By Obi Nwakanma
Mr. Cameron, British Prime Minister was caught on camera last week saying Nigeria and Afghanistan were “fantastically corrupt” countries.
Mr. Cameron was briefing the Queen about his government: “we have had a great cabinet meeting” Cameron said.
The UK was looking forward to the meeting on anti-corruption that was billed to open last week in London. And as part of the signs of the great things to be expected in the meeting, London had managed to coral great corrupt countries around the world, including Nigeria and Afghanistan, two of the world’s most “fantastically corrupt countries” to attend. “Is that right?” asked the Queen. Well, yes of course. Hopefully, even, they may pay their own fare down.
The implication being that these “fantastically corrupt” countries were not only corrupt, they were also basket cases of charity.
They so depended on British charity that sometimes in such matters the UK had to pick the travelling bills of their officials.
It was a great put down, certainly. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury’s quip to the Queen that “this president” (meaning Buhari) is not corrupt” felt ultimately like left-handed charity.
Cameron’s statement was not only patronizing but it mirrors the extremely racist impulse that undergirds British foreign policy and elite attitudes to Africa. But of course, this is an old story.
There are circles in London which still feels and act patronizingly towards African nations, constantly infantilized in the Western mind, and who have either not read Edward Said’s Orientalism, or give a fiddler’s fart about its implications with regards to the entire concept of the “other.”
David Cameron goes further to cause even greater umbrage in Parliament days later when in defending his statement angled it to mean that even the political leaders of Nigeria and Afghanistan agree that their countries are corrupt, and that “British aid” to these countries was in Britain’s national security interest.
We live in a “dangerous neighborhood” he claims and so on and so forth. Let me make a few things a little clear for Mr. Cameron: Mr. Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s President is quite right in an important regard.
An apology from David Cameron and the British government is meaningless at this stage, and achieves nothing.
So, Cameron can shove his apology down his you-know-where, if he ever feels compelled to issue one.
What is important as President Buhari makes clear is that the UK should return billions of Nigeria’s stolen money stashed away in the UK and in other places where they have been taken. Nigeria’s Economic Intelligence reports indicate that the UK is the greatest recipient or destination of “looted” Nigerian money, and that those who have made Nigeria “fantastically corrupt” have really been most welcome in Great Britain.
If London is a great financial hub for the recycling and laundering of stolen national resources, which arguably oils the prosperity of the UK, it must be quite clear then which country is really more “fantastically corrupt” than the other. The United Kingdom is a fantastically corrupt nation – and we should not mealy mouth this very fact.
Far more so in fact than Nigeria, and this is a point that was admirably drilled down by an editorial in the Guardian of London, in response to David Cameron’s statement about Nigeria. Look closer home, they told him. As a matter of fact, it is just ironic, and far too laced with the kind of humor that is difficult to ignore, that Mr. Cameron talks about corruption in this “holier-than-thou” fashion, given that his father might have educated him privately at Eton and Cambridge with money stolen from places like Nigeria.
Recent release of what we now know as the Panama papers made quite clear, that among the most prominent names on that list is the senior Cameron, the Prime Minister’s own father. So, where does the British Prime Minister find the moral gumption to call Nigeria a “fantastically corrupt” country, when the UK has more names on the Panama papers as recently revealed of those who use secret banks and shell accounts; when the UK is one of the greatest recipients of stolen funds from these “fantastically corrupt” countries; when London has never stopped the process that permits the impunity of stealing from so called “third-world” Peters to pay the Pauls of the “NATO Alliance?” The looting of Nigeria has been largely aided, abetted, and even engineered by the partnership of multinational corporations who are willing to corrupt Nigeria’s public officials and bribe their way through multi-billion contract agreements, some of which are spurious.
The Nigerian musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti famously sang about one such involving “International Thief-Thief” (ITT) and Abiola, and a slew of other high-flying plutocrats and their international partners who have over the years, since 1970 in fact, raped the people of Nigeria, and stashed their loots in places like London with the permission of the UK government and other receivers of stolen goods. It is therefore profoundly insulting to calm reason for the British Prime Minister to talk about “fantastically corrupt” nations, when all along, the UK has always laid the grounds of corruption in Nigeria. Nigeria is a client state of the UK. Indeed public corruption in Nigeria is an inherited tradition from British colonialism.
The terrible legacy of our affiliation with Great Britain is that the colonized learnt the best and the worst from those who colonized them. I did say President Buhari is right in not demanding apologies from Mr. Cameron and the UK government, and in asking only that the UK return money stolen from Nigeria.
The problem of course is that Nigeria has remained a client state of the UK, an irony in fact, that beats most imaginations, given that the same Nigeria chose to remove itself from the Commonwealth in 1963. Buhari is a client president of the UK. It took a parade of affirmation that dragged him through Chatham house and through the offices of many English has-beens in order to sell him to old British interest during his campaign to be president.
It would take a generation of Nigerians who did not experience colonialism to fully engage the UK on a footing necessary to assert Nigeria’s significant status as other than a client nation, dependent on British charity, including the charity, as was hinted by the Prime Minister, of paying the passage to England of Nigeria’s officials. For Nigeria, with 173 million people, years of oil production as one of the world’s leading energy suppliers, and a vaster market than the UK, with 63 million people, to continue to project economic and political dependency on Britain, is an imponderable violation of reason.
And there, is where the president failed. Yes, Nigeria does not demand an apology from Cameron and the UK. But the President’s self-righteous addition that the British PM is right in his assertion is no tough-love, as a few people are now seeing it, but an example of what Fela sang of as “demonstration of craze.” Buhari let down Nigeria in agreeing with that puerile assertion, and gave the British Prime Minister another excuse for a sound-bite to wriggle out of an idiotic statement. Nigeria is not more corrupt than the UK.
Besides, the talk of corruption is a bogey the Brit’s use, when they wish to undermine and infantilize another: it is the UK’s excuse to maintain that these people cannot govern themselves without some sort of British intervention. Robert L.Tignor’s 1993 essay, “Political Corruption in Nigeria before Independence,” is an important read in that regard. Whenever the Brits hem-and-haw about corruption, something is often afoot. And it is often scurrilous.