An inter-ministerial committee was set by President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday, June 19, 2014 to manage the €167 million (about N36 billion) which is part of the looted funds recovered from the former military Head of State, General Sani Abacha’s family expected to be returned to Nigeria from the government of the Principality of Liechtenstein.
The money is expected to be in Nigeria before June 25, 2014 as disclosed by the minister of finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on Thursday, June 19, 2014 in Abuja.
The minister also explained that in line with the latest development, the federal government had withdrew the N100 billion stolen funds charges against Mohammed Abacha, son of the late Abacha to help facilitate the speedy return of the N36 billion.
The late Abacha was Nigeria’s military dictator from 1993 to 1998 and is believed to have looted billions of dollars of Nigeria’s funds while in power.
To ensure that the recovered money was put into the best use to the benefit of all Nigerians, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said the President had directed the committee to immediately identify the best projects and programmes to spend the funds on.
She said the World Bank would also be involved in the process towards effective utilisation of the recovered money.
“We can confirm that Nigeria will on June 25, 2014 receive the sum of Euro 167 million ($227 million), about N36.32 billion from the Government of the Principality of Liechtenstein, part of looted funds recovered from the Abacha family,” the Minister said through her Special Adviser on Media, Paul Nwabuikwu.
Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said the President has also directed that part of the funds be saved for the future generation In line with the agreement reached with the Principality of Liechtenstein. She also said the World Bank will assist in monitoring the utilization of the funds on specific projects.
The Minister celebrated the return of the funds as a major achievement of the government from its over 16-year effort.
She said the President, working with her, the Attorney General of the Federation, Muhammad Adokie; and the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, made the recovery of the loot possible.
The return of the funds, she said, was however delayed by the suit instituted at the European Court of Human Rights, ECHR, by companies owned by the Abachas, alleging an infringement of their rights to a fair trial and to the peaceful enjoyment of their possessions.
To demonstrate government’s commitment to retrieving the funds, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said Mr. Adoke had, on behalf of the government, filed a suit against Mohammed Abacha before the Abuja High Court.
She said as part of the negotiations to expedite the recovery of the funds, the Abachas had agreed to discontinue their suit before the ECHR, while the Federal Government equally decided to withdraw the case against him.
Under the deal, the government’s lawyer, Daniel Enwelum, told the court that Mr. Adoke had asked him to withdraw the nine-count charge against Mohammed over alleged receipt of stolen property worth N100.38 billion.
The money to be recovered from Liechtenstein is different from the $458 million stolen Abacha loot that the U.S. froze and the federal government wants returned.
However, a cross section of the human rights community has described the decision to trade away about N100 billion for about N36.32 billion as another demonstration of government’s insensitivity and lack of commitment to fighting corruption in Nigeria.
The Lead Director, Centre for Social Justice, Eze Onyekpere, described the deal as the most absurd style of plea bargaining, which would encourage impunity, corruption and stealing of public funds by the country’s leaders.
“It does not make sense at all. How can one steal about N446 billion and government is accepting only N36.32 billion to discontinue the case against the culprit? What government is getting is not even up to one-tenth of what was stolen and a case is withdrawn against him.
“It is the easiest way to steal money from the system. It shows how unseriously government takes the fight against corruption.”
For a Lagos based lawyer, Kayode Adaramoye, although the Attorney General had the powers to discontinue with any case at any point, the government’s action on the Abacha loot is undesirable for Nigeria’s development.
“The action of the Federal Government is like patting corruption on the back and a proof that the administration is not sincere about the fight against corruption. It is rather sad that all these are happening in a country that has all the potentials to make its people amongst the best catered for in terms of socio-economic wellbeing,” he said.
The National President, National Youth Council of Nigeria, NYCN, Wale Ajani, described the Nigerian government’s action as very unfortunate and one that would show the international community that the present administration was not serious about the fight against corruption.
Mr. Ajani said that there was no justification for any government to allow anybody that had stolen from the nation’s wealth to go scot free, particularly when such despicable acts have continued to aggravate the socio-economic plights of ordinary Nigerians.