Return Nigeria’s stolen assets, Buhari tells Cameron
President says he doesn’t need apology from British PM
Rather than asking for an apology from David Cameron for branding Nigeria as ‘fantastically corrupt’, President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday told him to facilitate the return of the country’s stolen assets to Abuja .
On Tuesday, Cameron was caught on camera describing Nigeria and Afghanistan as being the most corrupt countries in the world. He spoke to the British Queen, Elizabeth II, ahead of the anti-corruption conference, taking place in London.
But Buhari yesterday blamed international backers of corrupt Nigerians who put a cog in the wheel of repatriation of looted funds, for the difficulties the country is facing in the war against graft.
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) quoted President Buhari, while speaking on the sidelines of the conference, as saying that what he needed from Cameron was not an apology but the repatriation of the stolen funds stashed in the United Kingdom (UK) by corrupt Nigerians.
Buhari who was said to have “mentioned how Britain really led and how disgraceful one of the Nigerian executives was,” was also reported to say, “No. I am not going to demand any apology from anybody. What I am demanding is the return of assets.”
Alluding to a former Bayelsa State governor, the late Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, who fled Britain in controversial circumstances after being arrested on corruption allegations, the president said: he “had to dress like a woman to leave Britain and leave behind him his bank account and fixed assets, which Britain is prepared to hand over to us. This is what I am asking for.”
While delivering his keynote address at the international conference being held at the Commonwealth Secretariat with the theme, “Tackling Corruption Together: A Conference for Civil Society, Business and Government Leaders”, Buhari noted that with international collaboration, countries would be in a better position to effectively fight corruption, which he described as dreaded monster.
According to the president, while Nigeria was favourably disposed to forging strategic partnerships with governments, civil society organisations, organised private sector and international organisations to combat corruption, “the sad national experience had been that domestic perpetrators of corrupt practices do often work hand-in-hand with international criminal cartels.
“Unfortunately, our experience has been that repatriation of corrupt proceeds is very tedious, time-consuming, costly and entails more than just the signing of bilateral or multilateral agreements. This should not be the case as there are provisions in the appropriate United Nations Convention that require countries to return assets to countries from where it is proven that they were illegitimately acquired.
“This evil practice is manifested in the plundering and stealing of public funds, which are then transferred abroad into secret accounts. 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.
“In addition to the looting of public funds, Nigeria is also confronted with illegal activities in the oil sector, the mainstay of our export economy. That this industry has been enmeshed in corruption with the participation of the staff of some of the oil companies is well established. Their participation enabled oil theft to take place on a massive scale.”
The president said because he was aware of the damage done to the nation’s psyche, his administration, on assumption of office in May last year, listed the fight against corruption as one of the three priority programmes of focus of his administration.
But he said, this would be carried out within the concept of strict respect for the rule of law and democratic norms, even though he admitted that there are some exceptional cases as a result of national security.
Meanwhile, a civil society group Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has called on the UK authorities to “extradite Nigeria’s former petroleum minister Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke to face charges of corruption and money laundering, as the charges she is currently facing in UK court do not sufficiently capture the gravity of her alleged crimes, and the increasing allegations of corruption against her in Nigeria.”
In a statement yesterday by the group’s executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni SERAP said: “The anti-corruption summit in London provides an important opportunity for the UK government to support the ongoing fight against corruption in Nigeria, and to send a powerful message that the UK will not provide sanctuary or condone impunity for corrupt public officials.”
But another group, Advocacy for Advancement of Peace and Harmony in Africa Initiative (ADAPHAI), has called on President Buhari to boycott the anti-graft conference giving Cameron’s comments as the reason for the call.
In a statement by its Executive Director, Mr. Olaniyi Ajibola, the group said: “Without mincing words, Cameron’s statement was highly unguided and diplomatically unacceptable, it has regrettably eroded the sincerity and credence of the anti-corruption summit.”
In the same vein, a chieftain of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Issa Aremu expressed support for Buhari’s demand that Britain should return assets stolen by corrupt officials from Nigeria to the nation’s coffers.
But Governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, blamed Buhari for Cameron’s statement saying: “What do you expect from the international community when the president of a nation keeps going abroad to say that his people are corrupt?”
He added : “When a president mounts the podium in foreign lands and gleefully says that his own people are criminals, that they are corrupt and that those abroad should be sent back home, why won’t presidents of other countries brand all citizens of such a country as fantastically corrupt?
“Rather than this grandstanding from the presidency, conceited efforts should be made to redeem the image of Nigeria that the president has destroyed.”
Fayose, who said he was not against the anti-corruption efforts of the Federal Government, added that all he was saying was that it should be done in accordance with the laws of the country and that the EFCC must stop behaving as if it were above the law.