By Alexis Coopersmith
Staff Writer

A video uploaded to YouTube in August showed a Nigerian police officer stop a car, sit down in the passenger seat and demand 25,000 naira, or $155, from the driver, claiming that he committed an offence. When the driver responds saying that he does not have that much money to give, the officer threatens him with arrest. The video was recorded secretly by the driver in Lagos, Nigeria and within a few days of being uploaded to YouTube, it had over 150,000 views (Agence France Presse 2013). The video made public a common occurrence for many Nigerian citizens, igniting outrage among Nigerians and bringing the issue of law enforcement corruption into the national spotlight. The short video illustrates a greater issue that currently threatens the development of Nigeria: public sector corruption.

Transparency International defines public sector corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain within the government and its decentralized units—including the police force, primary education institutions and the healthcare system (Slater 2011). The public sector is “the part of the state that produces or allocates goods and services for the benefit of the state and its citizens” (McNab & Bailey). Corruption that occurs within the public sector is particularly damaging to a nation’s development because it directly disadvantages the everyday lives of citizens. Amartya Sen, economist and Nobel laureate, defines development as the removal of unfreedoms that restrict peoples’ choices, actions, and opportunities (Sen 1999). Public sector corruption perpetuates extreme poverty, exacerbates social inequalities, and “diverts scarce funds, denying poor people access to basic social services and resources to improve their livelihoods” (Transparency International 2012). Corruption fuels feelings of powerlessness among the poor masses in Nigeria by undermining accountability of those entrusted with power. It ultimately disadvantages everyone who depends upon the integrity of those in positions of authority. In these ways, corruption obstructs development by denying people the social, political, and economic freedoms necessary to exercise fully one’s agency.

Nigeria lags behind much of the world terms of development, as is shown by various development indicators. Nigeria is ranked 153 on the Human Development Index, with an index of .471 and an inequality-adjusted index of .276, making it a “low human development” nation. The average life expectancy at birth is 52.3 years, while the mean years of schooling for adults is only 5.2 years. The gross national income per capita is $2,102 (United Nations Human Development Reports 2013). According to the United Nations Human Development Programme (2013), 68 percent of Nigeria’s 170 million people live on less than $1.25 a day. Nigeria is considered partly free by Freedom House, but is noted to have experienced a decline in political rights and civil liberties in 2013 (Freedom in the World 2013). On Transparency International’s scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean of corruption), Nigeria scored 25 in 2013, an even lower score than it received in 2012, placing Nigeria at 144 of 177 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. These indicators demonstrate the urgency of Nigeria’s need to pursue policies that can usher in development and provide tangible benefits in the lives of citizens.

Of the various forms of public sector corruption, corrupt law enforcement is a particularly devastating problem for Nigeria’s development. In “Locus of Control and Self-Efficacy as a Means of Tackling Police Corruption in Nigeria (2008), police corruption is described as being context-dependent. There is no one definition of police corruption because it can occur in various forms, “any unethical behavior on the part of a police officer is corruption” (Aremu, Pakes, & Johnston 2008, 98). As the video posted to YouTube demonstrates, police officers bribe, extort and embezzle money throughout the nation on a daily basis. Because these acts of corruption figuratively and literally takes money out of the hands of poor Nigerians with the threat of imprisonment, it has the immediate effect of directly robbing citizens of their ability to act freely as agents by limiting their daily resources. In the long-term, police corruption diverts money away from impoverished masses who already live below the poverty line and destroys citizen trust in its nation’s institutions. The Nigeria Governance and Corruption Survey found that Nigerians rate the integrity of law enforcement as the lowest of all state institutions (Aremu, Pakes, & Johnston 2008). This blatant lack of trust in an institution intended to ensure citizens’ security significantly detracts from the legitimacy of the government (Agbiboa 2012).

Corrupt conduct within Nigerian law enforcement has been a national issue since the establishment of the Nigeria Police Force in 1930 (Human Rights Watch 2010). Under colonial rule, Nigeria’s police force had a reputation of incivility, ruthlessness and unpredictability. Law enforcement continued its criminal conduct and disregard for people’s rights post-independence. In the decades after Nigeria declared independence from Britain in 1960, political instability allowed police corruption to go unchecked. Impunity incentivized officers to continue their corrupt actions. Failing to earn the public’s support, the police force’s legitimacy has since suffered dramatically (Alemika 1988). Currently, Nigeria’s police force, the largest police force on the African continent, is “a symbol of unfettered corruption, mismanagement, and abuse,” and the officers “are viewed more as predators than protectors” (Human Rights Watch 2010, 2). Police officers have garnered such a negative reputation because, for decades, officers have threatened the economic well-being of Nigerians, abused people’s rights, and undermined rule of law.

Though people of all socioeconomic statuses are negatively affected by police corruption, impoverished Nigerians suffer the greatest. Nigerian police officers routinely demand money from the public and threaten arrest or assault when people fail to pay. Drivers and passengers are often targeted for bribes during traffic stops or during police roadblocks in which officers demand a toll fee to pass (Human Rights Watch 2010). Officers are also reported to conduct mass arrests of innocent citizens in public spaces such as markets and demand money from them and their families for their release. When impoverished individuals are forced to give up their money or are arbitrarily detained, their livelihoods are severely threatened. The physical safety of the individual and their family is put into jeopardy, denying them freedoms and ultimately restricting their choices and opportunities in society. Extrajudicial killings, torture, and holding hostages for ransom continue to be common practices that blatantly disregard human rights and violate citizen’s entrustment of power (Human Rights Watch 2013). Furthermore, criminals with money can “avoid arrest, detention or prosecution, and influence police investigations” through bribery, leaving citizens unequal under the law (Human Rights Watch 2010, 3). The police activity threaten the nation’s development by disempowering the poor, undermining the rule of law, failing to provide for people’s security and creating cash flows outside the national economy.

Previous leaders of Nigeria, General Abacha and Olusegun Obasanjo, failed to bring an end to the police’s corrupt practices. According to Agbiboa (2012), General Abacha’s kleptocratic regime did little to stop corruption and rule of law crumbled. President Obasanjo, on the other hand, gained popular and international support when he enacted tough anti-corruption measures in Nigeria’s police force. He formed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, a law enforcement agency that recovered $5 billion in stolen funds and prosecuted corrupt businessmen and policemen (Nigeria’s elections: Big men, Big Fraud, and Big Trouble 2007). Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police was even convicted and imprisoned in 2005 on corruption charges under Obasanjo. Within a couple years, however, Obasanjo’s regime no longer enforced anti-corruption initiatives, and private and public sector corruption once again flourished with impunity. His international and domestic support dwindled drastically as a result (Nigeria’s elections: Big men, Big Fraud, and Big Trouble 2007).

More recently, the Nigerian government under President Goodluck Jonathan has acknowledged problems with the nation’s police force and has taken measures to improve the quality of law enforcement. In an effort to curb corruption, the government has increased funding to the national police force as well as improved officer wages (Human Rights Watch 2010). Despite these efforts, enforcement has been intermittent and the government has failed to seriously address citizens’ grievances and to implement policies that adequately prevent officer impunity.

Law enforcement corruption shatters citizen’s trust in Nigeria’s public sector and in other government institutions and it devastates the nation’s rule of law (Aremu, Pakes, & Johnston 2008; Human Rights Watch 2010). Rule of law is the foundational mechanism to end private abuse and public mismanagement (Agbiboa 2012). Without functioning rule of law, Nigerians will remain impoverished and the nation will fail to provide its citizens with the freedoms essential to development. Economic development efforts require robust restrictions on the arbitrary exercise of power and without well-established laws regulating the law enforcement sector, national development will be significantly undermined. Corrupt police officers weaken Nigeria’s future for their own personal gain, because ultimately, “all corruption is a deceit, a lie, that sacrifices the common good or the public interest for something much less” (Caiden & Truelson 1988, 19).

Work Cited

Agbiboa, D. E. (2012). Serving the few, starving the many: How corruption underdevelops nigeria and how there Is an alternative perspective to corruption cleanups. Africa Today. 58(4), 110-132. Indiana University Press. Retrieved March 2014, from Project MUSE database.

Agence France Presse. (2013). Nigeria’s police corruption problem highlighted by youtube clip of cop soliciting bribe. Huffington Post.

Aremu, O. A., Pakes, F., & Johnston, L. (2008). Locus of control and self-efficacy as means of tackling police corruption in nigeria. International Journal of Police Science and Management. 11(1), 97-107.

Caiden, G. E., & Truelson, J. A. (1988). Whistleblower protection in the usa: Lessons learnt and to be learnt. Australian Journal of Public Administration. 47(2), 119-129.

Human Rights Watch. (2010). “Everyone’s in on the game” Corruption and human rights abuses by the Nigeria Police Force. Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch. (2013). World report 2013. Human Rights Watch.

Freedom in the World 2013. (2013). Democratic breakthroughs in the balance. Freedom House.

McNab, R. & Bailey, K. Manuscript 2: Defining Corruption. U.S. Naval Postgraduate School.

Nigeria: Corruption Fueling Police Abuses. (2010). Human Rights Watch.

Nigeria’s elections: Big men, big fraud, and big trouble. (2007). TheEconomist.

Sen, A. (1999). Development as freedom. Random House, Inc. New York.

Slater, R. (2011). What is public sector corruption?. Transparency International.

Transparency International. (2012). Poverty and corruption in africa: Community voices break the cycle. Transparency International.

Photo by Zouzou Wizman


Graffiti in Boston

By Kirstie Yu
Staff Writer

For the past few weeks, I have been receiving notifications on my iPhone lock screen about the current state of Ukraine through news applications such as the New York Times and Circa. However, I have not received any about the situations in Thailand and Venezuela, even though these conflicts have been going on for as long as or even longer, in the case of Thailand, than the Ukrainian crisis. Why is it that the United States and Western media are making headlines of the news in Ukraine when there are other global conflicts that are just as important as what is happening in Ukraine, if not more? I believe that the only reason the United States and Western media are so fixated on the Ukrainian situation is that it is simply easier for the media to cover and increase readership. In addition to this, the U.S. media and government officials are stuck in a Cold War mentality.

In Ukraine, tensions began to rise when President Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian stance came into conflict with the pro-EU stance of the nation’s youth opposition. President Yanukovych suspended talks on an agreement between Ukraine and the European Union in which the European Union would help support the Ukrainian economy. Russia made its position clear on the agreement by changing its foreign policy to prevent the import of all goods from Ukraine. However, after the Ukraine-EU agreement broke down, Russia indicated that it would be willing to provide Ukraine with a $15 billion bailout loan, which President Yanukovych accepted. This infuriated Ukrainians who wanted to establish closer ties with the European Union and to distance themselves from Russia. In response, three months of protests, dubbed Euromaidan, began in November 2013, culminating thus far in a temporary truce that broke down less than a day after it was called between President Yanukovych and opposition leaders, the deaths of both protestors and police, the flight of President Yanukovych to Russia and his subsequent impeachment, the call for an early presidential election that will take place on May 25, 2014, and, most importantly, the beginning of Russian military intervention in Ukraine, as Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently received permission from the Russian parliament to deploy Russian troops in the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.

In Venezuela, protests have arisen due to President Nicolás Maduro’s inability to unite the country and stabilize the Venezuelan economy following the death of President Hugo Chávez almost one year ago today. According to CTV News, a myriad of reasons contribute to the growing displeasure with President Maduro’s regime, including surging inflation, scarcity of basic goods, problematic gas prices, high levels of criminal violence and persistent uncertainty about the validity of election results that put President Maduro in power in the first place. Although the first three reasons have important underlying economic implications, it is actually the fourth reason that has led most strongly to widespread student protests. On January 6, 2014, Miss Venezuela Monica Spear, her husband and her daughter were returning by car to Caracas after a New Year’s vacation when they were assaulted by highway robbers. Spear and her husband were killed, while their daughter was left wounded and orphaned. After this incident, protests began against the President Maduro’s regime, fueled by outrage over economic instability and overall insecurity. These mainly student-led protests only increased in force in February, especially because they coincided with the February 12th commemoration of the role of young people in a historical battle and because of the escalation of violence from both the government and protestors. The protestors’ main goal is the resignation of President Maduro, but he has yet to step down at this point.

In Thailand, protestors began decrying the unstable government under current Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in late October 2013. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is the younger sister of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted from office and has been in a self-imposed exile in Dubai and London since 2006. Many of the protestors see Yingluck as a puppet for her brother Thaksin, and this became even more apparent when Prime Minister Yingluck introduced an amnesty bill that would nullify Thaksin’s corruption allegations and allow him to return to the country without punishment. The public outcry against this bill led to protests in Bangkok, and the Thai Senate eventually rejected the bill in November 2013. However, the lasting backlash to the proposed bill caused Yingluck to dissolve the nation’s parliament on December 9, 2013, and call for new elections to be held February 2, 2014. Protests against Yingluck’s government are made up largely of younger educated urban middle-class citizens, who widely refused to vote in the February election because they did not believe the elections were free and fair. These demonstrators want every trace of “Thaksin’s regime […] wiped out” from their country and will not stop until an “unelected council is put in place to reform what they say is a corrupt political system.” In the aftermath of the February 2nd election, police have attempted to evict around 6,000 demonstrators from government sites, which has led to ongoing violence and contention between the protestors and police.

All three of these global conflicts are ongoing and all are important to the global economy and world affairs in distinct ways, yet the most attention has been paid to the Ukrainian crisis. The U.S. Council on Foreign Relations has a Global Conflict Tracker that does not, at the time of publication of this article, consider the Ukraine conflict to be as high on their Preventive Priority Level scale as the conflicts in Venezuela and Thailand. Although it may be easier for the media to cover the Ukrainian conflict due to pre-existing negative sentiments towards Russia lasting from the Cold War era, it is wrong for the media to mainly focus on the Ukrainian crisis just because images of Russian imperialism may be more salient to news readers. The media’s job is to inform, and, when it chooses to do so, it can do an exemplary job, as we are now seeing in Ukraine. However, more should be done to cover the ongoing crises of Venezuela, Thailand and other ongoing global conflicts currently under the media’s radar. In the next part of this series, I will examine the implications each of these protests has on U.S. interests and explore why the failure of the media to cover them is so problematic.

Image by Brian Talbot