Pandora Papers shine light on Nigeria’s “fantastically corrupt” elite

Nigerian President Buhari. Many of those whose names in Nigeria have cropped up in the Pandora Papers are directly and indirectly connected to Buhari’s All Progressive Congress (APC) government (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Premium Times, along with a few other media organizations in Nigeria, has been publishing daily exposures of the revelations they unearthed, alongside 600 journalists from 150 news organizations around the world, in a global investigation into the “offshore hideaways of some of the world’s most powerful personalities”. The project, known as Pandora Papers, is facilitated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) which obtained a trove of 11.9 million confidential files.

It is unarguably the most massive leak since the Panama papers five years ago. But very few of the findings are shocking, especially in a country whose elite was once described by a former British Prime Minister, David Cameron, as “fantastically corrupt”. Cameron should know since currently he is being investigated for privately trying to get the current British government to support a failing bank he worked for! But British capitalism is well known to profit from corrupt funds flowing into Britain. Many of the world’s tax havens are “British Overseas Territories” – self-governing islands whose sovereign power is the UK. British governments could do something about this if they wanted to.

The Pandora papers show how several Nigerian politicians, ‘captains of industry’, pastors, etc. are stashing their wealth in offshore jurisdictions where they pay to create an elaborate system of cover-up in order to make their ownership of the wealth untraceable and also to evade taxation. So far indicted are former Anambra State Governor, Peter Obi, Governor Bagudu of Kebbi state; Bello Koko, acting Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA); Stella Oduah, Osun State Governor Gboyega Oyetola, Bishop David Oyedepo, etc.

Interestingly, many of those whose names have cropped up are directly and indirectly connected to President Buhari’s All Progressive Congress (APC) government. These include Gbenga Oyetola, Osun State Governor and APC Chieftain Bola Tinubu. Multiple petitions and corruption allegations against the latter in the year 2019, when two bullion vans conveying cash were seen in his Bourdillon estate during the general elections, have not seen the light of the day. The leak shows that the property at Grove End Road, in the very expensive St. John’s Wood part of London, where Tinubu stayed during his recent medical trip to the UK, is owned by the Osun State Governor. He bought it from Kola Aluko, an international fugitive and big-time con artist, whose associate is the infamous Jide Omokore, both of whom were indicted in the US and Nigeria for money laundering violations allegedly in collusion with a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke. This, in many ways, mirrors the relationship between the ruling APC juggernauts in the South West with thugs, fraudsters, low-life criminals, and street enforcers.

Also, one of those exposed by the leak is Stella Oduah who has been facing corruption charges for a while. A former Minister under the previous Jonathan PDP regime and currently a Senator, she recently defected to the ruling party in hope that her sins will, as usual, be forgiven. All of these further expose the futility and emptiness of Buhari’s so-called anti-corruption war.

While the usage of offshore companies to store wealth is on its own legal, nevertheless it raises a number of moral questions about the capitalist system and the ruling elite. If wealth is legitimately earned, why would there be a need to hide it? Secondly, the Pandora papers have helped to show that the rich are not paying their fair share of tax. This is because, among other reasons, stashing wealth in jurisdictions like the British Virgin Islands, Bahamas, Panama, etc. helps to evade taxes. This means for all the time these treasures are hidden in offshore enclaves, countries like Nigeria, where this wealth originated from are being denied resources that could go into funding public education, public health, and providing jobs, shelter, and food for the needy. If the wealth is the product of exploitation, corruption, and looting, as most of them are, then this becomes a double tragedy for the hapless workers, exploding youth population, and poor masses in Nigeria. This is one of the reasons why we all need to be angry about what we have learned from the Pandora papers.

In addition, the Pandora papers have shown there is hardly any saint among Nigeria’s ruling elite. They are all rogues regardless of their outward mien. In particular, is the case of Peter Obi, the former Governor of Anambra State and PDP’s Vice Presidential candidate in the 2019 elections, who has struggled over the years to pass himself off as a straightforward, smart and urbane figure. But now, he is caught up in the Pandora scandal.

Nigeria’s laws, the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, require all serving political office holders and public officers to declare their assets whether solely or jointly owned upon assumption of office and from time to time. This is in a bid to curb corruption.

But as the Pandora Papers reveal, many including Peter Obi, circumvented these provisions of the law by stashing their wealth in offshore companies. These opened in other people’s names but in which they are the registered beneficiaries and without declaring this to the authorities as demanded by Nigeria’s laws. In his own case, Peter Obi continued to hold his position as a director of his UK company, NEXT International (UK) Limited, 14 months after becoming Governor of Anambra state, in contravention of section 6 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act. Secondly, he failed to declare his offshore wealth to the Code of Conduct Bureau upon becoming Governor of Anambra State thereby breaching Section 11, Part of the Fifth Schedule of the 1999 constitution. Thirdly, Peter Obi was also operating a foreign account in breach of the constitution and the public service rules.

Revelations elicit anger from the public

The revelations have elicited anger from members of the public, especially on social media. It shows there is one law for the looters while the masses suffer. Due to decades of capitalist anti-poor policies and the legacy of its colonial past, Nigeria is gripped by various sectarian crises, a reason for which it has been described as a “failing state”. Little wonder therefore that the elite keeps the bulk of their wealth outside Nigeria.

At the same time, there is a feeling of “nothing we can do”. This is a mistake. That the likes of Peter Obi, Oyetola, and co are struggling to defend themselves goes to show that they fear what these revelations could cause. In the first place, they went to great lengths to hide their wealth because they fear the social explosion that could occur in a country now officially known as the “poverty capital of the world” if their true net worth was known. Now that this truth is coming out, they fear that what they laboured to avoid is going to happen.

The Pandora revelations may have indicted individuals but what is actually on trial is the capitalist system. In 2018, Nigeria ranked 144th in the 180 countries listed in Transparency International’s Corruption Index. Between 1960 and 1999, about $582 billion is said to have been stolen from Nigeria. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the former military dictator, Sani Abacha, alone, is estimated to have stolen the equivalent of 2-3 percent of the country’s GDP every year he was Head of State! Equally, at least N11trillion naira ($26.6 billion) is said to have been diverted in the power sector alone since 1999, while N1.3 trillion naira of public funds were reportedly laundered between 2011 and 2015 (Punch, 16 October 2019).

Capitalism is a cesspit of corruption. Both the local capitalist elite and their imperialist backers are guilty of looting the country dry. Multinational companies doing business in Nigeria have been fingered in many cases of graft and tax evasion. There must be a democratically-led public inquiry by labour and pro-masses’ organizations into corruption, by opening the books of companies, banks, politicians, and the rich to find where the loot is and to confiscate it so it can be used in the interests of the vast majority. We need a mass movement to put an end to corruption but most importantly a mass workers’ political alternative needs to be urgently built to end capitalism and fight for a socialist alternative.


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October 2021