I thank you for acknowledging my article published last week. I trouble you with this follow-up only because of the dangerous debris left behind by your Special Adviser, Mr. Paul Nwabiukwu.
First, on the “Abacha loot” recovery, let it be clear that my advocacy concerning Nigeria’s “recovered” funds is neither new, nor limited to your story.
In “Whatever Happened to the Abacha Loot?” (June 22, 2008), I wrote, “The national interest would be well served by a transparent picture of what has actually happened…The indications are that some of the funds recovered from the man and his family may have been re-stolen, or misused.”
In terms of numbers, my case is that Nigeria seems to have recovered between $2 and $3b from Abacha. You say $500 million.
I know that the realistic number is mine because that is what the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), under Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, reported in 2006.
In a statement in London in November of that year, Mr. Ribadu stated that “Abacha “took over $6 billion from Nigeria,” and that $2 billion had been recovered during his term of office. He repeated that figure that same month during the 12th International Anti-Corruption Conference in Guatemala. In Dakar at the 2nd Annual High Level Dialogue on Governance and Democracy in Africa, just three months ago, Mr. Ribadu repeated the claim that Nigeria recovered $2 billion. Nobody has ever challenged him.
It is also significant, Madam, that one year before Ribadu went on record about the $2 billion recovery for the first time, you said the same thing. The event was a press conference in September 2005 in Switzerland. Up till that point, Nigeria had recovered “about $2 billion total of assets,” you said.
Nonetheless, the $2 billion recovered in the Abacha hunt that was referred to by Mr. Ribadu and your good self in 2005 and 2006 is without prejudice to the $700 million that former Finance Minister Michael Ani said in November 1998 had been recovered from Abacha. Ani described $1.3bn in illegal withdrawals discovered to have been made by Ismaila Gwarzo, the National Security Adviser for Abacha.
To Gwarzo belongs one of the sadder chapters of the loot recovery story. At the end of 1998, Abdussalam Abubakar said the government had recovered $1 billion from the Abacha family and another $250 million from Gwarzo. When Obasanjo became president, at least $500 million more was recovered from Gwarzo in 2000.
The foregoing might explain why you said in a speech after you left the Obasanjo government, “General Abacha looted about $3-$5 billion from the Nigerian treasury in truckloads of cash in foreign currencies, in traveler’s checks and other means.”
My point is: much more than $500 million was recovered from Abacha, some of them before, and some of them in-between your tenures as Minister of Finance.
Perhaps you refer only to $500m because the specific subject of your September 2005 Switzerland press conference was $458 million, which you said Nigeria had recovered.
That $500m is supported somewhat by an account of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and the World Bank, which said at the launch of the Stolen Asset Recovery in September 2007 that Nigeria had recovered a total of $505.5 million from the Swiss government. On that occasion, at which you were present, it was also stated that up to $800m had been recovered from Abacha domestically.
Before all that, in November 2003, you personally announced that Nigeria had recovered $149 million from the Island of Jersey. In case you may have forgotten, you clarified that the $149 million was not part of a $618 million trip you had just made to Switzerland at that time.
Nonetheless, in December 2006, La Declaration de Berne, a Swiss humanitarian body, alleged that Switzerland had repatriated $700 million to Nigeria, but alleged irregularities in Nigeria’s use of the money, claiming $200 million was unaccounted for.
That $700m figure seems to be in harmony with the statement made by Dr. Hans-Rudolf Hodel, the Swiss Ambassador to Nigeria at a press conference three months ago, during which he gave that figure as what his country returned to Nigeria.
Similarly, on 10 March 2008, the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) announced at a joint press conference they had recovered “over N600 billion” in five years.
That sum seems somewhat conservative, but a lot more than $500 million of it came from Abacha. Here are a few thoughts:
• In May 2000, Luxembourg confirmed it had found and frozen $630 million in eight bank accounts in a private bank, in the names of the Abachas, awaiting Nigeria’s claim.
• In August 2000, Nigeria asked Liechtenstein to help recover 100m British pounds.
• In October 2001, a British High Court asked the government ahead to help Nigeria trace over $1bn in Abacha loot.
• In May 2002, President Obasanjo struck a deal with Abachas under which the government was to recover about $1.2 billion.
• In February 2010, the British Government announced in Abuja it would repatriate 43 million pounds recovered from the offshore accounts of various Nigerian officials.
Some of these happened when you were not in the government, I know, but we are not talking about your personal life. The point is that as a people that we cannot move forward unless there is true and full transparency. Where is all the money?
Your over-reaching spokesman illustrates my point. “On the NNPC oil accounts issue…Dr Okonjo-Iweala has called for an independent forensic audit to establish the facts of any unaccounted for money and ensure that every Naira that is owed the treasury is returned to the Federation Account…the fundamental problem of determining the facts as a basis for action must still be tackled. Is there room for more action on corruption? Of course the answer can only be yes. But action is needed to achieve change. Talk is cheap, action is crucial.”
Exactly, Madame Minister, let us have a forensic independent audit. But may I propose three productive caveats to your government? The audit must be international; cover the NNPC and the recovered funds; and date from 1999. This is the only scenario that can guarantee that the full story will be told.
Let me illustrate the depth of our depravity with a graphic example made by Ribadu in 2009 to the US House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services. “Mr. D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha, governor of oil rich Bayelsa State. He had four properties in London valued at about £10 million, plus another property in Cape Town valued at $1.2 million. £1 million cash was found in his bedroom at his apartment in London. £2 million was restrained at the Royal Bank of Scotland in London and over $240 million in Nigeria. This is in addition to bank accounts traced to Cyprus, Denmark, USA and the Bahamas.”
This is the kleptocracy in which Nigerian leaders have stolen over $380bn since independence, as the same Ribadu told the BBC in 2006. Yet, that Alamieyeseigha, like others, has been pardoned by your government. This is why we will never get real answers by putting your “independent” audit in the hands of a pre-programmed Abuja panel.
Finally, you bristle at my reference to the issue of the recurrent budget. You say I have no moral authority to comment on the matter.
So let us talk about moral authority.
Following your negotiations of Nigeria’s foreign with the Paris Club in 2006, Audu Ogbeh, a former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chairman, publicly said that one “top member” of your government had walked away with a personal fee of N60 billion. I had expected that President Obasanjo or you would be outraged, and challenge the allegation, but nobody ever has. I would have defended my father’s name.
I repeat my support of your campaign finance proposal, in principle. But a cafeteria approach to reform never works, and it is bound to be eaten alive in the all-purpose impunity and kleptocracy that currently masquerades as governance. The answer is banging on the front door.
Article written by Sonala Olumhense, and originally published on Sunday Trust and he can be reached via sona...@gmail.com and on Twitter: @SonalaOlumhense
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