By Issa Aremu
“It takes two to tango. Where corruption has an international dimension- for example in contracts let by international bidding- it has to be of concern to the international community.” – (Baroness Linda Chalker, 1996)
“Let’s be honest… you won’t put your own money in a company scoring an ‘average’ in corruption. The same applies to investment in a country…any corruption is too much.
While developing countries have to check corruption, we are also entitled to demand that the developed world does not thrust corruption upon us.” – Jerry Rawlings, president of Ghana, United Nations Millennium Summit, 7 September 2000.
True to expectation, the latest report released by Transparency International (TI) ranked Nigeria 146 out of the 180 countries in graft entrenchment. Some two steps lower from 144th ranking in 2018. And that was in spite of globally acknowledged Nigeria’s anti-corruption campaign.
In 2018, two prominent former governors of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Jolly Nyame and Joshua Dariye were jailed in quick succession by a Federal Capital Territory High Court for corruption after a decade-long trial process. Nyame and Dariye, both former two-term governors of Taraba and Plateau States respectively, were convicted and sentenced to 14 years in prison on corruption charges. The landmark judgements on public sector corruption were not perceptions but judgements already enforced.
Pray what organizational type is TI, the annual report of which is predictably thumps down for Nigeria as a daily sunset? Nigeria, according to TI has dropped from 144 in 2018 to 146 in 2019 on the annual corruption perception index! The index ranked 180 countries and territories by their perceived (note: perceived, not proven) “levels of public (note: public, not private!) sector corruption, “according to experts and business people” ( note: not according to ordinary women, youths and workers who are victims of corrupt practices) .
TI “uses a scale of zero to 100, where zero is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean”. Predictably, the best performer top countries (least corrupt!) are in the global North of Europe, namely “New Zealand and Denmark, with scores of 87 each, followed by Finland (86), Singapore (85), Sweden (85) and” and (hold your breath “Switzerland (85)”, the notorious destination of stolen and looted funds! Of course true to Euro-centric perception, the most corrupt countries are from the global South with Nigeria ranked behind Botswana (34), Rwanda (51) and Mauritius (56) among other African nations.
According to the Transparency International, “the 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) shows corruption is more pervasive in countries where big money can flow freely into electoral campaigns and where governments listen only to the voices of wealthy or well-connected individuals”. But “big money” often flows from private to public sector. Why would TI’s scrutiny choose to ignore the private sector in this era of public-private part-corruption?
TI is permanently hunted by its selective ever bias methodology in its Perception Index. Please don’t get me wrong. I still pay an “estimated” bill for power often not delivered in my house in Ilorin. Indeed I don’t need an international organization whose members hardly live my experience that public-private corruption is undermining the energy sector reform in my country. However, I am displeased with simplistic annual verdict being churned out in the last two decades by TI and instructively too. How transparent is Transparency International’s skewed Perception Index that predictably comes with cheap outcomes.
True to type, the unthinking and uncritical section of Nigerian (social) media have chorused how Nigeria is next to Babylon on account of what the TI itself presented as Corruption Perception (not proven) Index. ‘Analysts’ have been in a frenzy to prove the validity of an index cynically and boringly thrown at the country annually. When in 2000 a similar report hit the headlines, President Olusegun Obasanjo’s men made some belated rebuttal of what they saw as an uncharitable report against a budding democratically elected administration.
It would be recalled that President Obasanjo, himself, was a former advisory Council Chairman of TI which serially dammed Nigeria on accountability and corruption, which assumed crisis dimension under Abacha dictatorship. Recently, both Information Minister Lai Muhammed and spokesman Garba Shehu have fallen to the annual bait, on another annual apologetic explanation of an expected verdict from a perception (not proven!) index.
Why would all presidents’ men uncritically accept the annual TI’ smear report as an annual article of faith? With official defensive reaction, we have inadvertently turned ‘perception’ of TI to be truism which of course is not. It’s time Africans were weary of ritualistic perception (not proved conclusion) that we are a continent of failures based on arbitrary dictatorship of criteria from God-knows-where. Put in another way, if TI perceived there is no corruption at the ports, does that make the lived experiences of serial extortions of importers and exporters irrelevant worthy of official prompt reactions?
The question is: whose perception matters, others or ours? And above all, how valid are what others choose to say? Put in another way, how does repeated jingoism about our failings (not even about a single success, including resistance of Nigerians against graft) help in our desired fight against corruption?
Nigerians should be weary of annual wounding verdicts. TI’s report denies the fact that corruption is not constitutional in Nigeria and that an Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and EFCC notwithstanding challenges are fighting graft monster. It was President Buhari, NOT TI, who gave the quotable quote; “If Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption would kill Nigeria”.
How transparent is Transparency International (TI) itself whose corruption perception is generous with Switzerland which thrives on looted funds from Nigeria? TI awarded Nigeria the “medal for graft” on its arbitrary perception index in 2000. Yet that was when Germany, its home base, was embroiled in a series of perceived corruption scandals ranging from altering books by Chancellor and Ministers alike to alleged corruption of FIFA in a desperate attempt to deny South Africa’s hosting right for the World Cup in 2010.
There can be no doubt that Nigeria must face up to the monster of graft. But so far, it can only get better in the fight against corruption, not getting worse. Yes, some officials tried to hoard palliatives in a pandemic. But commendably Nigerians as citizens rightly unlocked the hoarding, albeit wrongly in unacceptable looting fashion.
But the joy is that there is no hiding place again for official graft. The fact that recovery of looted funds is an official policy means that perception to overcome the cancer of corruption should be more favourable. The current uncritical downloading reproduction of other’s intellectual perception of us must give way to independent and original critical assessment of the battle against corruption so far.