Ayomikun Olugbode, Founder, Inspired Youth Network
Inspired Youth Network is a not-for-profit organisation based in Lagos, Nigeria that supports young people to demand accountability and transparency through capacity building and policy advocacy.
Transparency International (TI) in its Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2018 ranked Nigeria in 144th position out of 180 countries as against the 148th position and 136th position ranked in 2017 and 2016 respectively. Bribery has become a major corrupt practice in the public service: bribes to public officials are an embodiment of corruption that threatens democracy, strong independent institutions, civil rights and the economy. The estimated value of bribes paid to public officials by Nigerians was estimated at 400 bn Nigerian naira (about $1 bn) and within a year, at least 82 million bribes were reportedly paid to public officials in Nigeria. The negative implication of corruption on the Nigerian economy is huge. Public servants divert and embezzle funds allocated for developmental projects, with this corruptive behavior further threatening the development of Nigeria, its educational and health services and preventing its population from escaping poverty and unemployment.
Different policies and anti-corruption laws have been put place in Nigeria while government and international organizations have invested millions of dollars in strengthening anti-corruption agencies as well as raising awareness to change people’s behavior towards corruption with the expectation that it will bring about a reduction in the involvement of public officers in corrupt practices. Despite all these efforts, the fight against corruption seems unsuccessful. This may not be unconnected with the fact that corrupt people are still leading the government, people who fought against corruption are not inspired and those alleged of being corrupt easily find their way into elected offices to punish those who exposed them. Several convicted corrupt individuals have been offered chieftaincy titles while some have been elected into political offices. A number of corruption cases are currently in court while witnesses refuse to testify because of lack of motivation and fear. In 2009, the pioneer chairman of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nuhu Ribadu, went into exile in the US, following threats to his life as a result of his fight against high profile corruption while he was in office. Such threats will also discourage honest citizens and public servants from raising their voices against corruption.
How and where do we go from here? The Nigerian government cannot fight corruption alone without the support of the citizens. As a nation, Nigeria focuses more on sanctions and punishments for corrupt officers, which in itself is very important. Yet there is a need to create policies and programs that will motivate citizens to speak out against corrupt practices. Annually, footballers, artistes, banks and other parts of the private sector celebrate their own in order to motivate them to do more. This is not the case with the Nigerian public service. Motivation from government towards public officers is very low. Lack of motivation also promotes corruption. However, despite the high level of corruption in the public service, there are still honest public officers who will never take bribes or involve themselves in shady deals. A deliberate approach should be adopted to identify, celebrate and empower public officers with the culture and exemplary act of integrity who will act as ambassadors that advocates for a corrupt-free public service rather than pointing fingers at wrong-doers.
A number of civil society organizations in Nigeria and other parts of the world have successfully initiated naming and faming programs to promote the culture of integrity. This I believe will yield positive result. Prominent among the initiatives is the Integrity Awards 2018 of Youth Alive Foundation and Integrity Idol program of Accountability Lab. Some public officers who are awardees of Youth Alive Foundation’s Integrity Awards include a University lecturer, a police officer, a retired justice and a road safety officer among others. These are public officers from agencies perceived to be highly corrupt but they decided to distinct themselves amidst all odds. Like the Integrity Idols where the idols act as mentors for young government officials in the Integrity School program of Accountability Lab, the awardees of Integrity Awards partner with Youth Alive Foundation and their organizations in facilitating lectures, seminars, interactive sessions, short impact videos, intensive social media campaigns where the integrity messages are promoted. Nigerian government should work with civil society organizations to create a platform where the identified public servants with the culture of integrity act as mentors for young public officials in order to tackle corruption in the public service.
Naming and faming public officers with exemplary acts of integrity will not only reshape norms that sustain corruption but also build a network of honest public officers who will advocate for positive change and inspire a new generation to be honest public officers. The result and impact may not be immediately felt but at the long run it has the potential to make a huge and lasting impact.