Nigerians have been following another in a long list of corruption scandals involving polymer notes, a former Chair of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and a large international financial conglomerate. A new documentary from Australia's ABC television channel is set to fuel even more speculation and questions about the company's dealings in Nigeria. It should also raise discussion about the affairs of other countries and companies that seek to make profit off Nigeria.
Securency International, is a subsidiary of the Reserve Bank of Australia. The company created polymer notes and led the transformation of conventional paper money to polymer notes around the world. In 2006, the company won a lucrative multimillion contract to make Nigerian currency polymer-based. Polymer notes are touted for their ability to last longer than normal paper notes, thus saving countries money in printing costs. This contract eventually led to a corruption scandal which was exposed in May 2009. An Australian paper revealed that the company likely paid bribes to gain contracts in many countries including Nigeria. Soon, the United States indicted Securency for violating American anti-corruption laws and the Nigerian government announced that it would be looking into the company's dealings. Allegations soon arose that the former CBN Chairman, Charles Soludo, received bribes. In March 2010, the Nigerian Police announced that it was conducting a "high profile" investigation into the Securency allegations.
Osn May 24th, 2010, Australia's ABC television channel released a documentary about Securency International and it's shady dealing across the world. Titled 'Dirty Money', the program highlighted the kickbacks and commissions used by Securency International to ensure that it's product, polymer notes, became the premier material for currency. In Nigeria, the company dealt with many individuals, but one non-Nigerian in particular, Mr. Berry, received $6.4 million from Securency to get the Nigerian contract. The company paid commissions to the tune of 10 and 20% of the eventual CBN contract. Millions of money was paid by Securency to secret bank accounts located in financial havens including the Isle of Man and the UAE.
CORRUPTION INC. & NIGERIA
Corruption is a bane in the Nigerian existence. Like anywhere else in the world, corrupt activity sways the actions of officials in favor of large conglomerates which can pay for such influence. One need only look to Congressman Jefferson who in 2005 was arrested and later tried for corruption. When he was arrested, agents found $90,000 in cash, stashed in his freezer. He was sentenced to 13 years which is the longest sentence ever handed down to an American congressman for bribery charges.
Unfortunately, unlike the U.S. or other countries, when Nigerian politicians violate their oath to the constituents by unduly benefiting from their position, they face little to no consequences. This is Nigeria's 'punishment problem' and one the country must tackle to ever claim that it is serious in it's pronounced anti-corruption campaign as expressed on May 17th, 2010 by newly minted President Goodluck Jonathan. Granted, the notoriously controversial James Ibori was recently arrested, but he was arrested outside Nigeria, by non-Nigerian agents for breaching foreign laws. That being said, Australian officials ignored warnings from a well-placed whistle-blower and continue to try to dampen the fallout from the Securency revelations. Apart from two key Securency staff that were fired, it is yet to be seen whether and how the Australian government will deal with this version of Australian-exported corruption.
Despite this reality, Securency highlights the fact that corruption is indeed a two-way game. Although Nigeria gets a bad reputation for corruption, the reality is that Nigerian corruption is heavily impacted and sanctioned by many foreign governments, their proxies (such as the Reserve Bank of Australia, in this case) and foreign citizens. A country like Nigeria where profits come in the range of 100% and more for businesses ready to enter the market, makes getting contracts a crucial affair for many foreign companies. This, only fuels the corruption and leaves the average Nigerian citizen to bear the brunt of ineffective leadership that is propped up by foreign slush funds.
WHAT ABOUT CHINA?
As previously noted, this is just another corruption scandal involving foreign corporations in Nigeria. Halliburton, Siemens and many others have been sullied for giving bribes to Nigerian officials and others. But, that is only because the U.S. government, in the case of Halliburton, and the German government, in the case of Siemens, applied their anti-corruption laws. Chinese companies are reputed to be incredibly corrupt when seeking African contracts, doling out cash to anyone and everyone that could potentially make a difference. One need only review the Chatham House 2009 report on Asian oil companies in Nigeria and Angola to get more insight on such dealings. This begs the question, will Chinese contracts ever face the sort of scrutiny American, European, and in the case of Securency, Australian dealings face in Nigeria and elsewhere? The recently announced deal between Nigeria and China for the construction of 3 new refineries and a petrochemical institute are among many dealings that could be fair game for consideration.
The Securency scandal highlights the fact that corrupt conglomerates 'pay to play'. Hopefully, the Australian government will look into the practices of its proxy, the Reserve Bank of Australia, and release as much information as possible. This information could help Nigerian authorities, assuming they are indeed intent on investigating this affair. And, if Nigeria is truly interested in tackling corruption, continued lip service will not take the country any closer to tackling corruption. Considering that the nation lost at least $89.5 billion, which was stolen by leaders, between 1970 and 2008, an investigation into where Nigeria's money went by looking at all previous Heads of State, former governors, Ministers, and other elected and appointed officials, would be a tedious, daring and important place to start. But, for now, just putting a cork in the ongoing high level corruption, and the sort of commission agents Securency used in Nigeria, would do the trick.
UPDATE (Oct. 7, 2010): New testimony asserts that Securency made fake Naira notes.