Event Summary: ‘The Challenge of Corruption in Nigeria’


By Alexis David

On Tuesday 20th September, the Henry Jackson Society welcomed Professor Abdullahi Shehu to discuss ‘The Challenge of Corruption in Nigeria’, and highlight the obstacles that corruption poses to democratic governance, foreign investment and sustainable development in Nigeria.

In 2015 the emergence of a new government in Nigeria proved to be a great revolution against corruption in both the country and Africa as a whole. The former President had been accused of enabling corruption, thereby inhibiting foreign investment, enhancing security threats, and preventing human development in the country. Accordingly, citizens demonstrated their desire to eliminate corruption through the election of President Muhammed Buhari. One of the campaign promises of the newly elected President was to eradicate corruption in Nigeria, a promise which, Shehu argued, imbued the citizenry with immense hope for the future of their country. However, in 2015 Nigeria ranked low in transparency and high in corruption according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. Out of the 168 countries surveyed, Nigeria was ranked 136th, demonstrating that corruption is still Nigeria’s biggest challenge.

Professor Abdullahi Shehu introduced his topic by highlighting the extent to which corruption can be found in every sector of society in Nigeria, and the consequent challenges for democratic governance. He went on to discuss the presence of corruption in almost every other society, explaining that developed countries merely find it easier to absorb the shocks of corruption, unlike developing countries – such as Nigeria – whose institutions are weaker and therefore less capable to deal with these shocks.

The Professor discussed Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, which deemed Nigeria to be at the forefront of corruption and lack of transparency. Whilst he pointed out that these rankings are based on perceptions, he nevertheless clarified that perceptions tend to be based on realities.

Professor Shehu then explained the overall feeling towards President Muhammed Buhari, which gave way to his rise to power. Mr Buhari was perceived as a “very strong general” with “a strong passion to fight corruption”. Buhari and his party provided a philosophy and commitment to:

  • Diminish the security issues that had developed due to corruption
  • Deal with the issue of corruption
  • Amend the economy

Professor Shehu proceeded by acknowledging the successes of President Buhari and his government in the area of recovery; three months ago the government indicated it was able to recover cash and assets that had been stolen from the country. It also gave the figures of the funds awaiting re-appropriation from foreign jurisdictions. Nevertheless, commendable as the efforts of the government have been, Nigerian’s believe the outcomes have fallen short of expectations. The government has been criticized in 3 main areas:

  • The fight against corruption remains uncoordinated, without a well-established plan
  • Citizens believe the fight against corruption has become a “witch-hunt” against members of the opposition party (PDP, previous ruling party)
  • There has not been a single major conviction; all of the politically exposed individuals are yet to be prosecuted

Subsequently, Professor Abdullahi gave insight into the ‘way forward’ in order to eradicate corruption in Nigeria:

  • Develop a strong and sustained political will and commitment that is matched by action
  • Improve coordination at all levels including international cooperation so Nigeria can obtain assistance
  • Reduce political interference
  • Societies affected by corruption must develop basic democratic standards, such as freedom of speech and respect for fundamental human rights
  • Improve the rule of law in order to overcome the vulnerabilities that aid corruption
  • Promote a strong civil society that can demand action against corruption

Professor Abdullahi ended his discussion on an optimistic note. Although the problem cannot be solved overnight, he said that corruption is a deep-rooted issue, and will require transparent and sustainable efforts from both within and without the country. The Professor went on to highlight the importance of civil society engaging and talking about corruption, alongside the responsibility of the international community to bring light to the problem in order to facilitate resolutions, such as ensuring the return of illegal assets to their victims.


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