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Nigerian officials snub US-led anti-corruption groups

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Nigerian officials rose from the U.S.-Nigeria Bi-National Commission (BNC) meeting on Wednesday without committing the Buhari administration to a key demand of their American counterparts, membership of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and the Partnership on Illicit Finance (PIF), two anti-corruption initiatives promoted by the United States government.

Launched in 2011 and 2014 respectively, OGP and PIF are multilateral initiatives that require policy and technology-backed anti-corruption framework in member countries.

OGP signatory governments are required to develop action plans that elaborate their commitment to defined standards of government integrity, citizen participation, corporate accountability, public safety and effective management of public resources, all of which are to be overseen and verified by a multi-stakeholder international steering committee of governments and leading civil society representatives.

PIF is an outcome of the historic U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit which was attended by Nigeria and 50 other countries.

It requires member nations to develop action plans to stem cross-border corruption-related financial flow which they can execute in conjunction with the United States. Nigeria currently ranks 10 on the global index of countries with high illicit financial flow.

American officials were vocal about their desire to see Nigeria join OGP and PIF preparatory to the BNC meeting.

Speaking on U.S.-Nigeria partnership at the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) two days before the meeting, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs, praised President Buhari’s “strong position on fighting corruption”.

She pledged U.S. support for law enforcement and judicial investigation and prosecution of “complex corruption cases” and called on Nigeria to “join the growing global community that is using OGP and PIF to strengthen transparency, accountability, and good governance”.

Nigerian delegation to the BNC, led by Geoffrey Onyeama, Minister of Foreign Affairs, did not elaborate on their objection to membership of the OGP and PIF. The 19-paragraph communique issued at the end of the meeting stated that the “BNC discussed the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and the Partnership on Illicit Finance (PIF)” and that the U.S. delegation talked about the “potential benefits to Nigeria of membership in these two initiatives”.

The communique states that “the Nigerian side agreed to respond to the outstanding invitations to join in due course”.

Nigerian officials are not strangers to OGP requirements, in fact, they were discussed at the 2012 BNC meeting which, like this year’s, was held in Washington DC.

The fourth paragraph of the communique from that meeting, which was signed by delegates from both countries, affirmed their commitment to transparency and accountability at all tiers of government, in pursuit of which “Nigeria intends to widen its budgetary transparency efforts to include public asset declarations by parliamentarians and other senior public officials”.

Nigerian delegation to that meeting was led by Olugbenga Ashiru, then minister of foreign affairs, it included four state governors and officials from four ministries and six agencies.

They were roundly condemned by the Jonathan administration for acceding to the clause on asset declaration. President Goodluck Jonathan refused to publicly declare his assets throughout his stay in office.

After the communique from the 2012 BNC became public, he dismissed calls for asset declaration on a prime time public television program, saying that there is no legal requirement for him to do so.

The U.S. delegation to this year’s BNC obviously expected that their Nigerian counterparts would have no objection to joining the two anti-corruption initiatives since President Buhari and Vice-President Osinbajo have already declared their assets.

Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield noted that President Buhari is following through on his anti-corruption promises including implementation of Treasury Single Account, elimination of ghost workers from civil service payroll and taking steps to ensure that no one is “immune from prosecution – not officials from past administrations, not officials from his own”.

Many of Nigeria’s allies have joined the two organizations. Members of OGP grew from six founding countries to 69 in less than five years, they include Ghana and Liberia in West Africa, as well as Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania and Tunisia. PIF members include Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mauritius, Liberia, Niger, and Senegal.

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