May 2018

Corruption as a Byproduct of Politics: A Study of Governance Crisis and Threat to Political Stability in Nigeria

On the international scene, Nigeria is now regarded as a country in which integrity and transparency are alien and where no transactions occur without “scratching the back” of the personnel in charge. From the federal to the local level of government, there has been phenomenal increase in the incident of corruption and bad governance which has consistently threatened political stability in the country.

by Chukwuemeka Emmanuel Ibeh, Ph.D. and James Okolie-Osemene

Corruption has become the byproduct of politics. It is one of the factors responsible for bad governance, which diminishes human security and sustainable development across the world. Like a deadly virus, bad governance and corruption attack the vital structures and institutions that make for society’s functioning, thus seriously threatening its very existence. This is particularly true of a majority of African nations, where political leadership has been perverted and compromised to the extent that the boundary between the leaders and state has shrunk and can no longer be identified.  Consequently, the state operates as a private estate, leading to the mismanagement of resources and transfer of funds into private accounts.

In Nigeria, the high rate of corruption and bad governance is alarming. The use of state power as an instrument of personal, sectional, and group agenda is well documented. Ake (1996), for instance, notes that the immensity of state power and the propensity for individuals to abuse it with impunity has, in the past, ruled out a politics of moderation and mandated a politics of lawlessness and fight for appropriation. Similarly, Ibrahim (cited in Jega, 2000) notes that the Nigerian state has a patrimonial character wherein the distinction between the public and private domains is blurred, and power, which has become a major source of wealth, is personalized.

On the international scene, Nigeria is now regarded as a country in which integrity and transparency are alien and where no transactions occur without “scratching the back” of the personnel in charge. From the federal to the local level of government, there has been a phenomenal increase in the incidence of corruption and bad governance, which has consistently threatened political stability in the country. This double-edged sword has pierced deep into the nation’s fabric: Nigeria now walks naked among the comity of nations. This reality of corruption has hindered steady economic growth and development, while insecurity is heightened. The political landscape in Nigeria is now characterized with widespread electoral fraud, political assassination, intra and inter party violence, ethno-religious violence, terrorism, constant abuse of human rights with impunity, outright mismanagement of the economy, absence of the rule of law, and a culture of nepotism in the conduct of government affairs (Ihenacho, 2004; Dike, 2005; Ogbu, 2017; Okolie-Osemene, 2017).

The state operates as a private estate, leading to the mismanagement of resources and transfer of funds into private accounts.

As a consequence, the legitimacy of the state is being questioned, while the economic growth experienced in the country has not translated to real development. This situation has affected the country negatively, resulting in an increase in unemployment, abject poverty, infrastructural decay, and crime levels that are unprecedented in the history of Nigeria. The massive plundering of the nation’s resources has adversely impoverished a majority of Nigerians. This underlies the continual rating of Nigeria as one of the most corrupt nations in the world by Transparency International (IT), a global anti-corruption watchdog (Enweremadu, 2012). With abundant human and material endowment, Nigeria has no business being grouped among the poor nations of the world. However, due to endemic corruption, Nigeria has been categorized among the poor nations today with its high rate of unemployment, poverty, and insecurity (UNDP, 2012). The magnitude of corruption and bad governance in Nigeria explains the decadence being experienced in all the facets of the nation’s affairs.

There has been a deliberate weakening of state institutions by political leaders in order to perpetuate their selfish interest, forcing Nigerians to lose confidence in the electoral process. This has invariably forced a majority of the citizens to become politically passive, withholding their obligations and support of the state. The complacence of the masses has created leeway for the political class to constantly manipulate the political process to advance their selfish interest and primitive plundering of the commonwealth. Consequently, democracy and political stability have been under perpetual threat as fundamental tenets of democracy are relegated due to endemic political corruption.

We argue that the current level of corruption and governance crisis in Nigeria constitutes a serious threat to the political stability of the country.

Ibeh Image 1
Sign for President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2019 election campaign.

Nigeria’s political landscape, since independence from Britain, has been confronted with widespread corruption and weak governance. As a result, the political system has remained unstable and the future seems to be uncertain because of increasing political corruption. Since the first coup in 1966, successive regimes have cited corruption as the bane of policy implementation in the country. Corruption has been so elevated that there is no government that was not involved in allegations of corruption. Corruption resulting from governance crisis has hindered development and heightened insecurity, poverty, and unemployment. Furthermore, it is a major hindrance to investment and economic growth and has had a disproportionate impact on the poor. From the oil sector to power, banking, and even the security sector, the country has become a case study for any country in the world that wishes to discuss corruption. Nigeria’s present predicaments are disheartening, because the country is among the richest countries in the world in terms of natural endowment and human and material resources. However, today she consistently features among the poorest countries, with the majority of its citizens living on less than $2 a day.

Corruption has become a way of life among Nigerians, especially the political class. This explains why good governance has continued to elude the country. Though the military is always accused of legitimizing corruption in Nigeria, it is pertinent to state that corruption was consolidated, entrenched, and institutionalized by successive civilian governments.

Corruption has become a way of life among Nigerians.

Corruption has made it difficult for Nigeria to have transparent electoral processes at various tiers of government, considering the desperation by political office holders to take advantage of the power of incumbency to remain in power. This creates an atmosphere for vote buying and associated rigging of elections. Apart from the erosion of internal democracy in political parties, this has led to the militarization of the electoral process to contain the activities of thugs and ballot box snatchers. Elected office holders now behave more like dictators without regard for rule of law and respect for the constitution.

The quest to remain in office or impose successors on the people without due process has led incumbents to adopt undemocratic laws to weaken their opponents, while opponents seeking to outwit the incumbents resort to violence. Unfortunately, some incumbents go as far as deploying the state’s instruments of violence, through the state security providers, to intimidate and suppress the opposition parties. Since political office is perceived to be a means to an end, the urge amongst politicians is to seek and retain political office through the use of force or violence. This emerging political culture is responsible for lethal violence during elections. As a result, politics is seen as a zero-sum game that should be won at all costs, even if it leads to the elimination of those to be represented. According to Adedayo (2003), seeking the physical harm of perceived opponents in the game of power has, since the earliest times, remained the prerogative of those lacking grass root support.

Ibeh Image 2.png
Another sign from President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2019 election campaign.

To Nigerian elites, political power must be acquired by all means; therefore, there is a tendency among losers, even in those elections that are widely adjudged to be transparent, to reject the outcome of the ballot box. This attitude has prompted Nwosu (cited in Woli 2003, 95), to assert that “elections and election results have been problematic for the Nigerian society because the orientation of the Nigerian political elites is such that those who seek for power see politics as an avenue for making money, a sort of open source to wealth. To be in power is to control state resources that are often converted into personal uses.” The conception of electoral outcome as winner takes all, while the losers are denied not only access to state resources and power, but also their fundamental human rights, has led to the abysmal increase in politically motivated murder and violence in Nigeria today. As it is, political violence is gradually being accepted as part of political culture in Nigeria.

Over the years, Nigeria has not been lucky with a viable political party system considering the hostile perception that characterizes electioneering across the country. The nature of political parties in Nigeria is a serious threat to political stability in that the quest to win elections by political parties is not based on providing alternative policies and programs for social and economic growth (different from what the rival party and candidates are proposing), but on the basis of personalities and other parochial sentiments such as ethnicity and religion.

However, these challenges of political instability and other related socio-economic upheavals in Nigeria today are basically the consequences of leadership failure. Government in Africa generally and in Nigeria in particular, from the federal level to the local government, is run like a private estate in ways that are antithetical to the western democratic system (Osei and Tutu 2004; Ong’ayo 2008). The role of good and qualified leaders in the stabilization of any political system is very vital and cannot be ignored. Achebe (1983) has noted that the problem with Nigeria is simply a failure of leadership, considering the fact that nothing is wrong with Nigeria’s land, climate, water, air or anything else in the country.

To Nigerian elites, political power must be acquired by all means; therefore, there is a tendency among losers, even in those elections that are widely adjudged to be transparent, to reject the outcome of the ballot box.

Leadership exerts a positive influence on the led in both tangible and intangible ways. It challenges and impels society and the state along a clearly established path of development socially, economically, and politically. Unfortunately, Nigeria has not fared better in this regard from her independence till the present fourth republic; the conventional method of leadership selection has been distorted. As a result, leadership is being forced on Nigerians; hence they do not serve the interest of the society, but rather that of their godfathers. The failure of political leadership in Nigeria is responsible for the internal crisis that has bedeviled almost all the political parties in the country today. It is also responsible for numerous socio-economic woes, as well as the endemic corruption that is prevalent in the system. A responsible and responsive leadership is a sine qua non for sustainable development, political stability, and the advancement of democracy. Lack of quality political leadership has manifested in the numerous examples of the undemocratic management of political parties in Nigeria. This is why many political parties are still struggling with sustaining internal democracy.

This, over the years, has made the administration of elections in Nigeria questionable and fraudulent, and has consistently sabotaged the efforts of the electorate to elect leaders of their choice. Related to this is the inadequacy of control mechanisms and corrupt electoral officers, whose partisan attitudes create a sort of doubt in the minds of the citizens and the political elites.


Obviously, bad governance and corruption are a threat to political and democratic stability in Nigeria. They also impede development and have denied the country the opportunity of being among stable democracies and the most developed nations of the world. Today, Nigeria’s economy is depressed, with deteriorating social services and declining living standards, while the political system is riddled with legitimacy crises. Corruption has relegated to the background the fundamental tenets of democracy and the essential principle that government should be accountable, accessible, and representative to the citizens. As it is, Nigerian political leadership lacks integrity and honor. The political elites do not see public offices as an opportunity to serve and bring a positive change, but as an opportunity to be served. This has resulted in various forms of manipulation in order to attain or retain political power by all means.

When political leaders are perceived to be pursuing parochial interest, citizens become disenchanted, questioning the legitimacy of the leaders, the state, and the process that produced them. The consequences are the perception of government as an instrument of the elites to acquire and retain power at the detriment of the citizens. This invariably constitutes political instability. Hence, political stability presupposes that the citizens at any given period must have confidence in their elected leaders’ ability to project and protect the interest of the entire nation, and also believe in the institutions and process through which the leaders emerged.

The governance crisis occasioned by corruption threatens political stability in the country; the timely eradication of this menace would have peace and security value. It is instructive that corruption can only be eradicated when the traditional values of hard work, contentment, and inquisitiveness into the sources of wealth and trust are mainstreamed into an anti-corruption measure.


Chukwuemeka Emmanuel Ibeh, Ph.D. is a Lecturer in the Department of Political Science and Mass Communication, Federal University Ndufu Alike Ikwo, Ebonyi State, Nigeria.

OkolieJames Okolie-Osemene is a Lecturer I in the Department of International Relations, and the Coordinator of the General Studies Unit, Wellspring University, Benin City, Edo State, Nigeria. He is presently a doctoral candidate in the Institute for Peace and Strategic Studies, University of Ibadan. He is widely published in local and international peer reviewed scholarly journals and contributed chapters to several books on terrorism, counterinsurgency, violence research, human rights and peace education. He has presented papers at international scientific conferences in different parts of the world. He is an Associate Member of the Society for Peace Studies and Practice.

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1 comment on “Corruption as a Byproduct of Politics: A Study of Governance Crisis and Threat to Political Stability in Nigeria

  1. Pingback: Public Accountability and Sustainable Development: A Study of Whistle-blower Policy in Nigeria – The Activist History Review

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