A recent Transparency International (TI) report which showed that Nigeria did not make any progress in its corruption perception in 2017 appears to have been received differently by top officials of the Buhari administration.
While the presidency initially dismissed the report as a “fiction” sponsored by the administration’s critics, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has welcomed the report as a catalyst for Nigeria to do better in its fight against corruption rather than a setback.
The Corruption Perception Index compiled by TI and published on February 22 said Nigeria ranked 146 out of 180 countries sampled in 2017 — dropping 12 positions against 2016.
The first reaction from the Buhari administration came from Garba Shehu, a spokesperson for President Buhari, who described the report as “a fiction” as it purportedly failed to consider Nigeria’s latest anti-corruption strides.
”Anyone who knew “where Nigeria was coming from would not believe that corruption is worse under the Buhari administration,” Mr. Shehu said.
Mr. Shehu also played up a conspiracy theory about how the report might have been sponsored by critics of the Buhari administration.
“In the end, this whole episode may turn out to be just a political distraction, given the strong views some of TI’s patrons have expressed against the Buhari administration,” he said.
Although the Vice President, who was represented by his legal adviser, Ade Ipaye, at an event on Tuesday, said Nigeria did not perform entirely bad in its fight against corruption, he took the report in good faith and said it would spur Nigeria to do better going forward.
“The ranking of Nigeria by the 2017 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, released on February 21, 2018, should not in any way be seen as a setback but rather as an opportunity to continue building on the many successes that have already been recorded by this government in all the key sectors,” The Guardian quoted Mr. Ipaye as saying at a dialogue on justice system reform which held at the State House.
“It is also important to note that the main reason for Nigeria’s decline in the Transparency International 2017 Corruption Perception Index, is that Nigeria recorded a major drop in score on just one out of the nine international recognised indexes used by Transparency International, to ascertain perceived levels of public sector corruption from the perspective of experts and business people,” he added.
The Buhari administration has been criticised for its anti-corruption tactics, especially over how corruption cases that are under investigation often find their way into the newspapers.
The government also regularly comes under scrutiny for its perceived lack of transparency with public funds.
But Mr. Buhari and his officials denied being opaque in their conduct, often asking Nigerians to remember how bad things were in the past.
It is not immediately clear why Mr. Osinbajo sees the report differently from Mr. Shehu, the presidency’s official spokesperson, but analysts suggest it might be due to his background as a lawyer and public policy expert.
“The Vice President clearly understands the implication of politicising a report released by a credible organisation like Transparency International,” said political analyst Shola Olubanjo. “If you look at his record, you’ll find that he had worked with several institutions and carried out several reforms including in Lagos where he reformed the judiciary as a commissioner for justice under Bola Tinubu.”
“On the other hand, you have a Garba Shehu who has been a political player for the most part of his career,” Mr. Olubanjo added. “You don’t expect them (not) to have different takes on critical issues or equally appreciate credible institutions like Transparency International.”
The analyst said Mr. Osinbajo has saved Nigeria from future ridicule by admitting the verdict of Transparency International.
“If you reject Transparency International this year, you’ll have to reject the organisation if it publishes a more favourable report on Nigeria in future,” Mr. Olubajo said. ” That’s what Mr. Osinbajo avoided.”