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The CBi Concept

The underlying philosophy

Nigeria has been repeatedly labeled one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Over the last 5 consecutive rounds of the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index Nigeria scored less than 2.8 points, putting it into the same group as countries like Honduras, Togo and Pakistan. A perceived all-encompassing culture of corruption gives the impression that there is practically no room for anyone to operate outside its borders. A strong consensus has grown that if Nigeria is to develop, the battle against corruption must be fought on different battlefields.

Engaging in corrupt acts, such as bribery, extortion or favoritism is seen by many as ‘the only way to survive’. However, this attitude does not stem from a lack of morality or intrinsic criminal intentions, but rather from the hopelessness of day-to-day life. This is reflected in the behavior of individuals as well as in the way of doing business.

The Convention on Business Integrity (CBi) was formally launched in 1997 to empower business transactions in and within Nigeria against corruption and corrupt practices. The vision is to move the society towards a visible zero tolerance for corruption, which could alter the idea that Nigerian businesses are fraudulent and instead foster international relationships that can lead to meaningful exchange.

The key objective of CBi is to provide an alternative to the perceived all-encompassing culture of corruption, showing that there are other ways of behaving / doing business in such a highly-corrupt environment.

For this purpose, CBi established The Code of Business Integrity which defines a minimum standard for business integrity in Nigeria. Participants from the private and public sector (as well as selected, highly-respected individuals) commit publically to this pledge in order to gradually change the perception that Nigerian businesses are inherently fraudulent. The commitment to CBi is voluntary.
[From Right-Left: Frank Nweke Jr. (DG NESG), Mrs. Olajobi Makinwa (UN Global Compact), Mr. Pius Otuno (UNODC) Mr. Soji Apampa (Integrity Organization)]

While the public commitment to The Code of Business Integrity in a challenging business environment like Nigeria is already regarded as a bold and courageous step by those who sign it, this commitment must be put into practice through day-to-day actions. Therefore, CBi not only applies a very rigorous accreditation process to admit new participants – in the following referred to as signatories – but also an annual integrity rating process to assess this commitment on an ongoing basis.

CBi believes that neither the accreditation nor the integrity rating should be based solely on a typical compliance check against a set of key indicators (e.g. compliance program, internal trainings), with information provided by the assessed organization itself. A formal adherence to a set of criteria / programme components may not be sufficient for an integrity assessment, which seeks to determine primarily if these criteria are actually lived within the organization (‘words put into actions’).

CBi addresses this challenge through a new and innovative approach which

a)    gathers information not only from internal sources (i.e. from the businesses itself), but expands its outreach to the business’s customers and partners (stakeholders), and

b)    combines typical checklist assessments with stakeholder and market perceptions.

However, assessing the integrity of signatories through this innovative approach may still not persuade the Nigerian and/or international business community that words are really translated into visible actions. Therefore, the underlying philosophy of the Convention on Business Integrity, reflected in its accreditation and integrity rating processes, borrows from the traditional (and successful) method of saving and borrowing in Africa (called ajo, esusu, etc.): members of a community agree to poll money together on agreed terms. The rate of (credit) default in these schemes has been proven to be very low because they operate through a mutual accountability network. Each member is subject to peer reviews and peer pressure.

Adopting this traditional scheme, CBi accumulates credibility from bigger companies known for their reputation and ethical standing in the markets in which they operate (‘pot of credibility’). This demonstrates that there are already companies in Nigeria who are committed to refrain from corruption. These companies agree to lend their credibility to other companies (by joining the Convention on Business Integrity) that are perhaps less well known but deserving of their support.

Constituting an equally accountable network, CBi applies peer review and peer pressure just as the traditional credit system. Each signatory when raising concerns regarding the behavior and performance of another signatory realizes peer review. Peer pressure is applied through social and material sanctions, which can involve temporary or permanent exclusion of the defaulting signatory.

Annually, CBi recognizes publically those signatories that have achieve a certain integrity level. Such a public recognition (through an Integrity Award) facilitates the identification of businesses with a high level of integrity (and consequently a significantly lower risk of corruption). This applies not only to the Nigerian public and business community, but as well as international commercial and financial businesses, seeking business partners, suppliers, investment targets etc. in Nigeria.

Furthermore, CBi strives to demonstrate that doing business with a high level of integrity is not only the ‘right thing to do’, but also contributes to the competitiveness of these businesses (and eventually the overall country). Therefore, all signatories that commit to the Code of Business Integrity and undergo yearly integrity ratings should eventually enjoy incentives that go beyond public recognition.

CBi continuously elaborates the establishment of commercial and operational incentives for CBi signatories (e.g. preferred supplier status, favorable financing conditions), though discussions with the private and public sector in Nigeria as well as in consultation rounds with international experts.

Over the past years The Convention on Business Integrity (CBi) has continued to gain support and followers in Nigeria and to be recognized globally as a very innovative and positive contribution from Africa to global best practices in relation to the promotion of good governance.

[1] It is noteworthy that this pledge is not a legally-binding commitment, but represents a moral agreement between consenting parties. It is binding in honor only.

[2] It is important that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) commit to CBi as well, to prove that clean business can be conducted in Nigeria, independent of size and outreach. Having only large signatories in CBi (e.g. multi-national corporations) may not be seen as a representative group, as these signatories have the financial and managerial power to engage in anti-corruption measures.

[3] The peer pressure component within the group of CBi signatories is complemented by visible sanctions that are cleared stated in the CBi Code of Business Integrity.