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Corruption as a Major Obstacle to Stability and Good Governance in Nigeria


M.A Chigbo PhD

Department of History and International Relations,

Abia State University, Uturu



Good governance can hardly be achieved in an environment where there is high level of corruption and political instability. Nigeria has been described as an “unfinished state” and as “a truculent African tragedy” even in the midst of abundant human and material resources. This article has however identified two major governance issues that have proved to be more debilitating impediments to development performance in Nigeria. One is the lack of participation and consensus which in turn is as a result of lack of a sense of national commitment and brazen corruption. Secondly and closely related to the first one, is the lack of accountability and transparency. This has a grave effect on development, as corruption and inefficiency are often concealed. These government issues have produced a baneful structure in an environment that engenders instability in the political system as the people yearn for the elusive dividends of good governance. Efforts have therefore been made to examine the concept of corruption, its manifestations as well as the various policy initiatives to combat it. Above all, the inability of good governance to stem to tide of corruption as well as the various facilitators of political intrigue which in turn encourages corruption in Nigeria are all examined.



There is no gainsaying the fact that the Nigerian state is a victim of high level corruption, where bad governance, political instability regularly wear their ugly heads. These ugly events have no doubt greatly retarded national aspirations and development plans. Nigeria political environment is uncertain and Nigerian government though democratic in theory, often faces a legitimacy crisis as well as political intrigues in an ethically differentiated polity. As a result of the constant manipulation of the masses by the political gladiators to achieve their selfish ends, the Nigerian society has remained poverty stricken and pauperized. Above all, political participation and socialization have been low in Nigeria because people are tired of been manipulated and deceived. As a result of the absence of genuine support from civil society, the effective power has been eroded and patron-client relations usually hijacks the primary role over the formal aspects of politics. These formal aspects of politics include the rule of law, well functioning political parties that encourages political participation, political socialization and political emancipation as well as a credible electoral system. Therefore, to eschew corruption and political instability the leadership must be focused and committed to addressing the core expectations of the citizenry.


Meaning of Corruption

Corruption is a term that is given sundry interpretations. The Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act 2000 defines corruption as including bribery, fraud and other related offences. The World Bank/IMF states that corruption is the “misuse of enthrusted power for primitive benefits”. This benefits could be money and/or power or status. It can be described as a situation whereby government officials and/or private economic agents allow personal and narrow interests to override considerations of the larger public good.1 Corrupt acts include bribery, extortion, influence peddling, nepotism, fraud, speed money embezzlement, overinvoicing “kick backs” the “ghost workers” syndrome award of contracts to front companies belongings to public officials, payment of existing projects, etc.2

Corruption according to UNICRL’s Global Programme Against Corruption can be classified as follows:-

  1. “Street Level” Corruption:-  This describes corruption in public administration as shown in the day –to- day experiences of citizens in their interactions with officials in the police, the judiciary, the Immigration Service, Licensing Authorities, Tax office, etc.
  2. Business Corruption:- This occurs among low to medium sized businesses with or without  the active connivance of the equivalent public sector officials.
  3. High-level Corruption:- This involves high sums of money in high power centres in finance, public service and administration.3

Corruption can also be categorized into petty and grand corruption based on the level of authority and position of the perpetrators, as well as the volume of resources involved. Using this yardstick, “Street level” and business can be regarded as petty corruption while “high-levels” corruption could be regarded as grand corruption. Ironically, much of the negative perception of Nigeria is as a result of petty corruption, even though grand corruption has much more devastating impact because it drains colossal amount of resources from the system. Petty corruption is however highly visible, pervasive, endemic and in some case institutionalized. A classic case of petty corruption is the everyday collection of a few naira from drivers by law enforcement agents on the roadside.4

Having categorized corruption, it is clear that it is a bad behaviour despite the various views associated to it. The term has been defined by the World Bank as the abuse of power for private benefit. It is the perpetration of a vice against the public well-being. It is equally an effort to secure wealth or power through illegal means which involves private gains. Corruption is the intentional non-compliance with arms length relationship aimed at deriving some advantages from this behaviour for oneself or for related individuals.5This view on corruption takes care of the exclusion of vital issues such as corruption in the private sector and in private activities. Corruption therefore occurs in every human endeavour and often difficult to observe because acts of corruption do not typically take place in broad day light.6

As a result of the narrowness of the above definitions, a group of three prominent authors attempted to modify the concept. For example, Peter Langseth, Rick Staphenhurst and Jeremy Pope have defined corruption as “the abuse of power to personal gain or for the benefit of a group to which one owes allegiance.7 The broadening of the definition was to liberate its meaning from its public-sector centre confines. They noted that while the term “corruption” is most often applied to abuse of public power by politicians or civil servants, it describes a pattern of behaviour that can be found in virtually every sphere of life.

It has been observed that most of these ideas and definitions are ideologically based because, they generally reflect a liberal-capitalist aversion for a public sector led economy and are designed to attack it as inherently corrupt or intrinsically corruption – prone. Above all, the definitions are shallow as they merely describe the superficial manifestations of corruption and at the same time they do not determine with precision its essence and do not equally explore the inner distinctive nature of corruption.


The pervasiveness and wide scope of Corruption

The sin of corruption is however not limited to public officials because to private sector players are neck-deep in it too. Nigeria’s private sector is beleaguered by bank distress, fraud, insider-trading and dirty foreign exchange deals. Other ills include circumvention of government policy/ guidelines, false declaration of assets, “creative accounting”, concealment of liabilities as a ploy to deceive existing and perspective share holders, among others. Therefore, the private sector is actively involved in quite a bit of the corruption that goes on in government.

On the other hand, local and international companies tempt government officials with juicy offers of bribes (cash and/or other tangibles) for contracts. Quite often, government officials are corrupt, induced to bend operative rules and regulations and waive laid down procedures in respect of tax evaders or tax defaulters. Consequently, the money that ought to be paid into government kitty finds its way into private pockets.8 Hence, it is generally accepted that any one who has a monopoly of power (entrusted power) and discretion to exercise, and exercises same without regard to accountability is a corrupt person. He is also corrupt if he fails to comply with the relevant rules in the exercise of his power. This can be expressed or represented mathematically thus:

Monopoly + Discretion – Accountability = Corruption

There is no gainsaying the fact that corruption is the bane of Nigerian society as it has eaten deep into the fabric of the nation. The transparency international has consistently rated Nigeria as one of the most corrupt nations in the world. The level of corruption is such that Nigeria was and is still seen and treated as a pariah nation by the outside world. In fact, corruption in Nigeria has grown in stature and assumed greater dimension. It has also continued over the years to defy all attempts to bring its growing menace under control.10

Again, in Nigeria, transparency international has equally described this ugly phenomenon called corruption as Acquired Integrity Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Transparency organization argues that corruption is a form of socio-economic Human Immune Virus (HIV) infection, resulting in acquired integrity deficiency.11 For example, when an individual lacks or loses personal integrity which is uprightness, honesty and purity as well as social integrity which includes wholeness, patriotism and public spiritedness, it therefore means that such an individual has lost his/her immunity against the corruption virus. This corruption virus manifest in form of self centredness, parochialism, greed or lust for power.


Policy initiatives aimed at combating corruption by successive governments

As already stated corruption has become a recurring decimal in Nigeria and that was why Olusegun Obasanjo on assumption of office on 29th May, 1999, and in keeping with his electoral promises to fight corruption opined that:

Corruption the greatest bane of society today, will be tackled head on…. No society can achieve anything near its full potential if it allows corruption to become full blown cancer as it has become in Nigeria.12

This has given rise to the formulation and implementation of policy initiatives and framework for combating corruption. Unfortunately, the various legislations and anti- corruption programmes have not succeeded in curbing the excesses of corrupters and their cohorts. The programmes have not been able to find durable or lasting situations to the corruption problems. Here, efforts will be made to highlight those initiatives so far embarked upon in order to curb this ugly menance called corruption.

First, there are in existence past legislations. For example, there have been earlier legislations like the penal code (applicable in the North) and the criminal code in the south. Both of them contain enactments which are designed to deal with cases of official corruption by public servants. Unfortunately, they do not appear to have had any restraining influence on the criminal activities of those who are held bent in perpetrating the crime of corruption.

Secondly, successive military and civilian administrations had severally introduced ad-hoc measures to combat the growing incidence of corruption and corrupt practices. These include:-

  1. The public officer (Investigation Assets) Decree No.5 of 1966 was to address and eradicate corruption as a part of the nine point programme of General Gowon’s regime.
  2. The Corrupt Practices Decree of 1975 under which past public office holders were tried for abuse of office by a 3- man panel headed by Dr. Adegbite that investigated and examined their assets.
  3. The 1979 constitution provided for a code of conduct for public officers, a code of Conduct Bureau for the enforcement of such prescribed behaviour and a code of Conduct Tribunal. It was an ethical revolution initiated by the Shagari Administration. In executing this, a Minister of Cabinet rank was put in charge of National Guidance to address the state of corruption in Nigeria.
  4. Then came War Against Indiscipline launched by the Buhari and Idiagbon regime. Fraudlent and corrupt people were brought to book under this frame work.
  5. There was also a National Committee on Corruption and other Economic Crimes in Nigeria that drafted the corrupt practices and Economic crimes Decree in 1990. These draft decrees, provided for a wide scope of economic crimes, wide-range of public offers who must declare their assets and an Independent Commission Against Corruption. However, it was one frame work that never got past the draft.
  6. There was the indiscipline, corrupt practices and economic (prohibition) Decree of 1994, the failed bank decree and tribunal as well as the advanced fee fraud and other related offences act decree of 1995, all constituted the anti- corruption policy framework of the Abacha regime.
  7. Finally, there was the corrupt practices and other related offences Act 2000. It was then  meant to tackle corruption “head on” and has remained the legal framework for the current battle against corruption. It was seen as a political manifestation of the political will of the government to fight corruption.13

Today, corruption has persisted despite the above attempts by government to stem it, first most of these legislations were hurriedly promulgated. Hence, ad-hoc or fire brigade measures could not be expected to be a panacea for deep-rooted or pervading corruption. Most of them were not well thought out and were bound to fail ab-initio. In most of them, there were lack of political will and sincerity which are very vital for the success of any anti- corruption programme. Again, legal framework in each case had inherent defects and the operators of the law were not sufficiently empowered or well funded. Thirdly, almost all the cases filed in court could not go because of the order of injunctions foisted on the commission either not to investigate or not to do anything about cases fully or partially investigated.14


The absence of good governance as check against corruption 

It is on record that appropriate and good governance has for long eluded Nigeria because of the failure of the political class to adhere to the basic tenets of democracy and constitutionalism. This has given rise to gross abuse of power as well as brazen corruption. It has equally given rise to disregard for due process, the rule of law, intolerance of political opposition as well as weakening of institutions and abuse of electoral process. There are antithetical to the rudiments of genuine democracy and real governance which advocates for the process of social engagements between the rulers and the ruled in any democratic setting.

In Nigeria rules are not often observed by leaders except in its application to frustrate the opposition. The deeper motives of introducing these measures are rarely nationalistic because they are usually motivated by self-interest for the acquisition of wealth and power. As a result of bad governance, the so-called political elite have been isolated from the generality of the citizenry.15 According to Sklar, this growing distance between the political elite and general public has undermined accountability and poverty. In fact, the fall out of the hypocritical postures towards corrupt practices have been a ceaseless cycle of political and legitimacy crisis.16


Political intrigues as a cover for corruption

There is no doubt that successive political leaders both civilian and military exploit and manipulate the entrenched ethnic divide in Nigeria for political purposes. This has always been in a bid to stem the rising tide of opposition from the emasculated citizens. In fact, the forces of ethnic nationalism that have been in existence provided that platform for a refreshing opportunity to develop a more national agenda.17 Above all, Nigerian government over the years lacked popular participation and consensus building and this has intensified the exploitation of the hostile nature of the Nigerian state in the struggle to enforce legitimacy. However, it has become clear that enforced legitimacy cannot in any way stimulate national growth or development especially in an ethnically-differentiated society such as Nigeria.

Furthermore, successive Nigeria administrations have attempted to employ various tactics for regime survival but all these have been worsened by a prolonged experience with dictatorial military rule. On the other hand, the common political intrigue associated with the civilian era was the propensity of the political elite to hang on to power through electoral malpractices, and lately, orchestrated manipulation of the constitutional rules.18 Other tactics often employed include intra and inter party squabbles, deflection, threat of association and assassination among political vices. All these in some cases have led to threats and counter threats of impeachment aimed at ensuring the continuity of patron-client politics. The net effect is that meaningful development programmes are often neglected as efforts are concentrated on how to curtail the rising opposition forces.

The military junta also exploited public opinion during their era of administration by diffusing inherent potential sources of opposition. They also employed reversal and insistence tactics in a bid to ensure a delicate balance of legitimacy. A typical example was the period between 1985 and 1998 which witnessed several transition programmes like “trans without locomotion”. All were to ensure an unstable political environment to facilitate self perpetration in power while corruption took the new dimension of becoming a nation’s virtue rather than vice. Under Abacha terror became a potential weapon to legitimize his administration. Although government was clearly implicated in the reign of terror that characterize4d the period, pro-democracy and human rights activists were often framed as the culprits.19 Abacha for instance, used different measures to divert the attention of people from the chronic government failures and to curry favour of both domestic and international actors for legitimacy.


The facilitation of political intrigue as a manifestation of corruption in Nigeria

In this article, several examples have been cited to show cases of manifestations of political intrigues in Nigeria polity. First of all, the employment of political intrigue was facilitated by an inconsistent federal structure. To be specific, the promise and implementation of state and local government creation exercises were basically employed as political weapon to induce beneficiaries to forget about the increased arbitrariness and political oppression meted to them. It was also to encourage them to throw their support behind the government. In this case, the more the exercise to presumably create new states and local government areas, the less powerful and viable the component units of the federal structure, and the more the corruption networks in the system. This in turn dwindles national development while personal enrichment increases.20 As a result, negative impediments to development were fueled by the use of political intrigues to disempower the civil society. Again, power consolidation through the manipulation of the fragile ethnic relationship made the overriding objectives to national development a failed project while a few Nigerians emerged as power brokers and godfathers. To worsen the matter, the civil society lacked and still lacks the necessary capacity to engage the government on the needs to promote good governance through accountability and transparency.21

It has been rightly observed that the dearth of basic resources, institutional capacity as well as professional skills in functional areas of expertise has weakened the ability of the various organizations to sustain the struggle and campaign against bad governmental policies. As a result, neo-patrimonial power relationships flourished with its attendant undemocratic political culture. To worsen the matter, the “authoritarian hangover” of neo-patrimonialism had strifled the political system of the essential virtues of accountability and effective representation.

Again, Nigeria’s stability and good governance has been grossly affected by the neo-patrimonial power or politics that pervaded the political landscape for many years. It has also entrenched clientelistic hierarchies among the political elites. Above all, it has become the manifestation of the nature of politics in the society, a negative phenomenon that has to be eschewed.22



There is no doubting the fact that governance issues in Nigeria have been the bane of national development and political instability. In Nigeria, the successive autocratic leadership have often faced a legitimacy crisis and political intrigues in an ethnically differentiated polity. This in turn have become a potential cover-up for corruption and profligacy. It is also clear that a failed, corrupt and inept leadership coupled with inclement domestic socio-political environment have plunged development performance in Nigeria into the abyss. Hence, good governance and political stability have been neglected due to unbridled corruption. Development is no longer what the masses desire but what the corrupt leaders in conjunction with international financial institution dictate.

Therefore, in order to break this ugly circle, accountability and transparency have to be totally guaranteed. The people have to be involved in issues that affect their lives and immediate environments. Secondly, deliberate and conscious efforts, borne out of patriotism, are needed to ensure the emergence of a virile civil society. An informed civil society is necessary to balance the power of the Nigerian people and this will be a viable solution for ending the brazen abuse of powers and privileges by corrupt public officials. Thirdly, a genuine monitoring of government policies and programmes could also lead to the detection of corruption practices. The effect of this monitoring will give rise to the near possibility of alteration in the perception of government as the instrument of the elites to acquire and retain power at the expense of the people. Above all, the state should be seen as the servant of the public, rather than the preserve of the elites. With all these developments the polity would begin to exhibit the necessary potentials for growth and stability.


End Notes

M.M.A. Akanbi “Paper read at the African leadership forum national conference on Corruption, Accountability and Transparency for sustainable development, Abuja, February 7-8, 2003.

M.M.A. Akanbi The Nigerian Social Scientist, Vol. 7, No.1, 2004, P.2.

Transparency International; Corruption Perception Index 2004 and 2005; Research paper produced by Malachi Eze, UNN, Nsukka 2004, pp.3-4.

Dike V (nd) “Corruption in Nigeria: A new paradigm for Effective Control”

Tanz, V. “Corruption: Arms-Length Relationship and Market” in Florentian Gianduca and Sam Peltzma, eds “The Economic of Organised Crime”, (Cambridge: Massachusetts, Cambridge University Press), pp. 160 – 181.

Tanz, V. “Corruption around the world: Causes, consequences, scope and cures” IMF Staff papers, vol.45, (4), tell magazine, No.8, February 20, 2006.

Ribadu, N. “Corruption: The Trouble with Nigeria”,2006.

Diamon, L. Political Corruption: Nigeria’s Perennial Struggle, J. Democracy, 2(4) 1991, pp. 73-85.

Gray, C.W Kanfmann D. “Corruption and Development”

Adesenyogu, A. Galekeepers as Money Launderers, The Guardian 08/09/06, 2006, pp. 24-26.

M.M.M. Akanbi The Nigerian Social Scientis, Vol.7, No.1, March 2004, pp 3-5.

Olusegun Obasanjo’s Sepeech on assumption of office on 29th May 1999.

Bello-Imam “Corruption and National Development in I.B. Bello Imam and Mike Obadan Democratic Governance and Development Management in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic, 1999 – 2003 (Ibadan: Centre for Local Government and Rural Development Studies, 2004).

Ota Ejitu Nnechi, The Political Economy of Corruption in Nigeria, 1999-2012 in UZU, Journal of History and International Studies Vol.3, No.1, Dec. 2012, pp205-207.

Omololu Fagbadebo “Corruption, Governance and Political Instability in Nigeria” in African Journal of Political Science and International Relation Vol.1(2) November, 2007, pp.28-37,.

Sklar, R.L, Ebere, Onwudiwe and Dawen Kew, Nigeria: Completing Obasanjo’s Legacy, Journal Democracy, 17(3) 2006, pp.100-115.

Omololu Fagbadebo, “The quest for a stable Nigerian federalism at the 1994/95 constitutional conference” (A Research Thesis sub,itted to the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, for the award of Master of Science Degree in Political Science).

Sklar, R.L, Ebere, Onwudiwe and Dawen Kew, Nigeria: Completing Obasanjo’s Legacy, Journal of Democracy, 17(3) 2006, p.118.

Albert, O. “Terror as a political weapon: Reflection on the bomb Explosion in Abacha’s Nigeria” IFRA Ibadan, Special Research Issue, vol.1, 2005, pp.35-38.


Akcay, S. “Corruption and Human Development, Cat Journal, Vol.26, No.1, 2006.

Osunbor, Osenheimen “Corrupt practices in Nigeria” Tell Magazine, December 6, 1966.


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