In Nigeria, Everyday is a Bribe
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has told us what we already knew. It says Nigerian public sector thrives on a culture of bribe me, I bribe you. In a national corruption survey spanning 12 months, it returned a damning verdict that Nigerians spent N400 billion just on bribe in the public sector. It was a survey conducted in partnership with global agencies including the European Union and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The survey scrutinised the quality and integrity of public services in Nigeria. The report covered June 2015 to May 2016. The survey, from the breakdown of data and analysis of figures generated, looks pretty. A great deal of hard work and thoroughness was invested in the project. But I shudder to believe that the amount of bribe in the Nigerian public sector space in one calendar year could be as cheap and low as N400 billion. This is where I disagree with the survey. The amount, N400 billion, looks to me an underestimation of our appetite for bribe.
Look, we are talking about the Nigerian public sector where every deal is a bribe. To get your international passport which is actually your right, you must bribe Immigration officials otherwise you will have to wait and wait until your file finally disappears. To enroll your ward in a Unity school even when such a person is on the merit list, you must bribe the education authorities; to enlist in the police, military or in any of the paramilitary agencies, just keep your bribe money. In some cases, you might even bribe and not get it. Be sure your bribe is fat, otherwise the slot goes to the highest briber. And never forget this, everybody is bribable. It depends on what name you give it.
Bribery does not stop at getting enlisted in military or paramilitary agencies. We bribe to get into ministries, departments and agencies and fork out more bribe to get promotion. Ministers bribe congress to get their budgets passed or padded; Presidents bribe lawmakers to impeach their leadership or to have them do the bidding of the President; biddings that do not promote good governance for the common good of the people but are largely self-serving and only massage the megalomaniacal ego of the President. In fact, in the Nigerian public sector, bribery is writ large.
Recently, the police authorities had to stop a promotion exercise in the force because it was alleged by those who should know that some senior police officers demand bribe from the low-rank officers as Kola to guarantee their promotion. Now, let’s get it straight, you bribe to join the police and you also bribe to get promoted, you rationally count such as investments. And going by the law of sowing and reaping, there must be return on investment hence you must find a way to recoup your investment; and that way is to go all out for bribes: no amount is too small.
Here is a scenario: The incumbent Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Mr Muhammad Babandede, had a first-hand experience of the shady deals bordering on bribery perpetrated by his officers at the airports. Babandede said he visited the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) Lagos, on “undercover mission’’ recently to monitor the NIS operations. He said during his visit, some officers were caught engaging in unprofessional activities. Of course they were caught and were invited to the NIS headquarters in Abuja for questioning and appropriate sanctions.
The NIS boss was just being civil in his presentation of what he saw. His officers were caught soliciting and collecting bribe. That’s all. The international airports are hatcheries for bribe and bribery. The Customs, Immigration officers and just about anybody in uniform have perfected ways of collecting bribe from travellers including foreigners.
And yet another scenario: a team of foreign investors flies into the country to bid for a contract. They have both the technical competence and financial muscle to execute the job. They meet with officials of the ministry in charge and then with officials of the Presidency. They hold a frank talk and each party is satisfied that each party would behave responsibly. Days later, the Nigerian officials send an intermediary to the foreign investors to demand a certain amount to help them ‘facilitate’ the award of contract and guarantee that nobody else gets the job except this particular investor. Pronto, the money is arranged and the contract is awarded. The foreigners, feeling frustrated at the extra cost of doing business, renege on doing the job and simply walks away with their mobilization fee and any other payment they could squeeze out.
At the end, the job is not done; Nigeria loses both money and integrity but a few chaps in the ministry and Presidency smile to the bank. Well, if in doubt, ask Halliburton. They were compelled to pay bribe of $180 million to get a contract. The rest is history. The offending Halliburton officials have since admitted to paying bribes to Nigerian public officials. They were fined and convicted by a court of law but in Nigeria, the recipient of the bribe, life goes on because every deal is a bribe. And every day there is a deal. The Halliburton scam was just what should be: no law was broken because in Nigeria, to bribe is to live and to live is to bribe. It is the routine. Case closed!
Need I remind us that the Benin Traditional Council (BTC), recently suspended Nosakhare Isekhure, as the Isekhure (Chief Priest) of the Kingdom indefinitely? He was alleged to have “operated a parallel palace where he took bribes and reviewed already decided cases’’ and therefore desecrated the position he held in trust for the palace. So, there is even bribery in the palace. There is bribery in the church, mosque, schools, homes, public hospitals; it is a long list. Everyday is a bribe, indeed!
This is why nobody should dispute the NBS report except on the meagre amount of N400 billion which is just too small and does not befit our stature as a nation of bribers and a people with a capacious appetite for bribery.
The survey took into account the fact that nine out of every ten bribes paid to public officials in Nigeria are paid in cash. It is estimated that the total amount of bribes paid to public officials in Nigeria in the 12 months prior to the survey was around N400 billion, the equivalent of $4.6 billion in purchasing power parity (PPP). This sum is equivalent to 39 per cent of the combined federal and state education budgets in 2016.
Bribe-payers in Nigeria spend an eighth of their salary on bribes, the report further revealed. The average sum paid as a cash bribe in Nigeria is approximately NGN 5,300, which is equivalent to roughly $61 – PPP. This means that every time a Nigerian pays a cash bribe, he or she spends an average of about 28.2 per cent of the average monthly salary (minimum wage) of approximately NGN 18,900. Since bribe-payers in Nigeria pay an average of 5.8 bribes over the course of one year, 92 per cent of which are paid in cash, they spend an average of NGN 28,200 annually on cash bribes ― equivalent to 12.5 per cent of the annual average salary.
The NBS report, very audacious and commendable, has not said anything outside what is trite about the prevalence of bribery in Nigeria. But it has achieved one major thing: it has placed a mirror before us to remind us that in spite of our anti-corruption crusade and sloganeering, the pandemic is still very much alive and well.
Lesson: One individual cannot stop a culture of bribery and corruption but functional and responsive institutions can. We must deliberately retool the public service to be an incubator of good governance rather than a house of crooks who pillage and plunder the till and still come out smelling like rose flower.