The odium of numerous graft stories in Nigeria and their concomitant damage to the image of the country and her people ought to be enough to trigger a groundswell of ethical revolution in any country. But therein lies the grand irony of the situation – business seems to continue as usual.
In the last three decades, Nigeria has won top spots among the comity of nations with a reputation for a roguish ruling class. The annual reports of the global watchdog group, Transparency International (TI) over this period has had Nigeria stuck at the sordid end of the list of most corrupt nations – sometimes leading the pack.
Illicit money will always leave a trail and reports of funds looted from Nigeria and stashed in almost all corners of the world lend credence to TI’s consistent putdown. Public funds stolen by politically exposed Nigerians have been traced to bank vaults in the United States, Europe, Middle East and Asia, among other places.
President Muhammadu Buhari had embarked on what could be described as ‘Loot Recovery Diplomacy” in the early days of his administration. He had visited the United States of America, attended the G – 7 meeting in Germany and signed MoUs with the leaders of United Arab Emirates (UAE) and even the government of China concerning identifying and repatriating of funds stolen from Nigeria and stashed in banks in these countries.
Speaking on the issue after President Buhari’s visit to President Barack Obama last year, Mr. Femi Adesina, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity had said: “The search (for Nigeria’s stolen funds) will not only cover UK, US, Switzerland, Germany and other known havens of Nigeria’s looted funds but will cover everywhere under the sun.”
Indeed, these odious monies have been traced to such other places like Luxembourg, France, Liechtenstein, British Virgin Islands, Dubai and UAE, among others.
But not much progress has been made in actually repatriating these monies despite assurances from the US, UK, Germany and UAE. Two instances will suffice here. First, the Department for Foreign International Development (DFID) is reported to have alerted the Buhari administration in the early days about the sum of N1.3 trillion which was stolen during the last administration which had been traced to a place it could be easily returned. But it is not certain that the British government has released this money almost two years after.
Another example is that in March 2014, the US had reportedly ordered the freezing of the sum of $458 million in assets, stolen by the late military head of state, General Sani Abacha. According to report, the US Justice Department (USJD) had given such specifics as bank accounts where the monies were lodged. There is Bailiwick of Jersey and two other accounts in France as depositories of $313m and $145m of Abacha loot, respectively.
Some of the other financial institutions named by the USJD in the Abacha family carnage against Nigeria are: Citibank, Chase Manhattan Bank, JPMorgan Chase, New York arms of Britain’s Barclays Bank and Germany’s Commerz Bank.
But disturbingly, hardly any of these monies has been repatriated. In fact, the $400 million Abacha loot ready for release by the Swiss government remains a subject of controversy. Though all the conditions – including World Bank’s monitoring of infrastructure projects – have been met yet another small dispute about a chunky $79m commission crops up.
Notwithstanding that, a whooping N289 bn of the expected recoveries is already built into the 2017 budget estimates.
We urge the Federal Government to give the looted funds issue the required seriousness it demands. A small committee may be needed to lead the drive. We need to know every looted fund anywhere, both home and abroad. And the committee, apart from being open about it all, must work for a quick closure of this sordid affair.
Most important, the committee will make recommendations about policies to be put in place to ensure that the country’s patrimony is not easily available for looting and shipment abroad.