- Apology? No thanks, we need our money back, says Buhari
- British papers accuse PM of hypocrisy, president says oil firms are complicit in oil theft
British Prime Minister David Cameron wednesday attempted to reverse his unguarded remark about Nigeria and Afghanistan, two countries which on Tuesday, he, described as “fantastically corrupt”, when he was briefing Queen Elizabeth II on the ongoing anti-corruption summit being hosted by the United Kingdom.
While briefing Members of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons wednesday, the British PM said Nigeria and Afghanistan had taken “remarkable steps forward” on corruption, reported the BBC.
The PM said the countries’ leaders were “battling hard” to tackle the problem.
His attempt at a mea culpa came after Buhari, who arrived London on Tuesday evening for the summit, said Cameron’s gaffe was not reflective of his administration’s fight against corruption.
However, when asked yesterday by journalists at the pre-anti-corruption conference in London if Nigeria was “fantastically corrupt”, Buhari candidly replied, “Yes”, adding that corruption in Nigeria was endemic, but his government was committed to fighting it.
He went on to state that he was not going to demand an apology from Britain or Cameron, making it abundantly clear that he was more interested in the return of Nigeria’s assets held in British banks.
“I am not going to be demanding any apology from anybody. What I will be demanding is the return of assets. I have already mentioned how Britain led and how disgraceful one of Nigeria’s executives (former Bayelsa Governor, the late Diepreye Alamieyeseigha) was. He had to dress like a woman to leave Britain and left behind his bank account and fixed assets which Britain is not prepared to hand over to us.
“This is what I am asking for. What will I do with an apology? I need something tangible,” he said.
Also in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour wednesday, Buhari refused to be defensive over Cameron’s statement, saying: “Well he said what he knows about both countries. He did not say what he said to the press, it was a private conversation.”
In its reaction, the Afghan embassy in London said tackling corruption was one of President Ashraf Ghani’s top priorities and “bold” action had been taken.
“We have made important progress in fighting systematic corruption in major national procurement contracts and are making progress on addressing institutional issues as well as issues related to impunity… therefore calling Afghanistan in that way is unfair,” the embassy said.
According to the BBC, Cameron was asked about his comments on Nigeria and Afghanistan during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, where he jokingly checked if his microphone was working, refering to “tips on diplomacy” and said he had made “many unforced errors” in the past 24 hours.
Answering a question from Tory backbencher Philip Davies, who asked why UK aid was being given to countries that the PM sees as corrupt, in his reply, Cameron praised the action taken by Afghanistan and Nigeria and warned that cutting off aid could “come back to haunt us here”.
He also defended the action by his own government, including initiatives on overseas tax havens and measures to make sure “plundered money from African countries can’t be hidden in London”.
In the footage showing Cameron’s comments on Tuesday, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby intervened to say: “But this particular president is not corrupt… he’s trying very hard,” before Speaker John Bercow said: “They are coming at their own expense, one assumes?”
Earlier, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the PM had been “merely stating a fact” in his comments, and ex-London mayor Boris Johnson said people would “find it refreshing he was speaking his mind”.
Downing Street said the presidents of Nigeria and Afghanistan had “acknowledged the scale of the corruption challenge they face in their countries”.
But Labour MPs said a Tory government “hosting an anti-corruption summit was like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop”.
“The government is refusing to take meaningful action to close Britain’s constellation of tax havens, which together constitute the largest financial secrecy network in the world,” said Shadow International Development Secretary Diane Abbott.
Similarly, British papers — The Guardian and Telegraph — accused Cameron, Britain and the west of hypocrisy.
“They have spent decades ordering poor countries and failed states to sort out their problems with dodgy money, even while taking much of that dodgy money and ploughing it through their banks, their ritzy stores, their estate agents, and their offshore tax havens,” The Guardian wrote in its editorial wednesday.
In an Op-ed piece in the Telegraph written by David Davis and Jo Cox, the authors said: “The Panama Papers have shifted the focus of corruption far up the supply chain, to the people who make corruption possible – and those people are often rather closer to home.
“But careful readers of the Panama Papers will notice an important fact that should have given Cameron pause for thought before he made his comments to the Queen. More than half of the companies named in law firm Mossack Fonseca files are incorporated in Britain’s own tax havens. In fact, a full 50 per cent of the companies are from the British Virgin Islands.
“The Prime Minister knows this. Look at what he said just a few months ago: ‘Some of the British Crown Dependences and Overseas Territories are making progress […]. Others, frankly, are not moving anywhere near fast enough. […] If we want to break the business model of stealing money and hiding it in places where it can’t be seen, transparency is the answer’.”
Transparency International had also acknowledged that the UK’s record was mixed and concrete action was needed on tax evasion and secrecy in the wake of the Panama Papers’ disclosures, stopping tainted firms from bidding for public contracts and protecting whistleblowers who expose corruption.
Asked whether the PM knew his remarks to the Queen were being recorded, Downing Street said: “The cameras are very close to him, there are multiple cameras in the room.”
At a garden party later on Tuesday, the Queen herself was filmed on camera making comments about the Chinese government.
She told a senior police officer that she had heard the Chinese had been very rude to Britain’s ambassador to China during President Xi Jinping’s state visit last year.
Meanwhile, Buhari, at a pre-summit forum yesterday in London, gave his commitment to applying the rule of law and to respecting human rights in the fight against corruption.
The president, in a speech he made at a Commonwealth event titled, “Tackling Corruption Together: A Conference for Civil Society, Business and Government Leaders”, said he had also instructed security agencies to respect human rights while carrying out their duties.
He said: “I am not unaware of the challenges of fighting corruption in a manner consistent with respect for human rights and the rule of law. As a country that came out of prolonged military rule only 16 years ago, it will clearly take time to change the mentality and psychology of law enforcement officers.
“I am committed to applying the rule of law and to respecting human rights. I also require our security agencies to do the same.”
Ostensibly referring to the prolonged detention of the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki, and the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, who had both been granted bail by courts of competent jurisdictions, Buhari however admitted that in a few cases “stringent rules” had been applied as a result of threats to national security and the likelihood that certain persons might escape from the country or seek to undermine the stability of Nigeria.
The president consequently sought the support of many countries for the prosecution of certain individuals residing in their jurisdictions.
He said: “Of course, we will provide the necessary legal documents and whatever mutual assistance is required to secure the conviction of such individuals, as well as facilitate the repatriation of our stolen assets.”
Buhari further observed that he had since discovered that the repatriation of corrupt proceeds was very tedious, time consuming, costly and entailed more than just the signing of bilateral or multilateral agreements.
He said: “This should not be the case as there are provisions in the appropriate United Nations Convention that require countries to return assets to countries from where it is proven that they were illegitimately acquired.”
Buhari added that Nigeria was disposed to forging strategic partnerships with governments, civil society organisations, the organised private sector and international organisations to combat corruption.
“Our sad national experience had been that domestic perpetrators of corrupt practices often worked hand-in-hand with international criminal cartels,” he said.
According to him, stolen public funds were often transferred abroad into secret accounts.
He therefore called for the establishment of an international anti-corruption infrastructure that will monitor, trace and facilitate the return of such assets to their countries of origin.
He further stressed that the repatriation of identified stolen funds should be done without delay or preconditions.
Buhari also told the gathering that apart from looting of public funds, Nigeria was also confronted with illegal activities in the oil sector.
He said: “That this industry has been enmeshed in corruption with the participation of the staff of some of the oil companies is well established. Their participation enabled oil theft to take place on a massive scale.”
He cited a report released by Chatham House in London in 2013, titled “Nigeria’s Criminal Crude: International Options to Combat the Export of Stolen Oil”.
According to him, the findings of the Chatham House document were “illuminating and troubling”.
Part of the Report, he told the gathering, concluded that: “a) Nigerian crude oil is being stolen on an industrial scale and exported, with the proceeds laundered through world financial centres by transnational organised criminals.
“b) Oil theft is a specie of organised crime that is almost totally off the international community’s radar, as Nigeria’s trade and diplomatic partners have taken no real action.
“c) Nigeria cannot stop the trade single-handedly, and there is limited value in countries going it alone.”
Buhari then said that the menace of oil theft in Nigeria, put at over 150,000 barrels per day, was a criminal enterprise involving internal and external perpetrators.
“Illicit oil cargoes and their proceeds move across international borders. Opaque and murky as these illegal transactions may be, they are certainly traceable and can be acted upon, if all governments show the required political will.
“This will has been the missing link in the international efforts hitherto. Now in London, we can turn a new page by creating a multi-state and multi-stakeholder partnership to address this menace,” he said.
Buhari also called on the international community to designate oil theft as an international crime similar to the trade in “blood diamonds”, saying it constituted an imminent and credible threat to the economy and stability of oil-producing countries like Nigeria.
To stem the tide, the president advocated an agreement on a rules-based architecture to combat corruption in all its forms and manifestations.
He said the anti-corruption crusade should be a shared agenda for civil society, businesses and governments requiring commitment from companies, creating a space for civil society and governments providing support for whistle-blowers, adding that governments must demonstrate unquestionable political will and commitment to the fight against corruption.
According to him, “The private sector must come clean and be transparent, and civil society, while keeping a watch on all stakeholders, must act and report with a sense of responsibility and objectivity.”
He said Nigeria was committed to signing the Open Government Partnership initiatives alongside Cameron during the summit today.