As President Buhari Galvanises International Community into Action against Stolen Wealth

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The president’s effort to make world leaders take actions to limit havens for monies stolen from Nigeria is praiseworthy, but he should also put in place proactive measures to frustrate the siphoning of the country’s wealth and ensure effective prosecution of corruption cases. Vincent Obia writes

One piece of news that put Nigeria on the front pages of many national and international tabloids last week was a statement by British Prime Minister David Cameron labelling Nigeria as extremely corrupt. That was as world leaders were gathering in London for global action against corruption.

Ahead of Thursday’s international anticorruption summit, Cameron was caught on camera Tuesday describing Nigeria as “fantastically corrupt”, stressing that Nigeria and Afghanistan are “possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world.” He was speaking at the Buckingham Palace at a side-line discussion in a group that included the Queen of England, Queen Elizabeth II, Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Reverend Justin Welby, and Speaker of the House of Commons, Mr. John Bercow. They had gathered to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday.

However, in that footage of the chat by the British leaders published by British television station, ITV News, Welby was heard retorting, “But this particular president is actually not corrupt,” in obvious reference to President Muhammadu Buhari. “He’s trying very hard.”
Buhari was at the time flying to the United Kingdom for the anticorruption summit, where, as part of his itinerary, he delivered a keynote address on Wednesday at the Commonwealth event, “Tackling Corruption Together: A Conference for Civil Society, Business and Government Leaders,” held at the Commonwealth secretariat.

Many world leaders pay Buhari a compliment for his honest credentials and his anticorruption effort.
Foremost anticorruption group, Transparency International, responded to Cameron’s comment on Nigeria and Afghanistan by acknowledging the historical menaces of corruption in both countries as well as the efforts of their current leaders to stem the problem. But it accused Britain of being a big contributor to the problem.

Nigeria places 136 among 168 countries and territories ranked in Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perception Index, while Afghanistan ranks 166.
“But the leaders of those countries have sent strong signals that they want things to change, and the London Anti-Corruption Summit creates an opportunity for all the countries present to sign up to a new era.

“This affects the UK as much as other countries: we should not forget that by providing a safe haven for corrupt assets, the UK and its Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies are a big part of the world’s corruption problem,” Transparency International’s managing director, Mr. Cobus de Swardt, stated on Tuesday.

Recognitions like this are certainly a boost to Buhari’s anticorruption campaign. They should spur the president to more proactive actions to ensure a tidier prosecution of corruption cases in Nigeria.
Buhari has been trying to galvanise the international community into taking concerted actions aimed at closing safe havens for proceeds of corruption from Nigeria. Addressing the summit on Thursday, the president advocated the dismantling of safe havens and the return of illegally acquired assets to their countries of origin. Indeed, while several commentators had urged him to demand an apology from the British prime minister for his uncomplimentary comments about Nigeria two days before, Buhari said he needed no apology, but the return of corruptly acquired Nigerian assets held in British financial institutions and properties.

In January, Nigeria signed an agreement with the United Arab Emirates for the repatriation of ill-gotten wealth hidden by Nigerians in that country. UAE is alleged to hold about $200 billion in stolen assets from Nigeria, which is stashed in banks and property in that country’s most prominent cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

The Mutual Legal Assistance on Criminal and Commercial Matters under which UAE will return monies hidden or invested in banks and real estate in the country, was among a series of bilateral agreements signed by Nigeria, when Buhari attended the World Energy Forum in the country. Other agreements signed with the UAE during the visit included Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement, Agreement on Trade Promotion and Protection, Judicial Agreements on Extradition, Transfer of Sentenced Persons.

At the London anticorruption summit, Buhari and leaders of 59 other countries were expected to seal a pact by which none of the 60 countries would be a safe haven for treasury looters and those who steal public funds would be punished. The government says the agreement would make it difficult for political and public office holders to take stolen money abroad or operate slush accounts.
Many Nigerians and members of the international community are optimistic Nigeria has reached a turning point on getting a handle on a massive corruption menace that has devastated the country and made it a laughing stock. Buhari needs to make optimum use of this goodwill by taking steps to boost confidence in the local corruption prosecution capabilities.

The Buhari administration must address the criticisms that have dogged its corruption prosecution strategy, especially, the issue of long detention of suspects. In the prosecution of corruption cases, the government needs to follow, and be seen to be following, the nitty-gritties of trial in a democratic society. The anticorruption agencies – Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, and Code of Conduct Bureau – should ensure thorough and prompt investigation of cases before bringing suspects to court. And accused persons should be given a real platform and an opportunity to defend themselves. It is only by so doing that the corruption trials can produce the much-needed justice and deterrence.

Traumatising suspects by putting them away in prison detention, denying them access to basic liberties and materials that should aid their defence, and, sometimes, conducting trials while the accused are in prison do not augur well for justice. They diminish Nigeria before civilised humanity.
Besides, endless detention of suspects and hunt for evidence that tends to continue ad infinitum are signs of dysfunctional and weak justice sector institutions. Buhari needs to address this urgently for the country to enjoy the fruits of his administration’s anticorruption campaign.