Sierra Leone Telegraph: 11 May 2016
Less than a day after British prime minister David Cameron referred to Nigeria as a “fantastically corrupt” country, president Buhari of Nigeria has hit back, calling for the UK to repatriate all stolen assets and wealth hidden by corrupt Nigerians in UK institutions.
Speaking to Her Majesty the Queen on her 90th birthday celebrations about Britain’s plans to host a global Anti-Corruption Summit in London, prime minister Cameron (Photo) said: “We have got the Nigerians – actually we have got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain……Nigeria and Afghanistan – possibly two of the most corrupt countries in the world.”
Today, Nigerian president Buhari decided to rise above David Cameron’s remarks. Rather than go on the defensive, he challenged the British government to return Nigeria’s stolen wealth hidden in British institutions.
Asked by Sky News’ diplomatic editor – Dominic Waghorn, whether his country was corrupt, Buhari answered: “Yes.”
Speaking at a press conference held at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London this morning, the Nigerian leader said that his government has a zero tolerance policy against corruption, and that he is doing his best to tackle the scourge in Nigeria – one of Africa’s largest economies.
Asked whether he would demand an apology from the British prime minister for his remarks, Buhari (Photo) said: “I am not going to demand any apology from anybody,” to cheers from Nigerian delegates in the audience. “What would I do with an apology?” he added.
Buhari described corruption as a “hydra-headed monster”, threatening the security of countries and “does not differentiate between developed and developing countries”.
Nigeria was ranked 136 out of 167 countries in Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index. But Transparency International’s managing director – Cobus de Swardt, said that the UK is “a big part of the world’s corruption problem”.
“There is no doubt that historically, Nigeria and Afghanistan have had very high levels of corruption, and that continues to this day,” de Swardt said.
“But the leaders of those countries have sent strong signals that they want things to change. This affects the UK as much as other countries. We should not forget that by providing a safe haven for corrupt assets, the UK and its overseas territories and crown dependencies are a big part of the world’s corruption problem,” says de Swardt.
Speaking to the BBC earlier today, president Buhari confirmed that what his new government found when it came to power, proved prime minister Cameron was right. “He was telling the truth. He was talking about what he knew,” Mr Buhari said.
Last week, Nigerian Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo said that an estimated $15bn (£10bn) of government money had been stolen through corrupt arms contracts under the previous government.
And in March, an official audit found that Nigeria’s state-owned oil company had failed to pay the government $25bn in a suspected fraud.
In a stinging letter to Cameron last month, 95 reform groups in Nigeria urged the UK to do more to prevent corrupt officials from laundering stolen money through the UK’s property market.
“Civil society in Nigeria is calling on you to take serious action to end the UK’s role as a safe haven for our corrupt individuals, who steal our wealth for their own private gain,” the letter said.
The UK government will host world and business leaders at the summit on Thursday in London, aiming to “galvanise a global response to tackle corruption”.
Speaking ahead of the Anti-Corruption Summit taking place in London this week, Mr Cameron said: “For too long there has been a taboo about tackling this issue head-on.
“The summit will change that. Together we will push the fight against corruption to the top of the international agenda where it belongs.”
But the problem of corruption and money laundering in the UK by corrupt African officials is not limited to Nigeria alone.
As president Koroma of Sierra Leone stays away from the Anti-Corruption Summit in London, the Sierra Leone Telegraph has seen a list, containing the names of six top officials in the Koroma government, alleged to be laundering millions of pounds in UK banks and investment institutions.
Some of the officials listed are said to be using the bank accounts of their spouses and other family members who are registered as ordinarily resident in the UK or are citizens of the UK, to launder their stolen wealth.
It is also alleged that several of the Sierra Leonean government officials, including at least two cabinet ministers and the president himself, own properties valued at millions of pounds in London that are being looked after by family members.
As the managing director of Transparency International – Cobus de Swardt said; ” ……by providing a safe haven for corrupt assets, the UK and its overseas territories and crown dependencies are a big part of the world’s corruption problem.”
But in Sierra Leone, despite the country’s Anti-Corruption laws requiring all public officials, including the president to declare their earnings and assets every year, just a handful of cabinet ministers have even bothered to declare their assets in accordance with the law.
Over 70% of public officials are said to be failing to declare their assets, including president Koroma, who is believed to have net assets worth over 200 million dollars, accumulated in just nine years in office.
Critics of the government say that the problem of asset declaration in Sierra Leone is more than form filling.
“It is about the lack of transparency and probity. No one in Sierra Leone can prove that the president and his ministers are declaring their assets annually, let alone audit the figures they say they put on the forms they provide.”
Sierra Leone is one of the most corrupt countries in Africa, and among the poorest in the world.