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Public officials squeezed N675bn from Nigerians as bribe in 2019 – Report

Money

A total of N675 billion was paid in cash bribes to Nigerian public officials in 2019, corresponding to 0.52 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to a report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), in conjunction with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and UK Aid.

The report, titled ‘Corruption in Nigeria: Patterns and Trends’, also shows that an estimated 117 million bribes are paid annually in the country, indicating an equivalent of 1.1 bribes per adult with over 93 percent of the bribes paid in cash with an average amount of N5,754 ($52).

Based on a survey on corruption as experienced by the population, the report shows that while the prevalence of bribery may have decreased, the frequency of bribe-paying has not, especially in the public sector, despite the anti-corruption measures put in place by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.

Corruption, which over the years has been a cankerworm eating deep into the Nigerian system, has not been rectified as the survey asserts that the government’s anti-corruption agenda, which tends to be focused on large-scale corruption, has so far marginally affected the menace of bribe request.

“Although a smaller percentage of Nigerians that had contact with public officials paid bribes, or were asked to pay bribes, those who did pay bribes continued to do so quite frequently: in 2019, Nigerian bribe-payers paid an average of six bribes in the 12 months prior to the survey, or one bribe every two months, which is virtually the same as the average of 5.8 bribes paid per bribe-payer in 2016,” the report said.

It also stressed the power relationship between public officials and citizens which typically favours the former. When public officials elicit a bribe, they tend to be successful and do so with impunity – an outcome that may embolden corrupt officials to make even more bribe requests, it said.

The prevalence of bribery among public sector officials calls for concern considering that many Nigerians come in contact with them daily. In addition, administrative corruption, mostly in the form of frequent low-value bribes, continues to have a profound effect on the lives of Nigerians, especially because on the average, bribe-payers pay an amount equivalent to 6 percent of the average annual income of Nigerians.

Out of all Nigerian citizens who had at least one contact with a public official in the 12 months prior to the 2019 survey, 30.2 percent paid a bribe to, or were asked to pay a bribe by, a public official.

An increasing share of bribes is paid for speeding up procedures and for avoiding fines, according to the 2019 survey, and almost one in two bribes, indicating about 45 percent, is paid for the purpose of speeding up or finalising an administrative procedure. In a large share of cases, bribes are paid for purely speeding up a procedure, about 38 percent, while the share of bribes paid to avoid the payment of a fine reached 21 percent in 2019.

Accounting for 26 percent of all bribe payments, the most common service sought when paying a bribe in the 2019 survey was a public utility service, followed by the issuance of an administrative licence or permit, the report stated.

Other commonly sought services reported in the 2019 survey include a medical visit, exam or intervention, the issuance of an administrative certificate or document or of a tax declaration or exemption, and the import/export of goods.

Around 3 percent of cases were related to payments to the police for “bail from jail”, a type of payment that does not refer to the legal type of bail administered by courts, but rather to payments extracted by corrupt officials for the release of arrestees from jail prior to the formal commencement of a trial.

Although this situation has remained virtually unchanged since 2016, when the bribery reporting rate was 3.7 percent, a significantly smaller proportion of bribery reports were made to the police in 2019 than in 2016 (out of all bribe-payers who reported the bribery incident to an authority in 2016, 56 percent reported it to the police, versus 43 percent in 2019) and, by contrast, reports to anti-corruption agencies increased from 4 percent to 8 percent.

Sadly, out of all citizens who had to pay a bribe, only 3.6 percent reported their latest incident to an official institution capable of conducting an investigation or otherwise following up and acting on that report in 2019.

The low level of bribery reporting is largely explained by the fact that 51 percent of those who reported a bribery incident experienced either no follow-up, were discouraged from reporting or suffered negative consequences.

Worse still, 48 percent of adult Nigerians who refused to pay a bribe in the 12 months prior to the 2019 survey reported suffering negative consequences because of that refusal, although this share has decreased from the 56 percent found in the 2016 survey.

The 2019 survey reconfirmed that more than 90 percent of bribes in Nigeria are paid in cash and often in the context of direct contact between a citizen and a public official. This suggests that the expansion of digitalisation in public service delivery would help to limit opportunities for transactional corruption.

“Developing web-based and smartphone applications, numerous administrative procedures would not only increase in efficiency but also anonymise interactions between citizens and public officials, and thus reduce the likelihood of corruption,” the report said.

While the institutions within the criminal justice system, including specialised law enforcement agencies, have consistently shown improvements in terms of the prevalence of bribery, they remain the comparatively most affected by corruption.

This suggests that, while drawing strength from the gains made, the executive and the judiciary should redouble their efforts to prevent and counter corruption within those institutions. These include corruption risk assessments in the criminal justice system; mandatory professional ethics training upon entry into service and at subsequent stages, in particular for at-risk public officials; measures to increase the chances of detection of bribe-seeking behaviour; improvements to the complaint process within the individual institutions; and more drastic, reliably applied and transparent disciplinary measures.

ONYINYE NWACHUKWU (Abuja) & GBEMI FAMINU (Lagos)