On Feminisation of Corruption in Nigeria: A Call to Action
On Thursday January 11, 2024, women drawn from different sector and strata of society such as women thought leaders, civil society, academics, public service, elder forums, and retirees held a zoom call under the auspices of the Women in Politics Forum (WIPF) on ‘Feminisation of Corruption in Nigeria: A Call to Action’. This was born out of concerns about the narratives and framing of alleged corruptions and malfeasance in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation as a women-specific problem when in fact corruption is gender neutral and perpetuated by all genders and sexes. It is essential to recognize that such biased assessments can reinforce gender stereotypes and hinder efforts to achieve gender equity. The meeting aimed to identify issues giving rise to the challenge and propose recommendations for addressing them. This paper is the outcome of the highly participatory meeting involving over 45 women from various social strata.
An X-ray of the historical data on corruption in Nigeria shows that: Nigeria has consistently performed poorly in global corruption rankings (see for example: https://www.transparency.org/en/cpi/and https://tradingeconomics.com/country-list/corruption-rank). Nigeria has battled corruption at all levels, from grand corruption to bureaucratic corruption at both the federal, state and local governments, resulting in a complicated web of adverse consequences on the quality of governance and the optimal performance of public officials. Corruption has a wide-ranging negative influence on Nigeria’s governmental and economic sectors. Misallocation of resources, ineffective institutions, and a culture of impunity have hampered Nigeria’s capacity to address critical development issues such as poverty, education, and healthcare. Furthermore, corruption has deepened socioeconomic inequities and fostered a climate of distrust among citizens. In addition to these effects is the growing trend of feminization of corruption in the country. This phenomenon, which refers to the disproportionate focus on corruption cases involving women in positions of power, has been manifest in recent times with headlines like ‘Three Women Linked to N84.1bn Fraud in Barely Five-Year-old Humanitarian Ministry’ appearing in the local media across the country’. This tends to define an emergent stereotype narrative in discourses about corruption, not only in the media but also amongst the political class.
The discourse on trends in the feminisation of corruption in Nigeria, resulted in the identification of key issues requiring concerted response. These include:
- Zero Tolerance to feminization of Corruption: As a group, we have zero tolerance to corruption and corrupt practices and we reject the feminization of corruption and gendered narratives of corruption being pushed currently in the public. This single-story frame causes more harm than good.
- Corruption by public office holders, male or female, stems largely from our electoral practices particularly the candidate selection process. When the candidate selection process is tainted by favouritism, nepotism, or a lack of openness, persons who are more likely to engage in corrupt acts might gain authority. In essence the system is design not to allow the right Candidates emerge.
- National Discourses: Discourse and Discussions of our country and its challenges should be from an honest and result oriented perspective that includes both men and women, rich and poor, recognising the place of intersectionality class and identities in society.
- Weak Institutions: The alleged corruption and malfeasance in the ministry under investigation is not a woman issue rather it is the result of collective failure of institutional, societal and governmental responsibilities in prosecuting corruption by the law and holding culprits accountable.
- Media Bias: Participants noted a prevailing media bias that tends to disproportionately highlight corruption cases involving women, contributing to the perception that such cases are more prevalent among female leaders.
- Double Standards: There is a discernible double standard in the scrutiny applied to corruption cases, with women facing heightened public censure compared to men in similar positions of authority.
- Impact on Gender Equality: The undue focus on corruption cases involving women in power has the potential to reinforce harmful stereotypes, hindering progress towards gender equality and perpetuating systemic gender-based discrimination.
- Rule of Law: The rule of law is a key tenets and principle of democracy. Every Nigerian therefore have their rights protected and respected as enshrined in Sections 33 – 47 in the Constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria.
To contain the challenge of feminization of corruption as is currently the trend in Nigeria, the following recommendations are proposed:
- There should be proper investigation of the cases of corruption and malfeasance in the ministry and social intervention funds and culprits should be punished according to the law
- Responsibilities should be properly disaggregated and all responsible parties should be held accountable for corruption cases. Audit departments and other duty bearers responsible for preventing corruption should be held to account where they fail to perform their duties. On the alleged corruption and malfeasance at the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, while we await the outcome of the Presidential investigation, the following are specific calls for action:
- The Minister of Interior Tunji-Ojo, should be suspended and subjected to a thorough investigation.
- The Head of Service should investigate the Permanent Secretary whose duty as the administrative head is to advise the Minister. This investigation should also include the Directors of Finance and Audits who have the primary responsibility of check and balance in public finance and accountability
- A proper and thorough forensic and administrative audit should be conducted and results publicized.
- Women should form a pressure group to ensure the appointment of capable persons into positions of authority. This is significant because, as the tendency towards feminization of corruption demonstrates, when women become involved in corruption cases, all women are perceived in a negative light.
- Women should actively engage women who are elected or appointed into public office to provide technical and other forms of support that will enhance their performance and check against corruption.
- Experienced women should provide support to women appointed into public office to enhance their understanding of public procurement policy, and public service rules, amongst others.
- Public Office holders should be well grounded in public service rules and regulations such as financial rules, service guidelines, protocols, etc.
Corruption has far-reaching negative implications for Nigeria’s development, and we emphasised the importance of concerted measures to combat the problem. The tendency towards feminization of corruption has been noted as a difficulty, not only for advancing the global developmental goal of gender equity and inclusion but also for combating corruption. Our major position, that the feminization of corruption is inextricably linked to the candidate selection process, calls for a need to correct structural problems in how people, especially women, are chosen for public service. As we go forward, devoted to media education, fair judicial procedures, gender-inclusive legislation, public awareness campaigns, and capacity building, we hope to create an atmosphere that is not just resistant to corruption but also free of gender prejudices.