It has been a busy week for Her Majesty’s Government. The UK is cutting the overseas aid budget, while parliamentarians have accused Nigerian leaders of corruption and inaction, and threatened sanctions, while also pointing a finger at the facilitating role the UK financial services industry has played in the looting.
Nigerian social networks were roiled on Monday by the accusations by a UK member of parliament against General Yakubu Gowon, the architect of peace after Nigeria’s brutal civil war.
“Some people would remember when General Gowon left Nigeria with half of the central bank, or so it was said, and moved to London”, said Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee representing Tonbridge and Malling.
MPs were debating the use of deadly force against #EndSARS protestors on 20th October by Nigerian security forces. The discussions was triggered by the signature of over 200,000 UK residents, and could result in targeted sanctions by the UK against those involved.
“The UK is in an almost unique position to actually do something against those who have robbed Nigeria”, says Tugendhat, because of the manner in which UK banks ‘sadly have been used’ to transfer illicit gains.
The infrastructure that facilitates corruption is well known to economic watchers of the continent. “It is estimated that between 1970 and 2010, the continent has lost up to $1.3 trillion through capital flight”, writes former African Development Bank (AfDB) chief economist Léonce Ndikumana in a paper on the ways in which wealth leaches out of the continent. Nigeria represented around a quarter of that, some $311bn, which represents 150% of its GDP from the period.
Aid budget slashed
By Tuesday, news of the impending cut to the UK’s overseas aid budget had leaked. On Wednesday, it claimed the job of Baroness Sugg, a foreign officer minister who resigned, saying it was “fundamentally wrong to abandon our commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on development”.
Other MPs framed it in more commercial and less ethical terms. The UK Defense committee Chair Tobias Elwood, for example, wondered how Brexit promises made about British influence after leaving could be kept, “when our hard power is not matched by soft power”.
On Wednesday, Gowon denied the allegations in a BBC interview, and by Thursday, Akinwumi Adesina, Nigeria’s former minister of Agriculture and current President of the African Development Bank was pushing back against the idea Gowon was corrupt.
Adesina has not publicly talked about the UK development aid cut.
But he did in January this year tell UK MPs, that, while Brexit may well be an opportunity to renew commercial ties between the UK and Africa, “the reality, however, is that UK’s trade with Africa is trending downwards. From a $49bn peak in 2012, trade decreased to $30.6bn in 2018”