A man walks past an anti-corruption billboard sponsored by the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in Abuja, Nigeria. Photo by Suzanne Plunkett/Bloomberg
Nigeria has lost an estimated $600 billion to corrupt officials – but we rarely consider where that money has gone.
The truth is it often ends up being laundered in the countries that lecture us on corruption.
We cannot escape the fact that Nigeria is ranked 149th out of 180 countries for corruption.
One study suggested that out of all Nigerian citizens who have had contact with a public official in the past year one in three paid or were asked to pay a bribe, with the average bribe nearly ₦6,000.
Another suggested that corruption will be worth 37 per cent of our entire economy by 2030!
But so much of this would be impossible were it not for countries who claim to know better but look the other way when it benefits them.
This past week saw the UK government return $5.8m of Nigerian public money stolen by former Delta State governor James Ibori in the first such deal between our two countries.
But the recovered cash is just a fraction of the $222.4m allegedly laundered by the disgraced former governor and his cronies.
All too often money stolen like this ends up being laundered in countries like the UK where it is used to invest in property and other assets like luxury cars.
Other nations are all-too-often happy to profit at the expense of the Nigerian people by turning a blind eye to the flow of money into their countries which they know all-too-well has sprung from dubious sources.
And then they lecture us on corruption!
This is no different from you or I robbing a bank and using the money to buy our mothers a new car. Your mother then scolds you for bringing shame on your family – but she’s happy to keep the car! It’s the same as telling your children off for stealing from the sweet shop, then eating the sweets!
Yes, Nigeria is a corrupt nation. But we could not be so corrupt if it were not for supposedly honest nations being happy to pocket our misappropriated money.
International governments need to do more to ensure that Nigeria’s most dishonest politicians and public officials are not free to spend their ill-gotten gains in their countries
This does not change the fact that we have to get our own house in order.
The memorandum of understanding signed between Nigeria and the UK in 2016 that facilitated the Ibori deal, sets out that proceeds of bribery or corruption seized in the UK will only be returned if Nigeria can demonstrate total transparency with regards to the use of the returned funds.
This is something Nigeria needs to anyway – sunlight is always the best disinfectant. And digital technology makes that transparency so much easier to deliver.
At the digital democracy campaign I lead we are committed to supporting Nigerian politicians and public officials to improve transparency and trust with the use of everyday digital technology.
The same survey which laid bare the scale of corruption in Nigerian public life also showed that almost 40 per cent of Nigerians have not had any contact with a public official. That needs to change for trust to grow.
One of the projects we have developed is a free smartphone app called Rate Your Leader, which puts politicians and the people they elect in direct person-to-person contact. Think of it as being friends on Facebook with your local representative – except unlike other social media platforms Rate Your Leader insists both sides can prove they are who they say they are, and makes abusive communication impossible.
A direct line between electors and elected helps both sides better understand each other, and collaborate to make our communities better.
Rate Your Leader encourages politicians to do everything out in the open, and rewards them in the form of positive feedback and ratings from the people they serve, improving their reputation amongst their contacts friends, peers and neighbours – the people whose opinions they trust the most.
Building trust in the political process has to start person-to-person, politician to the voter. And digital technology can deliver that change at the touch of a button.
Wider systematic change – the kind that will see that $600bn of Nigerian money spent on Nigerian schools, Nigerian roads, Nigerian digital connectivity, Nigerian hospitals, Nigerian social care for older citizens and Nigerian jobs, and not on overseas mansions and sports cars for the very worst of us – will require international co-operation and commitment.
By Joel Popoola is a Nigerian tech entrepreneur, digital democracy campaigner and creator of the Rate Your Leader mobile app. Follow Joel on Twitter @JOPopoola