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Understanding persistent military corruption in a developing country: The case of Nigeria

Onyia, Patrick


Patrick Onyia



Since Nigeria gained political independence from Britain on 1st October 1960, corruption has been a recurring and debilitating issue in her armed forces (Mbara, 2021). In spite of the pervasiveness and endemic nature of military corruption in Nigeria (Transparency International, 2020), very few academic studies address this issue that has the potential to weaken (and, in fact, has been weakening) the professionalism and operational effectiveness of unarguably the most important arm of the Nigerian state power (Eme & Umeokafor, 2019). Therefore, this qualitative study is an endeavour to address the gap and it investigates why military corruption has been resilient in Nigeria despite a litany of anti-corruption laws and institutions in the country. The questions addressed by the study are: (1) Why is military corruption persistent in Nigeria? (2) What drives persistent military corruption in Nigeria? (3) Is persistent military corruption in Nigeria reversible? Understanding persistence of military corruption is important because, the more it is known about, the better policymakers can decide which effective interventions to martial against it. The study is based on data from 24 in-depth semi-structured interviews with knowledgeable military stakeholders and relevant literature. Through the lens of routine activity theory (Cohen & Felson, 1979; Felson 2013) which views crime as an in-built feature (a commonplace occurrence) of the society and Braun and Clarke’s ( 2006, 2019) reflexive thematic analysis, the following core arguments were developed in response to the research questions:(1) military corruption is persistent in Nigeria because of four conditions that are antagonistic to anti-corruption initiatives: (a) it has evolved to a normalised phenomenon, (b) it is functional in the sense that it provides solutions to everyday socio-economic problems Nigerian military personnel, especially the poor and/or marginalised ones encounter, (c) it is misconceived as victimless, and (d) it is irreversible; (2) the drivers of persistent military corruption in Nigeria are rooted in a perfect storm of circumstances- that is- a complex interplay of (a) individual factors (b) organisational culture factors, and (c)societal factors; (3) persistent military corruption in Nigeria is irreversible because (a) it is deeply embedded and ramified (b) it is a ‘wicked’ problem which transcends the conventional policy coherence/domains, involves a multiplicity of actors across multiple levels and resists intervention, and (c) it is self-reproducing due to opportunities galore in the armed forces. The ineffectiveness of military anti-corruption initiatives in Nigeria is due largely to failure to take cognisance of this complex, dynamic and multifaceted nature of the problem. This study then argues that for interventions to be effective, there must be a three-pronged integrative approach encompassing carrot measures (incentives), stick measures (punishments) and administrative measures. Even then, data suggests that the best that can be achieved is a reduction or amelioration of the problem as a total eradication is not possible given its deep embeddedness and ramification. Areas for future research are suggested.


Onyia, P. (2023). Understanding persistent military corruption in a developing country: The case of Nigeria. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Feb 27, 2024
Publicly Available Date Feb 2, 2027
Public URL
Additional Information School of Criminology, Sociology and Policing
University of Hull
Award Date Jan 31, 2024