Since his death in 1998, the late General Sani Abacha has remained in the news not only for the documented brutality of his regime but also the seemingly never-ending efforts to repatriate funds alleged to have been stolen during his administration.
An agreement for the return of the latest of these funds totalling $308 million was announced last week by the United States of America. Prior to this time, seizures amounting to several millions of dollars had been discovered and seized.
The Swiss government alone has reportedly recovered around $700 million of Abacha-related assets to date. Out of an estimated loot of $2-5 billion, the following have been reported recovered:
I. $750 million cash in different currencies recovered by the administration of General Abdulsalam Abubakar in 1998;
II. $64 million returned by the Swiss government in 2000.
III. $1.2 billion recovered through a deal between the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and the family in 2002.
IV. $160 million repatriated from Jersey, the British Isles in 2003
V. $88 million returned by the Swiss government in 2003
VI. $461 million returned by the Swiss government in 2005
VII. $44 million returned by the Swiss government in 2006
VIII. $227 million returned from Liechtenstein in 2014
IX. $321 million with interest of $1.5 million returned by the Swiss government in December 2017.
Conditions attached to the latest return of stolen loot
However, most interestingly the United States government announced that the return of the funds will come with certain conditions regarding how they would be utilized. As announced, the funds must be tied to three major projects spread across the country’s recognized regions, namely:
- Lagos-Ibadan Express Road (Western Region)
Abuja-Kano Road (Northern Region)
2nd Niger Bridge (Eastern Region)
According to reports, the agreement of the return of the fund was preceded by negotiations touching on those who would manage the funds and a monitoring process for the administration of the funds.
Specifically, the agreement entered into between Nigeria, the Government of Jersey and the United States of America is stated to include the following proviso: “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.”
Naturally, these conditions have elicited various reactions from Nigerians. However, what is gratifying is that most Nigerians appear to support the conditions imposed by the United States’ government. Such support have come from Chief Ayo Adebanjo of the Afenifere Group and Chekwas Okorie of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA.
I personally support the conditions and I do not buy into the argument that the said conditions detract from Nigeria’s sovereignty as a nation.
There is no doubt that corruption is endemic in the country. This is why the current administration has made the fight against corruption one of its focal points. However, despite its effort, not many agree that the fight against corruption has been won or will be won soon.
International bodies continue to score the country low. Transparency International currently ranks Nigeria 146 out of 180 nations with a score of 26 out of 100. While the current administration disputes the accuracy of such rankings, the conditions attached by the American government to the return of the latest tranche of what is now commonly referred to as the ‘Abacha loot” is a reminder that there is so much more to be done in the fight against corruption.
Again the point must be made that the Americans do have serious need to be worried. Ours is a country with a history of monumental waste of public resources on projects which have either not seen the light of day or have failed to provide any benefit to the populace. The most monumental of these would be the Ajaokuta Steel Project which at the last count had gulped $8 billion of public funds. On the waste that the project is, Anthony Osae-Brown of Business Day reported as follows:
“Strange things happen in government all over the world but stranger things do happen in the Nigerian government. On Thursday, November 13, the Senate ‘strangely’ passed a bill to provide for the withdrawal of $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account, ECA, for the completion of the Ajaokuta Steel Company.
The bill, which had earlier been passed by the House of Representatives, also makes provision that additional appropriation can be made from the budget, and also loans and grants can be taken by the Federal Government to complete the Ajaokuta Steel Mill. Effectively, the Federal Government is being given almost a blank check to get Ajaokuta working again. Even more strangely, the bill also puts a stop to any plans by the government to concession the Ajaokuta Steel plant.
Built in 1979, it is estimated that the Federal Government has spent $8 billion so far on the plant even though it is yet to produce an ingot of steel for which it was built. Ajaokuta was built to be the nation’s turning point for industrialisation, but it has more or less become a sinking hole of government spending. Located on a 24,000 hectares of ‘sprawling greenfield’, the steel plant itself occupies about 800 hectares. Ajaokuta is a grandiose dream that has become a nightmare.
Sadly, the Nigerian government is failing to wake up from the Ajaokuta nightmare. For most private businesses, when they make a bad investment, the first advice is to cut the losses and run. In the Nigerian government case, it is obvious that there is no cap on the losses that the government can make on an investment before deciding when to cut and run.”
Supporting the conditions
Countless other projects touching on road construction, electrification, airport upgrading, etc, also continue to attract scrutiny on account of billions expended on them without positive results. It is for this reason and more that I wholeheartedly support the conditions attached to the return of the latest funds.
Statutory backing for monitoring committee or board
I am particularly pleased that all sides to the agreement accept the need for the existence of “a monitoring team to oversee the implementation of the projects and to report regularly on progress”. I suggest that this monitoring team be given statutory backing by the establishment of a board to oversee the implementation of returned loot.
This board which should be headed by a chairman should be composed of six members drawn from the three regions stated in the agreement with the United States of America. In summary, the persons appointed to the Board should have the following characteristics:
- Three religious figures, one each representing the three major regions of the country.
Three highly contended private individuals from each region with a history of successful private or public administration at the highest level.
No member of the Board must be or have been a member of a political party.
Chairmanship of the Board must be on a rotational basis amongst the three regions represented on it.
I am convinced that the existence of such a board, committee or commission will not only show the preparedness of government to utilise the funds for the benefit of the people, it will also demonstrate to other foreign governments that Nigeria is ready and willing to do all in its power to curb corruption and encourage them to repatriate more stolen funds in their jurisdictions.