By John P. Frinjuah
Nigeria’s 2015 presidential race was widely seen as a “referendum” on the economy, the blight of corruption, and the state of the country’s security. Muhammadu Buhari’s victory left many Nigerians optimistic that he would stem the tide of unemployment, effectively deal with corruption, and deal a crushing blow to Boko Haram.
Almost three years into his government, Buhari has won the admiration of many for his anti-corruption campaign. In fact, the African Union named him its anti-corruption ambassador and highlighted his efforts during its recent 30th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government in Ethiopia.
How has Buhari fared on fighting corruption?
Over the past three years, public perceptions of the Buhari administration’s fight against corruption have improved dramatically. Afrobarometer’s recent survey in Nigeria indicates that six in 10 Nigerians (59%) say the government is performing “fairly well” or “very well” in fighting corruption, a strong improvement from the 21% recorded in 2015 (see Figure 1). Nigerians are evenly split, however, on whether corruption has actually increased or decreased over the past year.
Figure 1: Government performance in the fight against corruption | Nigeria | 2017
Respondents were asked: How well or badly would you say the current government is handling the following matters, or haven’t you heard enough to say: Fighting corruption in government?
What did Buhari do?
Since he assumed office, Buhari has made headlines with his hard stance on pursuing stolen money and bringing the culprits to justice. Famous among his high-profile targets is Sambo Dasuki, the former national security adviser who was charged in a $2 billion rotten deal involving a contract to purchase aircraft and ammunition for the security services. Several other high-level officials have been implicated in one corruption case or another by Nigerian law enforcement and anti-graft agencies. Buhari also restructured the National Petroleum Corporation, which had been riddled with egregious corruption scandals, changing its management and requiring the publication of monthly financial reports. The government announced that $9.1 billion in stolen money and assets had been retrieved between May 2015 – when Buhari took office – and May 2016.
More recently, President Buhari brought his fight against corruption closer to home, when he dealt with his own officials without favour. Babachir David Lawal, Nigeria’s most senior civil servant and secretary to the government, who was implicated in a $8 million fraud scandal by the Senate, was sacked by the presidency. So was Ayo Oke, head of Nigeria’s National Intelligence Agency, who was found in the quagmire of controversy around the $43 million cash stash found by Nigeria’s anti-corruption body, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Although President Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign has been impressive so far, it is no cause for complacency, as citizens’ perceptions of corruption among public officials remain high. Nine out of 10 Nigerians still think “some,” “most,” or “all” public officials are corrupt, with the police most widely seen as corrupt (see Figure 2), and about eight out of 10 citizens feel they risk retaliation if they report corruption.
Figure 2: Perceived corruption among public officials | Nigeria | 2017
Respondents were asked: How many of the following people do you think are involved in corruption, or haven’t you heard enough about them to say?
These perceptions reflect deep-seated realities that will require everyone’s efforts to change. But President Buhari has set the tone from the top, and we hope that his anti-corruption campaign has a contagious effect on other African leaders.