Corruption, according to the World Bank and Transparency International, is the abuse of public office for private gains for the benefit of the holder of the office or some third party. Nigeria has been ranked from the most corrupt to the sixth most corrupt for countries surveyed between 1996 and 2005 in the TI’s Corruption Perception Index, the extent to which corruption is believed to exist. Ranking improved to the twenty-first to the sixty-first between 2006 to 2014 as more countries were added. The greatest improvements were recorded in 2005 and 2008.
Historian, Afigbo stated cases of corruption among Warrant Chiefs of the early 20th Century are well documented in archives of colonial government. These native leaders, often selected haphazardly by imperial authority to act on their behalf became notorious for their corruption and exploitation. Bribery was very common among Nigerian tribes, and there were no laws in many pre-colonial societies against the act, though it was done discreetly- an indication that it was understood as improper. The saying in Benin was that Igho o gbmwen n’Edo, meaning, “Money finishes matters in Benin.” Once in the early 1960s, a Warrant Chief in the east, when asked how his colleagues grew so rich, made a reply that may well be taken as the modus operandi for the vice; “Ma ukpara erigh ibe ya o nagh ebu,” meaning “to grow fat an insect must feed on other insects.” From the May 1 1937 Nigerian Provincial Guardian article by one Omole-Junior, it is apparent that in the native courts, “the party with less gift is sure to lose his case.” There is no gainsaying that corruption thrived long in the history of Nigerian nationalities. One pre-independence monarch, Adesanya Otubusin, is remembered for his lonely anti-corruption crusade for which he greatly suffered and for which, on the other hand, he gained the admiration of the native administration and a minority Christian elite. Men of probity are to be found also in the records of Patrick Okorah’s history of Uratta, where a Warrant Chief, Enwurum, being a devout Christian and adherent of the Faith Tabernacle resigned his position as elected chief of Orji after only a few days when he discovered the amount of injustice, bribery, and corruption going on in the court.
In the 1950s, when pre-independence anti-corruption activities were at its peak, the thinking of the administration was to hope for better morals among the youth, as there laid no hope in the older generation whose ways often remained rooted in the traditions of the past. Several instances show what could be the view of some to corruption- a tool, perhaps, of negotiation. In 1944, during the anti-women tax protest, government tried unsuccessfully to offer Alimotu Pelewura, leader of the protesters, a monthly stipend and official leadership of market women if she stopped mobilizing women against the Second World War-time emergency policies.
Since June 1950 when the League of Bribe Scorners was formed by a few Kings’ College Lagos students, a wave of anti-corruption movement had started in Nigeria. One of these groups was the Anti-Bribery and Corruption Society of Nigeria, which was active in the mid-1950s. The young Kings’ College school boys’ objective never to give or receive bribes for the rest of their lives deeply impressed certain persons in government circles who requested branches to be established in provinces and divisions across the country. Special committee raised by the Western regional government to look into ways of curtailing corruption prescribed the establishment of an anti-corruption office, not to block the vice but to deal with cases as they arose. Following accusations of corruption against officials of the Lagos Town Council by the town Mayor, Abubakir Olorunnimbe in 1951, a Commission of Inquiry set up to look into the case indicted the counselors, some of who were sent to jail.
Nigeria’s first national experience of home rule with Prime Minister Tafa Balewa was marred by widespread corruption, leading to the termination of the first republic by young soldiers ushering in a military government under Aguiyi Ironsi who instituted series of inquiries into past corrupt practices. The war-time era of the succeeding Yakwubu Gowon government was hardly better in corruption practices and the oil boom of the 1970s was mismanaged. The coup de tat that ended Gowon’s government, like previous ones, cited corruption as one of the primary reasons for their intervention. Murtala Mohammed’s government showed early signs of determination to right the wrongs of the past but the passion died with him when he was assassinated in 1976. Nigeria experienced recurrence of corruption under the government of Shehu Shagari, who Olusegun Obasanjo, as successor to Mohammed, handed over reins of power to.
When Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 1984, he addressed the rice importation scandal under Shagari’s government, in which Umaru Dikko was culprit, with the attempted abduction of the latter. His often criticized style was supplanted by Ibrahim Babangida’s which saw corruption become endemic in the country. Babangida’s successor, Sani Abacha’s loot is still being retrieved. Although Obasanjo’s government was not spared similar allegations, his strides in the anti-corruption crusade of Nuhu Ribadu, who he appointed, is worthy of note. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, which Obasanjo formed was used as a political tool in delisting some of his would be successors. Finally, the man who scaled through the fierce anti-graft body, Umaru Yaradua, became second president in the new democratic dispensation. As president, Yaradua declared his assets publicly, setting the tone for a new era. His death in 2009, brought to power, Goodluck Jonathan, under whom top government functionaries were believed or found to have committed acts of corruption on large scales.