Let’s get the money!
He didn’t say anything new but United States’ Secretary of State John Kerry’s reference to Nigeria and corruption at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum last week, on account of his choice of words and the platform where he delivered them, had a devastating effect. As Americans would say, that was one hell of a punch.
By the way, Davos, the mountain-top resort in Switzerland, where the world’s elite gathers every January to deliberate on how to improve the state of the world is a fantastic place to be if you want to be seen in the company of the world’s most powerful people in all sectors.
In the most candid atmosphere, presidents, prime ministers, high-level state officials, industry leaders and world-renowned celebrities mingle with media leaders, intellectuals and civil society gurus in many sessions on different issues affecting humanity. Something of a real leveler, the participation is always five-star and contributions really stellar. Indeed, you could hardly spit without hitting a billionaire on the streets of Davos in January. Yes! No billionaire worthy of his bank statement misses the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting.
I have been there a few times and I know that in addition to the networking opportunities, however, it is a serious talk-shop. In fact, Kofi Anan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations once described, in a tribute to Klaus Schwab, the Germany-born professor who founded and has yearly convened the World Economic Forum meetings, as one man who organizes a better conference of world leaders than the UN.
That WEF annual meeting took place last week and, even though, President Muhammadu Buhari did not join many other world leaders at the event, Nigeria was centre-stage still, courtesy of Kerry. Not only was corruption the issue, the Nigerian variant of it, which defies all definition and comprehension in magnitude was the major topic. Kerry was at his most eloquent in lamenting how the cancerous phenomenon has eaten deep at the soul of many nations, especially Nigeria.
“Obviously, corruption is not a new problem.
“Every nation has faced it in one time or another in its development,” he said without mincing words.
“America’s own founding fathers knew the threat of corruption all too well, warning of the dangers that it posed to democratic governance.
“But today, corruption has grown at an alarming pace and threatens global growth, global stability and indeed global future.”
Then, he homed in on Nigeria, our beloved country.
“When Nigeria’s President, Buhari, took office last spring, he inherited a military that was under-paid, underfed and unable to protect the Nigerian people from Boko Haram.”
Apparently reading from the tome of diplomatic dispatches and press reports on the pillaging of Nigeria in the past few years, he reported to the world that mindless corruption was the only reason even money meant for the military was finding its way into the pockets of a few persons, including government officials, who have stolen more than nine billion dollars from the treasury.
In a direct reference to how corruption fuels terrorism, Kerry then said: “There is nothing more demoralizing, disempowering to citizens than the belief that the system is rigged against them.” And the clincher: “Corruption is a radicalizer because it destroys faith in legitimate authority.”
Of course, it was not the kind of testimony you would want given about your country on the world stage but, patriotism aside, there couldn’t have been better words to capture the menace of corruption in Nigeria and its effect on a nation. However, Kerry would help Nigeria better by going beyond his eloquent speech and lamentations to concrete actions on behalf of this country, which is haemorhaging so badly.
Nigeria has lost so much to corruption, the arithmetic is ominous and the nation needs help.
And our president must be as forceful with the international partners as he is determined against the looters in-house.
In January 2006, when I had the honour of being named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, Gordon Brown was Prime Minister and David Cameron Leader of Opposition in the United Kingdom was in my class of honorees. Olusegun Obasanjo was President of Nigeria and he spoke to the world in a language I am still proud of till today.
Say what you may about him, Obasanjo was one president who stormed the world stage not only to get this country acknowledged but knock it into any skull, however thick or impervious, the idea of Nigeria as Africa’s voice, a country ready to play in the big league and not to be pushed around.
When he took the stage on that very cold day in Davos, alongside Paul Wolvowitz, then chief executive of the World Bank, Gordon Brown, then Prime Minister of United Kingdom and Bono, the Irish rock music star, Obasanjo, resplendent in his flowing gown, had no niceties for the world audience, especially the western world leaders.
His words, given a greater force by his coarse voice, were direct. Nigeria had corruption as its nemesis quite alright but, as far as he was concerned, equally guilty were the sanctimonious western governments and officials who allowed the stolen funds to be kept in their banks, to be used for building their own economies only to turn around and pontificate about corruption.
Worse still, he continued, microphone in hand and with the world at attention, when it is proven that the money was stolen from Africa and the case made for its repatriation, the same holier-than-thou preachers would build all kinds of obstacles to prevent repatriation of the funds! “They would ask you to bring proof, bring a leg and an arm. After handing over all your limbs just because you want to recover your own stolen money, there is still no guarantee you would get it!”
Then, in words that shocked the august gathering at WEF, Obasanjo, microphone still in hand, turned to Brown and Wolvowitz on the podium, called them by their first names, Paul, Gordon, and then thundered: ‘Now, what kind of nonsense is that?’
For a minute, you could hear a pin drop in that Congress hall! Followed by a standing ovation.
This is 2016. Buhari was not at the WEF annual meeting and even if he was there, he certainly does not have Obasanjo’s clout and certainly would have been incapable of his kind of theatrics. But Kerry, having spoken as he did, has made Buhari’s job a lot easier.
The amount being bandied around in the conscienceless robbery to which Nigeria fell victim is enough to kick-start the nation’s economic renaissance. Hence, Buhari should ask sympathisers like Kerry to do their own part by acting.
There are so many investigations going on just as there are many prosecutions. Somehow, I believe we should be more interested in recovery of the funds.
The beauty of Kerry’s statement at the World Economic Forum is that the ongoing fight against corruption cannot be business as usual. It must bear some fruits. This is the time for Nigeria to do its own part, bring about real change in the way the menace is fought, diligently investigate the cases, prosecute and bring all looters to book. And, above all, recover the funds!
With the words from Kerry, I believe the world is already sold on the Buhari agenda of fighting corruption. But talking about it is not enough. The loot-receiving countries must help by doing their own part too. If Nigeria’s stolen money is in their banks, they must help, walk their own talk, by hastening the repatriation without much fuss.
Kerry has spoken. But he and his like owe Buhari and, in fact, Nigeria the duty of helping to trace and recover looted monies.
Corruption can only be successfully fought when there is no haven for its proceeds.