Nigeria is one of Africa’s largest economies. But, as Amy Zhang writes, it is also crippled by widespread corruption.
In a country that ranks 180th in terms of GDP per capita, welfare and development reforms to the tune of £8bn (or 3 trillion naira) could make an immense difference. This money, which could build 160 of Bill Gates’s mansions, could greatly improve the lives of the 100 million people earning less than $1 a day in Nigeria.
£8bn has been laundered from Nigeria’s defence budget since 2011 under the guise of fighting Boko Haram, the deadly, Islamic extremist organisation. Counterproductively, this has supplied the terrorist group with an even better way of legitimizing its violent conflict with the national government. Unfortunately, this injustice is just a drop in the ocean of Nigeria’s widespread corruption problem.
Corruption in Nigeria is nothing new: it is well documented and researched because the stakes are incredibly high. At the local level, it means that a man who earns $1 a day, must pay 50 cents to his employer in order for him to be chosen to work, 30 cents to the police monitoring the road he uses to travel to work, and 10 cents to the local gang if his house resides in their territory. This system is economically inefficient, yet this poverty trap is a common reality for those living in the slums outside the major cities. Corruption and bribery is not limited to the slums: 60 million barrels of oil (worth $13.7 billion) was stolen in just three years under the Nigerian Petroleum Corporation. This is hugely damaging to Nigeria’s economy. As one of the next new set of emerging economies (MINTs) predicted by Jim O’Neil, corruption is the largest problem facing any further development and growth in the country.
Most Nigerians agree that cutting it out from the country’s cultural fabric is the only way of solving the problem, but this is easier said than done. Cultural customs of gift giving, ostentatious displays of wealth, and even tribalism – the fact that many ethnic groups coexist in this one country – mean that corruption is deeply ingrained throughout Nigerian society.
Whatever the reason, cultural or not, one has to ask: where does all the money go? After the 2016 Anti-Corruption summit, David Cameron was filmed describing Nigeria as “fantastically corrupt” to the Queen; and in response, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari deflected with “I am not going demand an apology, I am demanding a return of assets [from corrupt officials back to the government treasury].” His retort refers to the estimated 80 million pounds in London property owned by Nigerians with high corruption risk. One such example is former national Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki, who was accused of contributing to the £8bn figure through misuse of defence money to buy properties in London and Dubai.
Despite the landmark agreement in 2016 between the Nigerian and British governments to curb corruption, significant results are yet to be consistently seen. One contributing factor is the incapability of law enforcement. The body responsible for this on the UK side is the National Crime Agency, which was established in 2013. It lacks a track record of successful anti-corruption cases and is farcically under-resourced to tackle the £4.2bn of property in London that was likely bought with laundered money.
Corruption is hugely damaging in Nigeria. To pin down blame for the country’s widespread corruption on one particular cause or group would be a gross over-simplification of the problem: it happens everywhere, at all levels of society. Will we see a drastic reduction in Nigerian corruption in our lifetime? The possibility exists, but it will not be easy.
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