Routing Corruption, Ravaging Scourge of a Nation


Abdulwarees Solanke


A Special Report on Integrity in Nigerian Public Service


It’s a crippling phenomenon. It’s a threatening infection requiring urgent exorcism. Corruption in a cankerworm in the Nigerian fabric that must never be tolerated if the nation must rise and thrive. In 2007, the first female speaker in Nigeria’s lower national legislative chamber, the Federal House of Representatives ingloriously resigned from office over allegations of financial impropriety. She was accused of using public money in excess of 650 million naira to furnish her official residence. A caucus in the House, the INTERGRITY GROUP, doggedly fought to unravel the details of the scam as well as the beneficiaries. She did not survive the investigation.


Similarly, the first speaker in the nation’s 4th Republic, was removed less than six months in office in 1999, over a certificate scandal. Between 1999 and 2006, three senate presidents in the country were shown the way out of office over financial misdemeanour. Although their removals were attributed to high-wire politics, there is no doubt that a revolution is underway in Nigeria indicating that any public official who soils his hand while in public service of the nation will sooner or later be subjected to public ridicule through legislative, judicial and enforcement instruments that are now in place in the country to sensitize public service.


Since the 80s Nigeria had consistently been featured by Transparency international (TI) as one of the most corrupt nations in the world. Many foreigners are also afraid to come to Nigeria or do business in the country because of the prevalent reports in the international mass media hyping the inefficiency and corruption of the country’s government and public service structures and infrastructural failure.


Yet, Nigeria remains one of the richest countries in the world with huge oil resources, vibrant manpower, favourable climate and fertile arable land. The question that begs for answer is why is a country so much endowed humanly and materially unable to log on to the league of countries described as efficient, or possessing a working system? The answer is to be found in the structure and orientation of her public service system.


But what gives any public service its colour of efficiency and effectiveness is the overall values and ethics, the written and unwritten rules that guide the conduct of public servants. The Nigeria Police for instance has as its credo, to serve and protect with INTEGRITY, Not just the law enforcement arm of the government, but also every public service institution ought to serve with integrity for it to be considered as relevant, responsible and responsive to public needs and expectations.



Integrity cannot, as a value of conduct, stand in isolation, but in the context of the system or the society, because the best gauge of integrity is how it keeps the system sane and balanced. In the private or individual context therefore, integrity implies an unimpaired character that stands public scrutiny demonstrated by a well-ordered private and public life devoid of moral or material corruptibility The corollary to this is that integrity covers virtues of honesty, impartially, humility, responsibility, and transparency, and can be stretched further as also entailing moral accountability.


Quoting Owasanoye, B Omolehinwa,E, said, “accountability is not just about the responsibility of public officers and institutions to the people they purport to serve, but it also includes a willingness on the part of the office holder to submit to scrutiny appropriate to the office he is holding. Deinhardt and Deinhardt looked the issue of integrity beyond knowledge of what constitutes moral action: Knowing the proper and correct course is not enough. You must indeed act in a way that is consistent with what you consider to be right.


According to these authors, people are described as having integrity not merely on the basis of what they believe but on the basis of how they act. Questions of ethics in the public service, they observed, are not abstract but real, having immediate and sometimes serious human consequences, necessitating a consideration of how to ensure moral actions in public organisations.


The imperative is eloquently captured by Dr. Saina Saim, a Professor of Public Administration at the Universiti Brunei Darussalam in her outline of administrative ethics.


· Administrative ethics denote the professional code of morality in civil service

· They constitute the moral fibre of civil servants

· They regulate the conduct and behaviour of different category of civil servants

· They provide rules of the game


As she explained, civil servants are expected to set up high moral standards not only for themselves but also for the community at large. According to Goel, S.L. administrative ethics is the study of those administrative standards on the basis of which a particularly action is judged to be right or wrong, moral or immoral, good or bad. Therefore administrative ethics covers a diverse range of virtues (5) including, but not restricted to the following.


· Integrity

· Loyalty

· Honesty

· Efficiency

· Non-partisan attitude

· Non-corruptive ness

· Devotion to duty

· Sense of public good

· Secrecy

· Neutrality

· Anonymity

· Impartiality

· Fairness

· Sincerity


If the above constitute administrative ethics, then all attitudes that negate the proper functioning of the public service and the attainment of the purpose and essence of its existence, serving public good will be considered hindrances to administrative ethics, namely,


· Corrupti9on

· Favouritism

· Bribery

· Indifferentism

· Officiousness

· Departmentalism

· Nepotism

· Lawlessness

· Political influence

· External pressures


Administrative ethnics can neither he sustained, nor would its hindrances be eliminated if there is no disposing or conducive environment, structures and institutions that promote, support and reward them, or restrain and penalize their abridgement. In other words, quality of the prevailing value system, the penal and law enforcement instruments and socio-economic situations must be ones that make abridgement of administrative ethics unattractive, that is, they must be reinforcing or rewarding appropriate conduct in public service and punitive of deviation.


Salm (2007) lists the following as some of the disposing or determining factors.


· Precedents and traditions set by the top administration

· Communication patters in the administrative system

· Effectiveness of disciplinary action on the civil servants

· Ethical standards and values existing in the society

· Attitude of political bosses towards administrator

· Precedents and traditions established by the ministers and legislators

· The soundness of service conditions of civil servants particularly salary

· Dynamics of internal relations in the organisation

· Soundness of training programmes organized to promote the professional consciousness among administrators

· Attitude of general public towards the administrators(7)

What the above suggest is that the idyllic public service envisaged must have evolved from a long tradition of order, discipline, and stability in the socio-economic and political contexts of the society. But the reality is that this is never the case, because of the economic dialectics of scarcity of resources and needs satisfaction, human ambition and psychological complexities, environmental pressures and external influences. The implication is that deliberate efforts must be made to create the Infrastructure and instruments that will stimulate adherence to ethics in the conduct of public affairs, in what is termed new ethics initiatives.


As underscored by Dr. Saina Binti Saim, Infrastructure underlines the interconnected nature of different elements and that they need to be consistent with one another and mutually reinforcing. The infrastructure comprises eight elements which can be categorized according to main elements they serve-guidance, management and control (8).However, an element may serve more than one function.


While guidance is provided primarily by strong commitment to political leadership, codes of conduct and professional socialization, management can be realized through coordination by a special ethics body or an existing central management agency, and also through human resource policies and employment conditions for public servants. Controls however assured primarily through a legal framework enabling independent investigation prosecution as well as effective accountability mechanisms, and transparency and public scrutiny. Two approaches- compliance or rule based and integrity approaches-representing a shift are now usually considered when reflecting on how to embark on public management reforms.



The choice of the three countries was informed by the need to have a mix of countries in different stages of development. The study of experiences in United States (a stable polity). Brazil (a semi-developed country) and The Philippines(developing nation) was to see how effective legal and other instruments put in place under different political and economic situations can guarantee integrity of their public service. The case reviews were based on 2006 GLOBAL INTEGRITY report which covered 41 countries. The report was published on January 10 2007.


In its assessment, GLOBAL INTEGRITY measured how each country stood in terms of the existence of anti-corruption mechanisms that promote public integrity. According to the report, more than 290 discrete integrity indicators generated the integrity index and organized into six key categories and 23 sub-categories. The countries assessed were grouped into seven, with sub-Saharan Africa group having the largest representation 915).


Five countries were from Europe, Middle East and North Africa (5), Latin America (5). South East Asia (4) south and Central Asia (8) and North America (10).

For the purpose of this study, one country each was chosen Latin America (Brazil) South East Asia (The Philippines) and the only country in North America (USA) to compare with Nigeria. The assessed countries were rated on the basis of their standing in six performance categories.


· Civil society, public information and media

· Elections

· Government accountability

· Administration and civil service

· Oversight and regulatory mechanisms

· Anticorruption mechanisms and rule of law.

As indicated above, the first category examined the existence of civil society organisations, free media and access to public information while the second looked at voting and citizens participation, the integrity of elections and regulations around political financing. The third category is assessment on the basis of accountability across executive, legislative and judicial branches of government as well as the budget process.


Category Four assessment which is o administration and civil service looked at administration and civil service regulations whistle-blowing measures and regulatory process around procurement and privatization.


Category Five considered oversight and regulatory mechanisms such as national ombudsman, supreme audit institutions, taxes and customs, financial sector regulations and business licensing while the final category is based on the existence of anti-corruption laws the country’s anti-corruption agency, rule of law and access to justice.


Global integrity used the following ratings to determine the strength of each country’s anti-corruption mechanisms that promote public integrity.


· Above 90 - very strong rating

· Above 80 – strong rating

· Above 70 - moderate rating

· Above 60 - weak rating

· Less than 80 – Very weak rating.


Globally, the highlights of the report as analysed by Global Integrity include relative weakness of national legislations to check abuses of power; Growing problem of corruption associated with political financing and Continued lack of whistle blower protections and effective access to information lacking in many countries. It is remarkable to note that none of the countries attained a very strong rating on the overall global integrity index, although only four were on strong. The rest were relatively uniformity distributed on moderate (12) weak (11) and very weak (14) ratings.


From the assessment , it is interesting to note that apart from the USA which measured strong throughout, the remaining countries were in moderate rating, although in varying categories. But it is also very significant to note that the three areas where Nigeria rated strong are actual or specific focus of this essay ice administration and civil service, oversight and regulation and anti-corrupti9on and rule of law. The implication of this is that the reform process of the public service in Nigeria is yielding fruits, if the country can measure on the same scale with USA that is considered to have a functioning public service.




In Nigeria at the moment, reforms are underway in various aspects of the nation” public domain, one of which is the public service itself. As one of the legacies of British colonial rule, the public sector was and is still quite dominant in the development scheme of things. In 47 years of Nigeria’s nationhood, the public service in the country has metamorphosed from an elite institution of efficient service delivery, with well-trained, competent personnel, responsive to public needs and demands to that of a bloated work force, with complement and corrupt elements until the return of democracy in 1999. The past experiences and realities of the Nigerian state combined to compromise integrity in the public service of Nigeria.


Less than six years after attainment of independence, the military intervened on the political scene. And one of their reasons for hijacking power was to check corruption which had begun to take toll even on the civil service. Undue polarization manifested in the public service to the extent that professional relevance and competence as yardstick of recruiting public servants took a back a stage while primordial considerations of tribe, ethnicity, religion became the unwritten yardsticks of recruitment.


As a way of redressing some of these manifestations, quota system and federal character policies were introduced in the nation’s public service, such that the most qualified person may not necessarily get a job if the quota of his state or region or even local government has been filled up, or just to satisfy the federal character requirement. This is also reflected in promotion and deployment of public servants within the public service just as in the larger political context of the nation, the cry of marginalization and monopoly of offices among various constituents of the country became rampant.


All these predisposed the Nigerian public service and its members to corruption and inefficiency because the best man for an office may not necessarily be the occupant because of the crisis of discipline and loyalty that the public service is subjected to. For many public servants therefore, it was usually not their input or service delivery to meet public demand and expectation that drove their interest in public service nor was it that they were best suited for the office or responsibility, but the opportunities or pecuniary of being there. Grounds for nepotism, god fathers and other bureaucratic pathologies were thus laid in the Nigeria public service. Where is integrity when pathos like these feature poignantly in the Nigerian public service?


Since 1975 particularly, successive governments both military and civilian had been committing themselves to tackling corruption, the most virulent affliction of the Nigerian public service which weakened its integrity immunity. These are apart from the criminal and penal codes in force in different parts of the country or the criminal justice decree of 1996. It is however interesting to note that the cankerworm of corruption on which the successive military regimes set for themselves the messianic mission for Nigeria actually thrived most under their regimes.


In Nigeria, there is what is referred to as the “settlement syndrome” through which opponents of the military regimes were co-opted into government to silence or minimize criticisms of their conduct. Many academics, civil rights activists, labour leaders and media practitioners became beneficiaries of this military benevolence through appointments as ministers, commissioners, chairmen or members of commissions, parastatal, corporations, special agencies and departments, or as senior special assistants and advisers, consultants to special programmes and projects, and monitors. At the end of such exercise, or even during their tenures, such co-opted critics lose their critical voices, and became military apologists, rationalizing and even defending bad policies.


But then, damage is also inflicted on the psyches of the bureaucrats and professionals government on new government men, often not pragmatic or realistic, are imposed. In such instances, bureaucrats and career civil servants became mere yes-men, serving any government in power (AGIP) for short. The more ambitious of such public servants become aggressive in exploiting any opportunity in the system, while the docile ones are left to rat or rot away, not giving their best to serve the public interest.


Taken as a whole, the twin evils of corruption and inefficiency (summed as indiscipline) because of the complex socio-political context of the Nigerian nation which served to compromise integrity in the public service formed the basis of past efforts aimed at reforming the public domain. The dimensions of such efforts ranged from ethical re-orientation to legal prosecution and law enforcement instruments, as well as systemic reforms.




The following are some of the past anti-corruption policies and strategies enunciated between 1978 and 1999 to deal with corruption and inefficiency that compromised integrity in the Nigerian public service:


  • The Corrupt Practices Decree 1975, which established the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau;

  • The Ethical Revolution Introduced in the Second Republic under the civilian presidency of Shehu Shagari between 1979 and 1983;

  • The War Against Indiscipline (WA) launched under the military government of Generals Bihari/Tunde Idiagbon Mass Mobilization For Social Justice, Self-Reliance and Economic Recovery (MAMSER) under General Ibrahim Babangida – 1985 – 1993;

  • The Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act (Cap 56, Law of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990);

  • The Recovery of Public Property (Special Military Tribunal Act Cap 387, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990) as amended in 1991;

  • The War Against Indiscipline and Corruption (WAIC) initiated under the military government of Late General Sani Abacha between 1994and 1998;

  • The Failed Banks (Recovery of Debts and Financial Malpractices in Banks) Decree 1994 as amended in 1998;

  • The Recovery of Public Property (Special Military Tribunal Act Cap 389, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990) as amended in 1999 by General Abdusalami Abubakar.

Several reasons have been adduced for the failure or ineffectiveness of the measures to curb institutional corruption in the Nigerian public service, one of which is that the panacea failed to take into account the magnitude, character, and sophistication of corruption so defined by its socio-cultural context and time dimensions (……) Also cited as a significant reason for the failure of the anti-corruption measures was the compromised sincerity of policy makers and those entrusted with enforcement”.


The above situation is the picture of Nigeria and it is in this context that the nation returned to democratic government in May 29, 1999, with enormous challenge confronting the new leadership. It is interesting to note that in 1979 when former President Obasanjo was handing over power as a military head of state to a democratic government, the situation was not as sordid as the regime he superintended between 1978 and 1979 (he succeeded slain General Murtala Muhammed who launched to power on a revolutionary note in 1975 with a strong determination to fight endemic corruption). He was therefore in full appreciation of the enormity of the situation. For instance, Obasanjo had 1994 made a strong case for corruption deterrents at a public forum when he declared:


“Once you give free rein unchecked, unbridled, uncontrolled, the bestiality of man comes to the fore... the average African is not by nature more corrupt than the European or from anyone else in any part of the world. He is no less democratic than anyone else. But others have institutions, laws conventions, and practices, which effectively discourage and punish corrupters and corruptees. Effective sanctions – moral, social, political, and legal – are an essential part of the anti-dote against corruption, human rights abuse and all forms of anti-democratic tendencies”.


It was therefore not surprising that when he was elected President in 1999, anti-corruption crusade became the cornerstone of his government. One of the first things he did as he assumed office was the sponsorship of a bill to prohibit and punish corruption. As an offshoot of that bill passed as Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2000 was the inauguration of Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) on September 29, 2000.


Two years later, his government launched another anti-corruption instrument with the creation through an act parliament, of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The Commission apart from its general responsibilities was also mandated to enforce all substantive law relating to tackling corruption, These include;


· Money laundering Act 1995

· The Advance Fee Fraud and other Related offence Act 1995

· The Failed Bank (Recovery of Debts) and Financial Malpractices in of Banks Act 1994 as amended

· The Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act, as amended

· Miscellaneous Offences Act (Cap 410 Laws of federation of Nigeria

· Any other Law related to economic and Financial Crimes.


These anti-corruption drives in the public sector have been tremendously successful in Nigeria but the government did not rest on its oars, as it went beyond these seemingly harsh instruments of instilling probity and discipline in the consciousness of the Nigerian public servant. Ten, President Olusegun Obasanjo had openly acknowledged the rot in the Nigerian public service at the inauguration of the new members of the National Assembly on June 5, 2003 when he declared that Nigerians have so far too long been feeling short changed by the quality of public service. He lamented that our public offices have for too long been a show case for the combined evils of inefficiency and corruption, whilst being impediments to effective implementations of government policies”


Against this background, the president in December 2003, commissioned a research project to review service delivery in Nigeria, the report of which was released in February 2004. Titled Service Delivery in Nigeria: A Roadmap” then report painted an unimpressive picture of public service delivery in the country, and concluded that services are not serving people because of the following features:


· inaccessibility

· Poor quality

· Indifference to customer needs

· Poor public confidence

· Confusing and wasteful institutional arrangements.


The report recommended “ a far reaching transformation of Nigerian society through a service delivery “ which should address the following:


1. create citizens and customers’ demands

2. instil higher expectations of public services

3. communicate service entitlements and right

4. Publish information about performance.


The overall demand of that report was that public services should be redesigned around customers’ requirements, and that the success of the programme would require committed leadership from the top, stressing the necessity of ministers demonstrating their commitment with a leadership declaration about service delivery. Consequent upon this research initiative and its reports and recommendation, the presidency held a special retreat in March 2004,. To deliberate on the identified flaw of the Nigerian public service and how to go about implementing the proposed reform agenda.


At that historic retreat, the former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo made the following unforgettable remarks:


This retreat is to reassert our ownership of the initiative to serve Nigerians better. We accept full responsibility for driving it to a successful end. This is the core of the message from this retreat to the people. That message should be about leadership that has all the attributes which we all agreed to in the last retreat, namely selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and patriotism. It is also the message of leading from the front the battle to sanitize our system, morally, politically and economically. About all, it is the message of the leadership that the Nigerian people can trust”.


The outcome of that retreat is the birth of the reform initiative dubbed in the public service as SERVICOM, or Service Compact with All Nigerians. The core provisions of the compact include the following:


· Set out the entitlements of the citizens clearly and in ways they can readily understand.

· List of fees payable (if any) and prohibit demand for any additional payments commitment to the provision of services (including processing of applications and the answering of correspondence) within realistic set time-frames


· Details of agencies and officials to whom complaints about service failures may be addressed

· Publish these details in conspicuous places accessible to the public.

· Periodically conduct and publish surveys to determine levels of customer’s satisfaction.


The SERVICOM initiative is fortunately strengthened by the another government organ, the Code of Conduct Bureau whose aims and objectives are the establishment and maintenance of high standard of morality in the conduct of government business and ensuring that the actions and behaviours of public officers conform to the highest standards of public morality and accountability. In their respective cases, ICPC and EFCC have exhibited demonstrable resolve in their capacity to chase and prosecute offenders, with much to show. EFCC”s arrests as at 2000 while it recovered properties in cash homes, land, luxurious care computers and household equipment valued at nearly 3 billion US dollars.


The EFCC binoculars covers wide field of public officials and private individuals: the searchlight is beaned on government contractors, international businessmen with friends in government circles, legislators and local government administrators, commissioners and ministers, chairmen of boards and parastatal, staff of the presidency many of who have been investigated and shoved into detentions in chains, ministers, state chief executives, police inspectors general who compromised their offices have been terribly embarrassed by EFCC. The bottom-line is that in Nigeria today, public officials can hardly get away with anything in public service, because the fear of EFCC and its unbending chairman, Mall am Neha Rimbaud, the game in the national police, the probing muck-raking private press is the beginning of wisdom. But the fear is: will the new leaders in government be able to sustain the tempo of the integrity drive in the nation or the public sphere?


This will be dependent not so much on the effectiveness or the sharpness of the regulatory or enforcement instruments in place now, but on transformation of the economic base of the country and the provision of social facilities that make life decent and meaningful, as well as the quality, nay the exemplary leadership provided by managers of the nation’s public life. When there is equal access to opportunities, when employments is guaranteed and when there is political stability and material security are assured, tendencies that compromise individual and public integrity will be minimized.




From experiences and practices in countries reviewed, including that of Nigeria, one string that runs through is that INTEGRITY is a culture that takes time to take root in any system, particularly the public service, because there are a number of compelling forces that would ordinarily prevent people from behaving ethically, one of which is the contextual appreciation and definition of what is ethical or moral. What is moral in one milieu or circumstance may not be so in another.

Hence, it is necessary to always codify public morality within a universal framework, and apply same enforcement, prosecution and punitive or reward rules. It is equally important that these rules are effectively communicated so that nobody has an excuse of being ignorant of his expectations and obligations in public office.


Similarly, it is important that issues and themes in public morality are made part of the nation’s education curricular so that people come into public service, not as neophytes but as fresh public servants conscious of burden of office and prepared to serve with conscience regardless of the environmental factors. By implication, every public servant is supposed to be brought up or trained to value public office as public trust, a betrayal of which is inexcusable but severely punishable.

Finally, the greatest demand on the inculcation of integrity in public service is on the leadership, because followers can always rationalize or justify their actions and inactions on what they see or know the superiors and leaders do.


Abdulwarees, a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Public Diplomacy and Management, is Director, Media & Strategic Communications, Muslim Public Affairs Centre, and Deputy Director, Strategic Planning & Corporate Development, Voice of Nigeria