Corruption And National Security In Nigeria – The Role Of The Media

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by Kayode Oladele

The issues of corruption and national security have generated substantial interests particularly regarding its meanings, nature and dimensions. Yet the two issues have remained major challenges in the political economy of contemporary Nigeria. To this extent, this paper merely asks two questions. First, what do we mean when we say corruption and national security? Is there a single meaning or are there multiple meanings? Second, how has the reality of corruption and national security interacted and thereby impacted the political economy of Nigeria?  Is there any relationship between corruption and national security and does the former pose any threat to the latter?

As the social scientists would say, concepts do not have universally accepted definitions. For instance, what constitutes corruption in a particular society may be termed “gratification” or “gifts” in another.  Similarly, while some societies hand-out capital punishments for corruption, some other societies promote lesser punishments including systematic forgiveness for corrupt public officials. Hence, this simple differentiation in understanding explains the multiplicity in definitions of both corruption and national security. It must therefore be stressed from the beginning that both corruption and national security are very flexible and multidimensional concepts but a number of efforts have been made to explain both concepts.corruption and national security

What is corruption? Three scholars have managed to summarise the various definitions of corruption. In a bid to explain corruption, Heildenheimer, Johnston and LeVine (1989) identified three definitions of corruption namely: the public-office centred, the market-centred and the public-interest centred definitions. For the trio, the public-office centred perception views corruption as an act of misuse of public office for personal gains while market-centred definitions situate the act of corruption in terms of its being an extra-legal act used by individuals or groups to influence actions of bureaucracy. The public-interest-centred definition views corruption mainly as a damager of public interest in which case the very act of corruption negatively impact public interest.

On his part, a Nigerian scholar, Bamgbose identified three schools of thought on the conceptualisation of corruption. First is the moralist school which argues that corruption must be viewed from a good and bad prism. The second is the structural-functionalist school which holds that rather than view corruption as good or bad it should be understood and engaged in terms of the role it plays in the functioning of the system- does it grease the wheels or sands the wheels of development in a society? The third is the radical school which is based on the works of Karl Marx and postulates that corruption is simply as a feature of capitalism which in itself dictates competition that eventually breeds fraud, waste and abuse.

Beyond the foregoing however, numerous types of corruption have been identified. Among these are supportive corruption, transactional corruption, extortive corruption, political corruption, defensive corruption, investive corruption, nepotistic corruption, autogenic corruption, personal and institutional corruption, traditional and modern corruption, local, national or international corruption, representational corruption, grand and petty corruption.

Having said this, what then is national security? To be secured is to be protected from certain possible risks. A hungry man may view security in terms of the ability to provide food just as a blind person could view the ability to see as security. Similarly, just as an unemployed person might view a secured employment as security, a rich man might view a high fence as well as armed body guards as his security. A very religious person could simply consider closeness to God as the source of security just as other people could consider local deities or graven images as the source of their own security and protection from harm.

National security on the other hand, has been defined as the ability of states to ward off all forms of threat to the survival and sustenance of a State and its people as well as the ability of a state to protect its legitimate interests with all measures including war. It is also defined as any measure aimed at balancing all instruments of foreign policy particularly in terms of arms, diplomacy, information, economics, and other measures of foreign and domestic policy.

Broadly speaking however, there are two positions on national security that speak to state security and human security. The traditional conceptualization has been statist to an extent that security is considered in terms of the level of protection of a State in largely military sense. Thus, during the Cold War, both the US and USSR viewed their security mainly in terms of their sophistication in armaments and it is this perception that had informed the arms race. The rising cost and dangers of nuclear warfare between the two powers had in turn led to the development of such initiatives and concepts such as the attendant Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I and II), Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), Balance of Terror (BOT) and Balance of Power (BOP). This militarist/ statist conceptualization of national security thus pride itself in the preservation of the State: territorial integrity and sovereignty.

On the other hand, human security speaks to the non-state dimension of national security. The humanist conceptualisation of national security, which argues for the improvement in the lives of citizens in terms of freedom, education, healthcare, environmental protection, infrastructure and other amenities, have been popularised by the works of the Commission on Human Security among others. In the opinions of people like Sadako Ogata (a former UN high commissioner for refugees), Amartya Sen (a renowned academic and Nobel Economic Laureate), and Frene Noshir Ginwala (South African speaker), human security differs from state security in a number of ways. For one, while the humanist view national security as being concerned with the individuals and community not the state, proponents also stress the role of a range of actors in national security beyond the state alone. In this context therefore, security is defined as follows:

To protect the vital core of all human lives in ways that enhances human freedoms and human fulfilment. Human means protecting fundamental freedom- freedoms that are essence of life. It means protecting people from critical (severe) and pervasive (widespread) threats and situations. It means using the processes that build on people’s strength and aspirations. It means crating political, social, environmental, economic, military and cultural system that together give people the building blocks of survival, livelihood and dignity. (Commission on Human Security, 2003; Ginwala, 2003 and 2005)

It must however be stressed that while the aforementioned divisions may be accepted for theoretical purposes, in reality there is little difference in the ultimate goal of each. Will human security in the long run not, in anyway, impact state security? Just as human security would eventually impact state security, so does state security positively impact human security. An example of the truism in this assertion is located in the current rise of China and the changing phases of its national security interests. In the Chinese case, China’s removal of about 500 million of its population out of poverty in about 25 years have impacted the nature of national security and perception of a “rise” that is widely covered in the media and in academic circles. It is this same domestic reality that have provided the funds and psyche that have continued to inform its increasing military spending and its rising tendency to deploy its military to some disputed islands. Without the funds that are generated from the Chinese economy which is driven by Chinese citizens (who had benefited from education, healthcare and other government/state interventions in their lives), the military would not have the needed funds to project its power. Similarly, without the role of the military in economic development and in the projection of the country’s national interest, it would have been difficult to sustain the current Chinese model which some have christened the “Beijing Consensus”.

However, beyond the foregoing conceptual and theoretical issues, what is happening to corruption and national security in Nigeria? To what extent do they interact and reinforce one another? More specifically, how does corruption impact on national security? This is the focus of the next two sections.


The relationship between corruption and national security is causal in a number of ways. While some have attempted to argue that corruption is not necessarily de-developmental or anti-development, in the long term, none of the functionalist proponents of corruption would say corruption is developmental. Corruption among other things reduces foreign direct investment (FDI) as international businesses who operate under global good business practices would try to avoid such markets. Second, corruption encourages violence in the sense that those that benefit from the process would do all they could to sustain their hold on political power. This sit-tight syndrome would mean that politics becomes a do-or-die affair. With this, all other bad governance feature would materialise providing the grounds for political instability which could easily take an ethnic dimension.Newspaper1

Apart from the attendant political instability which may also be characterized by politically motivated killings, corruption also generates unemployment. Funds that ordinarily should have been used to create employment are been siphoned and kept by infinitesimal group of individuals who lodge the same funds in foreign banks, generating employment in foreign countries.  The youths and the employable are therefore cheated and their future either mortgaged or encumbered. While some are frustrated and manage to live within the sphere that they have created for themselves, others embrace crime and criminality as represented by armed robbery, cultism, prostitution and stealing by false pretence among other vices while a sizeable percentage are also indoctrinated to embrace extremism and terrorism.

It is also pertinent to ask certain questions that speak to the role of corruption as a threat to national security. Why should custom officers clear illegal imports such as bombs and other contrabands into the country after receiving a token as bribe or gratification? Why should immigration officers at the country’s border posts allow illegal immigrants into the country after receiving bribes? What explains the escape of notorious criminals and kingpin of terrorist groups or militants from police custody? The fact that these unfortunate incidents happen from time to time demonstrate that extortive and institutional corruption poses serious consequences for national security in Nigeria.


The nature of corruption in Nigeria cannot be isolated from the nature of the Nigerian State. This assertion is true in a number of ways but essentially in the sense that the challenge has not been in terms of unavailability of anti-corruption institutions.  However, the dangerous dimension of corruption for national security particularly with respect to its humanist conception had forced some observers to request for the “Chinese treatment”[1]  for corrupt public officers in Nigeria (Attah, 2012; Baiyewu and Attah, 2012; Joseph, 2012; Oshodi, 2013a and 2013b). It is no longer news that corruption denies the masses of Nigeria of the needed funds to improve education, healthcare, infrastructure and other social amenities. Thus, the impact of corruption on development is obvious. But rather than just state this, I would briefly use two examples to support my point.

First is the Niger Delta. Why does the region that generates Nigeria’s foreign exchange remain poor? The answer to this question is more than one as it speaks to certain State policies and the nature of the federal system. However, the role of the political office holders in this region particularly corrupt governors have deprived the majority of the funds that are required to improve the lives of the toiling people of Niger Delta. The armed militancy eventually caused Nigeria billions of revenue in oil sales while the amnesty deal had further cost huge some of government expenditure. Wouldn’t it have been wiser to invest the stolen monies in the region and create employment for the youths of the oil-rich area rather than wait for armed resistance before the government acts?

Second is the poverty-thesis of the Boko Haram which speaks loudest in terms of its self professed quest for the “cleansing” of the Nigerian State. While accepting the various explanations for the emergence of the group, it is pertinent to stress that the issue of Boko Haram is political just as it is economic. Particularly from the instrumental point of view, violence which is often made easy when there is large scale poverty has been adopted by the Boko Haram ideologues to show their distaste for the happenings in the country. Even as their methodology remains condemnable and to say the least wicked, the point must be made that its foot soldiers are mainly from the poorest of the poor. With wide spread poverty in the North, it becomes easy for unscrupulous politicians and religious fundamentalists to hijack the army of unemployed youths and employ them for the most unholy of all human endeavours. Simply put: as long as there remains a mass of the poor and uneducated youths in the North, the threat of terrorist outburst under the guise of groups such as the ‘Maitatsine’ (which translates “He Who Curses Others”) or Boko Haram (which translates “Education is forbidden) will continue to be a recurring possibility. But what has the northern political leaders done with the available funds prior to the wide scale insecurity that have encapsulated the region and further deepened poverty?

The Nigeria State is in a very dangerous situation. These dangers are huge and could multiply. At this juncture, though the role of corruption cannot be isolated from the events in the Niger Delta and the Northern Boko Haram crisis, with reference to the threat to national security, I sadly foresee a number of future threats if things do not change from the present situation. I see these as the “next round” of threats to national security. Of these threats, I shall discuss three.

The first danger is represented by the Boko Haram crisis and the unintentional socialization process that it is inculcating. Now, the average watcher of the political economy of Nigeria would be forced to believe that violence is the only language that the managers of the State listen to. It is only when you take up arms against the State like the Niger Delta militant and the Boko Haram that you seem to be taken seriously. What has happened to the series of white papers and reports of numerous panels and tribunals?  Hence, if violence is the only language, will the Boko Haram crisis be the end or the beginning of a more devastating episode in the country’s chequered history?

The second danger is the rising number of unemployed. A recent estimate shows that about 70 percent of the total Nigerian population (which amount to 112,518,507 of a total of 160 million) are poor (National Bureau for Statistics, 2012).  This is like sitting on a keg of gun powder and trying to light a stick of cigarette to relax! The simple implication of this scenario is that even when the current Boko Harams are eliminated through amnesty or through force, there remains another millions of potential Boko Harams who are willing ready and able to be recruited by the highest bidder. The truth is that the unemployment figures by the National Bureau for Statistics remains a dangerous one to the extent that even countries that witnessed the Arab Awakening did not have such high level of unemployment. We should therefore be weary of the argument that says that deprivation breeds violence and lawlessness.

The third danger is located in terms of the presence of ethnic militias. These ethnic militias not only provide certain services that are ordinarily the responsibility of government such as security, they have in a way formed a protection block for the respective group that they represent. With over 250 linguistic groups, it is therefore not difficult for clashes to take on ethnic dimension as was the case the Berom vs. Hausa-Fulani recurrent conflict in Jos, Plateau State.


 Having said all this, it must be stressed that while there are numerous anti-corruption agencies such as the Police, the EFCC, ICPC, the Code of Conduct Bureau and the judiciary, the men of the Fourth Estate (the Press) remain key stakeholders and actors. It is in this regard that I see the Press as an historical and contemporary champion and stakeholders in the Nigerian Project. To this extent, my conclusion will address what I call SPIDER. Even as I must state that SPIDER is not new in the operation of some Press Houses in Nigeria, it remains a foundational starting point for a Press agenda in the anti-corruption struggle.

Thus, SPIDER is an acronym that stands for Setting agenda, Pedagogy, Investigative journalism, Developmental journalism, Ethics, and Remuneration. Rather than view SPIDER as compartmentalized suggestions, it is in reality an interrelated and interconnected framework whose relevance should ONLY be appreciated when they are collectively engaged in a systematic manner. First, the Press must continue to set and sustain the agenda for anti-corruption in Nigeria. A friend once told me that the Nigerian people remain forgetful because the Press want them to be forgetful. Bearing in mind the age long cliché ‘The Media is the Message,’ the Press must make/keep anti-corruption an eternal responsibility. In fact, bearing in mind that corruption is a major hindrance to development, specialized desk could be created in the news rooms. While a few journalists have covered and written columns on corruption and anti-corruption in Nigeria, the idea of an Anti-corruption Desk is still alien in most Press Houses. Yet the potentials are fully available. Journalists could register with organizations such as Transparency International or even the EFCC or ICPC to receive daily news.

Second is pedagogy. For students of social change, the usefulness and essence of training and education cannot be overestimated. One of the major challenges of education as a tool for development in Africa and Nigeria in particular is that apart from issues of funding and brain-drain, there is a disconnect between realities on ground and what our children and folks are taught in schools. The result is that a graduate of Electrical Engineering goes out to pay an electrician to do his electrical jobs at home? A First Class Electrical Engineer may even be employed by a bank to be a “Banking Executive.” In the Social Sciences for instance, students are often taught about the writings of David Easton, Tarcot Parson, Adams Smiths and co while we systematically forget about even equally important philosophy of pre-colonial African minds. As such Political Scientists are taught more about Ancient Greece than pre-colonial Onitsha or Oyo.

Nigerian education therefore responds more to foreign legacies (some of which are not even relevant in the home institutions) than domestic realities. The import of this is that we teach things that are sometimes useless to the Nigerian society. The disciplines of Mass Communication and Journalism are not different. With the deadly presence and impact of corruption in Nigeria, the mass communication curriculum should be expanded to include courses on corruption,  national security and the role of the media in contemporary Nigeria.  Perhaps one of the reasons why we don’t have that now is that corruption is not yet perceived to be a serious problem by the intellectual gatekeepers of the Mass Communications discipline in Nigeria! Journalism teaching must reflect the realities of the Nigerian State and Society.

Third is Investigative journalism. Investigative journalism is not new to Nigerian journalists. How did we know about the Toronto case? How did we learn of some of the most daring corrupt practices in the country? These were achieved through investigative journalism by some distinguished journalists. But the Nigerian journalist can do more. If the Press for example had managed to inform the public that James Ibori had stolen at a shop in the UK before he became governor, perhaps millions of naira would have been saved. Ibori would not have been able to become a governor of Delta State and he would not have stolen what he stole; and perhaps that could also have prevented him from being exposed to huge state funds that landed him in UK jail today. How much do we know of our politicians including their mental states? Since the coming into force of the Freedom of Information Act (FOI), how many investigations have been conducted by our journalists in furtherance of the Act despite the fact that we made so much noise about it when the National Assembly was initially reluctant about passing the Act? How do we explain a situation where a teacher  was transformed into a multi-millionaire overnight only by becoming a Local Government Chairman? Have you investigated our banking executives, stockbrokers and checked the annual returns of public quoted companies to determine their compliance with the law? Its Press can help us through investigative journalism.

To however embrace investigative journalism presupposes that the dominant mass media philosophy is developmental. Thus, the fourth role is Developmental journalism. The Press must understand that they are stakeholders in this fight against corruption. The validity of this is buttressed by the very fact that the journalist plies the same road as everyone, goes to the same market as everyone, needs power like everyone, are sometimes involved in accidents on the bad roads as everyone, send their children to school like everybody and so on. The Nigerian journalist is just as Nigerian as he is a journalist. In this sense, the Press must see itself as a partner of the people not the government in the course of development. It is this that should re-enforce the aforementioned need to set the agenda, improve its syllabus and investigate.

Fifth is Ethics. All what I have been talking about bothers on the issue of ethics. The Nigerian journalist must resist the urge to be sucked-in. “Brown envelope,” “skeske,” and other incentives from interested parties should be resisted. Journalism is not a profession for corrupt individuals. Reporting while not being sensational should be factual and ethical.

Finally, the sixth is Remuneration. The Nigerian journalist may be some of the worst paid in the world today. Some media houses, in spite of paying very low wages, still owe their journalists for months. This is evil. I repeat, this is evil. Monies that are gotten from advertising and other supplement revenues must be used to make life better for journalists and their families. Some media houses don’t even insure their workers. The NUJ in this regard have a role to play. Why will a journalist rely on politicians and some corrupt bankers to live a normal life? This must change and it is hoped that Nigerian journalists would be re-energized to play their historical and contemporary role in the fight against corruption and in making the Nigerian Project a success.

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