LONDON: Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said Wednesday that he did not want an apology from Prime Minister David Cameron for calling his country “fantastically corrupt”, but said Britain could return assets stolen by officials who fled to London.
“I am not going to demand any apology from anybody. What I am demanding is the return of the assets,” Buhari told an anti-corruption event hosted by the Commonwealth Secretariat in London.
“This is what I’m asking for. What would I do with an apology?” he said to cheers from many civil society organisations and Nigeria delegates in the audience.
The British prime minister is hosting a major anti-corruption summit in London on Thursday, which Buhari is attending alongside Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
But in a diplomatic gaffe, Cameron was caught on camera on Tuesday saying that the leaders of some “fantastically corrupt” countries were attending.
“Nigeria and Afghanistan, possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world,” he was filmed telling Queen Elizabeth II at an event at Buckingham Palace.
Buhari has embarked on a widespread anti-corruption campaign since taking office one year ago, and in his speech to Wednesday’s Commonwealth event thanked Britain for helping recover stolen assets taken abroad.
“Even before this government came in, the UK took the initiative of arresting some former governors of some of the states in Nigeria,” Buhari said.
He noted the case of Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, a former governor of the oil-rich Bayelsa state who was detained in London on charges of money-laundering in 2005, but skipped bail by disguising himself as a woman.
But Buhari said that in general, “our experience has been that repatriation of corrupt proceeds is very tedious, time consuming, costly”.
He added that corruption was a “hydra-headed monster” that was “endemic and systematic” in Nigeria, but said he was adopting a “zero tolerance” approach.