the information in our environment. Indeed, examples from the behavioural literature demonstrate how social norms can influence dishonest behaviour.
So, just the way the world has moved beyond unimaginable strides in ICT and tele-communication, space technology, means of transportation and other fields, Nigeria ought to over time shift from the traditional approach to fighting corruption to more innovative ways that could bring about the needed result. Experts, policy makers and development workers alike have made efforts to evolve alternative or complementary approaches to tackle corruption.
The new thinking is that there is the need to go beyond the traditional measures that emphasise law enforcement and sanctions. In Nigeria, a number of institutions or agencies have been set up to fight corruption. Some are a consequence of the adoption of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). Others are necessary to conduct the business of governance. Available literature point to the fact that a possible reason why past efforts regarding institutional, policy and legal frameworks experienced setbacks is because there seems to be a disconnect between the anti-corruption efforts and citizens’ participation. Take for instance the Sasel Institute of Governance report entitled Behavioural influences on Attitudes Towards Petty Corruption: A Study of Social Norms and Mental Models in Tanzania. The report published in December 2017 made reference to certain implementation gaps wherein countries continue to experience high levels of corruption despite substantial legal and institutional reforms which adhere to international anti-corruption best practices.
Targeting change in social norms which encourage corruption is the new window as there is empirical evidence of the impact of social norms on corruption. The secret of this approach is that it increases citizen participation and adopting such approach in the fight against corruption in Nigeria could make citizens to build a strong resistance to corrupt behaviour as a matter of fact. The truth of the matter is that both the existing approaches and the new thinking or approach could play complementary roles in addressing corruption issues in Nigeria. This will be a more holistic and inclusive approach that could bring about the desired result.
A Chatham House report published in May 2017 and authored by Leena Koni Hoffmann and Raj Navanit Patel, Collective Action on Corruption in Nigeria a Social Norms Approach to Connecting Society and Institutions, supports this view. The report proposed the reinforcement of Nigeria’s ongoing anti-corruption effort by first understanding why people take part in corrupt activity, and full consideration of the societal factors that may contribute to normalizing corrupt behaviour. The report holds the view that this holistic approach would better position public institutions to engage Nigerian society in anti-corruption efforts and concluded that “as behavioural drivers influence people’s choices and preferences around corruption, Nigeria’s anti-corruption agencies should systematically integrate these methods into the long-term approach to their mandates”
– Edemhanria is a development strategist.