The sum of $311 million delivered to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) through the United States a few weeks ago will long be remembered. The money arrived at a time of adversity, when the nation’s foreign exchange earnings had dropped to its lowest in recent memory. It came when the Federal Government was constrained to revise its budget and had substantially slashed its capital expenditure. The money can also be said to have come in a season of uncertain economic outlook in which the most optimistic projection is a deep recession.
Equally important is the manner and spirit in which the money was recovered. The United States demonstrated so much cooperation and so much determination to ensure the resources of the country stolen by former military dictator, General Sani Abacha, is returned to the Nigerian people, to be used in the service of our people. We appreciate the efforts of the United States, which, once more, has proved that it is a friend of the Nigerian people indeed. We also commend the Federal Government for its diligence in negotiating the repatriation of the money.
How the money is to be utilised seems to have been agreed between the Federal Government and the Donald Trump’s Administration. According to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam. Garba Shehu, the $311 million has already been allocated and will be used in full for vital and decades-overdue infrastructural development: the Second Niger Bridge, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, and the Abuja-Kaduna-Kano highway.
These projects will create thousands of jobs and enable Nigerians acquire skills that would be useful in future projects. Part of the funds will also be invested in the Mambilla Power Project, a critical project, which has been postponed for decades for lack of resources, a project designed to provide electricity for three million homes –more than 10 million citizens.
The receipt of the stolen money, and hundreds of millions more that have been returned from the UK and Switzerland; provide us an opportunity for development. Mr. Shehu recalled that last year, the $320 million returned from Switzerland is being used to provide the Federal Government’s free school feeding scheme, a stipend for thousands of disadvantaged citizens, and grain grants for those in severe food needs.
Providing the genesis of the case which led to the return of the money, the US Department of Justice said it executed a trilateral agreement with the governments of Nigeria and the Bailiwick of Jersey (the self-governing UK territory, part of the Channel Islands, located between France and the United Kingdom) to repatriate to Nigeria approximately $308 million traceable to “kleptocracy of former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha and his co-conspirators.”
In 2014, US District Judge John D. Bates of the District of Columbia entered judgment ordering forfeiture of approximately $500 million located in accounts all over the world as the result of a civil forfeiture complaint the Department of Justice filed against the proceeds of Abacha’s corruption. “Gen. Abacha and his cronies robbed Nigerians of vast public resources, abused the US and international financial systems to launder their criminal proceeds,” said Assistant Attorney-General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
Summarising Abacha’s tenure, the US Justice Department noted that Gen. Abacha assumed office through a military coup on November 17, 1993 and held that position until his death on June 8, 1998. The complaint alleges that Gen. Abacha and others embezzled, misappropriated, and extorted billions (total documented recoveries so far have been put at $3.626 billion since 1998) from the government of Nigeria and then laundered their criminal proceeds through US financial institutions and the purchase of bonds backed by the United States.
We urge the Federal Government to fulfil its own side of this bargain and spend the money as it had promised it would. Doing so would strengthen the goodwill between the United States and Nigeria, and cement the collaboration of the two countries in matters of corruption and the recovery of ill-gotten wealth. Politically, it would lend credence to the Buhari administration’s fight against corruption. It will usher in a new era in US-Nigeria relations. To try any kind of tricks on this issue would be a tremendous setback; it would definitely attract punitive backlash and definitely endanger other future repatriation of looted funds, some of which are already in the horizon from France and the UK. America is a useful ally to have when you are in a fight against corruption.