Nigeria’s first ever corruption survey is as bad as most people imagined

Greasing palms.
Greasing palms.
Image: AP Photo/Sunday Alamba
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Corruption is bad in Nigeria—but just how bad?

Thanks to the first ever large-scale household survey on corruption released last week by the country’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigerians finally have a idea. For the most part, it’s not good.

Nearly a third of Nigerian adults who had contact with local public officials in the period under review reported cases where bribes were solicited or paid to a public official, the report found (pdf). On average, Nigerians pay six bribes per year, or one every two months. NBS estimates the total amount of bribes paid to public officials amount to $4.6 billion in purchasing power parity terms—the equivalent of 39% of the country’s federal and state budgets for education last year.

The report canvassed 33,000 households across the country about whether they had been asked to pay a bribe, and complied, between June 2015 and May 2016.

The report found that bribes were mostly paid to facilitate bureaucratic tasks such as obtaining a driving license or a land ownership certificate. They were also commonly paid to avoid payment of fines (for breaking traffic laws, for example) and to avoid cancellation of a public utility, like electricity and water supply. The report found that almost 70% of bribes collected by public officials were paid before a service was rendered.

While corruption is prevalent across most government agencies and departments, NBS found Nigeria’s police officers were the most likely of all civil servants to solicit and collect bribes. “Of all adult Nigerians who had direct contact with a police officer in the 12 months prior to the survey, almost half (46.4%) paid that officer at least one bribe,” NBS’ report said. Prosecutors and judges were found to be the next most likely to request and collect bribes.

For decades, corruption has been viewed as a menace in Nigeria. NBS’ data-led research, the first official government survey of pubic officials’ corrupt practices, crucially reveals the extent of the rot. For the most part, the government’s anti-corruption efforts have been focused on large-scale scams involving prominent government officials and contracts. But with bribery seemingly institutionalized in public processes, it’s a problem that runs deep. Identifying how deep might be the first step to curbing it.

NBS’ report also suggests that the corruption problem won’t go away soon, as Nigerians rarely report bribery solicitations and payments—only 3.7% of those surveyed reported to the authorities that they’d paid a bribe. The low rate is attributed to a lack of faith in the ability or willingness of the authorities to crack down on bribery. In many cases, these officials are caught in a vicious cycle of corruption. NBS’s report finds that more than 15% of households with a family member in public administration had paid a bribe.

Nigeria’s National Judicial Council has protested the findings, calling the report “untrue, baseless, unfounded and a figment of the imagination” of the NBS. Nigeria’s police force also pushed back, claiming that things aren’t as bad as the report makes out.  This narrative has already been dismissed by Nigerians, who are sharing stories of less than pleasant (and legal) encounters with the police.