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One of the off record welcome hospitality that the Conservative Prime Minister of Britain, Mr. David Cameron, extended to President Muhammadu Buhari who attended the May 10 Anti-Corruption Summit in London is his sneaky remark to the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, ahead of that summit that Nigeria (alongside Afghanistan) is a “fantastically corrupt” country.
My impression is that Her Majesty may have a better sense of history than Cameron regarding the British ingenuity and bad faith in its relationship with its African and other colonies around the world. In the particular case of Nigeria, the British were the architects of corruption through their disruption of ethnic nationalities and the political and cultural cohesion that existed. The British did not think twice to co-opt respected African traditional political structures into its political vision, slave trade and other resource exploitation and mercantile agenda. Since then, things have fallen apart as eminently captured by Chinua Achebe and many others.
At all times, the British always put their agenda as an empire over the interests of the colonies. The British laid the faulty foundations for Nigeria’s political evolution and Nigeria’s present ignominious profile of corruption and national security fragility. One hundred and two years ago, for selfish considerations, the British decided to couple together separately administered protectorates of Southern and Northern Nigeria into one entity and called it Nigeria without sparing a thought as to the sustainability and survival of the Frankenstein that it created. India and Pakistan were a little luckier.
But to the disappointment of the British, it is now 56 years after they left what it felt was a time bomb. There is still Nigeria, a country that defies all logic: one of the most religious countries in the world, yet one of the most corrupt; a country in the league of those with the happiest citizens and peoples; one with the most intelligent, progressive elite of African Diaspora anywhere in the world, yet one of the most chaotic, Among other characterisations.
Post-independence Nigeria has remained under a neo-colonial economic framework of which Britain is an active player. Britain has continuously done business with the Nigerian political elite of all stripes, turning a blind eye to their sleaze and corruption. History would have reminded Cameron that the first major election ever organised by the British in Nigeria was rigged by the former in favour of those who did not irritate them in the independence struggle. By that singular act, election and census rigging became an art of political wisdom among Nigeria’s ruling elite. How about the British looting of sacred Nigerian traditional artifacts and cultural treasures, a practice that has made looting of national treasury a strategy of state craft among Nigerian political elite and ruling class.
I am not readily inclined to the temptation of blaming everything wrong with Nigeria and Africa on the colonial past, but there are instances when we are required to embark on a brief and abridged tour of history in order to remind ourselves of some basic facts. Prime Minister Cameron’s recent remark is one of such instances. Elsewhere, I have captured the British legacy in a post-independence Nigeria. It is not one that Cameron and his diminished empire could morally loathe without a sense of guilt and complicity. Here is what I wrote then:
“Forging national unity has been a perennial challenge to Nigeria’s evolution as a country. Since independence from Britain 56 years ago, the country continues to weather severe existential storms that strike at its very core. These storms make national cohesion and political stability largely elusive. They include: a bloody civil war in the 1960s; decades of corrupt military dictatorships; perennial inter-ethnic distrust; occasional religious strife and political insurrection; minority and resource rights agitation, and a trademark corrupt political and ruling class”.
The least Britain could do is to recognise its historic and ongoing complicity in Nigeria’s dismal profile and take steps to purge itself. President Buhari has rightly, in my opinion, said he would not demand an apology from Cameron. After all, the Prime Minister was right in his observation. However, the President is correct to insist on the repatriation of Nigerian assets stashed away in Britain, a country that is not only an important and historic architect of Nigeria’s corruption but also the single greatest beneficiary of that corruption on historic and ongoing scales. Aside from repatriation of Nigerian assets, Cameron is in a position to ensure that Britain partners Nigeria in any way possible to have one less “fantastically corrupt” country from the face of the planet. If Britain enters into such a partnership, its vast allies would follow. That would be a win-win for Nigeria coming from the anti-corruption summit in which Cameron accidentally showcased and insensitively scapegoated Nigeria in what may be one of the public relations disasters and undiplomatic gaffes of his long running tenure.