Why Buhari can’t fight corruption to standstill —Ogunsanwo, Former Nigeria’s Ambassador to Belgium

Professor of Politics and International Relations and former Nigeria’s Ambassador to Belgium and Permanent Representative to European Union, Alaba Ogunsanwo, speaks with MOSES ALAO on the dynamics of Donald Trump’s victory as United States president, what it could portend for Nigeria and Africa and what President Muhammadu Buhari must do on corruption.


Penultimate week, the United States of America elected its president in an election that shocked the world, as many people had thought that Hillary Clinton would be the clear winner. As a professor of Politics and International Relations, what do you think went wrong?

Nothing went wrong; only that those who were looking at events in the US were looking at various factors without asking the proper questions. They also did not take into consideration some issues and so they missed the road as it were and made major errors in terms of their predictions.

In the first instance, the mainstream media, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN were all rooting for Hillary Clinton as if the election was going to be a coronation and not a competitive election. They were only prepared to see what they thought was right in terms of what the woman had done. If it was another person in the US that faced a subpoena to submit documents and he destroyed 33,000, that person would be in jail. But because it was Clinton, they covered it up and the media helped to cover up what was a criminal offence; that was why Trump told her during the debate that it was good she was not in charge of the legal system and that she would be in jail, because people who did less than that are in jail. Of course, I know prison uniform will not look fitting on Hillary. But the fact that the media deliberately ignored those things she did meant that they were not hitting the nail on the head.  If it had been a man, they would have crucified him as it were.

If you look at the outcome of the poll, more women normally vote in the US and Trump had 53 per cent of the votes of white women; Clinton is a white woman, isn’t she? Trump is also white but he is a man and 53 per cent of women, rather than voting for Clinton, voted for Trump. They must have seen something else in Trump than what they saw favourably in Clinton. Don’t also forget that during all the polls, they mentioned that a vast majority of the electorate distrusted Hillary. But of course, it was not the first time that someone who was distrusted won the election. Richard Dixon, who was nicknamed Tricky Dick, was distrusted, because he was like a crooked person, but he still won the election, because at that time, the Vietnam war was ongoing. People didn’t just want to see a democrat as president; they didn’t want Lyndon Johnson handing over to a democrat. That was how Dixon won even though he was dishonest and he was later impeached because he was dishonest; dishonesty will always follow you. To return to the issue in sight, Clinton’s issue with the FBI was not ignored despite attempts to cover it up; so most of those who would have voted for Clinton would have stayed home. It was not a question of the FBI director clearing her three days to the election; it is that before then, a lot of the people had already felt that the woman was dishonest and untrustworthy. But the media reduced that to a situation that between her and Trump, who was distrusted more? But no one said Trump was dishonest; they only said they didn’t like him because of the way he spoke and who he was pitching his speeches at. But what Trump did was to move away from the whole idea of political correctness; when you know what is wrong but refuse to say it because it is not politically correct so that people would not criticise you that it is true, but a presidential candidate should not have said it. And from the outcome of the election, we could see that that was what Americans wanted and that was why they voted for him.

Trump understands what is going on in the economy; there has been a lot of depression, unemployment in America. A lot of things have happened and he came up saying globalisation has not favoured the US, because it has allowed a lot of American companies to go out to countries where labour is cheap to produce and ship back to the country, a situation that has left millions of Americans unemployed. He saw that and said his mind and the workers who had lost their jobs voted massively for him. These were workers who ordinarily would have voted for a democrat. Trump won in demcrats’ states, because there were in these states, workers who had suffered from what they called the Washington Coalition.

In that election, both the democrats and republicans were rejected in favour of Trump, because the two parties didn’t like him but as an outsider, he was preferred by the American people to Clinton who had been around for 30 years. Why? She was seen as part of the corrupt system in the US and if you watched her debate, not on one occasion did she condemn corruption while Trump kept talking about the corrupt and rigged system of which she was part.

So, the things some people thought were not important proved to be important in that election. What the American people did with that election was to say ‘we have our own way of doing things’ and that ‘there is a limit to which a biased media can change our minds,’ because the media was too biased in favour of Clinton.


You made a reference to Trump’s position on globalisation. This disposition has been a source of worry for experts, as some are of the view that such a stance would greatly affect the United States’ relationship with other countries. For instance, United Nations’ Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, expressed some sentiments regarding Trump’s view on climate change. With such view on globalisation, don’t you think countries like Nigeria, which get aids from US, should be scared?

Scared of what?


That Trump may not look our side…

Are we a sovereign country or not? If we cannot stand on our own and take decisions, then what are we talking about the leadership of Africa? What leadership? I am asking you, if you are a giant with the feet of clay, is that Trump’s problem? He should leave us alone.


But Nigeria and, indeed, Africa, depends on dollars from the US for interventions in different sectors such as the health care.

That is because we want to. Can’t you see the amount of money being stolen? Couldn’t that have gone to health? Would we have had any need to depend on the US if those funds had been channelled to develop the health sector and others? Look at the amount of money Nigeria has been exposed to. If you have your leaders and politicians stealing the money in collusion with civil servants, if that is what you are having and that is what you will continue to have, then what does whoever becomes president of the US have to do with us? Nothing. We should put our house in order.

The climate change issue you talked about, George Bush Jnr, when he was president, also turned a blind eye on climate change. The US was not part of the Kyoto Protocol, which was the one before the latest one, and that was under Bush. What Trump has said is that climate change is a joke and that he would not pay attention to it. But that he refuses to pay attention to it does not mean he can tear it up; it is a pact signed by several countries. So, his view only means that he would not take measures that would move in the direction of that plan while he is president but that does not mean the pact won’t continue.

Nigeria has enjoyed a good relationship with the US for some time now, given what Trump allegedly said about Nigerians and Africa, are you not scared that the relationship will be soured?

I am not scared. If the US leaves us alone, it is okay. That means we will learn to be self-reliant.


But can Nigeria’s foreign policy do without the US?

What is our foreign policy? What is that we want to achieve that it will require the US to help us to achieve it? In any event, this fear does not arise until you see the team that Trump puts together. Those in charge of foreign affairs, the Secretary of State and the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and others will be chosen and these will operate in relationship with the bureaucracy in Washington. Some of the outlines are already there and some of the things he does not want will not come up. For example, Trump will not do like David Cameron and Barack Obama did with reference to Malawi, by forcing the president to accept Sodomy and homosexuality as part of the country’s laws because they cut off aids to Malawi. And the country is dependent on foreign aids.

Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni also had to allow a high court judge to stop a law that had been passed and government did not appeal and it was still about homosexuality. So, what Trump will not do is to impose on African values that are supposed to be American. He will not impose on you measures that he thinks you and your people must accept. He has said he is not interested in this concept of nation-building in terms of imposing democracy around the world. Look at the situation in the Middle East; it is because of the idea of America forcing democracy on Arabs. What is the business of Arabs with democracy, which has never been part of their culture? You now say they must change the way they operate and you begin to incite people against their governments. And you can see the instability over there and that is why Syria is the way it is. You also have the situation in Yemen. The Arab Spring was as a result of this same thing and those that were able to resist it effectively maintained their system. You saw what happened in Egypt.

Now, Trump says America first and [President Muhammadu] Buhari also says Nigeria first. The concentric circles in terms of our own foreign policy, which was brought in when Buhari was Head of State in 1983/84 and Professor Gambari was Foreign Minister, is still our policy now. Whatever will affect Nigeria must be put first; it is not Africa first but Nigeria first, because if there is no Nigeria, you cannot talk of Nigeria’s view towards Africa. Which Africa? So, our interest must be first and that is what Trump is saying, that America’s interest first; I do not see anything wrong with that. Obviously, each country must begin to look at its position; yes, there will be collaboration and international cooperation and trading will continue; we cannot do without international trade. But if he wants to ask the question ‘what is in this for the US,’ he is right. It is the same question we should ask in Nigeria, ‘what is in this for Nigeria’ and then what will affect our immediate neighbours and then the larger West Africa and then Africa. Our problem is not that of providing leadership for Africa, do we have leadership at home? Can you see all the things taking place in Nigeria, pointing in the direction as if it is going to be a failing state? If we cannot deal with matters of security— we are not talking about Boko Haram— we are talking security for the individuals. Today, kidnapping, armed robberies and all these vices are taking place all over the country even though we have someone in office as president and he campaigned on guaranteeing internal security for the country. Internal security is not just about defeating Boko Haram, which the government has largely done, even though there is still more fighting to be done; it has to do with the safety of all Nigerians. So Nigeria must face its own problems first.


At a point in this interview, you talked about how the huge amounts of money being looted by politicians and leaders could have been channeled towards development such that we do not look up to foreign aids. The administration of President Buhari has, for some time, been brandishing its anti-corruption credential but some people fear that the fight against corruption is already losing its bite. You delivered a lecture where you described corruption as the supreme commander, how do you think Nigeria can fight corruption successfully?

No country in the world has successfully fought corruption, because you cannot fight it to a standstill. It keeps evolving. There is even corruption in The Vatican, where the Pope is the head and he knows this. There is corruption in every country. The United States is riddled with corruption. President Barack Obama is from Chicago; he is from Illinois. In that state, a former governor was imprisoned for corruption; his successor, when he finished serving, was also jailed for corruption. Four successive governors in that state all went down for corruption; it is as if corruption is a badge of honour as it were. Their system in the US is thoroughly corrupt, but they have accepted the 11th commandment, which is ‘do not be caught;’ if you are caught, then you are tried. But that still does not mean it is the same rule for everyone, but then what it means is that it is institutions that are supposed to fight corruption and not presidents or prime ministers. The US is over 200 years old, so perhaps, we still have a long way to go before we can have effective institutions. Right now, we don’t have that in place. A thousand Buhari cannot successfully fight corruption to an end in this country; it is not possible. What we need are institutions; it is not the business of a president to be pursuing corrupt people or focusing all his energy on it. There are institutions that will do it and in that circumstance, whether the man is your friend or not is irrelevant. We have seen situations where some camels are passing through the eye of a needle in terms of the activities of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and some people are saying ‘they are able to do that because they belong to the right group or because they are not opposed to the president’s positions.’ This is why some people are saying that what is going on is a fight against some corrupt people and that is not the same as fight against corruption. Corruption is ingrained; it is deep down the Nigerian system; from the Presidency downward. Is it in the primary or secondary schools that you will go to and not see corruption? Is it church or mosque? Is it the university? You name them. Not to talk of the judiciary or the armed forces or the legislature or the executive; corruption is everywhere. But what is happening now is happening because this is the phase we are now; it will take time before we can have institutions that can successfully fight corruption. People are talking about the judiciary now; what is the judiciary? It is made up of lawyers and a politician looks at a lawyer and says ‘today, I am making you a judge.’ If the lawyer had been involved in all kinds of crooked ways before, will he become a clean angel as a judge?

So, it will take time before we have institutions that can battle corruption but that even does not mean they will win; what they will succeed in doing is to deal decisively with individuals that have been caught. And individuals will continue to be caught for corruption, because it is a big fight to stay above board and not be corrupt.

In the lecture that you made reference to, I said that Buhari came to power on the basis of the fact that he is a man of integrity and that he would be able to deal with insecurity and all that but that if he places all his efforts on fighting corruption, the four years will pass and nothing will happen. He would not have achieved anything, because corruption will still be there. Even during the time of his grandchildren, corruption will still be in Nigeria if it still exists as a country. It will only be different from this brazen type where people steal billions. Therefore, the president should set his mind of putting up strong institutions that will deal with that and look at things that will be of importance to the people. Nigerians will not eat anti-corruption; they need jobs and they need access to goods and materials at affordable prices. They need development and infrastructure and the rest of those. It is when they have these that you can I have left something behind and not that when I was there, I fought corruption. They will tell you ‘and so what? How many of the people surrounding you were not corrupt?’ They can even challenge him to publish the list of those who contributed to his campaign funds and they will tell him how many of them got the money genuinely. What we are saying is that the issue of corruption, if you can fight it, let it be fought but that should not be the sole focus of the president and commander-in-chief; he should try and build the country and look at fundamental issues affecting the country.