Corruption- A Quagmire in Nigeria – Ezieme Iheoma

Private Sector & Corruption Menace - Ezieme Iheoma

Corruption is a problem that confronts all countries of the world. The only difference is that the prevalence, gravity and persistence of the corruption menace vary from one country to the other. As a global problem, corruption has undermined the development capacity of states and its greatest impact is seen on the lower strata of the society, i.e. the poor.

Nigeria, the most populated country in Africa, has been ranked high in corruption by Transparency International and other notable organizations that monitor corrupt practices around the world, hence making corruption its biggest challenge.

Corruption is seen as a culture or norm in Nigeria to the extent that if you do not engage in corruption, you are seen as being backward or primitive. It is clear to every citizen that the level of corruption in the country is high. Evidence of greed and get rich quick mentality is palpable and cuts across every sector of the society, be it public or private. Appointment into office is seen as an opportunity for grand pilfering. In Nigeria today everybody is on the fast lane, the end justifies the means. What is important is to make money, it does not matter the source of the wealth. It is just grab, grab and grab without an iota of consideration for the people who should be the ultimate beneficiary of their services and at the expense of value that should be added to the society in terms of basic amenities such as good roads, water, electricity etc. 

Definition of corruption 

Etymologically, corruption is derived from a Latin word “corruptus” which means ‘to break or destroy’. Literally, corruption means to break away or depart from morality, ethics and civic virtues.

The forms of corruption are diverse in terms of who are the actors, initiators and profiteers, how it is done, and to what extent it is practiced.

Corruption takes many forms, and perpetrators are skilled in developing new ways to be corrupt and cover their tracks. Much thought has been devoted to developing different definitions of corruption but, despite its complex nature, most people can recognize a corrupt act when they see it.

Much has been written on corruption as the concept has gained currency in the lexicon of social life of our society today.

Corruption is defined as the abuse of public office for private gain; the misuse of entrusted power for private benefit.

This definition captures three elements of corruption:

  • Corruption occurs in both the public and private sectors.
  • It involves abusing power held in a state institution or a private organisation.
  • The bribe-taker, third party as well as the bribe-giver benefit, whether it be in terms of money or an undue advantage.

Sometimes the ‘advantage’ gained by the bribe-giver may not be ‘undue’ or clear cut but is nonetheless an advantage. For example, in a corrupt society where the right to access public services such as health or education can be only secured by paying an unlawful bribe, those who can afford to pay have an advantage over those who cannot. In such circumstances the bribe-givers’ ‘benefit’ is merely that which is his or her rightful due and bribe-takers receive an advantage for carrying out functions that they are obliged anyway to perform.

Corruption has been defined in the case of Biobaku vs NPF (1951 20, NWLR pg. 30) as the receiving or offering of some benefits as reward or inducement to sway or deflect the receiver from the honest and impartial discharge of his duties.

Thus, the offence of corruption extends beyond mere financial considerations, to cover such areas as sexual favour, conferment of titles or appointment to offices, promotions, admissions into clubs, societies or institutions etc.  As a matter of fact, the main element of the offence includes the offering of or acceptance of money either in kind or cash to refuse to do, or do an act for the benefit of the giver.

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Corruption is defined by Assisi Asobie as unethical behaviour or practice. In legal parlance, corruption normally means conduct prohibited by law. Going by Asobie’s definition, there may be some unethical conducts which, though not illegal, nevertheless qualify as corruption. There may also be unethical conduct that does not amount to corruption. For example, it is unethical for a person to slap his father, yet this does not amount to corruption, strictly speaking.

Types of Corruption

Political Corruption

Political corruption is the use of powers by government officials for illegitimate private gain. An illegal act by an officeholder constitutes political corruption only if the act is directly related to their official duties, is done under color of law or involves trading in influence. This is manifested in election and succession, and the manipulation of people and institutions in order to retain power and office. Political positions are scarce and the prices of office are high. Hence the competition for such resource position involves every possible extralegal means-through corruption-in order to overcome obstacles and opposition.

Bureaucratic corruption

This is also referred to as small scale or petty corruption. This is the everyday kind of corruption that takes place at the implementation end of policies where the public officials meet the public. Bureaucratic corruption refers to corrupt acts of the appointed bureaucrats in their dealings either with their superiors or the public. This manner of corruption appears to be the most common in Nigeria. Evidence of this pervades every facet of Nigeria system: the hospitals, school, police, courts, licensing and tax offices. Bureaucratic corruption involves buying favours from bureaucrats who formulate and administer government economic and political policies.

Judicial Corruption

Judicial corruption refers to corruption related misconduct of judges, through receiving or giving bribes, improper sentencing of convicted criminals, bias in the hearing and judgement of arguments and other such misconduct.

The accusation of long-scale corruption among the electoral tribunals adjudicating over series of electoral disputes has dented the image of the Nigeria judiciary. Many have often doubted the objectivity and neutrality of most Nigerian judges who are perceived as corrupt and often subvert justice. By this, court rulings are occasionally believed to go the way of highest bidder. This must have prompted one of the legal luminaries, Justice Chukwudifu Oputa to make the following declaration:

Corruption is the greatest melody to affect any court system, for the court is our human attempts to attain justice through the law; Justice in our courts should never become a marketable commodity blatantly auctioned with the hammer going down to the highest bidder. 

Moral Corruption

The desire for employment, the wish to show wealth through the acquisition of women, the flamboyant demonstration of individual materialistic possession in the midst of social poverty, and the exploitation of man by man-the powerless poor by the powerful rich, etc. all belong to the type of moral corruption. The implication of criticism here is that the possession of wealth is right only when it is employed to serve the needs of society and its members, and lust, incest, avarice, covetousness etc. are abhorred in society. There is so much self-interest and greed in our society that the political rules and top bureaucrat flout public moral code, and indeed our top elite are generally morally vulnerable.

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Anticorruption Agencies and Legal Framework

The Constitution (The 1999 Constitution, Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria cap 24, 2004)

The Constitution states expressly that the state shall abolish corrupt practices and abuse of office. The Fifth Schedule of the same Constitution provides for Code of Conduct for Public Officers at the Federal and State levels and in actualizing this requirement the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal were established. The Code prohibits bribery and abuse of office by public officers.

ICPC Act (Independent Corrupt Practice and other Related Offences Act, 2000)

The Act seeks to prohibit and prescribe punishment for corrupt practices and other related offences. It establishes an Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), a Nigerian agency inaugurated on the 29th of September 2000 following the recommendation of President Olusegun Obasanjo vesting it with the responsibility for investigation and prosecution of offenders thereof.

Provision has also been made for the protection of anybody who gives information to the commission in respect of an offence committed or likely to be committed by any other person.

EFCC Act (The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Act)

EFCC Act defines economic and financial crimes to mean non-violent criminal and illicit activity committed with the objective of illegally earning wealth individually, in a group, or in an organized manner, thereby violating existing legislation governing the economic activities of government and its administration. In 2003, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was established as a law enforcement agency to investigate financial crimes such as advance fee fraud (419 fraud) and money laundering. The Commission is also responsible for identifying, tracing, freezing, confiscating, or seizing proceeds derived from terrorist activities. EFCC is also host to the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), vested with the responsibility of collecting suspicious transactions reports (STRs) from financial and designated non-financial institutions, analyzing and disseminating them to all relevant government agencies and other Financial Intelligence Units all over the world.

It is important to note that while the ICPC targets corruption in the public sector, especially bribery, gratification, graft and abuse or misuse of office, the EFCC investigates people in all sectors who appear to be living above their means, and is empowered to investigate and prosecute money laundering and other financial crimes.

CCB and CCT (The Code of Conduct Bureau and Code of Conduct Tribunal Act CAP 56, LFN 1990)

CCB and its twin sister, CCT are extra Ministerial Departments set up by the Federal Government under the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, Cap 56, LFN 1990. This Act gave the Bureau the mandate “to establish and maintain a high standard morality in the conduct of government business and to ensure that the actions and behavior of Public Officers conform to the highest standard of public morality and accountability”. Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) is the pioneer anti-corruption agency set up by the Federal Government of Nigeria with the primary responsibility of checking corrupt practices in the Nigerian Public service.

The Public Complaints Commission Act

The Public Complaints Commission Act of 1976 established The Public Complaint Commissioners vested with powers to investigate allegations bordering on misuse of office, administrative incompetence and abuse of power. The Public Complaints Commission is established under the Public Complaints Commission Act and operates to protect the public against corrupt oppressive exercise of power by public officers.

Advance Fee Fraud and other Fraud Related Offences Act 2006

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The Advance Fee Fraud and other Related Offences Decree of 1995 enacted by the Abacha’s regime and Re-enacted as the Advance Fee Fraud and other Related offences Act prohibits and punishes certain offences pertaining to Advance Fee Fraud and other fraud related offences.

Police Act and the National Security Agencies Act

Police Act provides for Police with powers to investigate and arrest persons for corruption under all anti-corruption laws. The police can also prosecute under all laws and regulations vide the provisions of the Police Act.

The National Securities Agencies Act provides for three agencies namely: the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA); the National Intelligence Agency (NIA); and the State Security Service (SSS). The SSS is the most visible among the trio. Although the statute tried to delineate their functions, they practically dovetail, interrelate or integrate sometimes.

Factors that facilitate corruption

  1. Existence of imperatives and incentives that encourage corrupt transactions like low and irregular salaries for officials with large dependent families, social norms and political pressure.
  2. Availability of multiple opportunities for personal enrichment and extensive discretion over the allocation of resources provides opportunities for corrupt behaviour.
  3. Access to and control over the means of corruption like control over an administrative process such as tendering or having access to offshore accounts and the techniques of money laundering.
  4. Inadequate and ineffective controls. For instance, weak internal controls such as financial management, auditing, and personnel systems are also facilitating conditions.
  5. Where the media and civil society are controlled and censored, corrupt politicians and officials have less to fear.
  6. Lack of an efficient system for policing, detecting and prosecuting corrupt officials.
  7. Display of wealth by public officials without any consequences whatsoever that is out rightly disproportionate to their income.
  8. Family ties, influence and obligation, the feeling of obligation to assist family members as one of the opportunities of office. It is a common saying that if certain office holders fail to make wealth at the time of occupying the office, then the officer will never make it again as if the office is a venture to make wealth. The pressure from family members and the urge to meet these demands sometimes puts so much pressure on these officers that they begin to deep their hands into public coffers.
  9. Avarice and arrantly dangerous ‘get rich quick’ syndrome is a trend that is besetting the fabric of the country and consuming everything in its part.
  10. Challenges of meeting the burdens placed on persons as a result of the dilapidation of public infrastructures and collapse of public institutions.
  11. Unequal access to opportunities as a result of their race, ethnicity, lack of skills, capital, material and other human resources.
  12. Breakdown in Morals, Societal and Ethical values due to westernization. 


Nigeria is seen as national cake where you take your own share when opportuned to do so. Nigerians are corrupt because the system under which they live today makes corruption easy and profitable, they will cease to be corrupt when corruption is made difficult and inconvenient. If there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the nature and concept of Nigerians, which make them corrupt or have consistent flair for corruption, then Nigerians cannot be exceptional in the world since they are not naturally and fundamentally different from other human being

Corruption is a bane to good governance and obstacle to development of any nation. Nigeria in the last fifty years has been thriving and flourishing in corruption with little or no serious effort at combating it. Corruption must be vehemently deterred and genuinely fought so as to ensure good governance and sustainable development.


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