Days of mass protests have the potential to turn Africa’s largest economy toward clean governance.
For decades in Nigeria, businesspeople in Africa’s largest economy have accepted that corruption is the cost of doing business. They have witnessed the failure of successive anti-corruption initiatives by government. The current elected president, Muhammadu Buhari, even headed the African Union’s corruption awareness campaign in 2018. Despite these efforts, the country is still ranked low on a global corruption index. According to a poll last year by Transparency International, nearly half of Nigerians who engaged with a public service – schools, police, utilities – said their transactions involved graft.
In recent days, however, mass protests have dealt a blow to that pessimism. The spark was the killing of a young man by members of a special plainclothes police unit notorious for murder, torture, and extortion. A video of the incident went viral. The outpouring of popular anger prompted Mr. Buhari to announce that the unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, would be abolished.
Given that government leaders had already promised four times to disband the unit, his announcement felt flat. The largely leaderless protests have continued across major cities. As if to confirm the protesters’ skepticism, police keep using heavy-handed tactics against them. The military announced it too was prepared to step in.
Many Nigerians seem unfazed. They are less fearful and less resigned to the inevitability of corruption and the system of patronage that comes with it. “This protest is not just about [the police unit] but about bad governance,” a 27-year-old lawyer told The Wall Street Journal. According to the latest Transparency International survey, more than half of Nigerians believe most or all public officials are involved in corruption.
Mr. Buhari, a retired general who…