Corruption and poverty are not mere dictionary words in Nigeria as citizens are forced to live with their debilitating effects every day. A World Bank estimate suggests that approximately eight people fall into poverty every minute in Nigeria – a country where millions of dollars go unaccounted for under the watch of government officials.
There are two major ways in which corruption can be defined. The first definition describes corruption as “the misuse of public office for private gain” or “abuse of public power for private gain”. Khan as cited in Aina, 2014 has a more robust definition. He defines corruption as “any act which deviates from the rules of conduct, including normative values, governing the actions of an individual in a position of authority or trust, whether in the private or public domain, because of private-regarding motives, (that is non-public or general) such as wealth, power, status etc.” Various categories into which corruption can be classified include demand vs supply corruption, conventional vs unconventional corruption, administrative vs political corruption, public vs private corruption, systemic (endemic) vs occasional (incidental) corruption, and centralized vs decentralized corruption (Ildirar & Iscan, 2015).
Poverty is a complex concept because of its multidimensional nature. Some researchers consider poverty as a ‘consequence of imbalances of wealth and power’ caused by the structure and functioning of the prevailing system, while some others define the poor as a group of people who are unable to take advantage of the opportunities they get because of lack of education and personal skills (Ildirar & Iscan, 2015). In the United Kingdom (UK), the Office for National Statistics (ONS) “records someone as being in poverty if they live in a household with disposable income below 60 per cent of the national average, before housing costs.”
No matter how it is defined, poverty is ravaging the global population. Nearly half of the world’s population live on less than $2.50 a day. More than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty i.e., less than $1.25 a day. Round the world, 1 billion children live in poverty, and 22,000 children actually die each day because of poverty. The global picture very well reflects in the Nigerian story. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in 2016 indicated that 112 million Nigerians, representing 67.1 percent of the population, live below the poverty line. Essentially, six out of every 10 Nigerians living in the country are severely deprived of basic human needs, including food, decent shelter and safe drinking water (Bakare, 2017). Poverty, in local terms, originates from a variety of reasons including unfair distribution of income, unemployment, inflation, rent economics, natural disasters, globalization, etc. However, one of the crucial factors sustaining high levels of poverty is corruption.
Fighting against poverty requires combating corruption (Ildirar & Iscan, 2015). Peter Eigen, the founder of Transparency International, describes the relationship thus: ‘Corruption is a major cause of poverty as well as a barrier to overcoming it. The two scourges feed off each other, locking their populations in a cycle of misery. Corruption must be vigorously addressed if aid is to make a real difference in freeing people from poverty’ (Bakare, 2017). One can correctly say there is a direct relationship between corruption and poverty. Ochonu cited in Aina, 2014 correctly explains the relationship in an African context: “The embezzlement, mismanagement, or misapplication of public funds often leads to a cessation of certain social services, or the non-completion of a road, school, or hospital project. The deterioration and scarcity of infrastructure and social services have worsened in direct proportion to the corruption problem. The loss of public funds to corruption translates inevitably to a lack of medicine in a rural hospital; a lack of access to education for millions of African children; a lack of potable drinking water and electricity for millions of Africans; and a lack of good transportation infrastructure”. In a research conducted by Transparency International, it was observed that the places where more bribes are paid have higher mortality rates, higher illiteracy rates, and lack of proper hygiene as shown in the diagram below.
As a matter of fact, it can be concluded that corruption is a cause of poverty and hinders the alleviation of poverty; and poverty in a way causes corruption and impedes combating the corruption. The theft of funds by government officials hinders allocated funds from being disbursed to state projects. This reduces the quality of healthcare, education, and security citizens have access to. As a result, citizens have to exchange money or gifts to access the skeletal services available.
We need to destroy poverty and corruption before poverty and corruption destroy us– by putting in place policies that work and monitoring them to ensure the work. That way, we take the fight against corruption from just lip-service to getting the work done. The fight against corruption can be won if the following are put in place:
- A culture of transparency in government institutions, promoted by both the executive and legislature.
- Greater women’s participation in the public sector, as research, shows that countries with high gender equality have lower levels of corruption (Negin et al., 2010)
- Policies to counter grand theft. Anyone irrespective of status who is found diverting public funds ought to be severely penalized. Ogboru & Abimiku (2015) opined that the only way to tackle grand theft by public officials is by capital punishment (death penalty) using China and Vietnam as examples. Although this approach is antithetical to the democratic system of government which Nigeria currently operates, corrupt acts should be severely punished.
- Greater citizen participation through scaling up the education of citizens to promote the understanding that public funds are not resources for government officials but for the public good (ActionAid, 2015).
- The realization by elected government officials that they are in power for the people and not for themselves. A review of the immunity clause in the 1999 constitution should be reconsidered to ensure that public office holders are held accountable for their corrupt acts. This will also serve to deter public officials from further engaging in corruption (ActionAid, 2015).
- A focus on improving the human development services, including access to healthcare and education.
- Strict enforcement and monitoring funds disbursement by foreign donors assisting Nigeria in poverty alleviation programmes to ensure that funds are not mismanaged
- Stronger monitoring of the government’s budgetary disbursements for capital projects at both state and local government levels
- An overhaul of judicial processes. The prosecution of elected officials arraigned for corrupt practices should receive expedited attention in order to send the message that anti-corruption is a topmost priority of the government.
- Lastly, the fight against corruption transcends prosecuting government officials. Corruption is a canker that is fast becoming a way of life in Nigeria. As a result, the “change is possible”, and “change begins with you” agenda should be promoted and pushed to all aspects of society. This is where the Akin Fadeyi Foundations’ ‘Corruption Not in My Country’ program plays a vital role.
ActionAid (2015). A report on Corruption and Poverty in Nigeria
Aina, O. (2014). How Corruption Contributes to Poverty. A paper presented at the International Conference on Development of Social Enterprise and Social Business for Eradication of Extreme Poverty and Street Begging at Chittagong, Bangladesh, December 19 -20, 2014.
Bakare, T. (2017, June 20). The cure for extreme poverty and corruption in Nigeria. The Nation Text of Pastor Bakare’s Lecture at 70th Birth of former Foursquare Gospel Church in Nigeria, General Overseer Dr. Wilson Badejo
Ildirar, M & Iscan, E. (2015). Corruption, Poverty and Economic Performance: Eastern Europe and Central Asia (ECA) Countries. Growth and Development. International Conference on Eurasia Economies 2015.
Labelle, H. (2013, September 9). To end poverty, you have to end corruption. Retrieved from https:www.huffingtonpost.com/hugett-labelle/to-end-poverty-you-have-t_b_4396930.html
Negin, V., Abd Rashid, Z., & Nikopour, H. (2010). The Casual Relationship between Corruption and Poverty: A Panel Data Analysis
Ogboru, I. & Abimiku, C. (2015). The impact of corruption on poverty eradication efforts in Nigeria. https://www.researhgate.net/publication/284669169
World Bank (2017, April 17). World Bank: What are poverty lines? Retrieved from www.worldbank.org/en/news/video/2017/04/14/what-are-povertylines