In spite of President Muhammadu Buhari winning the 2018 African Union (AU) Anti-Corruption Champion Award, the United States seems not to trust the Nigerian government to properly utilise the $308 million Gen. Sanni Abacha’s loot stashed away in Jersey for which return agreement was signed recently.
Specifically, the agreement which the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, signed on behalf of Nigeria, tied the return of the looted $308 million to three major projects spread across Nigeria’s three recognised regions after independence.
The projects are the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway (Western Region), Abuja-Kano Road (Northern Region), and Second Niger Bridge (Eastern Region).
Negotiations for the return of the stolen assets, which began in 2018, according to the agreement, specifically laid out who will manage the assets and the various organisations that would also monitor the expenditure of the funds to ensure they are not diverted for other purposes. Although the Federal Government might have listed these projects while signing the agreement, the Buhari administration voted money for the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Second Niger Bridge in previous budgetary allocations. But the projects seem stalled due to poor funding gaps. The recovered assets are expected to enhance speedy completion.
The tripartite agreement that has the government of Jersey, United States of America and the Federal Republic of Nigeria as signatories states in part: “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.”
Nigerians, who reacted to the attachment of the conditions, blamed it on the poor accountability and high level of corruption in the country.
A chieftain of the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo said it was a shame in the first instance that President Buhari who once told Nigerians that Abacha did not steal was now discussing with America how to repatriate to Nigeria money looted by the late former Head of State.
“Nigeria’s level of corruption has been exposed to the entire world and that is the reason America is giving us conditions. This government could not even explain to Nigerians how the money it claimed to have recovered since 2015 has been spent. There is no transparency in this government.”
Former national chairman, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Chekwas Okorie, described the agreement to repatriate loot to Nigeria as a positive development, especially at a time there was enormous demand on the nation’s resources.
Okorie said that, in line with international treaties on repatriation of looted money or laundered funds, it was in the best interest of Nigeria that the funds being released had been tied to specific projects.
“This will ensure that the funds are not re-looted. You would recall that large sums of money earlier recovered by previous governments were probably re-looted. We never knew what happened to the funds. That was probably because there was no agreement like the one we are having now.
“Certain projects have been included in the agreement, including oversight by the Island of Jersey releasing the funds, the United States government that facilitated the release and Nigeria. I wish every fund recovered would follow this process. That way, we are more certain that the money would be used for the general good.”
Former President of an Igbo Socio-cultural group, Aka Ikenga, Mr. Goddy Uwazurike, said America should not be blamed for attaching some conditions to the money before it is repatriated. “That is what we have turned ourselves to in the comity of nations.”
He also said that in the first instance it was America that discovered the loot and was also willing to return it. “It could as well have decided to keep it but for the fact that the country must have monitored in the past how looted funds repatriated to Nigeria are put to use, other than for the benefit of the masses. The experience could have forced the U.S to attach stringent conditions.”
Abacha’s stolen assets previously returned were expended in a manner that many Nigerians are still questioning.
The government claims such previous funds were expended to lift the very poor out of poverty.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo also went on a money distribution spree just before the 2019 general elections in what was then known as TraderMoni scheme, where some market women across the country were given monies.
While the opposition called it a vote-buying mechanism as it came just before the election, the government insisted that the move was to alleviate poverty among the downtrodden Nigerians. But after the election, no such money has been shared among the poor.
The specificity of the three projects as stated in the agreement indicates as follows: “The Lagos–Ibadan Expressway is a 127.6-kilometer-long (79.3 mile) expressway located in the Southwest of the country. It connects Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State, to Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous city and commercial capital. It is also the busiest interstate highway in the country and the major route to the northern, southern and eastern parts of Nigeria.
“The Abuja-Kano Road is a major artery that links the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja) to the northern parts of the country. The scope of work involves the rehabilitation, expansion, and construction of a 375-kilometre dual carriageway.
“The Second Niger Bridge is being constructed across the River Niger between Delta State in the South-south geopolitical region to Anambra State in the South-east of the country. It is intended to ease traffic congestion and improve road safety. The scope of work includes the construction of 1.6 kilometer-long bridge, 10.3 kilometre Highway, Owerri interchange and a toll station. This project is expected to be completed in 2022.”
The uniqueness of the agreement stems from the stridency and rigour of the internationally accepted conditionalities spelled out on how the funds should be utilised and the parties that must be involved to ensure transparency. It indicates a possible distrust on the part of the U.S. and Jersey, which are keen to see that the assets get to the Nigerian people who had been deprived of their wealth.
After signing on behalf of Nigeria, Malami noted that the agreement has “culminated in a major victory for Nigeria and other African countries as it recognises that crime does not pay and that it is important for the international community to seek ways to support sustainable development through the recovery and repatriation of stolen assets.”