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Loot Recovery and Development

By Abubakar Ibn Kachalla

Recently, the Swiss Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Hans Hodel, said his country had discharged its legal obligations to Nigeria by returning all the Abacha loot, estimated at more than $700 million dollars. We must praise the cooperation extended to Nigeria since 1999 by the Swiss government to return the Abacha loot. Seven hundred million dollars (about N112bn) is not small money by any standard anywhere. This heavy cash would have dealt with basic challenges of good healthcare or education in Nigeria. In fact, in a country where public office holders are accountable, such recovered funds could have made a significant impact on the socio/economic well-being of the citizens.

Unfortunately, as far as the ordinary Nigerians are concerned, the so-called Abacha loot recovery exists only on paper. Nigerians cannot lay their hands on any tangible welfare projects where these recovered funds from the Abachas were invested. Until he left office in 2007, the former President Obasanjo did not address any press conference to present evidence or explanations on how the Abacha loot was applied to projects that had direct bearing on the welfare of the ordinary Nigerian citizens.

The recovery of the Abacha loot is always announced with so much razzmatazz, but at the end of the day, public enthusiasm goes up in smoke.  Government officials don’t demonstrate the same zeal of loot recovery when it comes to accounting for how these recovered funds are being used. Explaining to Nigerians how the recovered loot was used for the welfare of Nigerians is no less significant. In fact, nobody should have any doubt about the importance of recovering stolen funds by public office holders.

The secrecy that surrounds the management or mismanagement of the Abacha’s loot is inconsistent with democratic order. Democratic governments are accountable; democracy without transparency by public officials can badly undermine government’s credibility. The $12.4 billion Gulf War oil windfall is still a subject of public controversy, bordering on the public right to know. You may argue that was normal because it happened under a military government that was never elected.

However, what is tolerable under a military administration is not acceptable under a democratic government. Nigerians are getting tired of being told about the recovery of the Abacha’s loot and then the story ends there. Whenever she announced the recovery of the Abacha loot, our Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, hardly went further to also account to Nigerians how the recovered funds were used for the welfare of Nigerians. She served the Obasanjo administration and she is currently serving the Jonathan administration.

By publicly telling Nigerians that his country had returned all the Abacha’s loot kept in his country’s banks, the Swiss Ambassador to Nigeria was indirectly throwing a challenge to Nigerians to now focus on seeking accountability from their own government about the management of the recovered funds. It is not enough to be telling Nigerians about the billions of funds recovered from the Abachas and then expect discerning Nigerians not to ask questions about where the huge amount was invested for the welfare of Nigerians.

It is very wrong to reduce the anti-corruption crusade to the recovery of the Abacha loot alone. Since Abacha’s death, billions after billions continue to be stolen daily from Nigeria by public officials. For the anti-corruption crusade to make any real impact and gain credibility, loot recovery efforts should also be targeted at other public office holders. According to Global Integrity Group, a Washington – based corruption monitoring organization, $129 billion was “fraudulently transferred out of Nigeria in 10 years.”

Converted into naira, this figure stands at N20.6 trillion stolen from Nigeria by public office holders in 10 years. Yet, it is surprising why all the loot recovery efforts seem to be concentrated on the Abacha loot. It is high time Nigerians started asking questions about how the recovered Abacha’s loot was applied to specific welfare projects, which are verifiable.

Since Abacha’s death, more billions continue to disappear into private pockets. For the anti-corruption crusade to gain credibility, the government must also show keen interest in going after billions stolen by other public office holders. War against corruption must be total; loot recovery should not be one-sided either.

— Kachalla is a good governance and transparency advocate

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