Nigeria recorded another major breakthrough in her relentless battles to recover all public assets stolen by former government officials stashed away in foreign banks’ vaults across the globe with the return of fresh $311million (over N121.255billion) Abacha Loot to the Federal Government recently.
We demand that the Muhammadu Buhari administration honours the agreement it reached with the foreign authorities that made the repatriation of the latest tranche of about US $311,797,866.11 possible for the benefit of Nigerians who, over the decades, have been victims of bad governance.
The Federal Government had confirmed the receipt of $311million looted by the late former military Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, through the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, from the US and the Bailiwick of Jersey.
According to reports, the amount increased from the initial $308million mentioned in a statement to over $311million due to the interest that accrued to it from February 3 to April 28 when the fund was finally transferred to the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN.
Besides, the legal process that ensured the return of the money to Nigeria began in 2014 under the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, while the diplomatic process which paved the way for the signing of the agreement on February 3, 2020 by the governments of Nigeria, United States and the Bailiwick of Jersey, started in 2018 in line with ‘international law and cooperation measures that set out the procedures for the repatriation, transfer, disposition and management of the assets’.
We welcome the declaration by the Federal Government to channel the recovered loot to complete such major infrastructural projects in the country as the Second Niger Bridge; the Lagos-Ibadan and Abuja-Kaduna-Kano expressways – that will create thousands of Nigerian construction jobs and local skills and the Mambilla Power Project which, when completed, will provide electricity to three million homes and over 10 million citizens in the country. Part of the funds, will also be deployed in the current fight against COVID-19 pandemic.
Specifically, the agreement by the affected stakeholders partlystipulates thatthe recovered funds would be used for projects administered by the Sovereign Investment Authority of Nigeria and would be independently audited. The Federal Government was also required to set up a monitoring team to oversee the implementation of the projects and to provide regular progress reports.
In addition, Nigeria, in consultation with the other parties, will engage civil society organisations, CSOs, with expertise in substantial infrastructural projects, civil engineering, anti-corruption compliance, anti-human trafficking compliance, and procurement to provide additional monitoring and oversight.
We commend this move by the government considering that another tranche of about US $320million of the Abacha stolen funds returned last year from Switzerland was spent on the administration’s Social Investment Programme including free school feeding scheme, a stipend for millions of disadvantaged citizens, Trader Monie; grain grants for those in severe food hardship as well as conditional cash transfer to the poor despite public outcry that the money should be used to complete the Ajaokuta Steel Complex initiated by late former President Shehu Shagari in the Second Republic.
We further welcome the cooperation of the UK and US Governments in the return of the loot and demand that the funds be spent transparently in line with the current administration’s avowed total commitment to the war against graft and zero tolerance to corruption in politics and public administration.
We further challenge the relevant committees of the National Assembly and CSOs to closely monitor the execution of the afore-mentioned landmark projects not only to ensure that citizens get full value for money but prevent any diversion of the recovered funds for the common good.
In our view, if faithfully executed, the projects will impact positively on the lives of Nigerians who have been the major victims of bad governance as these stolen funds were originally meant for the nation’s socio-economic development.
It is also heartwarming that at a time the nation’s domestic and external revenues have plummeted due to the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that another tranche of $319 million of Abacha loot had been traced to banks in the UK and France.
Because it is certain that Abacha is not the only former Nigerian public officials living or dead who had looted our commonwealth, we challenge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, as well as the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, ICPC, to intensify their investigations and collaborations with sister foreign anti-graft organizations in order to recover the hidden assets of such persons across the globe including corruption proceeds linked to former Petroleum Minister, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, her associates and several others .
Considering the humongous of tax payers’ money that had been looted over the decades, we are not surprised that the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, in its latest report projected that about 82. 9million or about 40 per cent of the estimated 200 million Nigerians live below poverty line and therefore, classified as poor as at December 2019.
Consequently, we demand that the latest recovered funds should not be relooted by anybody including members of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, as recently alleged by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and there should be transparency and accountability.
Also, the leadership of National Assembly following its recent reservations on the implementation of the Social Investment Programme, should immediately direct the relevant standing committees to investigate the spending of the previous repatriated $320 million from Switzerland with a view to ascertaining its true beneficiaries.
This is particularly imperative given an earlier allegation by the First Lady, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, that the N500 billion disbursed under the Federal Government’s Social Investment Programme was enmeshed in corruption and that bulk of the money did not get to the targetted poor and vulnerable in the society.
We also challenge Nigerians to take keen interest in not only the projects earmarked for execution with the Abacha’s recovered funds, but every public infrastructures at all levels with a view to ensuring that tax payers derive maximum benefits for their common patrimony.
We totally agree with Socio-Economic Right and Accountability Project, SERAP, that the Federal Government should publish a comprehensive report of money so far recovered under the controversial Abacha Loot and the specific projects or programmes implemented with the billions of dollars since 1999 as it is only through such publication that Nigerians will be kept abreast with the spending and possibly clear all doubts surrounding the utilization of the funds.
For a better society