The global Anti-Corruption Summit hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron in London this month brought together world leaders to agree on a package of practical steps to expose corruption and punish perpetrators.
Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Tunisia were among the 41 countries invited to the gathering, which looked at this extremely thorny issue that is affecting both developed and developing countries.
But many could be forgiven for thinking that there were only two invited countries – Afghanistan and Nigeria – following Cameron’s description of them as “fantastically corrupt” in a conversation with Queen Elizabeth II about the conference during a garden party at Buckingham Palace in London.
“We’ve got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain… Nigeria and Afghanistan, possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world,” he was overheard telling the British monarch.
Naturally, the British press picked up on this to add fuel to the debate raging about British aid going to corrupt countries.
Britain is one of a handful of aid-giving countries that have adhered to the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) on foreign assistance.
Latest figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed that the UK spent £11.7 billion on aid in 2014, second to the US, which donated £20.1 billion to development assistance in the same year.
When Cameron came to power in 2010, his Conservative government made swingeing budgetary cuts affecting ministries such as defence but did not touch the aid budget.
Supporters of a militarily strong Britain were not happy with this although they were not opposed to aid where this made a difference.
Their opposition to the government’s ring fencing of the aid budget was grounded on the claim that development assistance was going to corrupt countries that were not improving the living standards of their people.
So, as soon as Cameron made his “fantastically corrupt” aside to the Queen, newspapers like the Daily Mail, which echoes the feelings of conservative Middle England, began digging into the financial affairs of both Nigeria and Afghanistan.
For the newspaper, investigating both governments was fair game, given that Nigeria receives over £230 million in aid from the UK a year while Afghanistan gets almost £200 million annually.
But Nigeria was given more attention because of President Muhammadu Buhari’s much publicised war on corruption, which is becoming more and more controversial, as members of the opposition claim that the campaign is aimed specifically at them.
For starters, the Mail reported that Buhari’s 16-year-old daughter, who recently flew first class on British Airways to the UK, was returning to attend a £26.000-a-year secondary school.
Buhari had ordered his ministers not to fly first class on official assignments.
The Mail on Sunday took up the issue by highlighting the extent of corruption within Buhari’s own team.
The paper reported that despite Buhari’s apparent rigid stance on corruption, one of his closest ministers is known to be corrupt.
It accused Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of Transportation, “of diverting as much as $500 million in state funds”.
In addition to this allegation, the newspaper reported that Amaechi spent $140 million of these funds to finance Buhari’s campaign.
Amaechi’s relationship with Buhari is quite strong, being one of his closest advisers and who often accompanies the president on foreign visits.
While Amaechi remains out of focus for Buhari’s anti-corruption agenda, the former Governor of Cross River State, Liyel Imoke, has been arrested for his alleged role in campaign financing for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) before last year’s election that saw the party lose to Buhari’s All Progressive Congress (APC).
But no such investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has been ordered in the case of the funding of the APC’s campaign by Amaechi.
“The failure to investigate the corruption of those close to him and who he has surrounded himself with will add fuel to criticisms of his anti-corruption campaign,” one participant at the London conference told the GNA.
“Indeed, Buhari’s regime has been accused of using foreign aid to carry out his political attack on the PDP by abusing democratic institutions such as the EFCC and diverting critical resource away from the fight against Boko Haram to focus on corruption.
“Ordinary Nigerians would have been excited about the war on corruption if they are seeing some improvements in their lives, but not much positive improvement has happened for them,” the participant added.
Nigerian workers are getting restive, as the trade unions threaten to take action against the government’s weak economy policies while claiming that Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign was a cover for an absence of a national economic strategy.
Under the current regime Nigeria’s trade has dipped to a three-year low and recorded its lowest export levels since January 2013, according to a report released by the country’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
The total value of Nigeria’s exports in 2015 was 30 per cent lower than in 2014.
Reacting to downward pressures on the naira, the government has imposed draconian foreign currency controls and has also banned the importation of dozens of items, which has led to rising food prices.
Not surprisingly, Buhari’s approval rating has dropped from 77 per cent in August 2015 to 57 per cent in February this year, reflecting the growing economic frustration.
Last month, Moody’s downgraded Nigeria’s sovereign issuer rating from B1 to Ba3 while the World Bank’s 2016 Doing Business Report has revealed that it is harder to conduct business in Nigeria now than it was in 2015.
The country’s ease of doing business score fell from 47.33 to 44.69 as at the beginning of this month.
Nigeria is witnessing one of its worst energy crises and this has led to a drop in the levels of labour productivity.
Power supply remains a severe issue across the country and, coupled with the fuel shortage, this means that people cannot rely on personal power generators.
The University of Lagos was shut down indefinitely at the beginning of April, following protests about poor welfare conditions at the institution due to the energy crisis.
At the Commonwealth’s Tackling Corruption Together conference a day before the Anti-Corruption gathering, Buhari spoke of the “immediate and credible threat” to economic stability that corruption posed, including large-scale oil theft.
He added that he was depending on the international community to ensure that the infrastructure and institutions of other countries did not allow participation in these corrupt practices.
“I therefore call 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.
“It is important to stress that the repatriation of identified stolen funds should be done without delay or preconditions,” he said.
When journalists asked for his reaction to Cameron’s reference to Nigeria and Afghanistan as “fantastically corrupt”, Buhari said that he did not want an apology from the UK Prime Minister.
Rather, his focus was on the return of assets to Nigeria.
“A main component of this anti-corruption partnership is that governments must demonstrate unquestionable political will and commitment to the fight,” Buhari said.
“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.”
In Nigeria’s country statement at the Anti-Corruption summit, the Buhari government said: “We welcome the proposal from countries to restrict the ability of those involved in grand corruption to travel, invest and do business overseas.
“We suggest that this could be activated where there is a conviction or public information of the involvement in grand corruption and where it is in the public interest to impose those restrictions.”
The issue of conviction for corruption is becoming a sticking point in Nigeria where the EFCC has arrested 49 individuals affiliated with PDP and only eight from the APC out of around 102 in total recorded in the media.
But, crucially, none of those arrested has been convicted on corruption charges.
“What we are witnessing in Nigeria is a case of the Buhari regime trawling around to see whether it could net some corrupt fish and convict them,” a participant at the Anti-Corruption conference told the GNA.
“However, the government has not been that successful.”
It would seem that Buhari’s attempt to untangle the web of corruption in Nigeria is not as clear cut as he might have thought.
High-profile critics of his war on corruption have publicly aired their opinions on the exercise.
PDP Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State noted: “The EFCC under President Muhammadu Buhari is acting as if it is above the law”.
He said that the current climate in Nigeria was similar to that of 1984 when Buhari was a military dictator, adding that the president was not strong enough to run such a complex country
Remi Adekoya, writing in the Guardian in Nigeria, said: “[Buhari] is either not on top of things or is willing to turn a blind eye to problems in his own administration.
“The Nigerian president thus gets an overall C for his anti-corruption efforts so far.”
On the economic front Adekoya wrote: “Buhari’s economic record is also wanting.
“Nigeria’s president gets an F for his economic performance so far.”
The Financial Times in London said of Buhari: “The president wants to eliminate the wasteful patronage on which venal elites have thrived and create an economy more dynamic in creating jobs for the masses.
“These are laudable long-term aims for which his government has yet to articulate a convincing strategy. In the meantime, however, the short term is pressing.
“No economy can survive without fuel, electricity or foreign exchange.”
There is no doubt that fighting corruption is an important part of development, as the Anti-Corruption Summit itself acknowledged.
But what Buhari’s opponents are not happy with is the fact that his anti-corruption actions have seem to be retroactive – arresting past political opponents while ignoring current politicians in his regime who have been accused of graft.
“What we would like to see is for the government to put proper structures in place that will discourage those now in power from becoming involved in corrupt practices,” the participant at the Anti-Corruption Summit told the GNA.
(A GNA feature by London Bureau Chief Desmond Davies)