By Armsfree Ajanaku
Like all well-meaning states men and women, the framers of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution showed their patriotism and good intention when they drafted the provisions of Section 15(5) of the grundnorm. The section mandates the “State shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power.” No doubt, the framers of the Constitution must have reflected deeply on the devastating effects of corruption, including how it distorts developmental aspirations, while draining and divert scarce resources away from their intended targets.
Although the Constitution did not go on to expressly provide the roadmap of how exactly the abolition of corruption would be achieved, successive Nigerian governments have tried to implement this constitutional directive on anti-corruption through various approaches including arrest and prosecution of perpetrators of acts of corruption, while also recovering proceeds of corrupt enrichment. Scholars in the field of corruption studies have however been quick to point out that despite these valiant efforts and the plethora approaches aimed at vanquishing corruption, both grand and petty manifestations of corruption have remained realities of everyday life in the country.
Experts in the field of corruption control, while applauding the valiant efforts of anti-corruption institutions, which work in concert with civil society organizations to ensure corruption is decisively dealt with, have been quick to point out that beyond the dependence on legal sanction to punish or deter perpetrators of acts of corruption, there is a need for new strategies and approaches, which would focus on behaviors that fuel corruption.
The logic of the concept of behavior change is that if individuals both in the public and private sectors can change their behavior as a result of targeted interventions, acts of corruption will not be perpetrated on a large and pervasive scale. If that was to be the case, it would become much easier for teeth actors (anti-corruption institutions) to effectively deal with isolated cases when people defy the odds to engage in acts of corruption.
As such, there is ongoing reflection, which points to the fact that notwithstanding the yeoman’s work being done by a constellation of government anti-corruption institutions in synergy with civic actors, corruption remains pervasive both in the public and private sectors. This inability to deal a decisive blow to corruption despite all the best efforts and intention of successive government has prompted think tanks to begin designing new approaches, which if combined with extant initiatives could solve the puzzle of the ever present menace of corruption, not just at the level of the State, but also at the level of society.
This push for a new pathway to address the very complex problem of corruption is the herculean task that has engaged the expertise and resources of Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research (NISER). The government think tank, led by its Director-General, Professor Antonia Okoosi Simbine, has been galvanizing critical stakeholders in the public, private and the anti-corruption sectors to see the potentials and possibilities in behavioral change as one of the game changers in Nigeria’s quest to keep corruption in check, such that it does not continue to undermine the country’s developmental goals.
NISER is currently implementing a MacArthur Foundation research project to empirically explore the various definitional and social dimensions of corrupt behavior. The purpose of the purpose of the project is to institutionalize behavior change approaches for reducing corruption in Nigeria’s public sector.
Beyond the research, there are plans to push for the evidence that emerges from the research effort to form the basis for Behavioral Solutions Design in Nigeria’s public sector. Concurrent & iterative work streams on the project include: research and capacity building, behavioral solutions design, Institutionalization of Knowledge, documentation, communication and Dissemination.
The ABC Knowledge Series
One of the major ways NISER has sought to champion the behavior change approach as an effective pathway for corruption control is the commitment the Institute has made in terms of building the knowledge of stakeholders.
To this end the Institute recently started the Actualizing Behavioral Change (ABC) series. Through support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the ABC series has emerged as the preeminent knowledge dissemination and engagement platform for the behavior change approach. NISER, through its MacArthur Foundation grant is providing Research Support for Corruption Control through Behavioral Change.
The ABC series is a knowledge engagement platform targeted at interrogating the theory and practice of individual and collective behavior; with the goal of actualizing behavioral change interventions and solutions for corruption control. The ABC series has therefore been described as a platform for “stoking debates and a channel for convening ideas that will be useful in processing theoretical and empirical evidence for practical interventions and solutions design.”
From the background paper, which gave the rationale for the series, the point was stressed about how corruption in Nigeria has taken the dimension of a “colossal menace.” With the various dimensions of corruption ranging from petty corruption to grand corruption, the position was made clear that Nigerian public institutions have been ravaged by dishonest practices, nepotism and other negative vices.
All these practices, it was noted, have contributed to weak performance and low productivity across these institutions.
Knowing that corruption takes it roots and manifests itself in society, the ABC series is focusing on the Nigerian society in general and the public service system in particular as the context for behavioral analysis, intervention and solution designs.
So far, knowledge dissemination through the ABC series has taken the form of reflection sessions, roundtables; seminars and webinars. The first of the series, which held in August 2022 focused on the theme: Understanding And Analysing Behaviour: Why Do People Behave The Way They Do? The debate during the first series critically explored the subject of Individual and Group Dynamics in the Behavior Process. The diversity of perspective on this subject was of great interest because from experience, it has been documented that some individuals engage in corruption as a response to certain group dynamics.
Consequently, to ensure vibrant, interesting and intense sessions in the course of the ABC series, the Institute pulled all the stops to lined up an array of cerebral presenters and seasoned panelists to engage the conversation. Scholars who made presentations include; Dr Tosin Ilevbare, Dr Femi Famakinde and Dr Wale Fawehinmi. Similarly, the panel sessions featured erudite scholars, including Prof Peter Olapegba, a Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Ibadan, Dr Oyeyemi Bukola Babalola of the Department of Psychology, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and Dr. Jubril Abdulmalik of the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan. The sessions were widely attended by a wide range of stakeholders in the public and private sectors. Civil society organizations, academia and development partners were also in attendance all through the conversation.
In subsequent sessions, the ABC series will provide a platform to interrogate issues on lived experiences of corrupt behaviour among general citizen groups and among workers in the public sector specifically. As well as issues around behavioral solution design for corruption control in Nigeria’s public sector.