In Nigeria, Many Anticorruption Policies—and Lots of Corruption, Too

British Prime Minister David Cameron made headlines ahead of the much-hyped anticorruption summit hosted in London last month when a TV crew captured him calling Nigeria and Afghanistan “fantastically corrupt” in a conversation with the Queen and the archbishop of Canterbury.

Less provocative—and therefore receiving less coverage—was the archbishop’s response that, actually, current Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who campaigned on an anticorruption platform, is not corrupt.

In the wake of the Panama Papers leaks, which revealed the role that British banks and tax havens play in sheltering money, the irony of Cameron’s comment was noteworthy. Remarkably, Buhari mostly brushed off questions regarding Cameron’s faux pas, and acknowledged that Nigeria does indeed have a serious problem with corruption. He then used the attention to ask not for an apology, but for the swift return of proven stolen assets believed to be hidden in UK banks. (Nigeria is seeking to recover more than $10 billion in cash and assets lost through graft.)

Like other countries at the summit, Nigeria also made substantial commitments to crack down on corruption, including with stricter beneficial ownership disclosure legislation, improvement in the transparency of public procurement processes, and greater adherence to the principles and processes supported by the Open Government Partnership, through which 69 countries have agreed to make their governments more accountable.

However, given the pervasiveness of corruption in the country, Nigeria needs more than just commitments. Anticorruption efforts by the Buhari administration in its first year have been slow. The success of these efforts depends on getting the requisite public buy-in—the war on corruption cannot be fought by Buhari alone.

Although most Nigerians agree corruption is endemic, in most cases they also participate in small-scale transactional practices that undermine the country. In order for progress to be made, Nigerians must abstain from corruption in every form, not just condemn it.

The country’s value system—which celebrates even wealth obtained by questionable means—is greatly flawed. Strategic and effective public education must be developed to ensure a change of attitude and show people the true and damaging effects of corruption. Young people, in particular, should be brought on board to begin to build a new culture.

For starters, Nigeria’s commitments at the summit need to be incorporated into a national anticorruption strategy that focuses on key areas, such as public procurement, asset recovery, enforcement of existing laws, and revitalization of existing agencies.

In Nigeria, as in many other West African countries, most government funds are spent on public procurement—things like infrastructure, health and educational supplies, and agricultural materials. Cases of ghost workers and padded budgets show how pervasive corruption is in public spending. Buhari should fulfill his campaign promise to approve spending through the National Council on Public Procurement (NCPP), rather than the National Executive Council, which currently approves bids without oversight.

Another factor hampering asset recovery and faith in government actions in Nigeria is that there is no publicly available data on the physical and financial assets that have been recovered inside or outside the country. Without those numbers, it’s impossible to know who stole what, how much of it has been recovered, or where the recovered assets have been used. Buhari must make good on his pledge to implement internationally endorsed guidelines for the accountable management of returned stolen assets.

One existing law can be a big help as Nigeria steps up its fight against corruption. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 limits the use of appeals in criminal trials, increases coordination among justice institutions, and creates new pretrial management techniques that allow faster commencement of substantive trials. The law was passed because ineffective coordination and weak criminal procedures have enabled lawyers to undermine processes. Implementation has been slow, however.

Buhari should also coordinate and strengthen agencies whose purview includes corruption. Nigeria has no less than five commissions, bureaus, and tribunals that have the power to investigate and prosecute corrupt practices. But the current administrative set-up—including questions about the role of the attorney general in cases brought by other agencies—makes coordination extremely difficult. It is important to provide clear administrative protocols that make for more effective and cordial relationships among these institutions.

No matter how good Buhari’s strategy is, synergy and partnerships throughout the country are vital to his anticorruption crusade. The president must counter the narrative that the anticorruption war is only being waged in the executive branch.

Buhari has promised to link the public and private sectors in his efforts to ensure information sharing between law enforcement and the financial sector. He needs to do so soon. But first he must enlist the help of his countrymen and women and impress upon them the urgency of the cause. Without their support, a more open and accountable Nigeria will remain a fantasy. 

Learn More:



Yes David Cameron was right for calling Nigeria and Afghanistan what name is rightly their. In fact, he should not only stop there but pledge his country's support and lobby internationally to help Nigeria's fantastic crooks now fighting back at Nigerian trying to forestall order and decorum.Corruption has deeply eaten into our mind set.especially with our self enriched past leaders now flaunting our money...fantastically looted from our own treasury and now used against us! Lets promote the fight against all forms of theft and corruption whether in academic circle, bureaucracies,force or civil life...Hail PMB; he deserves a huge accorlade.

when Nigeria defeat Corruption then Africa will be the riches Continent in the world.I love Nigeria!

Yes, the article above captures the multilevels nature of corruption in Nigeria. As a Nigerian, anytime I look at what is on ground in the country I conclude to reduce corruption to a bearable level will remain a dream. I am a University lecturer, I see the problem right from the family, schools and, in fact, everywhere. Those who are saddled with fight corruption are caught in the middle of the problem. More importantly, the custodians of societal values are terribly corrupt. Teaching and examinations at all levels of schooling are infested by the epidemic. By my estimation, about 98% of the over 174m population is down with sickness. The aspect that erases any hope about finding solutions is that those caught by the epidemic are generally found defending it as the norm. Those of us agitating for doing the right thing are branded the misnomer. In fact, the corrupt majority looks for means to eliminate the 2% in the crusade against the epidemic. Oh, is there any hope in the present government? I have hope in Buhari and not in the administration!

My self and other patriotic Nigerians are solidly behind PMB on anti corruption fight to finish.God will continue to guide and strengthening him to save Nigeria from scourge of corruption.. Long LIVE PMB Long LIVE Nigeria.

29th May 2016 marked the first anniversary of the current administration, It's been so fast in coming that a group of people I ran into recently asked whether the" one year of governance " that was being marked was actually 365 or 366(as in a leap year) days making a full calendar year. So much has happened within the year , but as the writer concludes in his article , seeking the help of Nigerian men and women is urgently needed if indeed the country hopes to have "...a more open and accountable Nigeria..." . My answer to that is -couldn't agree more with you more, my brother , but my last line is that you should join us in praying for our beloved country.. Amen?Amen and amen!

It is inspiring to see a positive story about an elected leader who is using their political capital to fight corruption. To me the question is how far beyond the President does this commitment extend? Though I am not a Nigeria expert, I imagine corruption is a vertically integrated system and therefore will require a multi-faceted approach, that draws on traditional means (sanction, detect, prevent) but also engages with how political power is amassed and exchanged as well as the social norms that drive corruption. We have found that there is a hierarchy of norms when it comes to corruption whereby people will believe in fairness but the issue that corruption seems to solve is a more pressing point. For those interested in this aspect of the discussion we would welcome your comments on our recent blog posts on these topics:

There is much ado about this corruption in Nigeria. Admittedly, it is true, but the focus is only on Nigeria. It appears you don't take a look at corrupt practices around the world by and large. Starting with the Security Council that its corrupt practices subsumed in the euphemism "interest" cannot find solutions to its primary obligation and the cardinal foundation of the UN - maintenance of international peace and security. This is shown in Syria's conflict. You don't see corruption in ICC's hunt of only Africans? You don't see corruption too in allegations of kick backs to FIFA by States in the award of world cup hosting - from Germany 2006, Qatar and Russia's awards. They are fast being swept under the carpet. You don't see corruption in some past FIFA officials being investigated, Volkswagen's emission scandal?

Are a few of these examples not corruption of the superlative order? Why is the focus only on Nigeria - because it is in Africa?

not only in Nigeria, Sri Lanka was full of corruptions during 2005-2014. The present government is trying hard to round up those who did large scale looting of public funds. Yet majority of the people in the country are not in a position to understand the problems in their proper perspective .

Much effort has been made by the Governments to make laws aimed at regulating the people. The culture of corruption is so established that existing provisions of the law need not only be enforced, but also demand constant decision of creative means of reminding the government of the laws and reshaping the people to conform to the collective means and morals. Allowing the National Council on Public Procurement to supervise and award contracts is what the law says.

I believe that all theories on anti corruption model bows to Assets Declaration Model. See Wanted: Open Assets declaration Model” Nation Newspaper, 22nd September, 2015, p. 36 Nigeria must take a cue from countries where private information in public custody about high ranking officials is published in the official gazette without request. Assets declaration need to be on digital or electronic template with unique identifying numbers. Electronic declaration of assets may be the best highlight for assets publication because it will assist easy and retrievable complainant reporting system and allowing payment of administrative application fees online.

The remedy for fiscal sanity is in the bowel of a specialized court and procedure. This will promote knowledge, timeousness, training and coherence. The case of a special court to expedite proceedings and attain the ends of justice is unassailable. The challenge before the proposed special court would be to define the boundaries of corruption related offences to be brought before it. Corruption is too specialized to be handled by an unspecialized court or tribunal. An effort to foist a distinct judicial arm to pronounce on the plethora of anti -graft legislations will produce overt patriotic fervor. Special court can fortify the moral conscience of majority of public officers. Venality can be lost on every public officer if the court is deciphered along the sentiment of specialty.

Failed institutions led to survival greed, which metamorphosed into institutionalized corruption. Without building trust worthy institutions that can deliver on promises made to people nothing can stop corruption in Nigeria. Nigerian ruling class failed to follow due processes, thereby destabilization institutions that can hold them responsible, the institutions became cornered to serve their interests and without outrage from the governed. Docility of the general populace gave power to the initial panicky immature thieves that are now grand thieves without any iota of fear because institutions that are supposed to hold them accountable became paper tigers and only effective when hounding their political enemies.
The international monetary systems also did not help the Nigerian cause. It aided the processes through which individuals could move large sums of money into foreign private bank accounts without questioning the sources of such stupendous wealth. If the Nigerian population were cowed by fear, what about the international community that made the stealing of these monies into their banks possible?
However, young Nigerians have to start the process of rebuilding credible institutions that can inspire patriotic actions. That is why organization like was founded for the purpose of helping government succeed in their service delivery to the people by executing effective small models government agencies can emulate. People have lost their sense of patriotism largely due to failures of government over the years. If we make the people to start trusting institutions again Nigeria will blossom.

This write up sums up the depth of the issue. Corruption in Nigeria is institutional, it cannot be fought when the different arms of the government all answer to the executive or when there are less than a 100 judges in Lagos state to cover thousands of cases.

The system needs to be funded, trained, independent from partisan control to fight corruption. The President can only onboard the support of the public when he moves from using federal might to chase his political enemies to really fighting the lords of corruption in his own party.

He that must come to equity must come with a clean hand. He cannot tell Nigerians that he is fighting corruption when the founders of corruption are right there eating and drinking with him.

You see? Nigerians are always in the habit of quoting others and asking our "people"be exempted from probes or prosecution as if the corrupt practices being perpetrated by these individuals or group does not affect us all.Imagine one talking of corruption all over the world!Charity begins at home; we want thrive. Corruption is cancerous it perverts every fabric of any societal life.Its there in education,social as well as judiciary etc. Once in you dont know how get out easily.Lets fight it now!

I suspect that Nigerians are transporting some corruption practices to South Africa; e.g. cyber crimes and so on

Joseph Amenaghawon,koyo o,vbo ye he?Udo Jude Ilo,kedun? Thumbs up to you both for your article. Send me your contact address in Nigeria using my e-mail address I love writing and have written a number of articles which were published by some of our Nigerian papers. We might be able to share views and ideas of mutual interest.

Former BPM Cameron is blinded by his own corruption and fails to see that even his countrymen, to some degree, are corrupted. As well, Let's not look only for corruption "out there" but in our own backyard...(e.g. HRC)

Add your voice