The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released its “Corruption in Nigeria Survey Report” last week, and there was no cause for cheer. Bribery, it said, was less prevalent than it was three years ago, but the nation gave away N675 billions in bribes nonetheless. The influence of the malfeasance was still relatively high but bribery has undergone a moderate yet statistically significant decrease since 2016 from 32.3 per cent to 30.2 per cent.
The survey found substantial decrease in incidents of bribery and corruption in three geographical zones in the country, the North-East, the North-West and the South-West. Bribery had declined sharply in the North-West from 36 per cent to 25 per cent in the last three years, the other two zones showed a much smaller decline. By contrast, the survey found that the North-Central, South-East and South-South had recorded increases in the prevalence of bribery between 2016 and 2019. The survey result was slightly surprising and the NBS offered no explanation for this mixed result.
The survey found that the average Nigerian bribe payer paid six bribes in the year, a number, which was almost equal to the Bureau’s finding in 2016 when it found that the average bribe-payer paid 5.8 bribes in 12 months. As a result, the bureau estimated that 117 million bribes were paid in Nigeria in the year, the equivalent of 1.1 bribes per adult, with a total value of N675 billion. Healthcare professions – doctors, nurses, midwives and public utility officials – are the two types of public officials with whom the largest number of Nigerians (31 per cent) had at least one contact in the 12 months before the survey. In 12 months prior to the 2019 survey, police officers came a close third with 30 per cent.
On the whole, more than half of Nigerians believe that corruption had increased in the two years before the 2019 survey. But corruption had moved from the third to the fifth position, as there has been a sharp increase in the level of public concern about security and health issues.
Only about nine per cent still considered corruption to be the most serious problem confronting the country – a significant decrease from the 14 per cent recorded in 2016. The survey found that bribery is less prevalent in the private sector with the proportion given as 5.7 per cent compared to 30 per cent recorded in the public sector. Public officials continue to be brazen about bribery requests though slightly less than in the past. Direct bribery demands by public officers amounted to 60 per cent in 2019, a moderate decrease from the 66 per cent in the 2016 survey. Indirect demands accounted for 20 per cent of all bribery transactions while spontaneous payments to facilitate or accelerate procedure accounted for eight per cent. Five per cent of the bribes were paid without prior requests as sign of appreciation for services rendered. About two-thirds of all bribes (67 per cent) were paid before services were provided, which was slightly lower than the 70 per cent recorded in 2016.
Cash continues to be the dominant type of bribe, more than 93 per cent of all bribes paid in cash slightly larger than in 2016. The average cash bribe was N5, 754. It is estimated to be a total of roughly N675 billion paid in cash to public officials in Nigeria in 2019, which corresponds to 0.52 of the nation’s (Gross Domestic Product) GDP. The economic cost of bribery becomes even more palpable, stated the survey, when considering that on the average, bribe payers pay an amount equivalent to six per cent of the average annual income of Nigerians.
The survey found a positive sign about bribery in the criminal justice sector. The greatest change is in relation to police officers, indeed, the share of people who paid a bribe to police officers decreased from 46 per cent to 33 per cent. The prosecutors decreased from 33 to 23 per cent, judges and magistrates from 31 percent to 20 per cent. Customs and Immigration decreased from 31 per can to 17 per cent, embassy and consulate officials also decreased from 16 per cent to eight percent. The survey did not offer elaborations and explanations over these findings, some of which sounded counter-intuitive.
Among the most troubling results of the survey was the finding that the higher the level of education of Nigerians, the higher the prevalence of bribery. In 2019, Nigerians with the highest standards of education (tertiary) were twice as likely to report bribery when in contact with public officials. A similar pattern exists in relation to economic status indicators of households with prevalence and frequency of bribes of the most prosperous households.
Bribes are paid for speeding up procedures or for avoiding fines. One of two bribes (45 per cent) is paid for finalising administrative procedures while the share of the bribes paid to avoid payment of fines reached 21 per cent in 2019. The NBS report deserves close study by every Nigerian. It should serve as food-for-thought for the government in its war against corruption. We think this is a reality check that the war is not getting to the grassroots where it truly matters.