MIXED reactions are trailing last week’s branding of Nigeria as a “fantastically corrupt country” by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron. Cameron was caught on camera slamming Nigeria and Afghanistan as being the “most corrupt nations” in the world. He was briefing Queen Elizabeth 11 at Buckingham Palace on the then upcoming anti-corruption summit, which has since held in London. The Speaker of the British House of Commons, John Bercow, also at the same occasion, derisively asked whether the Nigerian delegation to the summit was travelling at its own expense, which suggested that the facilitation of the participation of the Nigerian delegation at the summit with British public funds would be a waste of money. Cameron’s unguarded comments on Nigeria are unfortunate and unbecoming of his office. The statements are clearly lacking in the respect that countries and their leaders should have for one another. These undiplomatic utterances expectedly drew the ire of many Nigerians and other well-meaning persons in other parts of the world, with demands in some quarters for an apology from the British leader.
President Muhammadu Buhari, however, declined to demand an apology from Cameron, He, instead, called for the repatriation of Nigeria’s stolen funds stashed in the United Kingdom. It is good that the participants at the summit eventually resolved to do all that is necessary to keep the proceeds of corruption out of their financial systems.
Nonetheless, we are strongly disappointed with the disparaging remarks on Nigeria by the British Prime Minister. It is shorn of diplomatic finesse. It is also not pleasing that President Buhari did not take strong exception to the uncomplimentary remarks.
While there is no denying the fact that Nigeria is troubled by corruption and has been so ranked by many anti-graft agencies, including Transparency International, the over-amplification of that infamous status by Cameron is out of place. He should not make Nigeria a poster boy for corruption because there is no country that does not have corrupt people, including Britain.
All the same, we agree with President Buhari that one of the ways foreign countries like Britain and United States can help to stem the tide of corruption in Nigeria is by repatriating stolen funds stashed in their banks by corrupt Nigerian officials.
We should also regard Cameron’s statements as a wake-up call on the need to tackle corruption more seriously in the country. According to Transparency International, about $150bn illicit financial transactions go through Nigerian banks annually. This is scandalous.
These illicit fund flows are largely traceable to money laundering, terrorism financing, illicit drug trade and oil theft. It has, therefore, become necessary to check this problem. We expect Mr. Cameron to help Nigeria dismantle safe havens for stolen funds and the assets they are used to purchase in the United Kingdom.
It will be recalled that President Buhari had last September, in his address to the 70th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, urged world leaders to strengthen mechanisms for dismantling safe havens for proceeds of corruption. Buhari’s passionate appeal, which resonated with the international community, can only work if it is supported by all, Britain inclusive.
No doubt, corruption is a major obstacle to national development in Nigeria. Statistics show that Nigeria lost $140 billion between 2002 and 2011 to illicit financial transactions. We need to wake up to this reality and confront it. But, Nigeria is not much worse than many countries on the graft index.
Over all, Nigeria needs the cooperation of the international community and relevant agencies to dismantle all safe havens for our stolen funds. As President Buhari rightly observed, our “sad national experience has been that domestic perpetrators of corrupt practices do often work hand-in-hand with international criminal cartels”.
Instead of disparaging Nigeria, Cameron and Britain should be in the vanguard of efforts to make our stolen public funds unwelcome in the British financial system and its property market.