President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday urged Britain to return assets stolen by corrupt officials in pointed remarks after Prime Minister David Cameron described Nigeria as “fantastically corrupt.” “I am not going to demand any apology from anybody. What I am demanding is the return of the assets,” Buhari said while addressing an anti-corruption event in London.
President Buhari noted the case of former governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, who was detained in London on charges of money laundering in 2005, but skipped bail by disguising himself as a woman. Alamieyeseigha, who died in October, left behind “his bank account and fixed assets, which Britain is prepared to hand over to us. This is what I’m asking for,” Buhari said.
“What would I do with an apology? I need something tangible,” he added at the event organised by the Commonwealth secretariat.
Cameron was asked during a parliamentary debate about measures to clamp down on corruption, particularly in the London property market. “Action is necessary by developed countries as well as developing countries. “The steps we are taking to make sure that foreign companies that own UK property have to declare who the beneficial owner is will be one of the ways we make sure that plundered money from African countries can’t be hidden in London,” he said.
He also joked about his unguarded comments, telling MPs that “tips on diplomacy are useful, given the last 24 hours” and quipped that “first of all I had better check if the microphone is on before speaking.”
Cameron hosted a major anti-corruption summit yesterday, which Buhari attended alongside Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani.
Ahead of the talks, Cameron was caught on camera telling Queen Elizabeth II that the leaders of some “fantastically corrupt” countries were attending, adding that Nigeria and Afghanistan were “possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world.”
The Federal Government described the comments as “embarrassing” and reflected “an old snapshot of Nigeria.”
Buhari also called for the establishment of an international anti-corruption infrastructure that would monitor, trace and facilitate the return of stolen funds. According to him, the repatriation of identified stolen funds should be done without delay or preconditions.
He also called on the international community to designate oil theft as an international crime similar to the trade in “blood diamonds”, saying it constitutes an imminent and credible threat to the economy and stability of oil-producing countries like Nigeria.
Buhari, while delivering a keynote address titled: “Tackling Corruption Together: A Conference for Civil Society, Business and Government Leaders”, said it was unfortunate that Nigeria’s experience had been that repatriation of corrupt proceeds was very tedious, time consuming, costly and entailed more than just the signing of bilateral or multilateral agreements.
According to him, that should not be the case as there were provisions in the appropriate United Nations Convention that required countries to return assets to where it was proven that they were illegitimately acquired.
While admitting that there were few cases where apparently stringent rules had been applied as a result of threats to national security and the likelihood that certain persons might escape from the country or seek to undermine its stability, Buhari sought support for the prosecution of certain individuals residing in their jurisdictions.
According to him, Nigeria was ready to provide the necessary legal documents and whatever mutual assistance required to secure conviction of such individuals, as well as facilitate the repatriation of stolen assets. He said: “I admit that there are a few cases where apparently stringent rules have been applied as a result of threats to national security and the likelihood that certain persons may escape from the country or seek to undermine the stability of Nigeria. ”
“It is for this reason that we are seeking the support of many countries for the prosecution of certain individuals residing in their jurisdictions.”
“Of course we will provide the necessary legal documents and whatever mutual assistance is required to secure conviction of such individuals, as well as facilitate the repatriation of our stolen assets. ”
“Unfortunately, our experience has been that repatriation of corrupt proceeds is very tedious, time consuming, costly and entails more than just the signing of bilateral or multilateral agreements. ”
“This should not be the case as there are provisions in the appropriate United Nations Convention that require countries to return assets to countries from where it is proven that they were illegitimately acquired. ”
“Further, we are favourably disposed to forging strategic partnerships with governments, civil society organisations, organised private sector and international organisations to combat corruption. ”
“Our sad national experience had been that domestic perpetrators of corrupt practices do often work hand-in-hand with international criminal cartels. ”
“This evil practice is manifested in the plundering and stealing of public funds, which are then transferred abroad into secret accounts. “I therefore, call for the establishment of an international anti-corruption infrastructure that will monitor, trace and facilitate the return of such assets to their countries of origin. ”
“It is important to stress that the repatriation of identified stolen funds should be done without delay or preconditions.”