Cash is the Lubricant of Bribery; What we Learned from the Corruption Survey

The negative effects of bribery and corruption has not only been destructive to the image of Nigeria as a country but has affected the lives of citizens in their daily interaction with public officials as even the provision of the most basic amenities are subject to abuse of power.

From bribery, (being of the one of the most familiar form of corruption) to other forms of corruption such as the looting of funds by political office holders, where government’s anti-corruption efforts have been focused on, are all done in cash. And this form of corruption has been institutionalized in public institutions that it has become normal and generally accepted.

In its first ever large-scale household survey on corruption released in August 2017, the NBS revealed the scope and impact of bribery on citizens when in contact with public officials to be the most familiar and widespread form of corruption directly experienced by citizens. As noted in the report, bribes were mostly paid to facilitate bureaucratic tasks such as obtaining an international passport; procuring a driving license; avoiding the payment of fines for breaking public laws such as traffic rules and to avoid cancellation of a public utilities like electricity, waste management and water supply. The report found that almost 70% of bribes collected by public officials were paid before a service was rendered.

It is estimated that a total of roughly 82.3 million bribes were paid in Nigeria between June 2015, and May 2016. This results in an average of 0.93 bribes paid per adult, or almost one bribe paid by every adult Nigerian per year.

There exist a number of different forms of bribery but the payment of cash is by the far the most important form of bribe payment as nine out of every ten bribes paid to public officials in Nigeria are done in cash (91.9 per cent), while only 4.2 per cent take the form of food and drink A small proportion of bribes, 1.6 per cent of all cases, are paid in the form of an exchange of services or favours, such as providing manual labour or offering other preferential treatment, but also through the exchange of sexual services. Finally, the handing over of valuables, such as jewellery, watches or smartphones, accounts for 1.4 per cent of bribery cases.

However, there exists a relationship between the timing of the payment of a bribe and the form of bribe requested. Cash payments are still predominant regardless of the timing of the transaction, but bribes are more likely to take the form of food and drink if the bribe is paid after the service has been rendered.

It is estimated that the total amount of bribes paid to public officials in Nigeria between June 2015 and May 2016 was around 400 billion Nigerian Naira (NGN), this is equivalent to $4.6 billion in purchasing power parity (PPP). This sum is also equivalent to 39 per cent of the combined federal and state education budgets of 2016.

The average sum paid as a cash bribe in Nigeria is approximately NGN 5,300, which is equivalent to roughly $61. This means that every time a Nigerian pays a cash bribe, he or she spends an average of about 28.2 per cent of the average monthly salary of approximately NGN 18,900.

Worthy of note also, it that the recruitment process into public service is itself subject to, and is probably the most vulnerable to this form of corruption as it has the highest amount of average cash bribes being paid for services sought.

Bribe-payers in Nigeria pay an average of 5.8 bribes over the course of one year, 91.9 per cent of which are paid in cash, which is equivalent to 12.5 per cent of the annual average salary.

From this we see that cash is the fuel of the bribery machine as is by far the most important form of bribe payment in Nigeria. Other forms of bribe payment, such as the provision of food and drink, the handing over of valuables or the exchange of another service or favour such as sex, relatively very low compared to the ones done in cash.

It is therefore suggested that digital technology be leveraged on for the access and delivery of services, e-payment channels, integrated in various aspects of public service to reduce face-to-face contact of citizens and public officials, except when necessary.

The survey was funded by the European Union (EU), and conducted as part of the cooperation project “Support to Anti-Corruption in Nigeria.” It was based on data collected in a large-scale survey of 33,067 households across Nigeria, covering 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.