Two foreign governments, have, of late, offered to repatriate to Nigeria funds stolen by late Head of state, General Sani Abacha and laundered through banks in the two countries. On March 5, the United States’ Justice Department said it had seized 458 million US dollars in corruption-lubricated assets from accounts belonging to Abacha and sought forfeiture of more 550 million US dollars. The ruling of a court in the District of Columbia which was the basis of the action of the Justice Department was as a result of an investigation by the FBI which named General Abacha’s son, Mohammed and an associate, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, as those who did the footwork for the late Nigerian leader. All three were accused of embezzling public funds running into billions of dollars through three criminal rackets.
Officials from the US Justice Department have described their action as the “largest kleptocracy forfeiture action brought in the department’s history. According to the complaints leading to the forfeiture, about nine big US banks, including JP Morgan Chase and Citibank, were mentioned as helpful conduits. According to the report, under one of the schemes, General Abacha allegedly got Nigeria’s Central Bank to disperse security votes, ostensibly for national security but which were instead moved overseas to accounts in Switzerland, Great Britain and through the banks in the United States.
The issue calls into question the operation of unaccountable security votes, which is still prevalent under constitutional rule. Given the widespread abuse of the security votes both under military dictatorship and civilian rule, we call for measures to abolish it so that all public funds in the hands of public officials would be duly accounted for through the statutory mechanism established for the purpose.
Another scheme uncovered involved General Abacha and his finance minister, Mr. Anthony Ani, buying back distressed government debts at inflated prices from a company controlled by Bagudu and Mohammed Abacha. According to the US Justice Dept, the windfall was more than 282 million US dollars proceeds from national security funds fraud pooled into bank accounts in London, then used to purchase dollar-denominated Nigerian bonds. The fraud generated hundreds of millions of dollars in interest payments. US banking behemoth, Citibank, administered the interest rate payments, which amounted to lending stolen money to generate huge profits.
Similarly, the European Principality of Liechtenstein, after 14 years of tough negotiations, last May agreed to allow the Nigerian government take possession of 167 million euros Abacha allegedly laundered using banks domiciled in that small but very rich country. On its part, the federal government last month dropped money laundering charges pending in Nigerian courts against Mohammed because the Abacha family said it was no longer challenging the forfeiture of the assets.
On our part, while we welcome the two countries’ gestures, we wonder why it took them so long to come up with all these disclosures. However, we are concerned about what happens next after the recovery of the stolen funds. The monies in question belong to Nigerian people. For more than a decade, the return of the Abacha loot has been a steady news item, but rarely have Nigerians noticed what it is used for. We advise that the Abacha loot, and others yet to be returned, be used to build roads, clinics and provide potable water and electricity in rural communities across Nigeria.