The prime minister of Britain is having a torrid few years in power. Last year, he barely scrapped through the ignominy of becoming the prime minister of Britain that would preside over the United Kingdom’s dismemberment when Scotland pushed for independence, and then he backed himself into a corner with his decision to hold a referendum over the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union this year. He has also had to deal with the issue of the Panama papers when it came out that his father had used the notorious Panamanian firm of Mossack Fonseca for business dealings, and he was called ‘Dodgy Dave’ in the parliament. Yesterday, he capped his foot in the mouth perception with a performance right out of the “10 things not to do when hosting an international summit” book, number one of which is: do not insult your guest even before the summit starts!
The views and opinions expressed here are those of Femi Akinfolarin and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of 360Nobs.com.
While talking to Queen Elizabeth and the Archbishop of Canterbury before the commencement of the summit, he called two of the countries attending the summit “fantastically corrupt”, which blew up when it was caught on camera by a press crew and released on their website. Of course everyone and their mothers in Nigeria were upset and deservedly so. Twitter exploded with calls for the Nigerian president who was already in London to boycott the summit and force the British Prime Minister to apologise. The Guardian newspaper of London asked Mr. Cameron to look closer to home before casting aspersions on other countries. In a classic case of overreaching, one twitterati actually called for the prime minister to be sacked ‘for appalling judgment and crass behaviour #disgusted’.
But let us examine the issue carefully. Factually, David Cameron was wrong. The Transparency International Corruption Perception Index which measures the reality and perception of corruption across nations ranks Nigeria, 136 out of 168 countries in their 2015 report, which means there are 32 countries worse off than Nigeria.
However in reality, is Nigerian as a nation not fantastically corrupt? Our number three citizen, the Senate President of the country is currently facing trial for corruption while simultaneously being named in a select list of people who used the services of the Panamanian firm, Mossack Fonseca to create off shore companies to hide property from the regulators in their countries. Several officials of our immediate past military high command are facing trials on allegations involving the fact that rather than fight an insurgency in the North-East of the country, they were busy stealing all the monies devoted to the campaign. In one instance, they allocated money to purchase a combat helicopter and inflated the purchase price by nearly 200 percent, then still purchased a second hand craft that could not even be flown.
Another military brass, instead of handing out a duly authorised salary increase to members of the air force, kept the difference and collected $1.5m a month through the duration of his tenure. The immediate past Minister of Petroleum is accused of stealing a fantastical $20 billion during her time in office and using over $200 million to bribe election officials.
There is a fellow in the Senate who owns a Bentley, a Lamborghini, a Rolls Royce, a Ferrari and a few other top range cars and no one in the country knows what he does for a living or whether he actually pays any tax to the Federal or State government. Our immediate past National Security Adviser created a slush fund with over N60 billion which he used to fund the political campaign of the last administration.
Our current Central Bank governor regularly withdrew Forex from the foreign reserves or wherever and transferred it to the NSA without a National Assembly appropriation. And this is just corruption at the national level; we still have the state and local government levels. At the Nigerian Immigration service, a new passport costs N18,000 to N20,000 but is routinely provided for at N30,000, a 50 percent inflation that is stolen by the officials. The Banking system is being buffeted with a gale of arrests as a number of MD’s of financial institutions have been called in to our crime fighting outfit over allegations of helping politicians launder funds through the system. A protocol officer in the presidency under the last administration included people’s names on a list of officials to travel with the president for a N1.5m fee so they would get visas. Our country is rife with thieves without conscious who use every advantage to steal our commonwealth with no mercy.
So the question is not whether we are not fantastically corrupt or not. We are. The country, Nigeria has been fantastically corrupt for years! Is there anyone of us who has not paid a bribe or maybe offered a bribe? In fact the rarity is the person who has never paid such.
I think that rather than boycott the summit, our president should stick to his objective of using it as a forum for getting support from other countries on his drive to repatriate stolen funds from foreign jurisdictions. I think Mr. Buhari should stand up at the summit and own the label. He should say “over the past decade or two, Nigeria has been a fantastically corrupt country but we are working hard to change that perception and culture by ensuring that corrupt officials are jailed and their illegally gotten loot are seized. Join us in agreeing to repatriate all stolen fund from your country and we will willingly sign an agreement to show you what will be done with the funds.” Help us to end our fantastically corrupt classification.
Femi Akinfolarin, a lawyer, writes from Lagos.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of 360Nobs.com.