Interview with investigative journalist Emmanuel Mayahem from Nigeria
Nigeria is at 140 in the Ranking of perception of corruption — just six points lower than in Russia, which is ranked at 134 place. Especially for Russiangate Artem Filatov spoke with investigative journalist Emmanuel Mayahem about how cutting budgets in one of the poorest countries in the world and why its citizens do not overthrow the government. Emmanuel the Miami editor of the Nigerian newspaper Premium Times, two-time winner of the African Investigative Journalism Award, and award for CNN African journalists.
In Russia they say that corruption kills. People are dying because of bad roads, low quality of care and other issues caused by corruption. How are things in Nigeria?
If you ask me, what are the three main problems in Nigeria, I will answer: corruption, corruption and more corruption. Bridges are destroyed, people get contracts to build power plants, but they never built and the money disappeared. So this is a key issue. Also there is corruption in the oil sector: most of the actions the government and multinational companies are associated with corruption. Nigeria is fighting terrorism, and more than $ 2 billion was allocated for the purchase of weapons. But in fact, these weapons were not purchased. And the government sent soldiers to fight with pistols! So many of our soldiers were killed because of corruption. This system serves the selfish interests of politicians and their friends.
What is the standard of living in Nigeria, how many average people earn and what they can afford?
In Nigeria a scary situation. The minimum wage is about 20 million Naira ($56 for the course in October of 2017.— Approx. Russiangate). Not long ago, the US dollar exchange rate was 1:150. Since then, oil prices fell, the national currency collapsed and the dollar is 1:360. Many regions of the country for a few months don’t pay people a salary, even the minimum. In 2015, a loaf of bread cost 50 Naira, and then rose to 250 Naira. Of course, it’s not just the cost of oil, but in the fact that our resources are plundered. The budget does not receive additional funds from those areas that could support us in these conditions.
What is the focus of your investigation?
One of my first investigations devoted to the extortion of money in obtaining foreign passports. Without this document people cannot travel outside of the country. To issue the passport of the authorized Migration service of Nigeria, and it is highly corrupt. You will not be able to get just a passport, there are unofficial fees. Sometimes it’s five times the state rate. The procedure should take between four days to a week. In reality, due to corruption you have to wait up to three months. When I started my research I went to the Migration service to obtain a passport. I was convinced that it was impossible to document if you did not give a bribe.
Another investigation is devoted to slave labor factories in Nigeria, run by immigrants from China, India and Lebanon. There is a high injury rate, people work without protection, they loose hands and even die in accidents. For example, the supervisor has locked more than 200 workers during the night shift in a factory for the manufacture of plastics, because he didn’t want his employees stole something. One night there was a fire. Since the doors were locked, people died. After this incident, I conducted an investigation on working conditions in the factories, and it brought me fame in Nigeria.
Also I was investigating trafficking, the channels of illegal migration from Africa to Europe. Men from Nigeria paid a lot of money to those who promise to smuggle them to Europe. And women taken into sexual slavery. I pretended that going to Europe, paid the money and then traveled through the Sahara desert 37 days, along with the illegal migrants and these criminals. I wrote about how people die in the desert because there they have no food or water.
My recent theme — a fraud with rice subsidies. This story requires some explanation. In Nigeria consume a lot of rice, we buy in Thailand. But also, we are trying to grow their rice, and the government allocates subsidies. The government gave money to those who had to produce rice. But these quota were given to the farmers. In reality, they got close to the government people who have sold quota businessmen, and those supplying rice to the public at very high prices. Thus, first, the state has lost money, and then ordinary people also lost money.
Do you feel that your investigation change the situation?
Yes, there are examples of how my investigation had an impact on the situation in Nigeria. Including one that was devoted to slave labor in the factories. After the publication I received a letter of recommendation from a Labour Union: they are now reviewing the labour laws to such tragedies. The story about corruption in the issuance of passports also had an effect. After the publication of an investigation about a specific office in Lagos, the largest city of the country, many managers have lost their jobs. And organization of work of the office was revised, people can now faster to get a passport. Still not perfect, but much better.
Also, I’ve been investigating topics related to the development of the country. In 2015 I published a story about a major South African telecommunications company MTN, which is tax evasion. The investigation has led to the fact that the Nigerian telecommunications Commission imposed sanctions against MTN Nigeria and the company had to pay a fine of $5 million So not all investigations effectively, but sometimes they help to change the situation. I use different formats to do this: work for a newspaper, investigate on the Internet. But periodically I do stories for television, because some topics are more suitable for the screen.
Is it possible to say that the Nigerian government is really fighting with corruption?
The government make such statements, but in practice the current government contributes to new cases of corruption. Because in order to fight the necessary credibility and integrity, a sincere desire to fight. In the fight against corruption in Nigeria no. Citizens send petitions to the anti-corruption Agency, but it lead to nothing. The government and the President are based on the class of rich, powerful and corrupt people. During the election campaign these rich people provide business jets, gave money. Including the money went to mobilize people to vote for the President. Therefore, the fight against corruption turns into beauty treatments.
Still, the fight against corruption in our country is related to issues of revenge. This happened with the investigation about the $2 billion that has been spent by the previous administration on the weapon. The national security Advisor Sambo Dasuki, who was arrested on charges of stealing arms was arrested not just. In 1985, he was one of the officers who arrested the current President Muhammad Buhari, at that time was the military leader of the country. And as President, Buhari had the opportunity to take revenge Dasuki — 30 years later. The judges helped him in this. So no serious fight against corruption we have.
As the authorities investigate at which stages they “brake” works?
The judicial system in Nigeria is also corrupt. Not so long ago a few judges of the Supreme court was arrested for corruption. But since the whole system of government is corrupt through and through, such an arrest– a political witch hunt. For example, if after the elections, the opposition goes to court and the judge makes a decision in favor of the opposition, in respect of this judge will be immediately charged with corruption.
We have a special Agency — the Commission on economic and financial crimes. But she is more concerned with finding scapegoats than in the fight against corruption. For example, the head of staff of the army and the interior Minister accused of corruption. It turned out that they have a home in Dubai, private refineries. But the government does not want to hear about that evidence and the Commission did not investigate. The government allows to engage in corruption to their loved ones. The Minister of transport and aviation owns a private aircraft, but also no plants.
But if the economic situation worsens, the government must do something to tell people and something to do… In Russia are often blamed for the problems, expose the US and EU.
We do not accuse the foreign powers of all sins, but accuse the previous government of our country. The most common response you hear: this problem appeared in the previous President. But people say in response: we have chosen to solve our problems, not excuses…
You see ordinary citizens that their problems are connected with corruption?
What do you think, what else can they think if the name of our country — Nigeria — unfortunately, it has become synonymous with corruption. And many have experienced it. In business and other fields we can see that people worldwide are thinking: “can we trust them?”, “Are they reliable partners?” And even honest, non-corrupt Nigerians are faced with this attitude, because of the high spread of corruption.
Ordinary people are asking the questions — how is it that we are so fortunate in our country there is a lot of gas, plenty of oil, its agriculture, minerals — but we are so poor! Many of my fellow citizens live in extreme poverty, i.e. on less than 1 dollar a day. To buy bread for a family of four people have several times more money than they can earn… So Nigerians want to fight corruption, and gradually to assume a new identity.
The problem we face in Nigeria is not so much with the political system, but with the strong influence of religious and ethnic factors. This makes it difficult to coordinate public actions. For example, if in Kenya to investigate and to publish the results, people take to the streets. But in Nigeria, they don’t want to protest.
Why do you think this happens in your country? In Russia people are also reluctant to protest…
In Nigeria is very strongly influenced by religion. Imagine the situation: the President or the government doing something wrong, and the journalist it detects. When some group starts to protest, they meet the resistance of one ethnic or religious group to which belongs one or another politician. They just say you protest because this person is not Muslim or not Christian, or is he not from your area. And while the discussion of religious and ethnic factors, forgotten the essence of the matter — what was the reason for the protest.
Now there is no platform that can mobilize people. For example, labour unions, student unions could easily block off the streets, to paralyze the government. But no more unions and Pro-democracy movements that were strong a few decades ago. Their former leaders were part of the elite, because to them there is no hope.
Is there any hope that the situation will change and at what expense?
When the Arab spring began, many believed that something similar will begin, and we have in Nigeria. But this did not happen, was only a few protests. Including in 2016, was an action against the President, but it was only in the Nigerian capital, Abuja. Another example is when the government twice raised the price of gasoline, the protests lasted only two days. We still hope that the changes in Nigeria will start as he started the Arab spring — without warning.
But another problem for Nigeria, in terms of organizing the protests is religion, Christianity. When something happens and people need to take to the streets to protest, the Christians say: “We don’t want violence, we don’t want speeches.” And the people listening to religious leaders who say “Go and pray for the President.” Yet another often repeated phrase: “Let us pray for our country, maybe everything will be fine”. Religious people listen to them and don’t want to show any aggression.
Whether you want to leave the country if things are so bad?
I’m 42 years old, I have 15 years of work in journalism. I can’t live in any country, in any society except the Nigerian. So I won’t emigrate neither the United States nor in any other country. But as I investigate, sometimes threatening me. So I can think about that, my family lived in a safe place. But for me, Nigeria is the place where I will live, work and where I will die.