Monday, 16 May 2016
David Cameron’s gaffe on Nigeria
Written by the editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper
Whatever the diplomatic game being played at the Buckingham Palace that day by that casual assembly of the Queen of England, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the comment made by Cameron that Nigeria is ‘fantastically corrupt’ is an uncouth, misplaced and irresponsible statement. Irrespective of what that comment was calculated to achieve, it is hostile, disrespectful and insulting. Coming from a man who is accustomed to making flippant utterances in the wrong places, Cameron’s comments about Nigeria and Afghanistan, may not be said to be accidental.
Ahead of the international anti-corruption summit last week, Cameron was caught on camera talking to the queen about the summit. He was recorded to have said: “We have got the Nigerians – actually we have got some leaders of fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain… Nigeria and Afghanistan – possibly two of the most corrupt countries in the world.” After Cameron’s comments, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, chipped in a consolatory intervention in favour of President Muhammadu Buhari: “But this particular president is not corrupt. He is trying very hard.” Cameron’s wording of the Buckingham conversation was remarkably different from his official speech in which he observed inter alia: “For too long, there has been a taboo about tackling this issue head-on. The summit will change that…” It revealed a man representing a nation passionate about a concerted effort to fight this hydra-headed global menace called corruption. But truth is often not disseminated in the beautifully written speeches formally presented to public gatherings; it is rather discerned from private conversations in hidden corners.
Such was the Buckingham conversation. And there is an element of hypocrisy and crude pretension in the whole event. Even though in the Transparency International’s 2015 corruption perception index, Nigeria and Afghanistan are ranked 136 and 167 respectively, snide remarks of this nature are not befitting of political actors who are welling up effort to frontally fight corruption. It is inelegant and violates the required comportment of diplomacy. One may not know if the brief conversation was positioned to be deliberately video recorded. However, if that was the case, it is an unfair gesture, for it sought to establish hostility ahead of a conference the British government was hosting. Even if it was not deliberate, the conversation revealed a deep-seated prejudice reminiscent of colonialism. It shows that in the eyes of the foremost representative of the British government, the colonial disposition of irreverence and disregard is still an operative device in diplomatic relations with Nigeria. And this is a gratuitous insult from a supposedly friendly country and former colonial power.
The hypocritical nature of Cameron’s audacious posturing was further highlighted by the Managing Director of Transparency International, Cobus de Swardt, when he said that countries such as the United Kingdom that provide safe haven for stolen wealth and corrupt assets are part of the world’s corruption problem. True, corruption in whichever context is a two-way affair. Nigerians may be fantastically corrupt, yet the evidence of their corruptness lies not only in the proceeds stashed in foreign banks in the UK or other western countries, but also in undue privileges enjoyed by their institutions through wanton disregard for the laws of the land.
That Britain enjoys some relative economic stability is partly the effect of the triumph of corruption amongst its colonial kin. Dubious economic policies, infractions of the laws of other peoples, conspiracy to pillage the national economy of others under the guise of economic relations are indices of the gargantuan corruption today’s global economic order has fostered. Only a warped moral culture incriminates one who amasses corrupt assets and exculpates the other who provides facilities that encourage corruption.
It is even morally repugnant, ignoble and low for an accomplice in wrongdoing to pontificate over the corrupt practices of the one without pondering over his abetting. Without a facility that will harbour corrupt assets and looted funds, there would be minimal corruption.
Although an isolated event, incidents like the Buckingham Palace video feed cause one to reflect on many episodes in Nigeria’s political history that seem like misguided attempts to keep Nigeria down. Right from 1914 up until date, Britain has had historical involvements with Nigeria that are far from progressive. Some major events that have pitched Nigeria against its people have also the imprint of British involvement: the long-standing North-South dichotomy, the controversy over population census, among others. Britain desires Nigeria to ally with her on critical global issues, yet the same British government is quick to pursue its global self-interest without consideration of new modern states.
Perhaps, cognisant of the hypocrisy in the British characteristic double-speak, Buhari deployed the diplomacy of old age to make Cameron look unwise. By refusing to demand an apology from the British prime minister, Buhari was telling him to stop the pretentious moralising and do the right thing: Demonstrate your commitment to the fight against corruption by exculpating yourself of aiding and abetting looters. Return the stolen wealth to their rightful owners! Commendable position by the Nigerian leader. This, of course, should not be miscomprehended as a licence for anyone to engage in corruption; neither is it a support for the graft and financial recklessness rocking public office. More than anything, it is a public acknowledgement of the modest successes recorded in Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade. It is an expression of solidarity with a leader who, in the face of shameless foreign accomplices to pillage Nigeria, is desirous of cleansing the pestilence in the system, however long it may take. Nigerians recognise that this is not an easy task for both the president and for the country so deep-rooted in corruption.
Nigerians recognise that, among the president’s aye men are enemies within, who would want to scuttle the progress being made. There are others who take refuge in party association to escape investigation. Yet, the president should not be discouraged or be frustrated. The public knowledge of Nigeria’s fantastic corruption level is the result of efforts put into the anti-corruption drive. All in all, despite the uncomplimentary remarks, the efforts of this government in sanitising the system are not lost on Nigerians. But when foreign leaders make misguided statements about Nigeria, especially issues relating to corruption, the least well-meaning Nigerians can do is to join President Muhammadu Buhari in making the anti-corruption fight clear: that the battle is not one to be played out only at home, it must also go out to nations that have made themselves custodians of stolen funds.