The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has seen its profile rise since Dr Yemi Kale was appointed as Statistician-General in 2011. Also known as the ‘statistician who doubled Nigeria’s economy overnight’, the 42-year-old economist has brought credibility and authority to an agency once filled with inactive civil servants. From its quarterly GDP reports and rebasing exercise in 2014 to its release of unemployment statistics – favourable or not, the NBS has helped put a microscope on Nigeria's economy.
It is not enough to say ‘Nigeria is corrupt’; anecdotes are great, but data, when accurate, is far superior. Questions like ‘what is the level of corruption?’, ‘what areas of society are most affected?’ and ‘why are people corrupt?’ have remained unanswered by Nigerians. So, last month, the Bureau tackled one of Nigeria’s more popular issues: corruption. The Corruption in Nigeria report, published in collaboration with the European Union and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), addresses some of these issues.
Corruption Lives On
Findings from the study show that ₦400 billion, or 5% of the 2017 Federal Budget, is spent on bribes each year. More startlingly, on average, 13% of an individual's annual salary is spent on bribes.
It gets worse. 70% of bribes are paid before a service is rendered, and those surveyed described corruption as the third most important problem facing Nigeria, lagging only behind the high cost of living and unemployment.
Corruption hits poorer people hardest, because they do not have privileged connections that give them access to public services, and do not have many alternatives. As such, they have to pay bribes, often before the service is rendered. In other words, corruption perpetuates inequality.
The report also revealed the extent to which corruption has penetrated our law enforcement agencies. Of all respondents to come into contact with the police and judiciary in the 12 months before the survey, nearly half (46%) had to pay a bribe to the police, and a third (33%) had to pay a bribe to prosecutors. This figure was closely matched by payments to judges and magistrates (32%).
The implications of this report are wide-ranging. For one, if you already pay 13% your annual income on bribes, the reluctance to pay taxes becomes understandable. Yet, we often argue that Nigerians do not pay their taxes without factoring in these other burdens.
As you can imagine, this sort of data can prove useful to agency heads determined to clean up their departments or improve efficiency. Unfortunately, the reaction from some agencies, particularly the ones with the most damning results, was less than complimentary.
Denial is the First Step
The response of Assistant Commissioner of Police, Abayomi Shogunle, who is also the Head of the Police Complaints and Rapid Response Unit (PCRRU), left a lot to be desired. In a barrage of tweets, he outright refuted the findings.
He also criticised the just-departed Director-General of Public Service Reform, Dr. Joe Abah, suggesting that he didn't know anything about police reform.
The Judiciary was not left out, as a statement from the National Judicial Council’s (NJC) Director of Information, Soji Oye, read in part:
“The Judiciary calls on the public to disregard the aforestated allegation as it is untrue, baseless, unfounded and a figment of the Agencies’ imagination.”
It's important to pause for a moment and understand these reactions. This is a report from the National Bureau of Statistics being criticised by influential actors from other national institutions. Rather than treat the report with the seriousness it deserved, ACP Shogunle opted to mock the effort and the research that went into the study.
It is not unusual for data, reports and surveys to be questioned, even in advanced countries. Querying data is common and can be highly constructive to improving institutional practices or raising academic standards. Nevertheless, the reactions from the Police and Judiciary fall far short of any form of rigorous analysis.
If any of these bodies felt the data points in the report were not reflective of reality or flawed in methodology, the particular failure could have been succinctly pointed out. Otherwise, they could have commended the research behind the Report and committed to changing the interaction between the public and their institutions. This did not happen, keeping in character with the approach of the Nigerian state when faced with anything that looks like criticism – even from within.
Bring Data, Not Just Reactions
We can recall the ongoing battle between the Nigerian Army and Amnesty International when taken to task regarding human rights abuses in the North East. Typically, the approach was to cast doubt on the intentions of Amnesty International, while failing to investigate the claims and bring anyone to justice.
Reports about the state of governance that are less than complimentary, especially those based on statistical evidence, should be used to serve the purpose of improving the delivery of governance so that the effect can be maximised. Trying to discredit them or wish them away will not get us anywhere. Other countries have done it. At the opening of the Nigerian Bar Association's Annual General Conference in August, former Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri recalled how his country was the 5th most corrupt country in the world in 2004 and had nearly completely reversed that by 2010. So it can be done.
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to show that corruption has eaten deep into every aspect of Nigerian society, but accurately quantifying the problem will serve as a benchmark for finding out if reform efforts are yielding fruit, and where they are not, change strategy. It is in this area that the NBS report is critical. It is in the interest of the police, judiciary and other public institutions to engage with the report and bring informed and constructive criticism, or, otherwise, accept the report's findings and act on them. In the meantime, most will agree that the NBS Corruption Report is an accurate reflection of the experience of most Nigerians, especially with the Police.
After all, no matter how much lipstick you put on a pig, it will always be a pig.