A new hymn on tackling corruption

Traditional approaches in tackling corruption in Nigeria have not yielded the desired results. Instead, certain emerging issues including ethnic, religious and political threads tend to undermine the successes of the fight against corruption and the rule of law.
During a roundtable at the Behavioural Exchange conference, organised by the Behavioural Insights Team in 2016, several points were made regarding corruption and behaviours. One of such points was that the extent to which corrupt behaviours are perceived to be widespread in society is likely to affect people’s expectations of honesty, and so their own corrupt behaviour. We update our beliefs of social norms with the information in our environment. Indeed, examples from the behavioural literature demonstrate how observed social norms can influence dishonest behaviour.
So, just the way the world has moved beyond unimaginable strides in ICT and tele-communication, space technology, means of transportation and others fields, Nigeria ought to over time shift from the traditional approach to fighting corruption to more innovative ways that could bring about the needed result.
The new thinking is that there is the need to go beyond the traditional measures that emphasise law enforcement and sanctions. In Nigeria, a number of institutions or agencies have been set up to fight corruption. Some are a consequence of the adoption of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). Others are necessary to conduct the business of governance. Available literature point to the fact that a possible reason why past efforts regarding institutional, policy and legal frameworks experienced setbacks is because there seem to be a disconnect between the anti-corruption efforts and citizens’ participation. Take for instance the Sasel Institute of Governance report entitled Behavioural influences on Attitudes Towards Petty Corruption: A Study of Social Norms and Mental Models in Tanzania. The report published in December 2017 made reference to certain implementation gaps wherein countries continue to experience high levels of corruption despite substantial legal and institutional reforms which adhere to international anti-corruption best practices.
Targeting change in social norms which encourage corruption is the new window as there is empirical evidence of the impact of social norms on corruption. The secret of this approach is that it increases citizen participation and adopting such approach in the fight against corruption in Nigeria could make citizens to build a strong resistance to corrupt behaviour as a matter of fact. The truth of the matter is that both the existing approaches and the new thinking or approach could play complementary roles in addressing corruption issues in Nigeria. This will be a more holistic and inclusive approach that could bring about the desired result.
A Chatham House report published in May 2017 and authored by Leena Koni Hoffmann and Raj Navanit Patel, Collective Action on Corruption in Nigeria a Social Norms Approach to Connecting Society and Institutions, supports this view. The report proposed the reinforcement of Nigeria’s ongoing anti-corruption effort by first understanding why people take part in corrupt activity, and full consideration of the societal factors that may contribute to normalizing corrupt behaviour. The report holds the view that this holistic approach would better position public institutions to engage Nigerian society in anti-corruption efforts and concluded that “as behavioural drivers influence people’s choices and preferences around corruption, Nigeria’s anti-corruption agencies should systematically integrate these methods into the long-term approach to their mandates”
Innocent Edemhanria, Benin City


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