David Cameron’s description of Nigeria and Afghanistan as “fantastically corrupt”, on the sidelines of the bosses’ anti-corruption summit in London last week, was extraordinarily hypocritical.
The man who benefited from an offshore fund was daring to denounce dodgy financial dealing!
But Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari dismissed the need for an apology from Cameron, insisting that what he wants is access to the assets of corrupt Nigerian public officials stashed in Britain.
Later in an interview Buhari reaffirmed his view, saying that Cameron “was talking about what he knows” and was “being honest about it”. The vast theft of public funds by officials of the last Nigerian government, which he unearthed, validated Cameron’s claim.
About £10 billion was stolen from funds provided to buy arms for fighting Boko Haram in the past few years, according to the Nigeria’s millionaire vice president Yemi Osinbajo.
But, corruption has deeper roots in the country and the soil of these is the capitalist system in general and the particular way it has been historically established.
Indirect rule – the British colonial strategy for administering Nigeria that incorporated local chiefs and “big men” – promoted corruption and strengthened patterns of patronage. As long as taxes for the Crown and the exploitation of resources in the colony were sustained.
The corruption that Cameron now criticises is a product of his own ancestors.
Instead of situating corruption in material reality, the colonial government, not unlike David Cameron 59 years later, claimed in 1947 that “the African’s background and outlook on public morality is very different from the present day Briton.
“The African in the public service seeks to further his own financial interest.”
The system left by the British continued after independence. Virtually all the country’s “founding fathers” were embroiled in scandals. But the heydays of corruption still lay ahead.
With oil becoming a major source of wealth in the 1970s, there was so much money for the bosses to grow fat on that a military head of state said the Nigeria’s problem was not money but how to spend it!
The “legitimisation” of corruption accompanied the neoliberal structural adjustment programme demanded by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in the 1980s.
Partly in connivance with transnational oil corporations, public officers in successive military and civilian administrations looted funds that could have built schools, hospitals and infrastructure.
To talk of Nigeria being “fantastically corrupt” presents poor working class people, who suffer from the rampant thievery of the bosses, in the same colours as the ruling class and their multinational collaborators.
With little value created through production in the midst of petro-dollars, the local bosses have come to see the state purse as their surest path to fabulous wealth.
In this they are acting in the same way as the giant corporations from Britain and elsewhere who bribe and buy favours across the globe.
Nigerian legislators are some of the highest paid in the world, never mind the billions they illegally acquire. The serving and immediate past presidents of the senate are some of the Nigerian bosses exposed by the Panama Papers.
It is unlikely that anything substantial will come out of Buhari’s commitment to stamping out corruption. His cabinet and party’s leadership are filled with public figures with nifty fingers.
He has however tongue-in-cheek called for evidence of their indictment for corruption. His past record as being incorruptible is also questionable.
Some £1 billion worth of oil money went missing when he was Minister of Petroleum Resources in the late 1970s. And as military head of state his aide-de-camp Major Mustapha Jokolo spirited away 53 suitcases stashed with money out of Nigeria in 1984.
Essentially, as the Socialist Workers League has repeatedly argued, capitalism breeds corruption. The pursuit of personal financial interests at the expense of the public wealth is not a right of the bosses in Nigeria.
For as long as the profit motive guides economics, with politics as condensed economics, corruption will not cease in Nigeria, Britain and virtually all countries.
Ending corruption requires workers’ democratic control and management of production and society worldwide. This will be established with international socialist revolution.
Baba is a member of the Socialist Workers League in Nigeria