In a country renowned for the endemic corruption of its resource and public sectors over the past four decades, the recent discovery of widespread contract fraud should come as little shock to observers familiar with Nigeria’s moribund political economy. Yet even in a state with such persistent corruption, the collective defrauding of $241 million dollars in revenue from the state by an assortment of 300 firms, individuals, and army officers almost beggars the imagination. While contractor fraud is admittedly unsurprising in a society where the comprehensiveness of anti-corruption legislation is matched only by the vigor of regime’s public officials in looking the other way, it does raise a further concern regarding the use of private contractors for developing states. To what extent do private military, security, and supply companies pose a threat of corruption to the regimes they service? Given the case of Nigeria, it would appear that this question ultimately depends upon the client, as the risk of contractor corruption looms largest in the very societies already plagued by corruption throughout their society.
Bribery, Fraud, and Corruption are serious challenges plaguing Nigeria’s political and economic system (Wikimedia Commons).
On its surface, relying on professional corporations specializing in providing weapons, equipment, and other services to bolster an otherwise bungling Nigerian military seemed like a winning strategy against the resilient terrorist group Boko Haram. Indeed, as recently as the mid-1990s, Nigeria witnessed the effectiveness of modern private military corporations in its own backyard as contractors from Executive Outcomes saved the Sierra Leone regime from certain defeat at the hands of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Dealing with its own ongoing battle with a surprisingly resourceful rebel group able to kidnap over a hundred schoolchildren in northern Nigeria, hiring professional corporations to equip its armed forces theoretically offered a valuable force multiplier for Nigeria’s troops and operations.
The terrorist threat posed by Boko Haram is a serious security threat to Nigeria (Wikimedia Commons).
Yet Nigeria’s political economy and society are neither prepared nor equipped to monitor these contractors. Nigeria already suffers from widespread corruption despite the best efforts of domestic and international anti-corruption campaigns. Resource revenues from the state’s oil windfalls over the past decades, for example, were a source of corruption for the regime and companies alike. Moreover, corruption by public officials remains commonplace and Nigeria consistently scores poorly on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. In a state with such lucrative opportunities for corruption, it is no wonder that government arms and equipment contracts provided yet another source of fraud to exploit.
2013 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (Wikimedia Commons)
It would thus appear that the threat of contractor corruption is most dire in societies already suffering high levels of corruption and where the preexisting weak institutions, rule of law, and civil society permit fraud to flourish. Powerful and developed countries like the United States are other western democracies have little to fear. Fortunately, they possess the resources and institutions to monitor and catch such corruption before it reaches this stage, as the $35 million Nigeria has recovered is a pittance of what its people know it lost. Nevertheless, this incident should serve as a valuable reminder that their agents to do not always act in their best interest.
However, the question remains as to Nigeria’s campaign against Boko Haram. Fortunately, news from the front over the past year suggests that the war is progressing well. Abuja’s necessity for contractor services may thus continue to decline. If demand remains, however, Nigeria can always resort to the tried and tested method of acquiring equipment and training by partnering with other international state actors interested in its security. Indeed, both France and the United States in particular would likely be eager to assist Abuja in combating Boko Haram, and at a far cheaper cost and the outright theft of their non-state competitors.