The other Abacha loot

In June 2018, the Swiss Ambassador to Nigeria announced that with the repatriation of the sum of $322.5m, the Swiss Government had concluded the return of about $1bn stolen and hidden in Switzerland by Sani Abacha. The ambassador said that prior to this, Switzerland had returned close to $800m as part of the money which Abacha stole and hid in his country.

Because there was a clause within the MoU signed between Switzerland and Nigeria concerning the utilisation of the loot for the Nigerian people, the Nigerian Government decided to embed the returned loot within an already existing programme, the National Cash Transfer. Even though pundits are divided in their opinions regarding the use of the returned loot, our organisation ANEEJ is more interested in the transparent and accountable distribution of the $322.5m. With support from the Department for International Development, ANEEJ is monitoring the returned assets to Nigeria through transparency and accountability, the MANTRA project, and to tackle the social norms which support fraud at all levels of our lives. Therefore, whatever it is that the government decides to do is its prerogative as long as the money is not re-looted, but utilised for the benefit of Nigeria’s “poorest of the poor”.

This is because Nigeria was recently designated the world capital of poverty. The Guardian newspaper report of Thursday, November 1, 2018 (page 4), also said Nigeria houses 88 million extreme poor and this is in spite of the fact that  OPEC figures say that Nigeria is Africa’s largest crude oil exporter, with 400,000 bpd, valued at USD$10bn annually. Projections from credible sources indicate that Nigeria has a population of about 185 million people with many living on less than a dollar daily. Although Nigeria has the highest Gross Domestic Product at Purchasing Power Parity, among key African nations – Egypt, South Africa, Algeria, Morocco, Tanzania, Angola, Sudan, and Ethiopia – poverty remains significant at 33.1%.

From the above, we begin to realise that even though the merits behind the proper utilisation of the Abacha loot far outweigh the demerits in using the returned funds for the poorest of the poor, there is a ticking time bomb which more repatriated funds can help defuse.  That time bomb is the problem of youth unemployment and the building of their capacity to meet the huge challenge of living in a dotcom millennium. Half of Nigeria’s population is under 30 years of age. Most of them are graduates of universities, Colleges of Education and Polytechnics spread right across the 36 states of the federation and are perceived as largely unemployable or underemployed.

But there appears to be more unrecovered loot from Abacha and other thefts that Nigeria can put to the use of this teeming young Nigerian population. In July 2014, Nigeria entered into an agreement with the Abacha family concerning the return of all the money which Abacha stole and hid abroad. That agreement, with about 10 articles and three schedules, one of which has an unsigned letter by former President Goodluck Jonathan, authorised Mr. Mohammed Adoke, SAN, CFR “to contract…in relation to repatriation agreement between Nigeria and the Abacha family.” Under Article 5 of that agreement, it was expressly stated that there were two lawyers responsible for brokering that agreement. They are Enrico Monfrini of Crettol Associates, Switzerland, standing for Nigeria and Nicola Boulton of Bryne and Partners in the UK. For his services, Enrico Monfrini got an initial four per cent of “any recovered sums  to be repatriated to, or transferred to Nigeria”. Under that agreement, Nigeria was also to pay a certain Christian Luscher of CMS Von Erlach Poncet Ltd, 2.8 per cent (USD$28m) cash of sums recovered and to be repatriated to, or transferred to Nigeria for the “benefit of the FRN or its people”. While what the lawyer representing the Abachas got is not very clear as of this time, certain issues jump at us immediately. One is what is contained in Article 2(3) which stated that “no Party will bring any new proceedings nor pursue further any existing proceedings in relation to the Resolved Matters save as necessary to enforce this agreement.” But the most important clause in that agreement between the Jonathan government and the Abachas is in Article 4 (f) & (g). Signed by the Minister of Justice in the Jonathan administration and Mohammed Sani Abacha and Abba Abacha on their own behalf and on behalf of the “affiliates”, the aforesaid clauses read:

(f) The FGN (ie Nigeria) will end, without any finding of liability or guilt, any and all proceedings of whatever kind including criminal, civil, or administrative proceedings contemplated or pending in any court in Nigeria (including in relation to forfeiture and or restraint) relating to or arising out of any investigations into the Resolved Matters (sic), including in particular the security votes allegations

(g) The FRN will provide to any government, authority or organisation, where necessary information, clearance or such other documentation or support as may be required by any or all of the Settling parties to ensure and guarantee unrestricted movement in and out of Nigeria or in any other state or country.

Gobbledygook as this may sound to the simple, what the above implies is that there are apparently other Abacha looted funds somewhere else apart from Switzerland. And the agreement seems to suggest to Nigeria that to get all or any of the money listed on  Schedule 1 of that agreement (there were assets in England, Jersey, France, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein), Nigeria must write off any other undiscovered assets after the repatriation of the USD$322.5m from Switzerland. If that is true, then it is indeed unfortunate. In the last 30 months, reports indicate that Nigeria has borrowed close to N10tn, a tiny fraction of what more than that agreement between the Jonathan administration and the Abachas seeks to hide from Nigerians.  And that is why it is important for President Muhammadu Buhari to repudiate that agreement and resume the search once again for Nigerian money hidden in countries where we sometimes go and borrow from. 

  • Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku, ANEEJ, Benin City

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