David Cameron and the Ugly Truth about Nigeria

Cameron and the British Queen

British Prime Minister David Cameron was caught on camera telling Queen Elizabeth on Tuesday that leaders of some “fantastically corrupt” countries, including Nigeria and Afghanistan, were due to attend his anti-corruption summit.

Cameron will host an international anti-corruption summit on Thursday aimed at stepping up global action to combat corruption in all walks of life.

In a pooled video feed made available to the ITN broadcaster, Cameron was shown talking with the queen at Buckingham Palace about the summit.

“We had a very successful cabinet meeting this morning, talking about our anti-corruption summit,” Cameron said when the queen approached. “We have got the Nigerians – actually we have got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain.”

Cameron went on: “Nigeria and Afghanistan – possibly two of the most corrupt countries in the world.”

The queen, who steers clear of political comment, did not respond to Cameron’s comment. But the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: “But this particular president is actually not corrupt.”

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, both of whom are due to attend the summit, acknowledge corruption in their countries and have pledged to clean it up.

Meanwhile the President’s  spokesman Garba Shehu said Cameron’s remarks were not “reflective of the good work that the president is doing”.

“The Prime Minister must be looking at an old snapshot of Nigeria,” Shehu said, adding: “Thank you to the Archbishop.”

Afghanistan is at number 166, second-from-bottom, in campaign group Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index, an annual ranking of countries.

Only North Korea and Somalia, jointly ranked at number 167, are perceived to be more corrupt. Nigeria is at number 136 in the index.

“There is no doubt that historically, Nigeria and Afghanistan have had very high levels of corruption, and that continues to this day,” said Cobus de Swardt, Managing Director of Transparency International.

“But the leaders of those countries have sent strong signals that they want things to change.”

It was not clear whether Cameron realized he was being filmed and recorded at the event, held to mark the queen’s 90th birthday last month.

After Cameron’s remarks about Nigeria and Afghanistan, John Bercow, the speaker of parliament’s House of Commons, joked: “They are coming at their own expense, one assumes?”

“Everything has to be open,” Cameron said of the summit.

“There are no sort of closed-door sessions. Everything has to be in front of the press … It could be quite interesting.”

Cameron’s Downing Street office said both Buhari and Ghani acknowledged they faced a challenge to tackle corruption and they had been invited to the summit because they were leading the fight against graft.

“In a collection of essays on the fight against corruption to be published on the day of the summit, President Ghani writes that Afghanistan is ‘one of the most corrupt countries on earth’,” a spokeswoman for Cameron said.

“President Buhari writes that corruption became a ‘way of life’ in his country under ‘supposedly accountable democratic governments’.”

President Buhari

Buhari has also vowed, however, to uproot corruption from the country. He has requested greater cooperation from the international community in returning Nigerian public funds stolen by officials and hidden abroad, including more than $300 million stored in Switzerland by the late Nigerian military ruler Sani Abacha. The president has also ordered the arrest of a number of high-profile figures—including former national security advisor Sambo Dasuki—in connection with a $2 billion scandal in which state funds earmarked for procuring arms to fight Boko Haram were diverted elsewhere.

Nigeria was ranked 136th out of 168 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2015, the same position it held in 2014. In a December 2015 report, Transparency found that 75 percent of Nigerians felt that corruption in the country had risen in the previous 12 months.

It would be recalled that recently President buhari had told world leaders to hurry up and return nigeria’s stolen money.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari  who was elected in March 2015 on an anti-corruption ticket and has pledged to reclaim billions of dollars allegedly lost to dodgy dealings and mismanagement. demanding greater international cooperation in returning hundreds of millions of dollars in Nigerian funds hidden abroad.

The West African oil giant has endured decades of endemic corruption, with state funds being secreted abroad by public figures including ex-military ruler Sani Abacha. The late general, who led Nigeria between 1993 and his death in 1998, is suspected of looting up to $5 billion in public funds during his reign. Switzerland recently agreed to return $321 million Abacha had hidden there, though the former ruler may have stored up to $2.2 billion in European bank accounts.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also pledged in March that authorities would trace stolen Nigerian funds circulating in the U.S. financial system, which Kerry said could total “billions of dollars.” Nigeria’s Information Minister Lai Mohammed said in January that the country had lost 1.34 trillion naira ($6.8 billion) in stolen public funds between 2006 and 2013.

Cameron and President Buhari

Nigerians are “becoming impatient” with the process of repatriating stolen public funds, which has “become tedious,” Buhari said on Thursday at a meeting in Abuja with the executive secretary of the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Yury Fedotov. “We are looking for more cooperation from the EU, United States, other countries and international institutions to recover the nation’s stolen assets,” said the Nigerian president, specifically mentioning the stolen proceeds from the sale of crude oil. Nigeria is Africa’s biggest oil producer and the sector accounts for more than 90 percent of the value of the country’s exports.

In response, Fedotov said that the UNODC would give Nigeria its support and cooperation in fighting corruption.

As well as the efforts to recoup funds from abroad, the Buhari administration has ordered the country’s anti-corruption agency to investigate scores of retired and serving military officials over alleged arms procurement fraud and has culled thousands of ghost workers from the Nigerian civil service.

A number of high-profile public figures from the previous administration of Goodluck Jonathan have been put on trial, including ex-national security adviser Sambo Dasuki, who is accused of orchestrating the theft of $2 billion in government funds earmarked for fighting Boko Haram. Dasuki denies the charges against him. The opposition People’s Democratic Party has accused Buhari’s government of undertaking a witch hunt against its members. (Additional reporting by Michael Holden and Estelle Shirbon in London and Felix Onuah in Abuja; Editing by Angus MacSwan)