An American foundation, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is poking accusing fingers in the eyes of Nigerian political elites, saying they are using the British educational system as a money-laundering shield in the guise of seeking better schooling opportunities for their wards.
This was a key point in a report released Thursday in Washington DC written by the foundation’s non-resident scholar on democracy, conflict and governance, Mathew Page, titled “West African Elites’ Spending on UK Schools and Universities: A Closer Look.”
Mr Page, its author, is a famous Nigeria expert, author, and consultant on Nigeria. Previously, he was a top Nigeria expert with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, where he also served the Defense Intelligence Agency, Marine Corps Intelligence and the National Intelligence Council. He is also a nonresident fellow with the Centre for Democracy and Development in Abuja.
The report was commissioned by the UK government, British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing said in Abuja Friday, saying it was motivated by her government’s desire “to better understand the risk to the UK from illicit finance in West Africa. We will now consider the reports finding and take a view on what if any further action is required.”
Ms Laing stated that “Tackling illicit corruption in Nigeria is critical to the country’s prosperity and security, and to addressing poverty and inequality,” adding that “the UK is working in partnership with Nigeria to tackle corruption and illicit finance and has excellent relationships with Nigerian agencies and civil society who are fighting corruption.”
The Carnegie report also suggested colleges and universities in the United Kingdom are complicit in the process, saying the UK is still “reluctant to acknowledge outside criticism of the sector’s AML [anti-money laundering] shortcomings or to derive lessons learned from recent anticorruption failures” adding that some have even shown willingness “to matriculate students linked to known—and even convicted—kleptocrats.”
The UK government also got knocks from the report for its “policies and programmes seeking to boost the country’s international education sector” which the report said, “lack a much-needed anti-corruption component.”
It argued the case that the increasing reliance on schools in advance countries of the west for the education of their wards expands the disincentives to strengthen their own home educational institutions.
“The capital flight and greater foreign exchange and currency pressures associated with paying costly school and university fees have harmed these countries’ future development and prevented them from correcting deeper socioeconomic inequalities that compound underdevelopment and can even spark violent conflict.
“As long as PEPs flock into the education sectors of countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States instead of investing in their own sectors, West African countries will continue to suffer a “brain drain” and financial outflows that harm their economies” the report asserted.
Ms Laing responded that “The UK has a zero-tolerance approach to corruption and remains committed to tackling it wherever it happens, including in the United Kingdom (UK) education system.”
The traditional argument by many Nigerian political elites that they accumulated vast wealth before entering politics, does not hold water, according to the report based on data, because “very few would be able to show convincing evidence of how they did so.”
While the majority of Nigerian and Ghanaian students studying in the UK are neither linked to PEPs [politically exposed persons] nor represent a corruption risk, the report claimed, “a small but significant share do” and that “Illicit financial flows into UK educational institutions via West African PEPs are noteworthy and should receive greater scrutiny.”
Arguing for reforms, the report said a “stronger policy focus on the corruption vulnerabilities of the UK education sector could also support UK international development goals by reducing “educational escapism” by elites who choose to school abroad while neglecting domestic educational institutions.”