The West and Nigeria’s looted fund
It is gratifying that two of the most powerful nations on earth holding substantial loot from Nigeria are speaking clearly for the first time about possible release of those looted funds and offering to disclose the asset base of suspected Nigerians in their jurisdictions. This is a clear manifestation of hope of a better tomorrow. Nigerians are indeed weeping at the moment over the grave implications of years of unbridled looting of the national treasury by those who have led the country at different levels and times. The United States (U.S.) and the United Kingdom (UK) where there have been evidence that some Nigerians have allegedly laundered huge funds should be encouraged to see their promise through. Nigeria has, for instance, been grappling with hurdles over the repatriation of a whopping $550 million worth of loot already recovered by the U.S. government from an account of the late General Sani Abacha who was Nigeria’s military head of state from November 1993 to June 1998.
Specifically, the Executive Secretary, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption ( PACAC), Professor Bolaji Owosanoye, said the other day that the British government was ready to release information about Nigerians who own property in that country next year. He also disclosed that negotiations on the release of information on property owned by Nigerians in the UK by the British government had reached an advanced stage. As part of the strategic diplomatic legwork for loot recovery from the UK and the U.S., Owosanoye noted that the measure being taken by the governments of both countries (Nigeria and UK) was to step up the fight against corruption.
“We need to make sure that there is no haven for corrupt officials to run to. Britain has promised that by 2018, she will provide Nigeria with the information about who owns what and where; that’s very helpful. These include all the houses that have been bought by public officials or accounts that are held by public officials on which they are right now not paying taxes or which they cannot explain the sources.”
This cheery news from the UK broke in contrast to the difficulty that Nigeria has been facing in a bid to repossess the $550 million U.S. government had recovered from an account of the late General Abacha. Nigeria is even said to be at the risk of losing the $550 million.
Some countries, indeed, have given stringent conditions for repatriation of stolen cash, which contradict their promises made at different international fora where the issues had been discussed by African leaders. Various appeals to Nigerians in the Diaspora to step into the matter by putting pressure on the U.S. government, among others in the West are, therefore, a step in the right direction. This is the time for Nigerians in the Diaspora and every friend of Nigeria to get involved in the advocacy to recover stolen assets, not just in words but in deed. There should be no comfort for recipients of stolen assets and Nigerians’ demand is the unconditional return of their stolen national patrimony.
There have been age-long challenges in tracing, seizure, forfeiture and return of Nigeria’s assets, no thanks to those stringent conditions and the uncooperative attitude of the countries in possession of the stolen funds. For instance, out of the Abacha loot, Switzerland seized over 505.5 million dollars between 2004 and 2006. Besides, the UK reportedly recovered 2.7 million dollars from D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha’s account in London in 2005. Not only that, Alamieyeseigha’s home and other real estate as at 2005 were estimated at over 15 million dollars.
On August 6, 2014, U.S. District Judge, John D. Bates of the District of Columbia declared forfeited the sum of 480 million dollars from the money recovered from the Abacha’s family in the U.S. From records, these funds are just a fraction of Nigeria’s stolen wealth being tracked in the West.
It is unfortunate that the United States has been speaking about technicalities instead of assisting in naming and shaming looters of Nigeria’s treasury and returning the loot unconditionally. In this regard, why are the powerful receivers of Nigeria’s stolen money saying asset recovery is different from asset returning? That is why the United Nations too should note the uncooperative attitude of the countries where stolen funds are stashed. So, the global body should assist in dealing with thieves of state from Africa where poverty nurtured by corruption has become a reproach that must be removed.
Certainly, the person who steals is just as guilty as the person who keeps stolen funds.
Tracing and returning of stolen assets have become exceptionally difficult for most African countries. And this trend can be attributable to lack of adherence to the rules promoting transparency in international banking and financial systems, as noted in Paris the other day.
Specifically, Nigeria has felt the excruciating pain of just how difficult it is to get back stolen assets from the international financial system. There is, therefore, need for a robust global framework on repatriation of stolen assets, which will ensure quick restitution to victim countries. This kind of model is long overdue as there is a consensus that corruption and illicit financial flows out of Africa, inexorably delay the attainment of development goals, worsen practically all human development indices and trap the majority of her people especially the most vulnerable in a cycle of misery.
Only a united global action has the power to reverse this trend.
The stolen funds are needed to reverse the problems of education, healthcare, social services, infrastructure and, indeed, quality of life.
That is also why the powerful nations should note that most economies ravaged by corruption, usually both as a cause and consequence, do have institutions that are too weak to fight corruption and illicit financial flows. This explains why hurdles should not be placed in the way of international collaboration, which remains the smartest and most effective approach to apprehend, deter perpetrators, and ensure restitution of stolen assets.