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Buhari’s curious request on loot recovery


Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari PHOTO: TWITTER/ MUHAMMADU BUHARI

It is not in public interest that Nigeria’s leader should be using international forums at all times to celebrate the depth of corruption stories at home when there are other weightier matters of development in culture and human development.

President Muhammadu Buhari, at one of the side events at the United Nations General Assembly demonstrated this curiosity when he reportedly sought the support of international financial institutions to locate and recover Nigeria’s stolen assets in foreign lands.

He also requested the help of relevant security agencies, in this regard. This is again curious.

On the face of it, this plea for help is in order to the extent that the alleged collusion of foreign public and private sector organisations is crucial in the illicit transfer of a nation’s asset by corrupt citizens.

Indeed, foreign financial, legal, and accounting institutions, as well as professionals involved in movement of resources across jurisdictions know not a little about who owns what and where it is kept. 

However, the president would be well advised to more appropriately direct his appeal to the HSBCs of this world and their professional collaborators –international lawyers, accountants and shadowy local and foreign middlemen, who have reportedly facilitated the looting of Nigeria.

He should also appeal to the conscience of his fellow citizens who exploit their positions of public trust to steal from the public till with reckless abandon –including, we should state, money meant for the care of even internally displaced persons (IDPs) and security personnel in combat zones.

The role of the  World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to “locate and recover, and help repatriate stolen (Nigeria’s) assets” is a bit in doubt for the reason that their respective mandates and operations have little direct bearing on the problem that Buhari wants  solved.  

The World Bank basically funds capital projects in countries according to its analysis of the needs and economic priorities of borrowing nations.

The IMF mandate is to stabilise the international monetary system such that systems of exchange rates and international payment for transactions function with minimum hindrances.  

That is why it is intricate to see how thieving public and private sector Nigerians would process their loot through these Bretton Woods institutions. 

This is not to say that international financial institutions are completely unable to reduce the theft of public wealth. 

As financiers of capital projects, it is not impossible for World Bank to, against the desperate will and desire of corrupt public officials, ensure fair, competitively priced and cost beneficial payment for goods and services meant for Nigeria.

But this would make the thieves unhappy, but by ensuring thereby that its investments serve the greater good of the highest number of citizens, the bank would be acting, and be seen to so do, perfectly support its professed motto ‘working for a world free of poverty.’

In the main, the appeal to the Bretton Woods institutions for assistance is not exactly misplaced to the extent that they carry immense leverage to ensure that their financial interventions are transparently and judiciously utilised in line with global best practices. 

The point must be made that, despite its motto, the World Bank has often been criticised for sometimes funding white elephant projects that do not clearly and obviously alleviate poverty but merely feed the megalomania of government leaders on the one hand, or ensure higher returns to the World Bank on the other.  

The IMF too has been pilloried often for a one-size –fits-all solution that can be inappropriate to unique situations.

Nigeria’s excruciating experience of its (IMF’s) role in the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) that, under the Ibrahim Babangida regime (1985-1993) effectively maladjusted the people into deeper impoverishment is noteworthy. 

Therefore, Buhari’s call for foreign assistance to repatriate looted funds must not, however, divert attention from the more fundamental issue of putting in place effective mechanism to prevent the theft of public assets in the country.

This newspaper would like to reiterate that there are enough laws in the land to achieve this.

But laws are only effective to the extent of firm and non-selective implementation.

That Buhari’s anti-corruption effort is selective and largely directed at political opposition has been indisputable.

Besides, there are too many incidences of public officials suspected of improper financial dealings, which this government has condoned.

These do not encourage public trust and confidence in the agenda of government of the day.  

Furthermore, Nigerians have consistently sought to know, without clear answer from government how much has been repatriated and what has happened to the (recovered) funds. This too is curious.

Indeed, there is such a level of distrust in the capacity of government to protect the returned funds from being re-looted or irresponsibly expended, that the Swiss government has had to attach a demeaning conditionality of judicious application of returned funds. This is unacceptable! 

What is more worrisome, the fixation, ad infinitum, of the Buhari government on corruption –related matters is diverting attention from other pressing matters of state.

The economy is not at all improving, unemployment is rising, poverty level is devastating, national and foreign debts are mounting.

And so misery is on all fours. The value of the national currency has been unstable in its free fall. 

Power supply is epileptic and so the real sector has not been operating at any capacity to make a positive impact on the economy.

On the whole, instead of using global fora such as the United Nations and the Bretton Woods institutions’ meetings to plead for return of stolen national assets all the time, there should be adequate attention to reform of the institutions that have been facilitating looting of public and private funds on the home front.

We should be able to tell the world at the United Nations that we are making progress in building strong institutions to deliver services and deepening democracy in Africa’s most populous black nation.

does not serve public interest to tell the global bodies all the time that fighting corruption is the only fundamental objective and directive principle of state policy.

Let’s tell the world too that Nigeria’s land is good enough for foreign direct investment (FDI) and tourism. Corruption is not our name. And it has not always been in our character to celebrate corruption in any form.

Let’s tell the world that we are part of the most cultured in global affairs.

Corruption index of international agencies is often based on perception – from what we and our leaders say we are to the world.

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