The public funds looted by the former military dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, stand out as among the greatest financial heists committed by a public official against his own people and country, and actually shares a pantheon of infamy alongside the like of Augustus Pinochet of Chile, Nicolai Ceaseceau of Romania, Mobutu Sese Seko of DRC, formerly Zaire, among others.
However, this newspaper, like millions of Nigerians, is pained by the fact that the crime of the original looting of the nation by the late dictator seems to be matched by the profligacy and wanton misapplication of the funds by the successive administrations of the country under whose watch the funds were returned.
The use of the funds earlier returned was steeped in inscrutability as successive governments including the current one neither offered tangible explanations as to what use they were put into nor were funds tied to any projects. In view of the lack of transparency involved in the whole affair, this newspaper stands solidly behind the U.S. position which attached some conditions to the repatriation of the current tranche of $318 million..
Most of the previously returned funds had been ploughed into the budget and spent in recurrent expenditure and others re-looted, which has denied the nation the full advantage of the loot. Also the $214 million repatriated by the Swiss authorities in 2018, was used to fund the social investment scheme such as the TraderMoni, by the government in line with agreement reached with the Swiss who insisted on direct redistribution of the money since previous ones were not accounted for.
Perhaps, it was this apparent wastage of the previous loots that compelled the U.S. government to attach some stringent conditions for the release of the funds. By these conditions which include tying the money to the completion of three key projects such as the Lagos- Ibadan expressway, Second Niger Bridge, and the Abuja-Kano road, and any default will be on the pain of repaying the money to the U.S. government.
Ordinarily, this would appear to be not only patronizing to the government and people of Nigeria, since the money was originally theirs, but also down-right insulting. But we deserve what is coming to us since we have not shown any credibility and integrity in handling the funds gratuitously repatriated from foreign accounts to the country.
Specifically, the agreement which the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, signed on behalf of Nigeria, tied the return of the looted $318 million to three major projects spread across Nigeria’s three geopolitical regions. Negotiations for the return of the stolen assets, which began in 2018, according to the agreement, specifically laid out who will manage the assets and the various organisations that would also monitor the expenditure of the funds to ensure they are not diverted for other purposes.
Although the Federal Government might have listed these projects while signing the agreement, the Buhari administration voted money for the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Second Niger Bridge in previous budgetary allocations. But the projects seem stalled due to poor funding gaps. The recovered assets are expected to enhance speedy completion.
The tripartite agreement that has the government of Jersey, United States of America and the Federal Republic of Nigeria as signatories, states in part: “The projects on which the funds will be expended will be administered by the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority and independently audited. The Federal Republic of Nigeria will establish a monitoring team to oversee the implementation of the projects and to report regularly on progress.
“The Nigerian government, in consultation with the other parties, will also engage civil society organisations, who have expertise in substantial infrastructure projects, civil engineering, anti-corruption compliance, anti-human trafficking compliance, and procurement to provide additional monitoring and oversight.”
This newspaper believes that attaching conditions to the funds is hinged on the poor accountability and high level of corruption in the country. We recall with a sense of disappointment that President Muhammadu Buhari once told Nigerians that Abacha did not steal any fund; yet he has received close to a billion dollars of such funds since coming to power.
It is also instructive that the American government’s position on the funds is a vote of no confidence in the anti corruption fight of this government which President Buhari has always dangled before the international community as his signature policy. It is clear that the high level of corruption in the country has been exposed to the entire world which explains why conditions became necessary.
This government could not even explain to Nigerians how the money it claimed to have recovered since 2015 has been spent. There has been no transparency in this government. Abacha’s stolen assets previously returned were expended in a manner that many Nigerians are still questioning..
The government did not state how much in total it believes Abacha stole. As at 2013, Nigeria had recovered about $1.3 billion of Abacha’s money from various European jurisdictions, with more than a third of that from Switzerland. The Swiss government in 2017 said it would return to Nigeria about $321 million in assets seized from Abacha’s family via a deal signed with the World Bank.
Abacha’s money laundering operations extended to the United States and European jurisdictions such as Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Lichtenstein and Luxembourg, the statement said. This newspaper believes that if previously returned loots had been tied to certain projects, such as power, perhaps the nation’s perennial power supply challenges may have been a thing of the past.
The U.S. Department of Justice also said it is seeking to enforce forfeiture judgments for approximately $30 million in assets located in Britain and more than $144 million in France. In 2014 a U.S. court forfeited the money as property involved in the illicit laundering of the proceeds of corruption arising in Nigeria during the five years rule of Abacha as head of state. Negotiations for repatriation commenced in 2018.
The funds would be administered by Nigeria’s Sovereign Wealth Authority and would be used to develop road infrastructure which will boost supply chain connections and economic growth, Malami, the justice minister said. We implore the administration to strictly adhere to the agreements reached regarding the administration of the funds for the benefits of Nigerians.
Abacha ruled Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer, from 1993 until his death in 1998. Corruption watchdog Transparency International estimates he stole as much as $5 billion of public money during that time. He was never charged with corruption during his life and Nigeria has been fighting for years to recover the money.