Cameron’s Commentary:  Political Incorrectness Or Freudian Slip?


I just listened to a rather interesting conversation between British Prime Minister, the British Monarch and the Archbishop of Canterbury where Mr. Cameron described Nigeria as one of most fantastically corrupt countries in the world. I consider that statement an innocent error which revealed his subconscious feelings about the world's most populous black nation. It was a Freudian slip so to speak which did not surprise many observers. He made no revelations. It was nothing new. The view he canvassed is one that is generally held by many people all over the world. Those who cannot say it on camera act it out daily. Unfortunately, Nigerian's reputation as a corrupt country stare before us in the face daily, especially as her citizens who live abroad. It has sadly overtaken any positives like football fame, Nollywood creativity and other feats that our country is known for. The green passport is an invitation for a 'special treatment' of humiliating scrutiny in many airports worldwide. You can hardly mention any five corrupt countries in the globe without mentioning Nigeria. Funnily, that view is not necessarily a true one although many of us are often hesitant to question the basis for those conclusions.

I do not think that there is any need to be unnecessarily critical on British leader because of his stance on my country. We must count ourselves lucky and even thankful to the adventurous journalist who gave us access to such a privileged information.  After all that was supposed to be a highly confidential conversation between some of the most powerful persons in the world which was not supposed to be in the public domain. I will rather prefer to take the opportunity to interrogate the veracity of the underlying assumptions behind the assertions about levels of corruption in Nigeria and elsewhere. Till date those who classify countries according to extent of corruption rely on the Corruption Perception Index (CPI), a survey published annually by the German based think-tank, Transparency International. The CPI has become a strong instrument upon which political decision makers like David Cameron rely on to make magisterial pronouncements like he did a few days ago. The CPI placed Nigeria on the position of 136 out of 168 countries surveyed in the world in 2015. Without dismissing its relevance or the contentious debates it has so far provoked, one will at least see from the name that the CPI is just a mere perception – which is often far away from reality. I will not bother to exhume whose perception the CPI depends on? However, it will be good to know whether they are those of multinationals or businessmen or politicians or civil society activists or ordinary citizens or registered voters or tax payers and others.

Now I am not here to say that public funds mainly derived from oil revenue have not been carted away by highly placed Nigerians who occupy positions of trust-the painful evidence is there for all to see. I will not deny that scandals erupt from time to time about how those in position of authority have abused them for personal enrichment. Of course the full picture never emerges because of the clandestine nature of the crime and the challenging political and economic realities in the country. It could actually be more or less. I also will not deny that the current government is doing something about it – no matter how imperfect.   However, I join the minority scholarship that question the CPI and argue that it utilizes a flawed methodology that focuses unduly on graft in public office and seeks to oversimplify corruption to bribery alone. Proponents of the CPI insist that capturing data on the demand side of bribery is sufficient to paint the picture of corruption while hypocritically omitting the supply side – often of western origins- as if it does not take two to tango. Bribery and other forms of bureaucratic corruption are only one side of the coin. Political corruption, clientelistic relationships which ostensibly produces bureaucratic corruption are never captured by the CPI. I can only describe such approach as misleading and suggest to the Prime Minister to push for an urgent review of CPI model.  I propose some caution on the side of other powerful people who depend on it to demonize others.

Part of the reasons why many people might have taken offence about the  Prime Minister's comment may be because he has convened and anti-corruption summit where partnership initiatives to fight the scourge are meant to be discussed. Corruption is not a problem of Nigeria or Afghanistan. It is a global problem whose solution goes beyond finger pointing. That leakage has robbed David Cameron an opportunity for some pretence before his guests- as if he cares. His comments exposed him as a bad host who has made up his mind about the issues but just wanted to make a political statement. His guests have a right to feel unwelcome after hearing that comment.

All over the world the existence of corruption or lack of it has been used as a very potent political tool by democratic and dictatorial regimes alike. That is why some radical scholars consider the so called 'global war against corruption' simply as another neo-colonialist endeavour. In the last twenty years, millions of dollars and pounds have been allegedly invested in the so called war against corruption in Africa. Uncountable reform programs have been prescribed and implemented. However there has not been any significant indication that verifiable progress has been made. Some people now refer cynically to the anti-corruption industry which has created employment for many western thinkers exported to Africa to profit from donor resources while largescale thievery continue unabatedly. In my view, it is either the problem does not exist as it is being painted or it is exaggerated or is not yet well understood or the prescriptions by these western experts run contrary to the contextual realities in the continent. So part of what David Cameron and his government should consider is a studious review of the real impact of the UK taxpayer's money invested in numerous anti-corruption programs in Africa – beyond propaganda and public relations.

Those who listened to Cameron on Thursday were interested in also hearing how he will tackle corruption in his doorsteps in the City of London, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Island, Guernsey and Jersey which are UK held territories that continue to serve as offshore financial centres where dirty and bloodied money from Africa are hidden away from public scrutiny. The Prime Minister should be told that charity begins at home. He should also demonstrate the traditional relationship between the United Kingdom and Nigeria by tracing and repatriating all stolen monies from that country stashed in banks and trusts in British territories and repatriate them back to countries of origin. The revelations from the Panama papers that linked the Prime Minister with interests in Blairmore Investment Fund means that the politician is not as clean as he wants the world to believe. David Cameron might have sold his shares in the offshore interest of his family in 2010 but that his father is someone who invested in a tax haven says a lot about his background. No one goes to a secrecy jurisdiction unless he has something to hide.  Let it not be known that he is trying to divert attention of public scrutiny from himself by the unwarranted name-calling.

In all there are important takeaways from this revelation for Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari. With the signing of his country's budget into law, he should go home, roll up his sleeves and get to work. He must not wait for the praises and validation of the Western leaders for him to gauge the success or failure of the programs he is implementing either on anti-corruption or elsewhere. He should know from the leak that such aspirations are not necessary. The most important validation to him should not be that of Barack Obama or David Cameron. It should be the verdict and approval of ordinary Nigerians who voted him to office and who are waiting for the dividends of change he promised them. As the Nigerian leader heads back to Abuja, he should be reminded that the fastest way to change perception globally is to change reality at home.

Written by Uche Igwe, a Doctoral Researcher at the Department of Politics at the University of Sussex.

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