The Pandora Papers and Nigeria’s grim priorities
The furore or lack thereof that has been generated in Nigeria in the wake of revelations by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists is instructive of so many things, chief of them being lethargy on one hand, and disappointment on the other, perhaps not so much as Premium Times, the main Nigeria media outlet involved in the Pandora Papers. Many prominent Nigerians, ranging from business leaders, politicians and even clerics such as David Oyedepo of Living Faith Ministry. But the big stick which has caused controversy has been reserved for ex Anambra governor Peter Obi. He was accused of tax avoidance in tax havens after setting up shell accounts. In his defence,he lashed out at his critics by saying he set up those accounts when he left office as Anambra governor.
Without getting into the murky details of the Pandora Papers as regards Peter Obi’s Indictment, the reaction that has followed the revelations have been quite surprising. A clean sweep of twitter reactions especially those not allied with the ruling party or the pro government handles seem to wave it off, with some shrugging it off as a business man’s dealing. On the other hand, attempts by Pro government handles to make it stick is indicative of the political bent and the characterization of the 2023 presidential elections which Obi looks set to be a contender for the Peoples Democratic Party.
One other big takeaway in the reaction is that the relative lack of success of Obi’s detractors to make his alleged tax avoidance a front burner issue is telling on what twitter constituency sees as it’s primary focus in the wake of misrule by the Buhari administration. Nigerians are largely tired of saints and are realising that they would have to live with corrupt people as their leaders, but do not mind if the economy works.
The elites are beginning to realize this, and hardly any potential contender for the office of the president in 2023 has indicated signs to focus their campaign messaging on anti corruption. As Obi said during the 2019 elections vice presidential debate, a trader’s decision to leave his shop open in a bid to chase after armed robbers does not make practical business sense. It might have been two years in the making, but people are beginning to slowly come to terms with that reality.
On the hindsight, what the offshore tax havens and revenue repatriation show is the absolute lack of faith in Nigeria by not just the political elite, but also the businesses who make profits in Nigeria. Relatively weak institutions provide the basis for lawlessness. This is as much a moral failure as it is an institutional failure especially on the part of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The decline of that organization undermines economic growth, and reduces the image of the country, but this point is problematic when one considers that not even the American FBI have been able to successfully prosecute tax offenders when the Panama Papers were released.
This is a stark choice–showing outrage over financial impropriety that leaves the country bleeding of tax revenues because everyone does it, or making it an issue for aspiring public officials. On the surface, it seems pretty straightforward, but Nigerians have learnt that there are no easy answers.