Two weeks ago, on October 6th, Nigeria’s former oil minister, Diezani Allison-Madueke, was arrested in London by British police. It’s estimated that over $20 billion went missing on her watch. But how much longer will Nigeria rely on the British police to deal with powerful mega-looters like Diezani Allison-Madueke?
Beyond the celebrations that lit up Nigerian Twitter at the news of Allison-Madueke’s arrest lie two important and interrelated questions: How is it that it is always the U.K. that comes to the rescue of Nigeria? How and why does Nigeria lack the capacity to manage its affairs? Once again, the U.K. has come to act as the ‘savior’ of Nigeria in an attempt to recover stolen commonwealth of the periphery—oil money. Surprisingly, the U.K. is the major beneficiary of these stolen funds often stashed in their ‘safe’ banking vaults and real estate markets.
Two cases exemplify these troubling dynamics. The first case is that of self-described governor general of the Ijaw nation, D.S.P. Alamasiegha, former governor of oil rich Bayelsa state (same state as Madueke), arrested and charged to court in London for money laundering during the Obasanjo administration. Alamasiegha’s escape to Nigeria after his court appearance in London remains as mysterious as the disappearance of several billions of dollars from the oil industry in Nigeria.
Several accounts indicated that he escaped dressed as a woman but the issue is that his escape was celebrated by some in Nigeria and today Alamasiegha has not only been pardoned (by his protégé, Goodluck Jonathan) but until his recent death, remained a political operative in his native Bayelsa (still benefitting from oil loot). What makes Alamsiegha’s case interesting was the fact that in 2005 the British authorities found on him at the time of his arrest a total of $3.2 million cash and bank accounts and real estate investment worth over $18million. While at the time of his death, the case is still pending in a London court (Alamasiegha jumped bail), the frozen assets (cash, bank accounts and properties) are still in the custody of the metropole.
In the second case, James Ibori, former governor of oil rich Delta state. Ibori was not as lucky as Alamasiegha. He was arrested in Dubai, extradited to the metropole, tried and convicted and is now serving 13 years jail time in London for laundering more than $100million. All his properties, cash and bank accounts in the UK were confiscated. Reports have it that some of the stolen funds were returned to Nigeria but (re)looted back to the metropole by the custodians of power in Nigeria. Like Alamasiegha, even in prison, Ibori remained influential in the politics of Delta state and Nigeria. His cousin, Emmanuel Uduaghan, succeeded him as governor and several of his protégés became commissioners and special advisers in the administration of his cousin as well as the administration of Goodluck Jonathan. There were many reports suggesting that he was still calling the shots from his prison room in London.
The bottom-line is that the UK has always been available to help Nigeria ‘recover’ stolen funds laundered in the metropole but the recovery process has not been transparent. For instance, when stolen funds are stashed in British banks or invested in real estate, such funds add value to the economy of the metropole. Even when such funds are recovered by London on behalf of Abuja, only an insignificant part of the funds make their way back and they are never returned with interest. A clear example is the millions of dollars stashed in Swiss accounts by the late dictator General Sani Abacha who ruled Nigeria between 1993 and 1998 (which Switzerland, last March, promised to return to Nigeria).
Leaders hailed as tough on corruption (Lamido Sanusi, Head of the Central Bank 2009-2014; and Nuhu Ribadu, chair of the EFCC) who actually attempt to bring crimes to light and to justice, are accused of ‘playing politics’ and dismissed from their positions.
So, as we await the trial of Diezani Allison-Madueke, if precedent is anything to go by, she may actually have cause to celebrate.