Diplomatic collaboration by the governments of Nigeria and the United States that resulted in the repatriation of $23 million of the Abacha loot is certainly laudable. Nigerians, particularly the masses that are being impoverished daily due to huge corruption in the polity need to be comforted that those responsible for their plight do not get away with their atrocities. In the instant case, the culprit died, but at least the stolen public funds are being recovered.
In particular, the United States government’s decision to repatriate the $23 million to Nigeria as part of the vicious loot of the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha is commendable. It is further a demonstration of the cooperation by the global community to assist Nigeria in repatriating the country’s stolen wealth stashed in foreign banks. The United States has been supportive in the league of countries that have been cooperative in this regard. The money is yet another tranche from Abacha loot; so far, the US has repatriated $334.7 million of the loot.
Although specific conditions of how the recovered loot would be spent are attached to the repatriation, it is important that the Nigerian government abides by the mutually endorsed conditions; it should execute the projects agreed to with diligence and transparency.
Government needs to debunk widespread notions that a lot of recovered stolen public funds end up being re-looted by officials. These notions thrive because of the opaque manner of government’s spending and the absence of visible projects emanating from same. The Muhammadu Buhari government therefore has another chance, through the latest repatriated Abacha loot, to showcase what integrity it has on administration of public funds.
An agreement with the Federal Government to repatriate the huge amount to Nigeria was signed, the other day, at the office of Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami. The agreement is based on international law and cooperation measures that set out the procedures for the repatriation, transfer, disposition, and management of the assets.
Malami said at the occasion that the decision to return the stolen funds was a product of series of negotiations and meetings between Nigeria, the US Department of Justice and the United Kingdom (UK) National Crime Agency. He said: “It is worthy to note that, in line with the terms of this agreement, Mr. President had already approved the funds to be utilised for the ongoing Presidential Development Infrastructural Funds (PIDF), projects namely: Abuja-Kano Road, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Second Niger Bridge under the supervision of Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA).”
Also speaking at the signing ceremony, Mary Leonard, US Ambassador to Nigeria, explained: “The Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation seized these funds in response to General Abacha and his associates’ violation of US laws, when they laundered these assets to the US and into accounts in the UK. These actions were a flagrant breach of the Nigerian people’s trust. But today is the result of an extensive and high-level cooperation between the US, UK and the Federal Republic of Nigeria to make Nigerian people whole.
“This agreement is also a kind of collaboration that our government must continue in order to right wrongs committed under the previous regimes. Combined with $311.7 million seized and repatriated, with the assistance of the Bailiwick of Jersey and the government of Nigeria in 2020, this repatriation brings the total amount of funds repatriated in this case by the US to more than $334.7 million.”
She enthused that: “In other words, these recovered criminal proceeds, like the $311.7 million previously seized and repatriated, will be transformed into a visible and impactful representation of the possibilities of government assets that directly improve the lives of average Nigerians.”
The challenge to the Nigerian government is to meet this ideal of impacting on millions of Nigerians who have no reason to be poor in the first place, if successive governments had acted responsibly. The words of Mary Leonard should ring loudly in their ears when she said: “The US government is keenly aware of the devastating impact corruption has on societies. Corruption erodes trust and the ability of governments to deliver to their citizens. It distorts the economies and access to key services. It hinders development, pushes citizens towards extremism and makes countries and their officials susceptible to malicious foreign interference.”
There is no doubt that stupendous sums of money were looted by previous administrations in Nigeria thereby leaving Nigerians in penury and abject poverty.
Nigeria should strive to sign similar agreement with all other countries where stolen funds are hidden to aid their repatriation. This requires smart diplomatic efforts which would be easier accomplished when government can judiciously account for such funds earlier returned from the United Kingdom and Switzerland among other countries. Public funds should be used for the development of Nigeria.
It is equally important for Nigerians, individually and in groups, including the media, to monitor government’s spending of the funds, using available legal instrumentality, to ensure that the funds do not end up in private pockets? For the returned Abacha loot, the three infrastructure projects contained in the agreement are critical to the national economy. The Second Niger Bridge is a landmark project of immense importance; the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway remains the busiest and most vital road linking the west with other parts of the country, while the Abuja-Kano road will no doubt serve thousands of Nigerians plying their trade through that axis.