Apr. 6, 2014
Imagine a world in which, one morning, the United States and the United Kingdom announced a visa and travel ban on…let’s say 1000 members of Nigeria’s political class and their families.
Imagine if they were defined as people who have enjoyed political power at any point in…let’s say the past 30 years, in connection with stolen public funds.
Imagine also, if the ban included the freezing of the assets of those individuals and their families.
Now, if you have followed the crisis in Ukraine, you probably heard the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, say the following of his country on March 5:
“We have already taken some important steps in terms of the Ukrainian corrupt oligarchs and making sure their assets are properly dealt with here in the UK if that’s the case…and I’ll be speaking to President Obama this afternoon and meeting with Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande before the European Council tomorrow – agree with them what further steps should be taken as well…”
Making a similar announcement on the other side of the Atlantic the following day, US President Barack Obama said:
“This morning I signed an executive order that authorizes sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine or for stealing the assets of Ukrainian people. According to my guidance, the State Department has also put in place restrictions on the travels of certain individuals and officials…We took these steps in cooperation with our European allies…”
In the weeks that followed, the entire world has seen how seriously the US and the UK have taken the situation in Crimea, including inflicting direct sanctions on several Russian officials.
Do sanctions work? Sanctions always do, the real issue is: who do they hurt? The answer concealed in the unfolding policy of the US and the UK in Ukraine is that the sanctions must be targeted at specific people and sectors.
In this particular conflict, the US, the UK and other members of the international community are upholding the principles of international law, and that is how it should be. Those principles seek to regulate the relations between nations, and to guarantee peace and security.
My concern is that for a country such as Nigeria, the definition of what constitutes peace and security and what can guarantee it has been lost in the rhetoric.
The principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of States are of great importance, but the time has come when the principles of good and responsible governance of States must receive the same attention, which is what the Millennium Declaration (2000) sought to accomplish.
If this re-focussing does not happen, there may not be much oxygen left for peace and security to flourish. This is what is at stake in some increasingly volatile spots of the world.
Think about it: in the era of globalization and the Internet, large populations in poverty, and large populations of the unemployed, are an incongruous and dangerous picture. It is no longer possible to hide the ugly image of wealth and poverty side by side, nor the hypocrisy that sustains, rather than respond to it.
This is where the US and the UK, as leaders of the theory of a better world, come in. These powerful countries are forever talking about what it would take for Nigeria to move forward and emerge as a powerful economy. The question is not whether they know the answer, but whether they really mean it when they advocate Nigeria’s advancement.
In their response to the situation in Ukraine, these countries struck early and decisive blows at the heart of specific persons in the Ukrainian and Russian political and economic machines, aiming to paralyze. The US specifically cited persons “stealing the assets of the Ukrainian people.”
More than anyone else, these countries know exactly what is behind the atrocious governance in Nigeria, and why we find it difficult to develop. Mr. Obama has for this reason refused to visit Nigeria.
To be clear, these powerful countries routinely provide aid to Nigeria. Put in a little research and it is amazing how much they have done in this regard in the past 15 years alone.
But it is curious that none of them has advocated, let alone implemented a policy of identifying, let alone grounding, the legion of thieves who make Nigeria impossible to govern.
Worse still, they “aid” Nigeria knowing full well that the country’s powerful kleptocrats, present and voting, are certain to gobble it up mercilessly. That is not democracy working for the people.
The key problem is that much of the funds being fleeced from Nigeria’s public purse are warmly welcomed, or perhaps even encouraged, in the US and the UK. For instance, Nigerian governors are known for their love of property in the UK, which is where a few of them have run into trouble in recent times.
Beyond those officials, all three of them, it is simply untrue that the UK is unaware of the legion of former officials who have bought choice properties with stolen funds in the past 15 years alone.
When the US recently announced the freezing of $458 million new funds looted by Sani Abacha and his accomplices, I argued that the interests of the Nigerian people are best served through new policies that would ensure that resources actually go into the development process.
“The place to begin is to help identify, while they live, those who have looted blind the poor people of Nigeria, and to freeze their assets, and deny them travel visas and opportunities,” I said in a published comment.
The US claims to be interested in whether Africa lives or dies, but it is yet lift a finger to expose African thieves who are openly hiding their fortunes and families in the country, notably in the Washington DC and Maryland areas.
Let me go back to the Millennium Declaration which the US and the UK championed in 2000, and in which heads of State and Government focused on the demands of a more peaceful, prosperous and just world.
“We recognize…we have a collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level,” they said. “As leaders we have a duty therefore to all the world’s people, especially the most vulnerable and, in particular, the children of the world, to whom the future belongs.”
They identified certain fundamental values to be essential to international relations in the 21stcentury, including freedom: “Men and women have the right to live their lives and raise their children in dignity, free from hunger and from the fear of violence, oppression or injustice.”
Specifically, the world leaders pledged “to support the consolidation of democracy in Africa and assist Africans in their struggle for lasting peace, poverty eradication and sustainable development, thereby bringing Africa into the mainstream of the world economy.”
Fifteen years on, these appear to be simply politically-correct words.
Now, imagine if millions of hungry, unemployed, and disillusioned citizens were to empty into the streets of states where a couple of looters are richer than the entire commonwealth, and across borders into States of fragile territorial integrity…
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