By all reports Nigeria is among the most corrupt nations on earth. Little is accomplished without due consideration. Sadly, corruption has become the political and economic culture of the country. Patron-client relationships govern all aspects of life. For example, candidates for political office are nominated and selected by cultivating supporters with funds and promises. Such comity is extended with the certainty that when installed in office, officials will royally compensate their sponsors from government treasuries. Patronage includes flat out payments with diverted money, as well as jobs, travel, special privileges – building plots in cities, for example - and other patently illegal transactions including un-competed contracts and payments for projects that are not just never completed, but never begun at all. Moreover, people expect to pay “fees” for any service – public or private
Not only are billions in oil revenues blatantly misused, but a portion of Nigeria’s oil wealth is stolen daily via the simple means of pumping crude from isolated wellheads or draining a pipeline. More sophisticated theft involves over-invoicing, under-loading or a variety of slights-of-hand with documents.
Even the criminal system operates through corruption. Internet scams that capitalize on greed reflect endemic acceptance of corruption. Although violent theft and carjackings are commonplace, there has been a rising tide of kidnapping for ransom, extortion and protection rackets.
Because of embedded corruption nothing works efficiently or effectively, but the largest loss to society is that little of Nigeria’s enormous wealth is invested productively for the benefit of the nation. Roads are woeful, the railroad defunct, port infrastructure dilapidated, refineries inoperative and power generation minimal. The industrial sector is faltering and agriculture all but collapsed. Schools, hospitals, and clinics operate under shameful conditions. Most quality of life indicators are in decline. All this in one of the world’s great producers of hydrocarbons!
Is there hope for reform? Well, yes, a little. Successive governments, including the new administration of President Yar Adua have created and empowered anti-corruption commissions designed to identify and prosecute the worst offenders. So far, while some “big men” have been called to account, the record is not encouraging that such institutions can stem the tide. Concomitantly, however, there is increased understanding by civil society organizations, the people as a whole and even elected officials that the system is not tenable over the long haul. Anarchy, as is now occurring in the delta region is a reality that might spread. Disaffection leading to Islamic fundamentalism in the north is also on the rise. Fear of such threats to the state strengthens reform elements.
The irony is that had Nigeria’s wealth been properly invested, the whole economy would have expanded dramatically. All ships would have risen on the rising tide, including those of the small numbers of elite who have benefited disproportionately from corruption. Instead of the distortion that now exists with one percent of the population outlandishly rich, a small middle class composing a second tier and a poverty stricken majority in a distant last place, Nigeria might have more equitable income distribution and a public sector to be proud of.