Could it be that President Muhammadu Buhari will be shown in the end to have been a wise old owl in his approach to restarting governance after a period of reckless spending by his predecessors? They left Nigeria in serious financial difficulty despite a decade of unprecedented levels of earning. He has now delayed the announcement and appointment of ministers till September 2015, however each month that he doesn’t put ministers in place, about US$3bn (going by what was announced after the first month) seeps into Nigeria’s foreign reserves; so by the end of September, as much as US$10-12bn could have accrued since his inauguration. Is this his ploy to allow funds to be replenished first before starting to execute on the mandate?
What happened to a good part of the money that should have been surplus at the end of the Jonathan administration? The belief seems to be that a good part of it was corruptly spent. Whichever way you choose to cast it, Nigeria has lost a lot of money to corruption over the last decade. Premiumtimesng.com suggests that as much as N11.56tr (approx. US$84.52bn) may be missing from Nigeria’s Excess Crude Account (ECA) between 2007 and 2014. PMB, in his recent meeting with President Barak Obama, suggested that about US$150bn might have been stolen from Nigeria over the last 10 years. The Global Financial Integrity 2014 report suggests that about US$157bn was lost from Nigeria to Illicit Fund Flows between 2003 and 2012.
Since the APC victory at the presidential polls, Nigeria has been awash with rumours of highly placed former state functionaries offering to return portions of the monies the people suspect they had stolen. There is actually very little evidence to these rumours but they raise an important issue: does Nigeria have an Assets Recovery Policy or other processes for handling the repatriation of stolen funds? Ex-Governors, Ex-Ministers, Ex-Service Chiefs, Ex-National Security Advisers, Ex-Top civil servants and their private sector collaborators are suspected to have been behind the disappearance of large chunks of public funds, or so the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Department for State Services (DSS) would like us to believe going by their recent actions aimed at causing such persons to give account of their stewardship.
Was the Abacha money simply received and redistributed or God forbid, re-exported? In 2004, the Nigerian government agreed with the Swiss government that some $505m from the Abacha loot when received would be used to finance some projects in sectors such as Education, Health, Water, Roads and so on and that this would be monitored by civil society. By the time the money arrived in 2005 and was monitored in 2006, the Nigerian government claimed it had already spent the money in the 2004 budget. It also admitted it did not specifically mark any projects as being funded by the Abacha loot and the Ministries, Departments and Agencies spending the money had no idea there was any Abacha money mixed in. In short, the government found it very difficult to explain what they had done with the money and civil society found it almost impossible to monitor what the government had done with the money.
Should the Swiss authorities still be enthusiastic about helping to trace and repatriate such funds? The Swiss authorities have once again told the Nigerian government they have traced and frozen another US$303m of the Abacha loot, which they want the country now to claim. The debate now is, should they place conditionalities on the use of the money? Or since Nigeria is a sovereign state, should it simply be repatriated and left to the country to decide what should be done with it?
Just before the end of the Jonathan administration, the Attorney-General was permitted by the President to enter into a special agreement with the Abacha family to exempt them from any further action by the Nigerian government in the matter of the loot. The Nigerian lawyer involved in the transaction we are told received US$5m (N1.23bn at today’s rates) for his services. According to the Rt. Hon. Justine Greening MP, UK Secretary of State for International Development, her department has helped the Nigerian Government recover some GBP1.5bn in recent times but when pressed by civil society at the just concluded Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa, she was unable to say precisely what the Nigerian government has done with the money.
President Buhari needs to sign the Proceeds of Crime Bill into law and establish transparent institutional arrangements for how repatriated funds or funds recovered from corrupt persons would be received, declared and utilised. He needs to learn from Peru how they managed to trace, freeze and repatriate funds stolen by Alberto Fujimori within 8 months: he needs to learn how in the Philippines and Azerbaijan, citizens groups have been involved in the process of ensuring that the monies returned are not simply re-distributed to a new set of crooks or re-exported by public officials. We see the different strands of moves that PMB is making and it appears that for the corrupt in Nigeria, the plot now thickens.