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Dr. Ibaba Samuel Ibaba

Department of Political Science, Niger Delta University,Wilberforce Island

 Tarila M. Ebiede

Department of Political/Administrative Studies, University of Port Harcourt, Port Harcourt


This paper examines the United Nations Millennium Development Goal One – the eradication of poverty, and argues that corruption is the most fundamental obstacle to the realization of MDG One in Nigeria.  Issues in corruption and governance in Nigeria were examined, and the analysis blames corruption in governance on the privatized Nigerian state and its use as an agent for primitive accumulation of wealth.  The paper notes that corruption results in the decay and stagnation of government policies through the embezzlement of development funds.  This, the analysis concludes, will constrain the actualization of MDG One.  The paper calls for empowerment, engagement and enforcement in the fight against corruption as the most likely way forward.

Keywords: Corruption, governance, development, poverty, state, politics.

Poverty, a state of deprivation and lack of security in basic human needs (Federal Government Report, 1992, Agboola and Emmanuel, 2008), is perhaps the most pervasive effect of underdevelopment.  Development literature blames poverty on a number of factors – flawed policies, unexploited human abilities, explosive population growth, corruption, political instability, environmental degradation, bad governance, low infrastructure development, etc. (Yapa, 1996; Satterthwaite, 2003; Moeena, cited by Onyeiwu and Iwarimie-Jaja, 1991).

The reduction of poverty is central to the quest for development, a goal or objective that is common to all countries of the world.  This explains why the fight against poverty is a global one, and for this reason, agencies of the United Nations Organization, non-governmental organizations, regional and sub-regional groupings, and national governments have initiated and implemented policies and programmes to contain the poverty scourge.  The United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) can be located in this context.

The MDG’s are eight in number, with 21 targets.  This paper takes interest in the first goal that seeks to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.  In Nigeria, concerns have been raised on the ability of the country to achieve MDG One.  This is based on the continuous increase in the poverty level.  Available data show that the poverty level in Nigeria was 28.1 percent (1980); 42.7 percent (1985); 46.3 percent (1992); 65.5 percent (1996); 54.4 percent (2004).  Following this, the population of the poor was 17.1 million in 1980; 34.7 million in 1985; 39.2 million in 1996 and 69 million in 2004. (Federal Government Report,

2002:12; Punch, 6/09/2008:15, Okowa, 2007:6).  However, the 2004 poverty figures provided by the National Bureau of Statistics in 2005 have been disputed.  Thus according to Okowa, (2007:6):

There are some estimates that put the incidence of poverty in 2004 at 70 percent… In any case at 54 percent, … the population of the poor increased to 69 million in 2004… On the other hand, if the proportion of the population that lived in poverty in 2004 were to be 70 percent, then the absolute number of people who lived in poverty that year would have been 88.41 million.  With current estimates…and on the basis of a poverty index of 54.4 percent, the absolute number of people living in poverty today would be about 71 million.  Should we accept a poverty incidence of 70 percent, then the people living in poverty today would number 91 million.


It is not in doubt that either at 54 or 70 percent, the population of the poor in Nigeria is on the increase, contrary to expectations that the number should be decreasing, in keeping with MDG One targets.  But why?  This paper makes the argument that corruption in governance is a fundamental constraint to the realization of the MDG goal of poverty reduction by 2015.  The remaining part of the paper is divided into three parts.  The first examines issues in corruption and governance in Nigeria, while the second analyzes the challenges corruption pose to the realization of MDG One.  The last section concludes.

Corruption and Governance in Nigeria: Some Critical Issues
Scholars have focused on the issue of accountability and transparency failures in governance for many years now (Mbaya, Namadi, and Rufus, 2006:65).  Corruption is seen as the bane of good governance in Nigeria, and the result has been economic decay, low level of infrastructure development, high incidence of poverty and unemployment, deteriorating standard of education, political instability, among others (Adamolekun, 1985; Agedah, 1993; Seun, 2008).

Good governance is characterized by improvement of public involvement and participation in governance; improved institutional mechanism; adherence to the ideals of the rule of law; enhancement of human rights; and transparency and accountability (Federal Government Report, 2002:111).  Development variables such as high per capita income, low infant and maternal deaths, high literacy rates, etc, are logical outcomes of good governance.

It is imperative to highlight the fact that governance pertains to politics, and that the nature of the state determines the character of governance – whether it will promote private or public interest.  The interest a government pursues is central to its determination as good or bad.  Good governance is characterized by the pursuit of public interest by those who wield or exercise state power.  Equally, it is useful to note that the state is the object of political competition, and for this reasons its character defines the nature of politics in society.  An autonomous state is not manipulated and pulled in different directions by the ruling/dominant class.  Accordingly, it is not privatized, this means that the state is not used as a medium for accumulating wealth for those who control it as against promoting the interest of the entire society and thus, politics is directed to the benefit of all members of society.  Furthermore, the political process is governed by the rule of law, an important ingredient for political stability.

However, where the state lacks autonomy or has only limited autonomy it is likely to be an instrument of the ruling/dominant class for the accumulation of wealth.  The lack of autonomy


means that the state is not detached from the dominant class, and the backlash is the privatization of the state and the desperate or normless struggle for power.  Ake (1996:8) writes that:

…Much of what is uniquely negative about politics in Africa arises from the character of the State, particularly its lack of autonomy, the immensity of its power, its proneness to abuse and the lack of immunity against it.  The character of the State rules out a politics of moderation and mandates a politics of lawlessness and extremism for the simple reason that the nature of the state makes the capture of state power, irresistibility attractive.  The winners in the competition for power win everything, the losers loses everything. Nothing can be worse than losing, nothing better than winning.  Thus every one seeks power by every means, legal or otherwise and those who already control state power try to keep it by every means. What emerges from this is a politics, which does not know legitimacy or legality, only expediency.  This politics is not conducive to political stability, the rule of law or to democracy, because it is constituted as warfare.

This state of affairs hinders development in several ways.  Firstly, the instability, which results from politics of lawlessness, drives out investments, and hinders productivity.  Secondly, the high value placed on retaining political power makes the leadership to ignore development.  The resultant view is that politics is an enterprise.  Public funds are thus diverted to private pockets, instead of being directed into development (Ake, 2001a).  Worse, accountability, transparency, and frugality in the management of national resources, all essential ingredients of governance for development are undermined.  Finally, citizens are alienated from the state and this is a constraint against mobilizing them for development.

The literature on the Nigerian state has noted that it is privatized (Ake, 2001 a&b, Aaron, 2000; Ekekwe, 1986; Nnoli, 1980; Oyovbuaire, 1980), and this has largely defined the character of politics in the country.  In Nigeria, politics is seen as a means of accumulating wealth; and because the state is the medium for the allocation of resources, it has been effectively used to achieve the goal of primitive accumulation of wealth by the custodians of power at all levels of governance – federal, state and local governments.  This makes politics the primary source of capital accumulation in Nigeria (Okowa, 1996:21), and explains why corruption is an endemic feature of governance in Nigeria.

The understanding of corruption and its effects is enhanced when the varied forms it takes are examined.  The table below provides some insight.

Table 1: Classification and Processes of Corruption


Actual forms



Transitive corruption

Robbery of treasuries

Govt. Officials MJ

L&F Banks MN

Inflation of cost of government projects

Govt. Officials MJ

Contractors MJ

Disappearance of allocations

Govt. Officials MJ

L&F Banks MN

Allocation of oil blocks to non-viable players

Govt. Officials MN

Contractors MN

Failure to address grievances

Government MJ

Oil comp MN

Investive and extortive corruption

Offers/inducements by international firms to compete for sales against local industry protection

Govt. Officials MJ

Comp, Individuals MJ

Intentional non-compliance with laws and regulations

Regulatory agencies MJ

Comp MJ

Inducement to government officials to overtook defaults and non compliances

Govt. MJ

Comp, Individuals MJ

Lack of transparency

Govt. MJ

Comp. MJ

Demands for bribe

Govt. Officials MJ



Inadequate environmental impact study, continuous pollution and disregard of conservation practices in respect of resources and pollution

Govt. Officials MJ

Comp. MJ

Auto-corruption and Nepotistic corruption

Unjustifiable appointments of friends and families

Govt. Officials MJ

Individual MN

Pursuit of inflated contracts/contract scams

Govt. Officials MJ

Contractors MJ

Appointment of loyalists to government positions

Govt. Officials MJ


Tribalism/election rigging

Govt. Officials MJ

Beneficiaries MN

Supportive corruption

Receiving benefits of illicit income from failed government plans

Govt. Officials MJ

Contractors/ individuals

Sabotage of government programmes

Govt. Officials MJ

Contractors, Comp MJ

Gross statutory negligence

Regulatory agencies MJ


Government’s slow response and indifference to the plight of the people

Govt. MJ


Defensive corruption

Bribery (policemen, junior staffs, etc)


The masses MJ

Collaborative fraudulent activities – Examination malpractice, etc.

Govt. agents MN

Comp, Individual, the masses MJ

MJ- Major Participation, MN-Minor Participant (based on the magnitude of involvement, Comp: Companies, Govt.: Government; L-Local, F-Foreign.

Source: Adapted from Seun, 2008”896

It is clear that corruption pervades the entire Nigerian society.  It is however noteworthy that corruption in governance has provided a demonstrative effect that deepens the phenomenon.  No


doubt, corruption is associated with negative consequences.  The next section examines the implications of these for MDG One.


MDG One: The Challenge of Corruption
We argue here that because corruption leads to the loss of public funds required for infrastructural development, improvement in human capital and production capabilities, and health care, it constitutes a roadblock to the realization of the MDG goal of poverty reduction.  As earlier noted, poverty reduction is a fundamental goal of development.  Thus MDG One, which seeks to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, has the following targets:

  1. Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar in a day;
  2. Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people; and
  3. Halve between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger (Okowa, 2005:21).

The interplay of a number of policy options can enhance the realization of these targets. First, is the development of productive forces through human capital development, improvement of natural assets, and the development of technology (Ake, 1981:11).  The second policy option is the use of education.  The United Nations (1997:60-61) has noted in this regard that:

Education is fundamental to reducing both individual and national poverty.  School enrollment, especially schooling for literacy, is a means of achieving the interlinked development goals of health, higher productivity, more rapid economic growth and the broader objective of social integration…higher enrollment rates for girls demonstrably lead to decreased fertility rates, improved child health and increased earnings potential.

Furthermore, education develops the mental capacity of individuals, and this helps to prevent and control conflicts, as educated people tend to resolve conflicts with tolerance.  It is crucial to mention that conflict exacerbates poverty, and therefore, conflict management enhances poverty reduction.

Poverty reduction can also be achieved by reducing the expenditure of people, through the provision of basic social amenities – potable water, educational and medical facilities, shelter, electricity and efficient transportation. This helps individuals to retain income, and thus promotes aggregate demand and productivity, which enhances wealth creation and reduces poverty.  It implies therefore that the more people have access to the basic necessities of life, the lower the population of the poor.

Environmental management through pollution prevention/ control and sustainable exploitation of resources also promotes productivity and poverty reduction.  Productivity, particularly in agriculture-based economies depends on the quality of the environment.  State legislations on the environment and the infrastructure development activities of government are therefore expected to address these issues.  Environmental management protects individual economic rights in relation to access to productive assets. (Meena, 1994:37), and this improves productivity and thus enhances wealth creation.

It is clear that the policies and programmes that can enhance the actualization of the goals of MDG One require the investment of huge sums of money.  For example, the three tiers of government in the country require N594 billion to resuscitate the power sector (Punch, 03/09/2008:15) that is very crucial to poverty reduction.  It is not in doubt that the country can raise this sum given the current oil windfalls, following the unprecedented high price for crude oil.  What is uncertain however is whether the monies will be judiciously spent. The point of fact however is that, with corruption, only an infinitesimal proportion of budgeted funds trickle down to their targets.  For example, the power sector, Federal Capital Territory (FCT) administration and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) probes by the National Assembly has revealed the diversion into private pockets, billion of Naira that could have improved the living standards of Nigerians.  For example, the Obasanjo government spent over 10 billion United States Dollars on Energy Contracts alone.  Again, the funding of the National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) gulped 1.4 billion United States Dollars, and 224.6 million Euros.  The states and local governments alone contributed 3.4 billion United States Dollars, deducted from their share of the excess crude fund (Daily Trust, 15/03/2008).  The probe revealed that contractors who had received hundreds of millions of Naira as mobilization did not know


their project sites, even as they could not account for the monies received.

Similarly, doubts have been raised on the judicious use of monies spent on the poverty alleviation programme of the federal government. (Okolie, 2005:11).  Available data shows that a whooping N1.02 trillion was spent on the poverty alleviation programme between 1999 and 2002 alone (The Vanguard, 09/06/2003).  It is expected that the benefits of this expenditure will be manifest to a point where no doubt will be raised.  However, this is not the case, and corruption is seen as a major causal factor of this failure.  It is clear that corruption sustains poverty in Nigeria (HRW, 2007) and this is a major obstacle to the MDG One.
This paper has demonstrated that the use of State power for the accumulation of wealth diverts funds meant for development engineering into private pockets.  The result is the failure of development efforts. Corruption leads to the loss of revenue meant for infrastructural development, human capital development, enhancement of production capabilities and healthcare – all variables of development that should promote poverty reduction.  The fight against corruption should therefore be a strategy for achieving the objective of poverty reduction.  Empowerment, engagement and enforcement of anti-corruption institutions and laws can promote this goal


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