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For judicious use of recovered loot

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Abubakar Malami

Against the backdrop of the inability of Nigeria to account for the billions of dollars of recovered loot by the anti-corruption agencies, a recent conditionality imposed by the United States government for the release of $321 million which is part of the Gen. Sani Abacha loot is instructive in a way. Specifically, the United States authorities would like Nigeria to deploy the money to infrastructure development.

The report of the release of the fund for critical infrastructure is heartening but at the same time it is demeaning as it underscores the loss of integrity on the part of Nigerian federal authorities that have been managing recovered loot. The U.S. authorities have no trust that the returned funds would not be re-looted in Nigeria, hence, the warning sealed with an agreement. That a foreign government has to set conditions for how funds should be used in the country is shameful.

It is up to Nigeria to prove that she can be trusted by ensuring that the recovered funds are judiciously used to improve the lots of the people who are at the receiving end of the graft by our leaders at all levels.

According to reports, the government of New Jersey, the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the government of the United States of America, have entered into an Asset Recovery Agreement to repatriate millions of forfeited assets to Nigeria.

The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, described the agreement as a victory to Nigeria.

According to the AGF, “the funds will be used by the Nigerian Sovereign Wealth Authority for three key infrastructure projects in strategic economic zones across Nigeria.”

The projects include the construction of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, Abuja-Kano expressway and the Second Niger Bridge. The statement said that the agreement should be seen as a symbol of the weight that the United States government places on the war against corruption. We don’t think so. This is not a development that should be celebrated by a country’s chief law officer.

The funds were laundered through the U.S. banking system and held in bank accounts in Jersey in the name of Doraville Properties Corporation and in the name of the son of the former Head of State of Nigeria, the late General Sani Abacha. General Abacha who ruled Nigeria between 1993 and 1998 is believed to have diverted over $4 billion, out of which over $1 billion has been recovered so far.

However, there has been some concern that the recovered loots are not being properly managed and, in fact, may have been re-looted by those handling them. This explains why the United States authorities insisted on signing an agreement with Nigeria to guarantee that the funds to be repatriated are not stolen.

In June 2016, the Nigerian government said it had recovered assets and funds totaling $9.1 billion as part of its anti-corruption drive. The recovered assets “include monies withheld by past government officials, monies kept in private accounts, monies diverted to private pockets and monies in possession of government officials not disclosed after leaving government,” a spokesman said. The funds were recovered during President Muhammadu Buhari’s first year in office. There was a declarative court judgment in 2017 following an NGO’s action that there should be a full disclosure of how much had been recovered then. Besides, at the 2017 Senate screening of the EFCC Acting chairman, the first question the Senate put to the nominee, Ibrahim Magu was on the content of the recovered loot so far then. Magu curiously told the Senate that he was not prepared for the data on the recovery. The EFCC boss has been acting since November 9, 2015.

The question being asked by Nigerians is where is the money? What has been done with it, given, especially the parlous state of infrastructure and social services in the country?  Why is there no evidence of positive impact made in the lives of Nigerians using the huge funds?

The fallout of corruption on Nigeria is unquantifiable. Aside from soiling Nigeria’s corporate image before the international community, all the social, economic and political structures of the country have been ruined. Social services and infrastructure are in shambles. Money voted to maintain these facilities are brazenly stolen. The people are pauperised.

Corruption is now an affront on Nigeria. The ordinary people are the victims. The voiceless, innocent masses, nobody cares to bear the brunt of graft. While the people wallow in abject poverty and want, the political class and their elite associates bask in stupendous wealth and luxury. This is the monster that Buhari has elected to eradicate. He should not relent but be more aggressive. The mere fact that recovered loots are not being transparently accounted for shows that the monster is deeply rooted and pervasive.

We are aware that tooting out corruption cannot be a tea party. First, it is necessary to fish out corrupt individuals and have them properly prosecuted and punished as deterrence. To do that would require a strong and independent judiciary that is committed to the fight.

So, unless Buhari rejigs his anti-corruption strategy, people’s perception will persist that his lopsided government is just out to discredit a few members of the opposition instead of fighting corruption, the country’s main public enemy.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government should activate the monitoring and reporting mechanism that is part of the agreement to ensure that the loot when returned is used to serve public interest. This is bizarre but necessary at this time until the people are told what happened to the recovered loot so far.


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