Abacha did not loot Nigeria’s money, Bamaiyi claims
Nigeria’s former Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. General Ishaya Bamaiyi has described the infamous Abacha’s loot has a creation of the Nigerian media, stating that the former Nigerian head of state, General Sani Abacha, never looted the country’s treasury.
Bamaiyi spoke on Thursday at the launching of a tell-all memoir which covers his extensive military career in Abuja.
He insisted that, to the best of his knowledge, Abacha decided that funds should be kept in places where they could be easily accessed.
“I am not defending Abacha, I am not saying things did not go wrong,” Bamaiyi noted, adding that “What I know is that we sat down and agreed that the monies should be kept in a place so that we can have access to them. I don’t know if something else happened after that period.”
Bamaiyi’s account of Abacha’s handling of Nigeria’s treasury during his regime, which lasted between November 17, 1993, and June 8, 1998, contradicted the belief that the former Nigerian strongman channeled up to $2.2 billion from Central Bank of Nigeria, according to an AFP estimate, into private accounts.
To recover some of these funds, on March 8, 2016, Nigeria and Switzerland announced an agreement to return $321 million in public funds stolen by the former military ruler.
The agreement came after a meeting in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, between Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and a Swiss delegation including the country’s foreign minister and ambassador.
Both countries said the “letter of intent” to return the money provided a framework to help recover other looted funds by corrupt officials and to determine how it would be spent once repatriated.
“We guarantee that recovered assets would be put to uses for which they have been intended,” Osinbajo said in a statement. “The framework will guarantee that returned assets will be used in the interest of the people of this country.”
The head of Switzerland’s Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Didier Burkhalter, said Switzerland was the first country to have returned a share of Abacha’s ill-gotten wealth.
Ten years ago, some $720 million was returned to Nigeria, he said in a statement on the Swiss foreign affairs website. The $321 million was initially deposited in Luxembourg but confiscated by a court in Geneva in December 2014.
But Bamaiyi who served under Abacha as the army chief said his late boss acted in good faith on behalf of the country and that he should be remembered as a patriot.
“If you remember, we had problems in Sierra Leone and Liberia once and it was monies from the Abacha regime that we used to buy weapons and ammunition to help the fight.
“I am happy that the former minister of finance said the money was not looted but things happened and when things happen like that and you are not there to defend yourself, rumours will just be flying,” he said.
“What I know is that things do happen and I know that Abacha did very well for the country. If we see him from the bad aspect, we should also look at his good aspect and remember him for the good things he did for the country. That is why I said Abacha loot is a media creation.”