What the Pandora papers reveal about Nigeria’s elites

The Pandora Papers, another piece of investigative journalism that exposed how the world’s leading politicians and businesses find loopholes to avoid and evade tax, have again put the spotlight on Nigeria’s elites. Asides the usual suspects, former Anambra governor Peter Obi’s name has kept tongues wagging since the Premium Times expose. In 2010, more than four years after Obi became governor; he reportedly set up his first discreet company in the British Virgin Island, and named the company Gabriella Investments Limited, after his daughter. To set up what has now become a convoluted business structure, Obi reported first approached Access International, a secrecy enabler in Monaco, France, to help him incorporate an offshore entity in one of the world’s most notorious tax havens noted for providing conduits for wealthy and privileged corrupt political elites to hide stolen cash.

None of these actions are new. Corporate tax avoidance is a phenomenon that governments have had to deal with laws which they break themselves, which is why when the Panama Papers were first announced, it did not ruffle as many feathers as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists had hoped for. But, from my viewpoint, the Nigerian cases show an obvious pattern that has been established for a long time in Nigeria: its elites simply do not believe in the country.

When the late Prophet TB Joshua announced in May 2017 that he was moving his ministry to Israel, the reactions that followed did not take into account that the calibre of persons who find it increasingly difficult to do business in Nigeria are not only investors, or young people who are shot dead by rogue police officers. It is that there is a large number of Nigeria’s elites who understand the intricacies of Nigeria and under that the country is not worth holding on to, or fighting for, bar the acts of putting up appearances by many. This is quite ironic because the utter lack of faith exhibited by the elites stem from problems created by the elites themselves. At such, the irony is lost on them, but operating at such a level requires the banishment of shame and self awareness, in which case, one simply cannot shame the shameless.

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In multiple spheres of national life, this lack of faith is evident. It is on that same basis that children of the elites are sent to schools in the West, while the President leads the list of people who would rather die in the UK for medical reasons. It makes sense to then view Nigeria as a ground zero for resource extraction, not a people to invest in.

This is quite ironic because the utter lack of faith exhibited by the elites stem from problems created by the elites themselves.

Development and growth are led by a country’s elected people, with the ruling elites showing the way. Investments on the national front so far have been driven largely by foreigners, but this means that when there are revenues, it gets taken out. Nigeria’s elite behave like foreigners: they take out the revenues. The illegal manner in which it has– the basis for the Pandora Papers–not only stifles development, it creates image problems for the country especially when a large number of its elites are involved in such shady practices.

But in fairness to the elite, the extant laws that exist as bordering on the right to property is a possible determinant in their behaviour. During the lockdown last year, the Kaduna State government arbitrarily demolished a hotel in the state capital. The government’s excuse was that the location had been planned for an orgy. The evidence of such allegation was a WhatsApp broadcast message whose source has still not been traced. Investors will also note how the former Oyo governor, Abiola Ajimobi demolished a radio station belonging to his perceived enemy, the singer Yinka Ayefele. The arbitrary manner of executive policies and outcomes are alarming at best and suicidal at best. The Rivers State government’s decision to demolish some hotels accused of violating coronavirus lockdown guidelines last year follows the same pattern of executive overreach. In all cases mentioned, a poignant example of state failure was outstanding: none of the victims were ever compensated. The ones who sought redress in court never got justice.

Following from the above, public servants, elected officials and business owners voting with their feet by stashing their profits abroad seems like the logical action. It all comes down to the original point: there is no faith in Nigeria and even the people responsible for this faithlessness cannot stand to bear the brunt of their mismanagement. The executive overreach exemplified by the problematic Land Use Act which scares investors is enough for concern, leading to issues such as tax avoidance in tax free havens.

Power is like a stick: put it down, someone else would pick it up and hit you on your head with it. The elites all have reasons to fear this from each other.

Nwanze is a partner at SBM Intelligence

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