A report by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has detailed how Nigerian political leaders spent millions of pounds for their children’s school fees in UK schools.
The report, titled: “West African Elites’ Spending on UK Schools and Universities: A Closer Look,” gave graphic details how Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) send their children to UK Schools using funds stolen from public coffers to pay their children’s humongous school fees while schools in Nigeria rot away.
The report detailed how former Governor of Plateau State, Joshua Dariye charged with corruption in 2007 and convicted in 2018, sent his children to school UK boarding schools and universities, with estimated £240,000 spent.
It also cited the example of former Governor of Delta State, James Ibori, who was convicted by a British Court in 2012 for money laundering and yet sent his children to UK schools with estimated £286,000 paid.
According to the report, relative lack of review has allowed some West African PEPs to channel unexplained wealth into the UK education sector.
“It is not easy to estimate the overall value of this flow, yet it likely exceeds £30 million annually. Most of these funds emanate from Nigeria and, to a lesser extent, Ghana; compared with these two countries, only a handful of students from elsewhere in West Africa seek an education in British schools. Tackling this small but significant illicit financial flow should be a priority for UK policymakers.
“In doing so, they would be helping to realize the UK’s global anti-corruption objectives, advance its International Education Strategy, and close a troublesome anti–money laundering (AML) loophole. Failing to do so would exacerbate existing corruption challenges both at home and abroad and increase the UK education sector’s reputational liabilities,” it said.
The report explained further: “That said, it is difficult to approximate the financial value of these flows. In 2018, the Nigerian government identified 130,000 high net worth individuals and companies who had underpaid taxes by using tactics that included charging non-allowable personal expenses—particularly overseas school fees—as business expenses.
“Given that, in 2017, there were 12,030 Nigerian students studying in the United Kingdom (10,540 at universities and 1,490 at independent schools), it is plausible that a significant share of their fee payments involved such tax evasion. If a British university or school accepted a payment tainted by tax evasion, it could be violating UK law under the Proceeds of Crime Act.”
The report added that the most compelling red flag relating to West African PEPs’ payments to UK educational institutions is how greatly the payments exceed their official salaries, saying even these countries’ senior-most government officials earn relatively modest salaries.
“In Ghana, for example, cabinet ministers’ annual salary amounts to just £2,200 annually, not including allowances. A Nigerian cabinet minister takes home roughly £16,000 annually, consisting of a modest base salary plus several large allowances and gratuities
“Senior Nigerian civil servants earn considerably less than top officeholders. Since April 2019, the country’s public service pay ceiling has been N6.2 million (£12,784). Apart from a few top officials, however, most civil servants make significantly less than this amount. Many are also earning less in real terms than they were a decade ago owing to inflation, rising consumer prices, and the steady decline in the value of the naira. To illustrate, even though top civil servants earned less (N5.4 million) in 2010 than they did in 2020, that sum was worth more than twice as much in pound sterling at the start of the decade.
“Public officials’ earning potential is further constrained by a constitutional restriction that prohibits them from engaging in private business. Section 2(b) of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states that “a public officer shall not . . . except where he is not employed on full time basis, engage or participate in the management or running of any private business, profession, or trade, but nothing in this sub-paragraph shall prevent a public officer from engaging in farming.” As such, many public servants lack alternative sources of legitimate income beyond their spouse’s earnings.”
It questioned: “So how do so many Nigerian government officials become inexplicably wealthy over their tenure? They appear to use a wide range of self-enrichment tactics that include misappropriating public property, engaging in various forms of contract fraud, collecting fraudulent allowances, accepting inappropriate gifts, soliciting bribes or kickbacks, and obtaining land grants for themselves and their associates, among many other schemes.
“To explain their newfound wealth, politicians and officials often will make vague, hard-to-verify assertions about their preexisting or inherited wealth or the income generated by investments such as rental property or company shareholdings. Many such PEPs will insist that—through savvy investing and disciplined saving—they have somehow prospered in a period of economic recession, rising living costs, and severe currency devaluation that has left millions of Nigerians struggling. To maintain a degree of plausible deniability about the origins of their wealth, many Nigerian PEPs will comingle their legitimate and unexplained earnings or launder their ill-gotten gains through businesses and properties they control. Some PEPs are genuinely wealthy before they enter government, but most are, in the words of one political journalist, “career politicians . . . who have never worked in their life but live off politics.”
“With regard to Nigerian officials’ freedom to spend their poorly monitored assets on educating their children abroad, the Nigerian government has been reluctant to pass legislation that could constrain (or even ban) them from doing so. In 2012, the Senate neglected to pass a bill amending the constitution to discourage public officials from schooling their children abroad. In 2017, the chair of the Senate’s Tertiary Education Committee dismissed calls for public officials to school their children domestically, claiming that “making a law to bar people from taking their children outside to study is something that will not be good for our country. We know that it is always good to mingle with people from other parts of the world when it comes to the issue of education.”
“Given these weak safeguards, the modest nature of Nigerian PEPs’ official salaries, and their high risk of accumulating illicit wealth, it is reasonable to question whether they can afford big-ticket purchases such as high-end property, luxury goods, or costly tuition fees. The fast-rising average annual cost of tuition at a UK private boarding school, for example, greatly exceeds the earnings of even Nigeria’s most senior officials,” the report said.
The report added that a review of publicly available information on past and serving senior Nigerian politicians that have held office since 1999 revealed that most had sent one or more of their children to a UK private boarding school and/or university.
“All of Nigeria’s presidents and vice presidents, for example, during that period had done so. Likewise, roughly 40 percent of Nigeria’s current and former state governors have educated their children in the United Kingdom. A comprehensive review of current and former senators, representatives, ministers, top military officers, and other senior officials almost certainly would reveal hundreds of more examples of Nigerian PEPs whose children went to British schools.
“Although some would have had the legitimate assets and earnings to do so, it is likely that many more used unexplained wealth to pay for some or all of their family member’s tuition fees,” it stated.