This week, in partnership with Global Integrity, we are joined by Dr. Jackie Harvey of Northumbria University and Dr. Pallavi Roy of SOAS University of London to discuss the structures of political power in Nigeria and the underlying systems of corruption that culminated in the protests of the #EndSARS movement. To understand the ongoing #EndSARS protests, this week’s guests provide an in-depth look at the formal and informal political and financial economies at play in Nigeria. This episode is the first in a two-part series focusing on human rights abuses in Nigeria and the protests fighting to #EndSARS and end police brutality.

SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) was founded in Nigeria in 1992 as a security apparatus designed to investigate and mitigate kidnappings and robberies that were taking place at the time. One of the key characteristics of SARS, when it was founded, was its highly secretive and opaque operational strategy. SARS personnel were permitted to travel throughout the country in unmarked vehicles without uniforms. While at the time this was purported to enhance their ability to investigate crime, the extra-legal and inhumane proceedings conducted by the unit soon brought SARS to national notoriety. The recent protests across Nigeria to #EndSARS illustrate a larger picture of the complex political and financial economies of Nigeria. To fully understand the push to #EndSARS, Dr. Harvey and Dr. Roy explain the backdrop of widespread corruption and economic uncertainty against which the protests are taking place.

Both Dr. Harvey and Dr. Roy work to research and combat corruption in Nigeria. Dr. Harvey’s financial corruption research has addressed matters such as beneficial ownership, or the natural person who ultimately has control of any legal arrangements, a position which is often obscured from the public eye, and asset recovery, or legislative tools provided to prosecuting authorities to help collect evidence that assets are the proceeds of criminal activity.

“It doesn’t help if those that are committing [bribery] are getting away with it.”

 Dr. Jackie Harvey

Without the appropriate legal capacity to combat such instances of corruption, the authorities are not able to prosecute these cases. When corruption goes unpunished, it creates an environment in which it is understood that there are no legal repercussions, and this initiates a vicious cycle. Dr. Roy’s research centers on finding impactful, feasible policy solutions to complex political and economic issues centered on anti-corruption, with projects spanning the globe.

As Dr. Roy notes, to understand the political structure of any nation, both formal and informal systems of power must be taken into account. In Nigeria, there is a high degree of informality of political and economic activity. The benefits of the nation’s oil wealth are often redistributed among political elites, rather than in the communities in which the oil is originally found. In response to this uneven distribution of oil industry profits, informal, “artisanal” oil refineries have emerged as a means of keeping oil profits within communities.

“How do we make anti-corruption real, not just something that sounds very good on paper, not just something that’s a good tagline?”

Dr. Pallavi Roy

Similarly, in response to drastically under-supplied electrical power, many residents have created agreements with local engineers or ceased to pay their electrical bills. As Dr. Roy describes, these are adaptations born of necessity, not preference. Both the scale of the informal sector and the dependency of the Nigerian economy on oil have proven to be challenging structures for regulating authorities. Publicly available agency records and data are difficult to find, as Dr. Harvey relates, and the prevalent cash economy and untapped potential of the Nigerian tax base present additional complicating factors. Furthermore, with the specter of climate change looming large and the impending shifts away from fossil fuel use, vast uncertainty has been introduced into the Nigerian economy.

These uncertainties can be tapped for innovative potential. Nigeria is an incredibly dynamic, entrepreneurial nation. When looking to the future, Dr. Roy encourages listeners to use the leverage of the current political momentum to push the government towards tractable goals like job creation and skills training programs. The protests are an important way to signal to the government that conditions need to change and the social contract must be reset. Dr. Harvey underscores the necessity for accountability and transparency, including the public accessibility of agency data, which would enable all citizens to hold their government accountable. By keeping pressure on government agencies to publish data, we can combat the corruption that stems from lack of oversight.

“I was just speaking to a Nigerian friend last night about, where he thinks the opportunities lay in Nigeria and he just said, ‘Well, Pallavi, there are 200 million opportunities,’ and I really couldn’t think of a better way to sum it up.”

Dr. Pallavi Roy

Join us in the coming weeks for Part 2 of our two-part series focusing on anti-corruption efforts and the #EndSARS protests in Nigeria.

Further Information

Global Integrity Webpage:

Global Integrity Anti-Corruption Evidence Webpage:

Read more: Hiding the beneficial owner and the proceeds of corruption

Dr. Jackie Harvey’s Biography:

Dr. Pallavi Roy’s Biography: