Corruption takes place in every nation and at all levels in systemic and non-systemic forms. To compare corruption in Nigeria with that in Britain is equivalent to an episode of severe schizophrenia. Capital flight, as it functions in the arena of corruption, happens due to politicians in unstable economies and where the monies can be seized; the wealth is then taken to a “safe haven” nation [in Europe, America or the Middle East] that has a stable economy and the wealth safe from expropriation by nations of origin. Corruption and capital flight has damaged Nigeria perniciously, when will it stop?
Many would think there is evidence that some British government agencies have directly or indirectly induced Nigerian leaders and civil servants to rob their treasuries and bring the proceeds to Britain, such thoughts are ludicrous. The uninitiated think that millions and billions are taken to Britain and other safe havens and stashed away like they save their salaries. There is a niche of independent experts in law, accountancy, finance, economics etc. who get paid handsome fees to help launder/hide the stolen proceeds from all over the globe. You will not find such services on websites or business cards but discovered by word of mouth within trusted circles.
These corruption-assisting experts painstakingly search the rules and regulations of the financial system to help thieves of national and corporate wealth to “normalise” and protect the stolen proceeds once it arrives but such manoeuvres are usually planned meticulously well in advance. The fact that all rule books and legal codes are necessarily incomplete is something these corruption-assisting experts exploit. Many would think there is evidence that these corruption-assisting experts are employed by / work with the British government, they are not.
Imagine the Indian government telling Buhari he has to repatriate $5 billion of India’s money laundered in Nigeria and Buhari agreeing instantly. The repatriation of stolen funds to nations of origin is not something a democratic government can unilaterally make tough decisions about without considering the ‘laws of the land’. First, you have to identify the investments/assets/savings owned by current and former Nigerian officials and their clients. Many of these stolen funds are held under highly complex arrangements and anonymity. Then you have to build a strong case.
Second, you have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the money came from Nigerian coffers; this is not as easy as is superficially expected. You can blame the “ingenious” laws of the City for such evasive complexity which some observers claim are outdated. Third, there has to be an absence of contests by “other claimants” to the stolen wealth such as relatives and business partners who may be non-Nigerian. The other claimants’ contests can slow down the process to snail pace, giving the thieves time to change the arrangements of ownership. Fourth, banks and speculators will do their utmost best to lobby or discourage the government from repatriating the stolen wealth in a hurry. Fifth, safe haven nations are reluctant to part with such stolen wealth, pleading if it is refunded will be re-stolen [with credible evidence] and other reasons/excuses.
Some seem oblivious to the reason Nigerians now stash millions of dollars in the sewage tanks and bunkers of their homes and their bedrooms; it is no longer easy to stash it in Britain and other havens. The money Buhari is asking for is not most recent. Furthermore, some corruption-assisting experts abscond with the loot!
An author, Jason Hickel, stated that Britain and other advanced countries are “comparatively” more “blatantly corrupt” than developing nations such as Nigeria using the “magnitude of cash” involved and “style” as the yardsticks. His thesis is a very interesting contribution to the study of corruption. There is another side to the argument, found in the “size of economies” and “size of responsible expenditure”.
I have not initiated the comparison but merely responding to it. If a man who earns £1,000,000 (net) per annum spends £300 per week on tobacco and a man who earns £10,000 (net) spend £30 per week on the same. The richer man pays %1.6 of his income on tobacco while the poorer man spends 16% of his income on the same. Is it the magnitude or proportion of the loss that is most blatant?
The Nigerians have a saying “Big Man, Big Trouble”, which suggests that as your income increases so do your assets and liabilities, excesses and information gaps. For example, the Nigerian elite, as a rule of thumb, procure an education for their children, procure healthcare for their family, keep their stashes, and prefer the safety in times of crisis in Britain and similar nations due to their “size of the economy” and “size of responsible expenditure”. Most non-elite Nigerians who leave Nigeria do so in search of a “sizeable economy” and “sizeable responsible expenditure”. Some would be right to question is how Britain acquire the sizeable economy it has.
Nigerian leaders have been known to steal up to 50% (or more) of their nation’s or state’s annual wealth for themselves. Look at Britain’s expenditure on public services and welfare provisions. Nigerians have to pay bribes to gain access to basic public services and if there was a welfare system they would have to do the same to receive it. Tax fraud which is considered to be under-represented in developing nations, within the Nigerian oil sector, the singular mainstay of the economy has [conservatively] exceeded $5 billion per annum for decades.
It is Nigerians who suffer in the end. The consequences of corruption on given populations particularly in the developing world are never proportional but geometric. £1,000,000 stolen can cause £5,000,000 in socioeconomic damage or loss.
Facing up to the realities, the goal of Buhari should be to stop capital flight from now onward and end the easy corrupt practices shrouded with impunity that public servants have exploited since before Independence and very rigorously executed. It is what happens in Nigeria, now and the future, that matters most. There is nothing wrong with starting all over again as long as it is prudent and effective. But, is Nigeria ready for becoming an uncorrupted/transparent society?
We hope Buhari gets back the stolen wealth he seeks from Britain. He would have to muster great political will and untiring government action to achieve his goal. Is he ready for that?