Richard Branson’s Anti-Corruption Crusade In Nigeria


By Olumuyiwa Jimoh

It is not often that we hear Western top business men talk about corruption in Nigeria and that is why whenever any of such opinions comes to the public domain, it is bound to elicit all manners of reaction and responses from all walks of life. Some condemning and others applauding yet, others become non-committal even with their very vocal statements.

The reasons for the frugality of publicly stated opinions by Western business men on corruption dynamics and character in Nigeria should be obvious to anyone who has taken a cursory glance at the historical context of the phenomenon especially its diverse and systemic manifestations in our dear country.

However for those that did not remember what he said, it is good that we paraphrase it here as reported by the media; “….We fought daily battle against government agents who wanted to daily make fortune from us, politicians who saw the government 49% as a meal to seek for all kinds of favour…watchdogs (regulatory body) that didn’t know what to do and persistently asking for bribes at any point…Nigeria people are generally nice but the politicians are very insane…that may be irony because the people make up the politicians…

Was that statement made in his earnest desire to assist in exposing corruption in Nigeria or was it an attempt to smear and besmirch Nigeria thus contributing to the on-going international bashing of the country that has seriously led to low inflow of FDI into the Country? Or,was it just sour grapes as a result of business deals gone badly and as such an attempt to get back at his perceived business enemies?

Our position should be very clear from the onset and that is that Mr Richard Branson’s position is not overly different from what has been expressed variously in Nigeria on this vexatious issue. We agree that corruption is a deep systemic challenge and according to former member of the Federal House of Representatives – Hon. Dino Melaye, 60% of the nation’s annual budget is lost to corruption. When this is also viewed at the backdrop of the missing Trillions of naira, other findings and controversies trailing the various Fuel Subsidy reports including the Pension scam and most recently,the Ribadu report and the aggressive attempts at rubbishing them within the context of the crisis of underdevelopment confronting the nation, its negative impact on the living index of Nigerians becomes alarmingly overwhelming.But, his blanket tar of all Nigerian public officials including the invidious insinuation of corruption being Nigerian is not only unacceptable to every discerning mind but to all patriotic Nigerians.

His position though may have been informed by experience from his inner dealings with various MDAs and federal political leaders in the course of doing business in the country. Perhaps as he said, bribes were requested in return for favour and other influences peddled to get Branson’s business arrowhead in Nigeria – the Virgin Atlantic and subsequently the failed joint venture, Virgin – Nigeria in a vantage position to exploit the nation’s aviation sector.Agreed there may have been less than honourable and transparent positions driven by pure greed by some of the public officials that he had encounter with, we strongly believe that there still exist within Nigeria today, public officials of great integrity and high moral standing that can compare if not better than the best of the best that could be found in other climes including Richard Branson’s Britain.

Corruption did not originate from Nigeria and can be partly traced to our historical experiences in the hands of our colonial masters whose main agenda was that of foisting on Nigeria and Nigerians a distorted polity and a bifurcated society that is incapable of evolving into nationhood. A State in which diverse primordial sentiments and cleavages will hold sway leaving the people deeply divided continually thus will be perpetually incapable of taking its glorious place in the committee of nations; A nation that will be unable to serve as the ultimate driver of the African challenge in the global arena.

Branson’s Britainbeing our colonial master could therefore be roundly accused of being the originator and precursor of corruption in Nigeria. They did not only institute as they departed a distorted political process which has led to the various problems of leadership recruitment in Nigeria since independence making it possible for this corruption to cancerously spread to other facets of national life, they also through the operations ofMultinational Corporations of British origin introduced influence peddling as a tool for circumventing official policies and regulations in their favour in the course of their dealings with the Nigerian State. It is also therefore not surprising that some of these Oil giants have been accused of arming some of the militia in the Niger Delta region all in a bid to play divide and rule with Oil in the region with the intention to continue amassing the profit that the control of the Oil deposits entails.

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One of these manifestations must have been some of the challenges that the business mogul witnessed and was complaining about. While not questioning his right to complain, we are worried about the real motive for complaining. For a British owner of a Multi-national Company to suddenly become an anti-corruption crusader in Nigeria, every Nigerian patriot will immediately be alert and question his altruism. If it is to draw awareness to the dangers and existence of this deep contradiction, and, to seek global attention to fashion out strategies for its eradication, we welcome and will support such effort whole heartedly.

Like we have said earlier, if it is propelled by the crass intention of getting even with his business associates in political garb by painting every Nigerian public official in bad light, we would query that and reject it completely not only as public commentators but as patriotic Nigerians whose civic duty it is to protect the image of the nation.

It is important that while he rightly takes out time to blame and if possible name the officials or Department and Agencies so involved, he should find time to also look back and berate his people for the damage they did to the various Socio-political processes of Nigeria and perhaps be in the forefront of the campaign to demand reparations from his people.

That is why we are forced to ask Mr Richard Branson what he did to have secured the International Wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport for his Virgin Nigeria operations while other domestic Airlines were using the Domestic terminal? Did he not consider what he did as unethical and morally wrong? Did he not consider that as tilting the playing field to his advantage through political influence? Did he not see that as operating in breach and against the provisions of the nation’s relevant aviation statutes and regulations? Finally, was the entire operational context of the Virgin group in Nigeria as it lasted not mired in corruption? The very thing Mr Branson seems to be accusing the nation’s public officials of.

Efforts to answer these questions will only lead to one thing and that is simple; that it is the foreign Companies and their governments that have operated in Nigeria that imported corruption into our business environment. They also created the enabling environment for the facilitation and practise of corruption to fester. The locus of this monster therefore can be found in the operations of the MNCs in Nigeria and the sanitisation of their operations in the country will go a long way in solving the problem of corruption in Nigeria. The various cases involving them that attracted global attention can easily be seen in the Siemens Scandal and the Halliburton scandal including the various efforts at selling some of the OMLs.

We are not trying to hold brief for any official found to have corruptly enriched himself while in office but we believe that it is wrong for Mr Branson to have called all Nigerian public officials greedy and corrupt and in the process besmirching the whole of the citizens and peoples of Nigeria. There still remains a remnant of public officials in Nigeria who are committed to enhancing the welfare of the Nigerian people and are determined to work tirelessly to ensure that this nation becomes the best place for every Nigerian to aspire to be. We cannot call British or American people corrupt just because some of their officials or highly placed citizens got involved in less than wholesome dealings and this are revealed in the Press on daily basis.

Having said all these, it becomes imperative that we call on all our various office holders no matter where they find themselves to be of good conduct and avoid corrupt desires because it will not only unleash anti-development tendencies within the nation by distorting efficient allocation of resources within the economy but will give people like Mr Branson and they are plenty all over the world, the opportunity to insult innocent Nigerian people both in the Public and Private sector.

Our various anti-corruption Institutions must be strengthened with various Laws made not only to serve as counter measures against graft in Public life but to also check the roots of Corruption in Corporate organisations especially within the rank of the Multinational establishments. It is time to stop making a mockery of our people by putting our searchlight seriously on some of these foreign owned entities who after instigating corruption in Nigeria goes back to ridicule the integrity of this nation. The more we can expose some of them for what they are and bring them to face Justice appropriately, the more they will come to respect us as a nation and as a people and this we believe, will create the right ambience for national development and transformation.

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