African diplomats have decried the lack of desire by many member-states of the African Union to ratify its Convention on anti-corruption. The disturbing development is also evident in the superficial enforcement of the protocol by those that have managed to adopt it. The campaign, a legal and policy framework, has the duality of being a preventive and combative mechanism, which engages a broad spectrum of stakeholders: parliaments, judiciary, law enforcement agencies, media, civil society organisations and the citizenry. Salaheddine Ibrahim, Cameroon’s Ambassador to Nigeria and Dean of African Ambassadors, said, “It is not just a matter of ratifying, but, after that, we have to ensure the implementation of the corruption convention is enhanced at the member-state level; not only at the AU level.” This is the crux of the matter. But the AU has to devise a strategy for its negligent members to embroil in the fight.
Adapted since January 11, 2003, the Convention’s main objectives are to promote and strengthen the mechanisms required to prevent, detect, punish and eradicate corruption and establish the necessary conditions to foster transparency and accountability in the management of public affairs. Curiously, only 39 out of 54 countries have so far ratified the Convention, according to Ibrahim. The AU had in 2003 established the Convention, to deal with the scourge, which had grossly undermined socio-economic development on the continent. Besides, 2018 has been chosen by the Union as “African Anti-corruption Year” to enhance regional and continental cooperation and to mobilise everybody for the crusade.
It is said that Africa is not poor, only that its wealth is being stolen. The continent’s increasing revenue loss, which jeopardised the realisation of the Millennium Development Goals, had impelled the AU to set up a committee, chaired by Thabo Mbeki, a former President of South Africa, to study the phenomenon. The committee’s report, in 2015, said at least $60 billion was illegally transferred out of Africa annually, out of which Nigeria alone accounted for $40.9 billion. Official corruption, money laundering, contract scams, tax evasion, trade under-invoicing and illegal transfers by multinational companies are the sources of this massive theft.
A different report in the Wall Street Journal, citing the AU and Economic Commission for Africa as sources, graphically illustrated the illicit financial flight from Africa from 1970 to 2008. Again, Nigeria is the clear leader with $217.7 billion. Egypt followed with $105.2 billion; South Africa $81.8billion; Morocco $33.9billion; Angola $29.5 billion; Algeria $26.1 billion and $16.6 billion from Ivory Coast.
Apparently, countries exposed to this large-scale financial hemorrhage are extractive resource-based economies with slush funds and weak state institutions that cannot check the abuses. For this reason, the implementation of the MDGs, which political leaders ought to have focused on – the eradication of extreme poverty, hunger, achieving universal primary education, improving maternal health, reducing child and maternal mortality, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and environmental sustainability, among others – remains abysmal.
Twenty years after the death of Sani Abacha, believed to have siphoned over $5 billion from the treasury, the country has yet to repatriate all his known loot. From Switzerland alone, Nigeria repatriated $1.073billion. But the country has had many more Abachas with Halliburton and Siemens contract scandals; the $1.3billion Malabu oil block scam and the fuel subsidy thieves, the suspects of which the authorities have failed to bring to justice. This underscores the AU point that member-states, indeed, should move beyond ratifying the convention to enforcing it absolutely.
Certainly, if previous administrations were so spineless to have overlooked these abuses, the Muhammadu Buhari government that rode to power on the crest of anti-corruption campaign will be hard put to justify its bizarre lethargy in bringing those involved to book. Interestingly, their associates in this criminality in Italy, America, France, Germany and the United Kingdom have all been convicted, heavily fined and jailed. Ironically, Nigeria’s Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, advised the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission not to proceed with the Malabu case based on what he regarded as lack of strong evidence. His counsel came after he had announced that Nigeria would collect $85 million from the UK authorities last year, following “a final judicial order” on the conviction of suspects in the Malabu case.
The scale of corruption in Africa is mind-boggling. Another big thief was Mobutu Sese Seko; The Financial Times estimates his wealth to be about $4 billion. Jean Bedel Bokassa, Hosni Mubarak, Jacob Zuma and scores of others still in office have reduced Africa to a laughing stock with their stolen wealth hidden offshore.
These drifts explain the World Health Organisation and UNICEF’s unremitting threnodies on high level of avoidable deaths in Africa, especially child and maternal mortality, arising from poor quality of healthcare service delivery. A 2013 UNICEF report said Nigeria had 756,000 under-five children deaths annually, just as a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked the country as the worst place for a child to be born. This is in addition to the dubious distinction of having 10.5million out-of-school children, the highest globally.
But Africa should not continue to be home to diseases, poverty, hunger and unabashed beneficiary of grants from the West for it to survive. Changing this ugly tide will require a strong political will and having focused leaders across the continent. South Africa’s ongoing prosecution of its immediate past President, Jacob Zuma, for corruption and the imprisonment of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt for the same reason are fitting postscripts in leadership: that leaders are not above the law. For the AU’s convention to be relevant, every corrupt ruler should be brought to justice.