The recent tripartite agreement signed by the representatives of the Federal Government, the United States of America and the Island of Jersey, which would lead to the repatriation of over $321million looted by the late military leader, Gen. Sani Abacha, is commendable. The agreement, which came on the heels of over two decades of intense work by law officers in Island of Jersey, the USA and Nigeria
The repatriation of the fund was delayed for this long due to a number of challenges by third parties, which were eventually defeated in the courts in Jersey and the United States. Therefore, the plan to return the loot reflects the growing international consensus that countries must work together to ensure stolen funds are seamlessly returned to their owners. Also, the tripartite agreement is in line with the US government’s commitment to the fight against corruption as well as its 2017 agreement with Nigeria on recovery of stolen assets.
We commend President Muhammadu Buhari for ensuring that plan to repatriate the nation’s stolen money is on course. We also enjoin the government to abide strictly to all the conditions agreed to and ensure that the fund is not re-looted when returned. Government must ensure that the fund is used for the itemised projects. An earlier agreement between Nigeria and Switzerland led to the return of about $322 million, which the Federal Government said it expended most of it on its Social Investment Programme (SIP).
It is, therefore, appropriate that this time round, a framework and a monitoring team to oversee the implementation of the projects where the money would be invested in, have been established. According to the terms of agreement, the money will be used to fund the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, Abuja-Kano expressway and the Second Niger Bridge. Also, the disbursement of the fund will be supervised by the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA). No doubt, these three infrastructure projects are of economic importance to the country. They will have multiplier effects on the overall economic growth of the country if diligently executed.
Interestingly, there are mechanisms for monitoring the implementation of these projects as well as external oversight. We welcome the clause in the agreement that says that Nigeria will be compelled to repay the money if stolen. Although the condition is stringent, the mismanagement of public funds by corrupt government officials makes it a necessary evil.
Therefore, the Federal Government and civil society groups involved in the monitoring process must insist on transparent and accountable utilisation of the recovered assets through diligent implementation of the projects. While the repatriation of the Abacha loot should be seen as a major victory for Nigeria and other African countries whose leaders and family members looted their public funds, the international community will be watching keenly how the Nigerian government manages the recovered assets.
Interestingly, the government has signed agreements with other countries for the return of the country’s stolen assets. For example, in 2016, Nigeria and UK signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that covered the modalities for the return of stolen assets. This is seen as a good step towards dismantling safe havens for proceeds of looted public funds from the country, but keeping faith with such pact, will greatly depend on how the government has gone with utilising other stolen funds recovered. It bears repeating that the government should be mindful that these recovered assets must not be misappropriated.
It will be recalled that over N1.34 trillion was stolen from the public treasury between 2006 and 2013. Nigeria’s yearly stolen fund is reported to worth 62 per cent of the 2020 budget. The Abacha loot is perhaps the highest in the history of the country. According to the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the government recovered cash and assets worth N3.4 trillion between May 29, 2015 and May 25, 2016. The government should never spare any effort in ensuring that the nation’s stolen assets are recovered and judiciously utilised.
, was signed at the U.S. Department of State, Washington DC, about a fortnight ago.