Over the years, Nigeria has been at the receiving end of immense and often harsh criticism and slander from both local and international media houses. Our well-publicized shortcomings and inadequacies have often led the world to downplay or disdain our achievements, deem our set out targets unachievable and treat our efforts to change with utter apathy. Is it our failure to conquer the challenges we face as a nation that has made us vulnerable to denigration or is it a deliberate campaign of calumny by elements that secretly enjoy our underdevelopment? The answer is not a simple one. In my opinion, it is a combination of both, with perhaps greater emphasis on the former.
Admittedly, we have scores of challenges to overcome; be it the endemic corruption, epileptic power supply, oil theft, public office abuse and so on. Alongside those challenges, comes the difficult task of cleansing the perception of Nigeria both at home and abroad and re-branding the nation as not only the economic powerhouse of Africa, but also a formidable global force. The realization of the latter is solely dependent on successfully conquering the aforementioned challenges. Unfortunately, this task is made even more difficult by the negative press the nation attracts and the mindless and often baseless castigation it suffers. As Nigerians, we have a right to speak out on issues troubling the nation, to criticize and debate them constructively, to protest and call for change through peaceful and effective media. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t do or encourage the lambasting of our own values and further degradation of our image. The reasons are very simple. How does the smearing of Nigeria help make it any better than it is? How does calling Nigeria a ‘failed state’ or a ‘disgrace’ (assuming it is) help divert it unto the path of economic and social development? Unfortunately, these happen as a result of the common misconception that Nigerians and Nigeria can be treated and considered as separate entities and that discrediting Nigeria is not necessarily discrediting one-self. The truth of the matter is that, like the bamboo and the riverbank, they are inseparable. They are six of one, half a dozen of the other. Therefore, wherever you go to dwell, if as its citizen, you call Nigeria a ‘latrine’, then you surely cannot guarantee that you smell pleasant.
The damage our self-castigation has caused is vast. Perhaps the most worrisome is that it has created a comfortable platform for others to engage in this slander. In the past, there have been obvious and totally unexpected cases of libel against the Nigerian state.
In a show in 2007, Oprah Winfrey was quoted as saying that all Nigerians regardless of their level of education are fraudsters. Then she reportedly ends the show with ‘I know I’m going to get a lot of calls from Nigerians saying that there are a lot of honest Nigerians out there, but don’t bother calling, we already know that…’
In 2009, a South African Sci-Fi movie called ‘District 9’ clearly denigrated Nigeria. We were portrayed as cannibals and criminals and our women were depicted as prostitutes, sleeping with extra-terrestrial beings. In fact, the criminal gangster leader in the movie was called Obesandjo (a deliberate swipe at our ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo).
Only last week, I read an article titled “A country so corrupt it would be better to burn our aid money”, written by Michael Burleigh and published in the UK’s Daily Mail. The author is against the UK’s offer of spending up to £1 billion (by 2015) in form of aid to Nigeria. He employs a rather harsh methodology to get his point across. Rather than proving (with facts) that aid money is squandered in Nigeria, he chooses to focus on depicting Nigeria as a shameless nation of aid-money-devouring vultures where no system works, hence its unworthiness of receiving ‘help’. Consequently, he suggests that the UK should consider flushing the aid money down the toilet or burning it. He highlights corruption, oil theft and embezzlement as key issues plaguing Nigeria. As Nigerians, we know of our problems more than anyone else. My analysis below is in no way a denial or defense of the ongoing illegalities at home and is in no way an attempt to swing us away from our responsibilities or to pin the blame of our failures on anyone else. Rather, it is a highlight of our promulgated inadequacies in context of the complexities of world politics.
On corruption and oil theft, Michael Burleigh states “136 million barrels of crude oil worth $11 billion (£7.79 billion) were illegally siphoned off in just two years from 2009 to 2011, while hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies were given to fuel merchants to deliver petrol that never materialized”.
Agreed. Oil theft is having a devastating effect on our nation. However, an important question that cannot be ignored is; where does this stolen crude oil go? It certainly does not wander aimlessly in Nigerian waters. It feeds markets in Europe and South Asia. So called ‘criminal gangs’ in Singapore, Ukraine, Netherlands are the top buyers of the stolen crude oil. The ease of selling crude oil without the appropriate documentation in the European markets has made it a hotspot for Nigerian crude oil thieves and their European cronies. As such, shouldn’t the act of knowingly purchasing stolen property be considered a crime equivalent to theft? In an ideal world, it should be. According to Vanguard News, the European Parliament is set to stop the purchase of stolen oil from Nigeria in Europe by requesting for a certificate of origin from sellers. Nothing has materialized as of yet. The selling and buying of stolen crude oil is a crime committed not only by Nigerians but by multi-national parties; yet we end up being the sole losers and ofcourse, we’ve only got ourselves to blame.
On the abuse of public offices, the author states, “It is estimated that since 1960, about $380 billion (£245 billion) of government money has been stolen — almost the total sum Nigeria has received in foreign aid. And that even when successive governments attempt to recover the stolen money, much of this is looted again”. The author further posits, “Given the appalling levels of corruption in that nation, this largesse is utterly sickening — for the money will only be recycled into bank accounts in the Channel Islands or Switzerland”
Right. Approximately 1000 miles southeast of the UK (where the author comes from) lies Switzerland; a nation infamously known not only as a safe haven for tax evasion, racketeering and fraud accounting but above all as a devoted ally of corrupt third world leaders and a great beneficiary of third world corruption.
Ever since the year 2000, about $100 billion has been pledged annually to developing countries in aid, $10 billion of which goes to Africa. Paradoxically, as a prominent donor of aid, Switzerland receives over $900 billion from these developing countries, ($150 billion of it from Africa) as illicit funds, in the form of tax evasion, embezzlement, debt servicing and corruption. According to the World Bank´s Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative, about $1 trillion to $1.6 trillion illicit proceeds flow across borders every year, half of that comes from developing and transitional economies. Switzerland continues to abet and provide shelter for laundered funds and use them to build and sustain its economy. Looted funds from the military era in Nigeria were only partially recovered (after years of resistance and foot-dragging from Switzerland). So shouldn’t knowingly safekeeping, investing and reaping profits from illegitimate funds be a crime equivalent to that of embezzlement itself? In an ideal world, it should be. Once again, we remain the sole losers and we’ve got only ourselves to blame.
The Nigerian oil and gas industry is run by Shell, Chevron and other multinational corporations. Shell, an Anglo-Dutch company, maintains a financial target to achieve $175 billion to $200 billion of cash flow from all its global operations for the period 2012 to 2015. Over 20% of its revenue is sourced from Nigeria. In the second quarter alone, the company’s net earnings came in at $4.6 billion. Conversely, Shell is responsible for countless oil spills in the Niger Delta and decades of devastating environmental damage and pollution. The clean up of the spill in the Ogoni land alone is estimated to cost $1 billion and will take 30 years to complete. That alone is almost equal to the alleged £1 billion package to be spent on Nigeria in the form of aid by the UK.
Therefore, in response to Michael Burleigh’s remark that the UK might as well flush their cash away or burn it than to spend it in way of aid to Nigeria, the UK government and the Shell executives would give his suggestion the cold shoulder, for they know better than to call the forest that shelters them a jungle.
As my good friend Adamu Abdullahi posits, “Corruption is not the monopoly of any country. It takes many forms, shapes and scales. From bribing off a police officer to imposing sanctions on poor nations and exploiting their resources, corruption varies from the petty to the grand. In recent times, whenever this word is come across in the media, attention is automatically diverted to the politico-economic sense of it. As it is with most words in dynamic languages, this popular terminology is being constantly being redefined by changing times and regions of the world.”
Nigeria is not where it should be or where it needs to be. Although, we have no monopoly of corruption, we are the most vulnerable to vilification. It is ONLY our success at overcoming our challenges at home that will determine how we are perceived and treated both by our people and abroad. In the mean time, beneficiaries of our underdevelopment will continue to kick us while we’re down; but on the occasion where we get hold of their legs, we will break them.
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Al-Amin Abba Dabo wrote from Preston, United Kingdom.