In the current Transparency International corruption index, Britain is ranked 14th out of 177 nations. This rating tends to suggest that Britain is one of the most transparent countries in the world. But even British nationals, themselves, have queried this. For example, writing in The Guardian of London on Wednesday, March 18, 2015, George Monboit noted, “Either all but 13 countries are spectacularly corrupt or there’s something wrong with the index”. This means that in the views of Monboit and certainly several other Britons, the curtain should be drawn after the 13th nation, with Britain joining the rest 164 “spectacularly” corrupt nations.
Notice the word “spectacularly”. If we place it side-by-side another word, “fantastically”, used more recently by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, to describe Nigeria, then it would require no emphasis to state that, indeed, Nigeria and Britain, as far as even Britons themselves are concerned, are in the same bracket. But, Nigeria may even be better placed and this is how we know. Monboit, a well known British environmental and political activist, argued further that the definitions of corruption on which Transparency International (TI) drew up its index “are narrow and selective”, adding, “common practices in the rich nations that could reasonably be labelled corrupt are excluded; common practices in the poor nations are emphasised.”
And this is how TI defines corruption: “The abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” Another authority, which also prides itself as an expert on corruption in nations, the World Bank, has almost the same definition of corruption. The World Bank states that “corruption is the abuse of public office for private gain.” Monbiot, takes yet another global body, the World Economic Forum, and argues that the body’s “corruption rankings… are limited to the payment of bribe and the corrupt acquisition of public funds by private interest, excluding the kind of corruption that prevails in rich nations.”
Taken either together or singularly, these concepts of corruption, while capturing a wide range of unethical behaviour in the public and private sectors that are harmful to society have been adjudged as “narrow, inadequate and selective”. In the book, “HOW CORRUPT IS BRITAIN?” a collection of essays on the issue of corruption in the UK, the lead editor, David Whyte, argues that “such narrow conceptions of corruption are part of a long tradition of portraying the problem as something confined to weak nations, which must be rescued by “reforms” imposed by colonial powers and more recently, bodies, such as the World Bank and the IMF.” Another variant of this disavowal, as revealed by another co-author of the book, states thus: “Discussion in the UK about the problem of corruption often tends to assume, rather complacently, that it is a problem that exists in other countries, particularly the developing world.”
The foregoing, aptly situates the mind frame of Mr. Cameron, as he made his now famous gaffe on Nigeria. Mr. Cameron thus may well be the biblical hypocrite, who was asked to first remove the log in his eyes before looking at the speck in the eyes of his neighbour. Agreed, corruption may not be as pervasive in Britain as it is in Nigeria but it needs no exaggeration to state that Cameron has no moral authority to accuse Nigeria of corruption. Doubtless, Mr. Cameron has gotten a good measure of criticisms even by his own subjects, following his slip on Nigeria; such that ordinarily, further commentary on the matter may appear as over flogging of the issue. But as we have seen above, there are fundamental mindsets among his fellow Britons – and indeed many others outside Britain in the rich nations – which need to be repudiated, once and for all. And there is no better opportunity than now.
The Cameron slip offers an opportunity to also address the dishonest attitude of some of the notable global world institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Economic Forum, towards the developing nations. Such policies, which emanate from the same fixation suffered by nationals and policy makers of the rich countries – which control these institutions – have, both by design and default, fuelled corruption and degradation in the poorer nations.
These are recent issues but the world cannot forget earlier dubious posturing of Britain even as far back as the 19th century. For example, it was Britain that taught the world that human beings can be bought and sold. When they were compelled to stop the inhuman slave trade, thanks to the efforts of emergent American leaders like Abraham Lincoln, they turned to agricultural produce. After the colonies succeeded in gaining their independence, the British authorities began to sponsor corrupt individuals to take over the affairs of the emergent nations. The authorities in Britain, together with operators in the corporate landscape, encouraged the emerging officials in the ex-colonies to steal from their national wealth. There is a long history of stolen funds from African nations finding safe haven in Britain and their Islands.
A recent publication in a London-based newspaper, had this to say of the city of London: “The City of London, operating with the help of British overseas territories and crown dependencies, is the world’s leading tax haven, controlling 24 per cent of all offshore financial services. It offers global capital an elaborate secrecy regime, assisting not just evaders but also smugglers, sanction-busters and money launderers…” Of course, it is not only the poor nations of the world that are victims of Britain’s global economic and political perfidy. Britain it was that exported corruption to the Americas, notably the United States.
It is unarguable that Britain aided in destabilising African countries by aiding and abetting military coups. When military regimes became unfashionable, Britain resorted to encouraging thieving politicians to pervert electoral processes and acted, as safe haven for stolen public funds, as is evident from the Nigerian experience since the advent of the new democratic dispensation in 1999.
It was, therefore, against the backdrop of this not-so-edifying profile of Britain that several commentators across the world queried its credentials for convening last week’s international summit on corruption held in London. Some dismissed it as hypocrisy, especially when the summit was preceded by Mr. Cameron’s allusion to Nigeria. Whether it is hypocrisy or a genuine attempt to turn a new leaf, I have a hunch that the British Prime Minister inadvertently let the cat out of the bag over Britain’s real intentions on Nigeria. As far as I am concerned, Nigeria was the target of that summit in the sense that the idea of the summit might be the beginning of a scheme to lure Nigeria into trusting Britain, as a genuine partner interested in recovering stolen funds stashed away in their country.
Already and as a direct outcome of the summit, it has been reported that Britain has accepted that it is in custody of over 40 million pounds stolen funds recovered from some Nigeria government officials in the last fifteen years. But I ask: Who did the auditing? I am afraid if any such arrangement will work. My fear is that Britain wants to appropriate a chunk of the money. The plot is simple: British officials will ask the owners of the funds to show evidence that they legitimately acquired them. Of course, the anonymous owners will do no such thing, for obvious reasons.
Once the owners of the monies decline to own up, Britain will confiscate the funds and commence the deliberate long protocol involved in repatriation of the funds to Nigeria. How much of these funds will eventually be returned and when? Your guess is as good as mine. Nigeria does not even know both the exact locations of these funds and the amount involved. The British officials will return some but eventually the bulk will go into developing Britain. Did I hear you say it is better to cut the tail of the cow rather than allow the entire animal to run away? The deal may look attractive but as they say, in local parlance, shine your eyes, President Buhari.
I do not begrudge Britain their “smartness”. This was a nation that once bestrode the world like a colossus. This was a nation whose creative ingenuity led to the industrial revolution that positively changed the face of the earth and made it a better place for mankind. Britain is the citadel of quality education, even up till now. For those of us who believe in what our Creator did by sending down his son, Christ Jesus, to save us from our sins, Britain it was whose missionaries brought the good news, the gospel. Surely, Britain may be down but she is not out. She has very ample opportunities to turn a new leaf but it needs a lot of humility on the part of her contemporary leaders. Certainly not the type of caricature made of her by Mr. Cameron of recent.
• Chuka Odom is Former Minister of State (F.C.T)