Months after receiving the $322.5 million Abacha loot from the government of Switzerland, the Federal Government has finally disclosed how it will spend the recovered fund. According to the presidency, the government has decided to share the money to the poorest of the poor citizens.
This decision, according to the Special Adviser to the President on Social Investment, Mrs. Maryam Uwais, was due to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed with the Swiss authorities and civil societies. Also, the Special Assistant to the President on Judicial Reform, Juliet Ibekaku Nwagwu, explained that government decision followed a Swiss court order prior to the repatriation of the loot that it would be returned to the Nigerian government on the condition that the World Bank would supervise the utilisation of the fund and prevent its mismanagement and re-looting.
Government said the repatriated Abacha loot will be shared using the Conditional Cash Transfer, a safety net component of the Social Investment Programme (SIP), which supports the poorest in the society, by providing N5,000 monthly to each beneficiary. It was one of the campaign promises of Muhammadu Buhari’s led All Progressives Congress (APC). Besides, government has promised that the cash transfer will be stringently monitored to ensure transparency. Even though cash transfer programmes are done globally, we align with critics’ position that channeling the Abacha loot into the social investment programme is not the best thing to do with such hefty amount.
Despite the fact that Nigeria’s extreme poverty status is rising as recently confirmed by the renowned US-based Brookings Institution, investing the loot in infrastructure projects would have been the best option. Moreover, the cash transfer payment is a populist programme, which can serve as a bait to get votes in the forthcoming general election.
The government’s revelation that the implementation of the cash transfer programme will cover the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), as against the 19 states that initially subscribed to the SIP, is not convincing. Many Nigerians doubt government’s approved mechanisms to identify the poor and vulnerable households as contained in the National Social Register designed by the immediate past administration of former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, in collaboration with the World Bank.
We believe that the Federal Government’s social investment scheme is not the most appropriate tool to address the rising poverty in the country. Since the introduction of the scheme in 2016, the poverty level is still rising. And there is no hope that the fund mapped out for the scheme has been properly utilised. There are fears that the Abacha loot may likely be misappropriated.
It will be recalled that the SIP was criticized early in the year by the Senate over its poor performance. The Senate Appropriation Committee had queried the utilisation of the N1.5 trillion appropriated for it since inception. It bears repeating that sharing the Abacha loot may be devoid of accountability and transparency, despite government’s assurance.
We want all recovered loot to be properly invested in areas that Nigerians can see the dividends. Nigerians will want to see the fund invested in the critical sectors of the economy. That will also encourage other countries to return our stolen funds. Ordinarily, the cash transfer would have appealed to many Nigerians, but the selection of beneficiaries may be compromised by selfish and political interests. This is because our politics easily lends itself to such divisiveness. The chances of misappropriation and misapplication of the fund is high. Besides, it is also appropriate to interrogate the conditions often given by foreign governments before such stolen funds are returned to the country.
Sometimes, such conditionalities seem to question Nigeria’s sovereignty. We think that the National Assembly, should have the final say, in terms of appropriation, on how repatriated funds, including the Abacha loot, should be utilised.