Nigeria’s rating by Transparency International on its latest Corruption Perceptions Index has improved considerably. It moved to position 144th in 2018 from 148th in 2017. The 4 places jump, however, did not alter the country’s score of 27 on a 0-100 scale. This is not surprising as, according to TI, overall, more than two-thirds of countries scored below 50 on the 2018 index, and the average was 43.
The shocker delivered by the report is that the United States of America, the so-called mother of democracy and clean governance, dropped 4 places, from the 75th position to 71. This takes it out of the top 20 corruption free countries in the world, the first time since 2011. The group said its latest report sounded a “wake-up call” about the need to tackle conflicts of interest, undue influence of the private sector and widening gaps between rich and poor.” Zoe Reiter, the watchdog’s acting representative to the United States, added: “This is a red flag because it’s really part of a pattern that we’ve seen since the 2008 global financial crisis of a loss of trust … in our public institutions. People don’t see us as having adequate mechanisms in place to fight corruption and ensure the accountability of our elected officials.”
Two things to note about the 2018 corruption perception report. One is that the Nigeria’s effort under President Muhammadu Buhari at fighting corruption, though much maligned by those who benefited from the malaise, has not failed to catch the attention of the outside world. Two, corruption has not spared any country. Even the apparently very rich and beautiful suffer from it. TI said its analysis showed a clear link between having a healthy democracy and fighting public sector corruption, and cited declining scores for Turkey and Hungary, in connection with challenges to the rule of law and press freedoms.
A third thing to note is that the hefty leap Nigeria has made is not likely to be appreciated by a citizenry that is prone to negativism. This will be more so in this election year when the political opposition is campaigning hard to rubbish the sitting president’s record. Compared to the hullabaloo that greeted a report last year that described Nigeria as having displaced India as the world’s “headquarters of extreme poverty,” this salutary news of our improvement in the TI rating has been greeted with cynicism and received little news media mention.
We abhor this national culture of negativism, promoted by people who raised corruption in high places to the level of a burgeoning industry. However, we urge Buhari not to be blackmailed into scaling down the war on official corruption, not even in an election year. His comment that “if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill her” still holds true. If the price to pay for winning the anti-graft fight is an electoral defeat so be it. The health of the nation is more important than a personal victory in the polls.