Although Nigeria is known mainly for oil and gas production, Nigeria’s agriculture sector, including forestry and fisheries, now accounts for over 21% of the country’s GDP. Despite the benefits of the forestry and fisheries industries to Nigeria’s development, corruption-fueled illicit activities in these sectors threaten to destabilize local communities and damage the environment. Two areas of illicit activity are of particular concern:
Nigeria’s Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the country’s economy, accounting for 96% of Nigeria’s businesses, 84% of its labor force, and 48% of its GDP. SMEs also provide Nigeria’s oil-dependent economy with some important economic diversification. Nevertheless, difficulties in securing startup or operational funds, among other problems, makes starting and operating a small business in Nigeria remarkably challenging. To mitigate these difficulties, the Nigerian federal government has created an assortment of agencies to support SMEs. In addition, at least 26 of Nigeria’s 36 state governments have established at least one SME development agency or office.
Unfortunately, government funds meant to help small businesses often fail to reach their intended recipients. Instead, the government’s SME programs often function as gateways for corruption, either in the form of misallocation of resources for political patronage, or as outright embezzlement of funds. This corruption problem is well illustrated by two of the most important national-level government programs meant to support Nigerian SMEs:
In 1992, the Nigerian police force created the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) to combat violent crimes such as armed robbery, kidnapping, murder, and hired assassination. In each state, SARS operates under the criminal investigations department of the state’s police command. Alas, SARS developed a reputation for corruptly extorting money from the targets of its investigations. To offer one example, a local software engineer alleged that heavily-armed SARS officers stopped him and ordered that he withdraw one million Naira (approx. $2,607.56 USD) for his release. Such allegations are not unusual, as demonstrated by an online Twitter campaign, labeled #EndSARS, in which numerous Nigerians recounted their personal experiences with SARS. These allegations were serious enough that the Inspector General of Police (IGP) recently released an order to dissolve SARS altogether.
One might reasonably suppose that this dissolution order will result in the elimination of SARS and the corrupt practices that pervaded its department. However, such conclusion would be incorrect, or at least premature, for a couple of reasons. First, the dissolution may turn out to be little more than a publicity gambit that does not have lasting effect. This most recent order is actually the fourth IGP order in four years that has sought to restrict, reorganize, or ban SARS’ operations. In the previous three directives the restrictions were not implemented, and the current order may not be either. Second, even if SARS is dissolved, the root causes of the corruption that pervaded its units are not unique to SARS. If left unaddressed, those same underlying causes can be expected to give rise to similar sorts of extortive corruption in other police units.
So, what factors contributed to the widespread corrupt practices within SARS? Part of the problem may be general systematic inadequacies—factors that contribute to corruption throughout the Nigerian government—but we can also identify three specific factors that made SARS particularly prone to extortive corruption. Continue reading