Nigeria: The Corruption Poster Child
Life can provide important perspectives on controversial issues. I know it is a broad statement but life’s lessons can be learned from a variety of experiences.
Many businesses and legal commentators have challenged the importance of the global fight against corruption. While enforcement strategies and programs can be questioned at the margins, there is no doubt that government corruption is a human rights issue and can have a devastating impact on a country, its institutions, and ultimately the condition of its people.
Nigeria’s government has been in the headlines lately with the tragic kidnapping of young girls by Nigerian rebel group Boko Haram. The government’s ineffectual response underscores the importance of the battle against corruption.
Nigeria is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. It’s Corruption Perceptions Index, as ranked by Transparency International, is 144 out of 177 and its raw score is 25 (ranked between 0, highly corrupt, and 100, very clean). Scholars who have analyzed the astounding level of corruption find that it pervades every aspect of life. It has been this way for centuries.
Corruption that rises to this level is difficult to comprehend by someone who lives in a country where you don’t have to hand the mailman $50 cash to hand you your package, or who does not have to pay $100 to get the machine that prints drivers licenses to “work” again. At that level of corruption no one does anything unless you pay them. Overall, you cannot blame the individual for demanding a bribe, it is often the only way he or she will get paid.
Many Nigerians who participate in corruption often feel compelled to do so in the context of political and moral economies that leave them little choice. This includes soldiers and police officers, those charged with protecting others. And so when the terrorist group Boko Haram arrived with guns, lots of guns, at the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School, kidnapped 276 girls, and drove them into the forest where they have “disappeared,” you cannot expect the government’s response to be immediate, efficient, or smooth. Corruption in Nigeria is invasive and hinders the most basic functions of government.
Businesses know this. In the old days a business entering into Nigeria, or any corrupt country, would build bribes into the budget – shrugged shoulders would say “that’s just the way business is done.”
Not anymore. Now, with FCPA and global anti-corruption enforcement at an all time high, companies have started to change their thinking. The new response is squared shoulders saying “that’s not the way we do business.”
Nigeria is a beautiful country with abundant natural resources, two characteristics that make for a promising economy. Companies want to do business in Nigeria but they also don’t want to pay huge fines and their executives don’t want to go to jail.
As more and more companies start to do business in Nigeria there is going to be a clash between the old, corrupt business expectations and the new, refusal to engage in corruption. It might be optimistic, but I think that things will improve as it becomes clear that the path to a stable, prosperous economy is paved with ethical business practices, not bribes.
As the country’s tolerance for corruption goes down it will go down in all sectors, including the government. Eventually this may mean that the government will be able to respond efficiently, swiftly and effectively to prevent violence from occurring.