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No record of $5b Abacha loot, expenditure, government tells SERAP

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Zainab Ahmed. Photo: TWITTER/NIGERIAGOV

The Federal Government has told the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) that it had “no record of the exact amount of public funds stolen by a former military Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, and the spending of about $5 billion recovered loot for the period between 1999 and 2015.”

The government’s response followed the group’s Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abukabar Malami, SAN and his Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning counterpart, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed.

It had sought “information on the exact amount of public funds stolen by Abacha and details of spending of about $5 billion recovered loot since the return of democracy in 1999.”

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According to SERAP, only Malami had acknowledged receipt of the proposals in a correspondence dated February 26, 2020, but which it received March 9.

In the response, the minister had stated: “We have searched our records and the information on the exact amount of public funds stolen by Abacha and how recovered loot was spent from 1999 to 2015 is not held by the ministry.”

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He added: “However, a total of $322 million was recovered from Switzerland in January 2018 and the funds were used for social investment projects. Also, $308 million was recovered from the Island of Jersey in collaboration with the United States of America. While awaiting the transfer of the money to Nigeria, it has been designated for the following projects: Lagos-Ibadan Expressway; Abuja-Kano Expressway and the Second Niger Bridge.”

Unimpressed, the organisation’s deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, said: “The failure to provide information on the exact amount stolen by Abacha and on spending of recovered loot for the period between 1999 and 2015 implicitly amounts to a refusal by the government. The government also failed to provide sufficient details on the spending and planned spending of the $630 million it said it recovered since 2018.”

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In the statement dated March 15, 2020, SERAP said: “In the circumstances and given that Mrs. Zainab Ahmed has failed and/or refused to response to our FoI request, we are finalising the papers for legal actions under the FoI Act to compel the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to fully and effectively comply with our requests.”

Malami’s reply, referenced MJ/FOI/REQ/035/11/34, was signed on his behalf by the Principal Counsel in the ministry, Hamza Adeyinka Omolara.

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The FoI inquiries had expressed “concerns that substantial part of the estimated $5 billion returned Abacha loot since 1999 may have been diverted, re-stolen or mismanaged, and in any case remained unaccounted for.”

They were dated February 14, 2020 and requested that “the Federal Government should disclose details of projects executed with the Abacha loot and their locations, details of companies and contractors involved in the execution of any such projects, details of all the agreements on the loot, the roles played by the World Bank and other actors as well as the implementation status of all projects since 1999.”

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