Skip to content

SME Guide

Overcoming Corruption: Establishing Transparency and Accountability in Nigeria


Corruption is a major challenge facing Nigeria today. According to Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, Nigeria ranks 154 out of 180 countries in perceived levels of public sector corruption [1]. Corruption permeates all levels of government and sectors of the economy in Nigeria. It manifests in various forms including bribery, embezzlement, nepotism, cronyism, and electoral fraud among others [2]. The costs of corruption in Nigeria are enormous – it hampers economic growth and development, discourages investments, fuels inequality and poverty, and undermines trust in public institutions [3].

Tackling corruption and establishing transparency and accountability is critical for Nigeria’s progress and prosperity. As President Muhammadu Buhari noted, “If we do not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria” [4]. There is a need for comprehensive, multi-pronged anti-corruption reforms and measures aimed at enhancing transparency, accountability, and good governance across the board. This article discusses the key challenges, highlights global best practices, and provides actionable recommendations for establishing transparency and accountability as an antidote to corruption in Nigeria.

Challenges to Overcoming Corruption in Nigeria

Corruption has been described as the greatest challenge to Nigeria’s development five decades after independence [5]. Some key factors enable pervasive corruption in Nigeria:

Weak Rule of Law and Institutions

Weak rule of law provides opportunities for corruption. Where regulations and laws are lacking, misused or unenforced, corruption tends to thrive [6]. Several public institutions mandated to prevent corruption lack autonomy and capacity to effectively discharge their responsibilities. Corrupt officials exploit weaknesses and loopholes in the system for personal gain with minimal risk of punishment.

Lack of Transparency and Accountability

There is a culture of secrecy and lack of transparency around governance processes and public funds management. Critical information on government budgets, policies, contracts, audit reports among others are not proactively disclosed or easily accessible to citizens. This lack of transparency enables shady dealings, waste and misappropriation [7].

Accountability mechanisms and oversight institutions are weak. Public officers often get away with impunity due to weak enforcement of rules and codes of conduct. Audits are not carried out regularly and audit reports are not scrutinized or acted upon [8]. Citizens have limited avenues to hold leaders accountable.

Greed and Materialism

Corruption is fueled by greed, ostentation and get-rich-quick mentality among sections of the political elite and business class. Some public officials and business people pursue wealth maximization at all costs through bribery, contract inflation and other means of diverting public resources illegally [9].

Societal values have shifted to esteeming wealth over hard and honest work. The display of opulent lifestyles by corrupt public officials reinforces materialism and ostentation as the hallmarks of success. This further promotes corruption.

Limited Civic Engagement

There is inadequate citizen participation and advocacy around good governance and anti-corruption issues. Civil society organizations and the media which serve as watchdogs and amplify citizens’ voices are not sufficiently empowered and lack adequate legal protection [10]. This allows corruption to go unchecked. Mass civic apathy also undermines the impetus for reforms.

Global Best Practices in Anti-Corruption, Transparency and Accountability

Nigeria can draw lessons from strategies that have worked in other countries grappling with endemic corruption:

Strengthening Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption Institutions

Effective rule of law is crucial to punish and deter corruption. Countries like Rwanda achieved major anti-corruption gains by strengthening legal and regulatory frameworks and ensuring strict enforcement [11]. Building capacity of key institutions involved in tackling corruption like the judiciary, law enforcement, auditors, anti-graft agencies, electoral bodies and revenue authorities is also vital.

Enhancing Transparency and Access to Information

Increased transparency around governance helps expose corruption and enhances accountability. Many countries have adopted access-to-information legislation to promote citizens’ right to government-held data. There are also mandatory disclosure requirements on budgets, procurement, contracts, beneficial ownership, audit reports and officials’ assets [12]. Open contracting further boosts transparency in public procurement.

Promoting Public Participation and Oversight

An engaged citizenry is pivotal to demand reforms and monitor governance. Channels for citizen feedback like online portals, town hall meetings, social audits and public hearings have boosted accountability in countries such as Brazil and India [13]. Open data further amplifies civic monitoring by enabling analysis of trends and gaps. Whistleblower protection is also critical to encourage reporting of misconduct.

Incentivizing Integrity and Service Delivery

Corruption is discouraged by promoting meritocracy, professionalism and results-focus in the public service. Performance management systems that link pay and promotions to service delivery outcomes have helped curtail corruption in Singapore and Ghana [14]. Simplified bureaucracy also closes loopholes for administrative corruption. Digitization of government services as done in Estonia further enhances efficiency and transparency.

Specialized Anti-Corruption Courts and Prosecutions

Dedicated courts and judges help expedite corruption cases which often drag on for years thereby hampering deterrence. Rwanda and the Philippines have achieved quick convictions due to specialized anti-graft courts [15]. Setting up robust autonomous anti-corruption agencies like Hong Kong’s ICAC has also proven effective. High-level prosecutions signal that no one is above the law.

Recommendations for Reforms in Nigeria

Nigeria needs urgent, multifaceted reforms to establish transparency and accountability in governance. The following measures should be prioritized:

Strengthen Legal and Institutional Anti-Corruption Frameworks

  • Review and amend anti-corruption laws to close loopholes and align with global best practices. Impose harsh sanctions such as lengthy jail terms, lifetime bans from office and forfeiture of illegally acquired assets.
  • Build capacity and grant operational autonomy to key institutions involved in tackling corruption like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Code of Conduct Bureau. Enhance their funding, staffing, training, remuneration and digital infrastructure.
  • Reforms and increased funding for federal and state auditors-general to boost their independence and the quality of audits. Ensure audit recommendations are implemented.
  • Reform the judiciary and enhance capacity of prosecutors to efficiently handle corruption cases without delay or pressure. Judicial appointments and disciplining of errant judges should be more transparent and merit-based.

Increase Transparency in Governance

  • Pass and implement a Freedom of Information Act to provide a legal right of access to public information and records. Impose sanctions for non-compliance by public institutions.
  • Adopt open data policies requiring proactive disclosure of documents on budgets, spending, procurement, contractual terms, beneficial ownership details, audit reports and more. Publish in reusable, machine-readable formats.
  • Require public declaration of assets by all high-level officials upon assuming and leaving office. Automate asset declaration processes for enhanced analysis and accountability.
  • Subject all arms procurement, government contracts and natural resource deals to open, competitive bidding. Disclose beneficial owners of all companies awarded major public contracts. Join the Open Government Partnership and Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative.
  • Digitize key public services like company/land registries, taxes, healthcare etc. to reduce human discretion and opportunities for administrative corruption. Publish machine-readable performance reports.
  • Empower and protect whistleblowers through confidential reporting mechanisms and strong legal safeguards against retaliation. Incentivize whistleblowing by providing monetary rewards.

Increase Citizen Engagement and Oversight

  • Set up online portals and channels for routine citizen feedback on the quality of services and incidents of corruption/bribery. Government agencies should be required to publicly respond and act on complaints.
  • Institute social audits, public hearings and town hall meetings for citizens’ direct participation in programmes’ planning and monitoring. Involve communities and civil society in conducting participatory audits.
  • Protect civil society and media freedom. Limit legal restrictions that hinder reporting on corruption issues. Provide training and financial support to bolster investigative journalism and advocacy on accountability issues.
  • Leverage innovative technology tools for greater transparency and civic engagement. Launch mobile apps to connect citizens and government agencies.

Promote Meritocracy and Professionalism in Public Service

  • Reform civil service recruitment and promotion policies to emphasize merit rather than patronage. Subject appointments to top government jobs to public hearings/vetting.
  • Implement performance management frameworks that link public officials’ pay, promotions and postings to service delivery and integrity metrics. Institute rewards/incentives for whistleblowing and reporting of misconduct.
  • Increase training for public servants on ethics, anti-corruption policies and delivery of citizen-centric services. Institute integrity pacts for major infrastructure projects.
  • Simplify bureaucratic procedures and digitize more public services to close loopholes for bribery in service delivery.

Specialized Corruption Prosecutions and Courts

  • Set up Special Crimes Courts with trained judges to swiftly handle complex corruption cases. Provide adequate funding and strengthened capacity for prosecutors.
  • Appoint an Independent Special Prosecutor focused solely on the prosecution of major corruption cases without political interference. They should work closely with anti-graft agencies during investigations.
  • Prioritize investigation and prosecution of grand corruption cases involving politically exposed persons and senior public officials. High-profile convictions will build confidence in the justice system.
  • Allow specialized anti-corruption agencies like the ICPC and EFCC to autonomously recruit, train and retain qualified investigative and legal professionals. Grant financial autonomy.

The Path Forward

Corruption is deeply ingrained and requires sustained political will and collective action to tackle. But with comprehensive reforms, Nigeria can establish transparency, accountability and good governance. The recommendations outlined provide a roadmap to effectively curb corruption by strengthening institutions, enhancing transparency, improving service delivery, amplifying civic voices and ensuring deterrence through punitive laws and prosecutions. With concerted efforts, the culture of impunity can be replaced with integrity, accountability and zero tolerance for corruption. Nigeria has the potential to serve as a model for other countries grappling with corruption by pioneering bold governance reforms for the greater good of all citizens. The time for action is now.


  1. Transparency International. Corruption Perceptions Index 2021.
  2. Agbiboa, D. (2012). Between Corruption and Development: The Political Economy of State Robbery in Nigeria. Journal of Business Ethics108(3), 325-345.
  3. Chetwynd, E., Chetwynd, F., & Spector, B. (2003). Corruption and Poverty: A Review of Recent Literature. Management Systems International
  4. Sahara Reporters. (2016, May 28). If We Don’t Kill Corruption, Corruption Will Kill Nigeria, Says Buhari. Sahara Reporters’t-kill-corruption-corruption-will-kill-nigeria-says-buhari
  5. Agbu, O. (2003). Corruption and Human Trafficking: The Nigerian Case. West Africa Review4(1).
  6. Hope, K. R. (2017). Corruption and Governance in Africa: Swaziland, Kenya, Nigeria. Springer.
  7. Makinde, T. (2005). Problems of Policy Implementation in Developing Nations: The Nigerian Experience. Journal of Social Sciences11(1), 63-69.
  8. Okekeocha, C. (2013). Corruption in the Public Sector: Implications for National Development in Nigeria. European Journal of Business and Management5(7).
  9. Smith, D. J. (2007). A Culture of Corruption: Everyday Deception and Popular Discontent in Nigeria. Princeton University Press.
  10. Agbaje, A. (2014). Public Integrity and the Challenges of Freedom of Information in Nigeria. In Transparency International (Ed.), Global Corruption Report: Corruption and Human Rights (pp. 58-61). Routledge.
  11. Clark C. Gibson, Marc J. Hoffman, & Ryan S. Jablonski. (2015). Did Aid Promote Democracy in Africa? The Role of Technical Assistance in Africa’s Transitions. World Development68, 323-335.
  12. Bauhr, M., & Grimes, M. (2014). Indignation or Resignation: The Implications of Transparency for Societal Accountability. Governance, 27(2), 291-320.
  13. Blair, H. (2000). Participation and Accountability at the Periphery: Democratic Local Governance in Six Countries. World Development28(1), 21-39.
  14. Quah, J. S. (2018). Curbing Corruption in Public Procurement in Southeast Asia: Challenges and Opportunities. Asian Education and Development Studies
  15. Myint, U. (2000). Corruption: Causes, Consequences, and Cures. Asia-Pacific Development Journal7(2), 33-58.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *