February 20, 2018

Economic consequences/gains of war against corruption in Nigeria- Magnus Onyibe

Economic consequences/gains of war against corruption in Nigeria- Magnus Onyibe

Recently, at a world economic forum, WEF event, US Secretary of State,  John Kerry told his audience how Nigerian military generals shared amongst themselves 9 billion dollars that had been set aside for purchase of arms to prosecute the war against terrorism .

Not only was the US top diplomat factually incorrect, because it was actually $2.1 billion that was appropriated for the war against religious extremists known as Boko Haram in northeast of  Nigeria, the fund was in fact a covert slush fund for marshaling votes for then ruling party, PDP  which was facing serious challenge from then opposition party, APC.

In my reckoning ,previously,the state oil/gas firm NNPC ,the central bank of Nigeria,CBN and a few parastatal like the ports and maritime authorities were the usual sources of funding for political campaigns, but following the heavy spotlight on the NNPC which opposition legislators compelled the Govt to embark on via forced audit by PwC and the allegation of missing $45 billion that’s supposed to accrue to the CBN from crude oil sales, a charge leveled by then CBN Gov, now emir of kano,Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, those two regular sources were blocked.
So a new platform had to be identified and the fight against insurgency was thought to be the most viable ‘soft target’ that could be explored since security votes and how they are expended are usually opaque and hardly questioned,making the Office of The National Security Adviser, ONSA seem like the best new option siphon funds.
But unfortunately, then ruling party strategists were wrong as they failed to realise that in a liberal democracy with a vibrant opposition and civil society, there is no hiding place for such financial debauchery.
Be that as it may, it’s important to recognize the fact that the use of govt funds for campaign is not peculiar to Nigeria because in India, construction contracts are used by politicians to funnel slush funds for politics and that’s according to World Economic Council report.

What the US Secretary of State, John Kerry’s submission at the World Economic Forum, WEF did to Nigeria was to was once again unduly put the country under a negative spotlight as she was used as a metaphor for corruption which is rather unfair, more so as the current Govt in power has done a lot to rein in corruption.
It is even more disheartening and appalling that the presentation of our country in very bad light was facilitated by Nigerian leaders who in a bid to enhance their selfish political capital, embarked on campaign of calumny against the current opposition party PDP.

But unknown to them,the new ruling party, APC was literarily shooting itself in the foot because, it is such shenanigan that has, in part culminated into foreign investors apathy to the nation, as we had warned against in several media interventions, but govt failed to heed our advice.
Put succinctly, the Nigerian establishment unwittingly attracted opprobrium to itself by arming critics with damaging information and data to assail the country through their unguarded and largely exaggerated claims of outrageous corruption in Nigeria, which has now become an albatross and partly responsible for the rapid descent of the economy into recession.

In my reckoning,even without such damaging comments being made to score cheap political points, a frustrated Nigerian populace would have still voted for the opposition candidate, General Muhamadu Buhari, GMB or any other candidate from a solid political party with national spread because most Nigerians were simply frustrated and were ready to vent their anger against the establishment that is believed to be impoverishing the masses through maladministration.
The assertion above is in line with emerging global trends whereby voters are railing against the establishment from the UK, Germany, France , Japan and to the US as evidenced by the outcomes of recent elections like BREXIT in England where Britons voted to exit the European Union, EU and the forthcoming elections in the US where anti-establishment candidate, Donald Trump beat 16 other candidates in the Republican Party primary election to become the GOP flag bearer. Situation is not too different in the Democratic Party, where the anti-establishment candidate, Bernie Sanders, like Trump, also gave the eventual winner of the party primary election, Hilary Clinton, a scare.

The growing trend of voters aversion to electing into public office those perpetuating the old system across party lines consolidates the belief that voters are growing increasingly restive and opposed to the political establishment in the way it is currently constituted.
The recent losses in elections by Angela Merkel’s party to far right politicians hitherto on the fringe in Germany, recent successes by Marie Le Pen’s  far right party in France and the political momentum building up towards possibility of a female prime minister in otherwise hugely conservative Japan, are pointers to the inclination of voters towards seeking changes to the current democratic system of governance globally.

Given the universality of indignation to perversion of Justice and disconnectedness of government from the governed , which is underscored by their dysfunctional forms, the need for a new system of governance, different from liberal democracy currently widely operated, is becoming increasingly more imperative.
Concepts such as social democracy, as opposed to liberal democracy which is now commonly practiced in the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden, Finland may need to be closely interrogated to see if it might be better adapted to assuage the anger of those that are apparently resistant to bureaucracy and big money politics which liberal democracy tends to encourage or accommodate, globally .

But if corruption continues to be defined only as kleptomania which is common amongst African leaders who dip their filthy fingers into public vaults,while countries like the US which uses its instrumentality of power to sponsor or support ‘regime change’ in other countries,then powerful politicians in the Western world based in Washington DC, US and Brussels, in Europe would continue to be above board. This is underscored by the fact that  the corrupting acts of subversion of other sovereign polities in the name of ‘regime change’ are not defined as corruption by the world bank , Transparency International, Tl etc which the Western powers use to perpetuate their inequity against the developing world.
The  subjective definition of corruption by the West is one of the reasons Iran-contra arms deal scandal of which Col Oliver North was made a scapegoat, is not considered a corrupt practice. The recent allegation that the US ferried $400 million in cash to Iran towards actualizing the six-nation nuclear non-proliferation agreement as being alleged by Donald Trump is another case of bribery- an adjunct of corruption- perpetrated by the state.
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How about the institutionalised ‘bribery’ referred to as lobbying in Washington, the US where business interests are procured by Wall Street dollars through lobbyists who are mainly ex-parliamentarians.
Only recently, it was revealed that dollar power in the US is even stretching beyond politics as money is now being used to procure Supreme Court seats in several states in the US to the consternation of the likes of John Paul Stevens, now retired Supreme Court judge, who dissented in a court ruling in 2010 favoring notorious Citizens United which sought to overturn limits on big spending on campaigns.

According to a an article by the pair of Dorothy Samuels and Alicia Bannan on Sept 28, 2016  in THE AMERICAN PROSPECT-a highly regarded- online US Newsletter , the  retired judge had warned back then , that the unintended implication of overturning campaign spending limits, is that it would extend beyond political contests into the judiciary as elections into powerful state Supreme Court seats would be fueled by money, thereby undermining the fairness of the courts.

The eminent jurist who had hinged his dissenting view on fear that it could put judges at risk of conflict of interest back in 2010, is now witnessing his prediction manifesting as contests for seats for 27 of 35 states where judicial elections are held into the Supreme Courts are  coming up this November and top dollar is flowing to secure the seats that would serve the interests of big businesses in Wall Street. It may be recalled that Democratic Party presidential candidate Bernie sanders campaigned against the corruptive influence of money bags in Wall Street and of which billionaire Donald Trump of the republican party, is also distancing himself and linking his opponent, Hilary Clinton.

Fascinatingly, were these sleazy events to be taking place in the developing world, such a country would be dubbed a banana republic.
Such is the nature of double standards perpetuated by Western powers that manifest as double jeopardy for developing countries such as Nigeria whose leader president Muhammadu Buhari, has been railing against corruption with unprecedented ferocity and might have ended up jeopardizing the economy which was already in a precarious condition following the massive crash in commodity prices.

If attempts to change the course of events in another country via ‘ regime change’ against the will of the majority of citizens who could have preferred it to be done through the ballot box can be classified as corruption, as it should , then US’s  attempts to change regimes in Cuba,Iran,Libya, Palestine and even Russia over the years are evidences of corrupt practices.

Before Col Muammar Ghadafi of Libya was eventually killed ostensibly by his countrymen during the recent uprising, the strongman of Libya had been accusing the US of wanting to oust him. Similarly, the late ex-president of Venezuela, Chavez Perez who died of cancer had constantly accused her neighbour, the US of attempting to remove him from office or kill him.
Now, the Doctrine of Sovereign Immunity which had been protecting the US from international prosecution is under threat as the latest piece of legislation by the US Congress which lifted the ban on US citizens from suing Saudi Arabians  for damages arising from the unfortunate incident of sept 11, 2011 bombing of New York and Washington by Al Qaeda terrorists, is likely to open a floodgate of litigations against the US for violations of other sovereignties some of which  l earlier highlighted.
In another context, the unfair trade practices of the Western world against Africa, starting from the period of Slave trade, where millions of Africans were shipped off to the Americas for forced labor in plantations, to the partitioning of Africa between the super powers as spoils of war during the Berlin, Germany conference of 1885 partitioning Africa , through the period of colonialism, and after independence, then neocolonialism which is still in practice till date, the Western powers led by the US and including the U.K, France and Germany have been perpetuating injustice in Africa.
Priceless artifacts stolen during the invasion of Africa by Western adventurist armies, like the British military expedition that invaded ancient Benin kingdom, carting away artifacts like the famous Bini bronze head, Queen Idia , till date adorns Western museums instead of the natural abodes in Africa. How about the public funds stolen by African leaders and stashed away in Western banks?

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The so-called Sanni Abacha- former Nigerian dictator- loot estimated to be in millions of US dollars trapped in the USA is yet to be fully repatriated to Nigeria nearly 20 years after the dictator literarily raped Nigerian economy. If recent media reports are something to go by, there are indications that a US court has authorized the release of the $550m to Nigerian Govt,the sooner the funds are dispatched the better.

Repatriating the funds to Nigeria would be a major relief at this critically tough period in time, because if such funds were returned promptly, it would help provide stable electricity so that the West would stop referring to Africa as the dark continent and provide hospitals for improved health care to change the jaundiced perception of Africa as the land of disease and wars needing only aid not trade.

David Cameron

Also, during the former UK prime minister, David Cameroon’s inspired anti-corruption summit in London, most Britons admitted that Western countries that acquiesce with looters by allowing them to launder their illegally acquired funds through the purchase of real estate in London etc are equally culpable, because they benefit from the property boom which such investments generate in their economies.

The above narrative elicits the question: why did countries that are holding the billions of dollars allegedly stolen by Sanni Abacha and other accused Nigerian treasury looters allow the stolen funds to be funneled into their financial system, in the first instance?

What happened to the traditional Know Your Customer, KYC policy in the Western financial system ? How come alarm was not sounded until Abacha passed away or other accused were ousted from power ? Honestly, before these Western power establishment people like David Cameroon, John Kerry etc direct their sanctimonious indignation towards our country via the sort of public slurs earlier highlighted ,they should first of all clear their conscience by releasing the looted artifacts and funds still in their custody to Nigeria, as president Buhari recently challenged David Cameron and other Western power leaders during the anti-corruption summit in London where Nigeria was tagged as fantastically corrupt.
Yes, if stolen funds from Africa is blocked from being used to purchase properties in London, for instance, it would negatively affect real estate market in the UK, but it’s that too much sacrifice to make to bolster the flapping hitherto sterling image of Great Britain?
This why the recent decision by the new major of the city of London , Sadiq khan to set up a commission of inquiry to look into the pattern of ownership and sources of funds of landlords of properties in London, is welcome development and a boost to global anti-corruption fight and a head up for transparency.
In the eyes of the average Nigerian, where it had been ingrained that the land of the Queen is the ultimate throne of integrity, such image redeeming gesture is overdue.

Take for instance, the conviction of James lbori, former governor of Delta state and 8 others on charges of money laundering in the U.K.
British parliament’s authorized review of the allegations of bribery against the metropolitan police and suppression of material facts by the crown prosecution service  that could have swung the judgement the other way, have affirmed the case brought to parliament’s attention by Bhadresh Gohil, lbori’s lawyer who himself was jailed for complexity in the case bordering on  non-cooperation with the authorities.
Curiously, although the case review panel has unraveled and confirmed that the police and prosecution are culpable because they indeed compromised , the authorities insist that the conviction is in order and the confiscation trial to enable them seize the assets of the convicts, should go ahead.
Meanwhile, one of the main issues in the case is an allegation that the British aid agency DFID is an interested party, as it is alleged to have negotiated 50% beneficial interest in whatever proceeds that may be confiscated from lbori and others.

How the British authorities intend to sustain the convictions which their internal investigations have discovered and admitted as tainted and therefore subject to review, so that equity and justice may be seen to have been served, is yet to be unfurled.

Such is the extent to which double standards are applied when it comes to matters of corruption and related issues when Africa is concerned .
Even the Bretton woods institutions being used to hamstrung Africa like the United Nations, UN and its branches like the world bank, lMF and world trade organization, WTO, do not have equitable representation of Africa, even though the continent has 54 countries out of the less than two hundred members strong UN organization,of which president Buhari and many other heads of govt recently attended the 71st annual general meeting in New York, USA.
Not allowing fair representation of African countries as members of the five nations Permanent  Security Country for instance amounts to bullying of Africans by the more powerful and affluent Western powers which is tantamount, in my view to corruption.
Despite a very strong case made for Nigeria to be admitted as a permanent member of the UN Security Council by virtue of her sheer population in excess of 180 million,huge market size and being a country with the highest GDP of nearly $600 billion until Naira devaluation a couple of months ago, the Western power controlled UN has been adamant, which is immoral and a type of corruption  .
If such injustice is not admitted as a form of corruption, then corruption has a different definition when it is being applied to Africa by the Western world.

According to Transparency International, Tl,  CORRUPTION IS THE MISUSE OF PUBLIC POWER FOR PRIVATE BENEFIT  which is subjective because that definition precludes abuse of power without necessarily benefiting the perpetrator personally which is what unfair trade practices enforced through WTO, World Bank or IMF and other Western powers inequity reflect .
For the sake of equity and justice, the  definition of corruption has to be more generic to include the fraud committed by the Western powers against Africa such as unsolicited ‘regime change’, slave trade ,unfair trade practice, non-admission into UN Security Council  etc, otherwise some of us will continue to regard the ‘nose-thumbing’ by the West as symbolic of neo-colonialism-evils that the West needs to be weaned off- by consigning it to the dustbin of history.

In my considered opinion, corruption can be at the base or sophisticated levels, depending on the stages of advancement of sociopolitical developments in the economies being assessed. While not making excuses for corrupt officials , in Africa, where there is a dearth of systems and institutions to checkmate corruption,as president Obama once remarked, public officials often fiddle with funds in public treasuries, because African leaders are hardwired to be kleptomaniacs owing to the poverty circumstances endemic to the continent which was the focus of the World Bank and TI reports earlier highlighted. But in the Western world where robust institutions of checks and balances are the norm rather than exception, more sophisticated types of corruption such as Lobbying, tax heavens, payment for expensive club memberships for special clients and unfair trade practices enforced through the Bretton wood institutions like WTO etc are practiced, without qualms.
Since by definition, the corruption practiced in the developing world, which is reflective of their stage of development and which incidentally  the developed world also  experienced when they were in infant  stages, centuries  ago, African politicians are roundly condemned as guilty of corruption  , while the politicians in the advanced society whose sophisticated and ‘polished’ corrupt practices are also contributory to the predicament of the people in the developed world, are absolved simply because they write the rules and they continue to enjoy the privileges of doing so by shutting Africa out of the exclusive club in the UN institutions where  such decisions are birthed.

For more interesting revelations about the Western world double standards in evaluating corruption in the developing world with a different template from the one used for the developed ,let’s once again refer to World Bank and Transparency International, TI recently published annual Corruption Perception Index, CPI.

According to Jason Hickels, who authored a probing a report titled “Flipping The Corruption Myth”, many international development organizations ( world bank, IMF, TI) hold the view that “persistent poverty in the global south is caused largely by corruption among local public officials”.
Hickels contends that the view above is not completely true and made a counterpoint by stating that worse corrupt practices are existent in the advanced society but they are coated   With the veneer of legitimacy: “whereas (US) Congressional seats are not yet available for outright purchase, the citizens United Vs FEC (court) ruling allows corporations to spend unlimitedly on political campaigns to ensure that their preferred candidates get elected, a practice justified under the Orwellian banner of ‘ Free Speech’.
What the foregoing scenario indicates is that while corruption is institutionalised in the West via the Orwellian banner in the US for instance and therefore acceptable to the world bank,TI etc, such practice is ‘evil phenomenon’ in the developing world.
Furthermore ,Hickels also noted in his article that the world bank report indicates that corruption in the form of bribery and theft by govt officials,which is the main target of UN Convention, is believed to cost developing countries between $20 and 40 billion each year. Hickels then argues that although the aforementioned sum is a lot of money,but it’s an extremely small proportion- only about 3% of the total illicit flows that leak out of public coffers in Africa .
He maintains that, on the other hand, multinational companies steal more than $900 billion from developing countries each year through tax evasion and other illicit practices.

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To put the above assertion incorrect perspectives, keep in mind that Nigerian Govt is currently prosecuting AGIP and SHELL for illegal lifting of crude oil and that corroborates Hickels point. lt is also noteworthy that NEITI- extractive industry regulatory agency- has been raising concern about impropriety by international oil firms operating in Nigeria just as lawyer and rights activist, Femi Falana had also been threatening to sue FGN,if she went ahead to borrow externally to augment 2016 without first of all making efforts to recover the over $20 billion that he believes are yet to be remitted to Govt coffers by unscrupulous international oil companies, lOCs.

As Hickels further pointed out in his very revealing article, “The enormous outflow of wealth is facilitated by shadowy financial system that includes tax heavens, paper companies, anonymous accounts, and fake foundations with the city of London at the heart of it”.
Continuing, Hickels stated that ” over 30% of global Foreign Direct Investments FDI is booked in tax heavens which now collectively hide one -sixth of the world’s total private wealth”. That is quite revealing and should set Western leaders on a moral rectitude path.

Hopefully, London mayor Khan’s recently instituted enquiry on London as the receptacle for ‘dirty’ money is such act of penance and would unravel all the rot.

The unsavory revelations about tax evasion antics of the wealthy with respect to the rich Western World and the poor south via the scandalous PANAMA papers is a typical case in point and a clear testimony to the fact that corruption is universal if not not more endemic in the Western world  . The only difference is that while the developing world is being accused of corruption which practiced through bribery ,the Western world has legalized  corruption via Lobby as it is referred to in the USA and tax havens accepted by the rest of the Western world.
In some parts of the world, especially Asia, corruption is disguised through payment of huge sums of money as  membership fees to exclusive clubs for preferred clients.
To combat graft in South Korea, expensive meals to entertain corporate clients, which is another institutionalized practice of corruption has now been outlawed with a stiff penalty of three, 3 years imprisonment for those who breach the law.
In the light of the foregoing and for the sake of equity and Justice, l posit that there should be harmonization of standards in determining what constitutes corruption in both the developed and developing world.In other words, definition of corruption should be expanded beyond its current horizon which excludes some negative practices endemic in the West because as the saying goes, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
In the view of Ayn Rand, who was a Russian-American novelist, philosopher, playwright and screenwriter known for her best-selling novels,The Fountain Head and Atlas Shrugged, injustice and corruption are intertwined and should not be separated.
Hear her “When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion-When you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from one who produce nothing- When you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors-When you see that men get richer by graft and not by work , and your law don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you”-When you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming self-sacrificing- You may know that your society is doomed.”

If such postulation of high moral value as the one propounded by Ayn Rand are to be upheld by all nations developing or developed, then all public officials can be held accountable to a universal standard.
When the above suggested basis for determining what can be defined as corruption and what can not, is adopted by the world bank and other supranational agencies whose duty it is to make such judgements calls, the world would be a better place as there would be less feeling of being cheated or bullied between the less powerful and more powerful nations.
Curiously, when president barrack Obama met with president Buhari on the sidelines of the UNGA 71, in New York,he commended Nigerian president for his honesty and integrity ” you are highly respected by world leaders” Obama enthused. He then literarily parted president Buhari on the back for his successes in the prosecution of the fight against terrorism but strangely, the American president did not utter a word about the ferocious war that president Buhari is fighting against corruption.

Could the US president action of not complimenting president Buhari for his war against corruption in Nigeria, which he has prosecuted with great vigor comparable to, if not more than the zeal, he has put the fight against terrorism, not be indicative of non-endorsement of the exercise, perhaps owing to the suspicion that the anti-graft crusade in Nigeria, may not be altruistic, as it appears to be one-sided and politically motivated?
Since diplomats file reports about political and economic situations  in their host countries back home regularly and most of the reports are derived from the media arena, and civil society and opposition parties complaints also end up in the media, the darker sides of the anti-corruption war,may be filtering into the White House in Washington DC and other seats of Govt around the world.

Given the foregoing, in my view, the methodology applied in combating graft by president Buhari may need to be probed with a view to reviewing same for less collateral damages such that it does not further cripple Nigerian economy.

In the first instance, the nomenclature anti-corruption war, which is militarist may be too harsh for a democratic setting; secondly the struggle to rid the nation of corruption should be people and technology driven as opposed to being a solely Buhari agenda and; thirdly it has to be fought across all the strata of society and not just focused only on the top echelon, as it currently appears to be because the level fraud in the public service now , is stinking to high heavens.
For instance, while president Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines is fighting drug trafficking in his country at great calamitous consequences to the nation and which has attracted global condemnation due to the very unethical processes being applied, on the other hand,South Korea is also fighting graft by placing a limit on the amount spent on food to entertain corporate clients, which had become a corruption conduit but without public uproar because it is being done with the civility that it deserves.

Traditionally, the West looks away from atrocities that compromise civil liberties in Africa, especially if the high-handedness being committed is in furtherance of the agenda of the advanced society. This is why I’m not surprised that leaders in the Western world commended president Buhari for his successes in the fight against terrorism which is of critical importance to them , but failed to comment on the anti-corruption war which many pundits identify as being partly responsible for the rapid descent of Nigerian economy into recession.
Such are the sort of treacheries that are endemic in international relations/ affairs space.

While keeping in mind the assertion above, president Buhari and his team must not relent in reminding world leaders that Africa and particularly Nigeria needs the money stolen by its past leaders and hidden in the vaults of developed economies returned without further delay.
That was Mr president’s message during the anti-corruption summit in London , and l hope it remained his message during the UNGA 71 in New York. If Mr president had returned from the UNGA 71 meeting with commitments that are actionable and within a specific timeframe from leaders- both in public and private sectors- of the countries where our wealth are presently domiciled, the angst against Mr president by Nigerian youths both in the virtual world and physically, that has unfortunately been president Buhari’s portion for at least, the past six, 6 to twelve,12 months of being president and commander-in -chief of the armed forces of the federal republic of Nigeria, might have started ebbing. So Mr president publicise your accomplishments during the UN meetings. Openess is what democracy is about.

Arising from the the forging hypothesis, if Western powers are sincere with the encomiums that they have been pouring on president Buhari with respect to his impeccable integrity and honesty, they should help him steer Nigerian ship of state away from hitting the rocks by first repatriating the stolen funds stashed  in their vaults and secondly give Buhari the kind of endorsements that they give to countries like the republic of Georgia that facilitated that country’s rapid rise.

Best of all, the Western powers should lend helping hands to president Buhari in his efforts to turn around the fortunes of Nigeria and Nigerians in the manner that Lee Kwan Yu , the legendary leader of Singapore was endorsed by the West and which enabled him to transform the small Island nation of Singapore from the third world to first world in less than two decades.
The Western world should extend the help that was offered  Olusegun Obasanjo when he sought debt forgiveness for Nigeria. The justification them was that Nigeria was on the cusp of return to democracy . Today, Nigeria’s practice of democracy is fragile and delicate so she needs support to navigate the dangers arising from hunger and starvation across the land occasioned by commodity price crash.
After all, the current adulations and endorsements of Buhari as a leader of high fidelity by world leaders is synonymous with the praises showered on Lee Kwan Yu, which was the underlining factor for the economic feat that the late Singaporean leader performed in his country.

Magnus Onyibe, a development strategist, futurologist and former commissioner in Delta state Govt, is an alumnus of Fletcher school of Law and Diplomacy , Medford, Massachusetts, USA

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