President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday insisted British Premier David Cameron had nothing to apologise for over his comments caught on video this week, describing Nigeria as being “fantastically corrupt.” “I think he’s being honest about it…” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “I don’t think you can fault him.”
Speaking at an anti-corruption conference on Wednesday, Buhari had said: “I am not demanding an apology from anybody, I am demanding a return of assets.”
“Corruption tears at the entire fabric of society.”
Buhari had earlier told Amanpour that billions of dollars designated to fight the country’s major terrorist group, Boko Haram, were shared among officials who gathered, “as if they were going to have lunch and dinner and put the money into their accounts.”
Buhari said at the summit that his country had suffered from oil theft on an “industrial scale,” with the proceeds being “laundered through world financial centers by transnational organized criminals.”
He estimated around 150,000 barrels of oil were being stolen per day.
The Nigerian President called on the international community to designate oil theft as an international crime similar to the trade in “blood diamonds.”
The theft “constitutes an imminent and credible threat to the economy and stability of oil-producing countries like Nigeria,” he added.
Imagining their daughters in graves
One year into his presidency, Buhari is facing multiple threats: a flagging economy due to plunging oil prices; endemic corruption; and the insurgency from Boko Haram, which has kidnapped thousands of women and children, most notably 216 schoolgirls from Chibok, in northeast Nigeria. Most of them are still missing.
Asked about a video, exclusively obtained by CNN last month that showed some of the missing schoolgirls alive, President Buhari said he had not seen the clip and insisted that he would not have shown it to the families even if he had seen it.
“How can we show it to them when we don’t know where they are?” he asked. “If we know where they are then we can organize to secure them. If they are divided into 5, 10 groups all over the region, there’s no way we can spontaneously and simultaneously attack all those locations. The important thing is to get them alive,” he said.CNN had reported last month that Boko Haram had made ransom demands for their release.
However, the president said that his administration is still trying to establish bonafide Boko Haram leadership before entering into talks with them.“When we identify it, we are prepared to talk to them. We can’t just talk to whoever gets a video clip,” he said.
President Buhari added that he has met twice with the families of the missing schoolgirls but said he tries to limit his meetings with them for his own “emotional balance.”
“I try to imagine my 14-year-old daughter missing for one to two years… a lot of parents would rather see them in their graves than the condition they are in now.”
“It’s tragic,” he added.
But President Buhari said he was more concerned with fighting corruption than talking about it. He said his administration was making inroads with clearing a backlog of “ghost workers” who are claiming salaries fraudulently and by arresting those who embezzled government funds during the previous administration.
At the opening of the anti-corruption summit today, Buhari said: “When it comes to tackling corruption, the international community has looked the other way for too long.
“Nigeria is calling on this summit to trace and facilitate the recovery of stolen funds and assets hidden in secret accounts,” he added.