The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked the Federal Government to disclose within seven days, details of about $5 billion recovered from a former military head of state, Sani Abacha.
SERAP in a statement issued on Sunday said that it has sent two Freedom of Information requests to Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed and Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abukabar Malami, seeking the exact amount of public funds stolen and how much has been recovered since the return of democracy in 1999.
“We are concerned that substantial part of the estimated $5 billion returned Abacha loot since 1999 may have been diverted, re-stolen or mismanaged, and in any case remain unaccounted for.
“Getting to the root of the exact amount of the Abacha loot and how the returned funds have been spent is important for the success of the government’s fight against grand corruption and would reassure Nigerians that the government is truly committed to ensuring full accountability for the alleged corruption and mismanagement in the spending of the funds.
“Disclose within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of our Freedom of Information requests the exact amount of public funds stolen by a former military head of state, Sani Abacha and details of spending of about $5 billion recovered loot since the return of democracy in 1999.”
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According to SERAP, failure by FG to provide the information requested will show signs of inconsistency and accountability to the general public.
“Any failure or refusal to provide the information requested will be clearly inconsistent with the letter and spirit of the FoI Act. The accountability of government to the general public is a hallmark of modern democratic governance, a norm of human rights and a tool to curb corruption.”
Read the FoI request below:
14 February 2020
Mrs Zainab Ahmed
Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning
Ahmadu Bello Way, Central Business District
Email: inf[email protected]
Dear Mrs Zainab Ahmed:
Re: FoI request to disclose details of spending of about $5 billion recovered stolen public funds by a former military head of state, Sani Abacha since the return of democracy in 1999
Scio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) is writing pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FoI) to request you to use your good offices and leadership position to urgently disclose details of spending of about $5 billion recovered stolen public funds by a former military head of state, Sani Abacha since the return of democracy in 1999, and the exact amount stolen by the late general.
We also urge you to disclose information on specific projects carried out with the Abacha loot, locations of any such projects and details of companies and contractors involved in the execution of the projects, details of all the agreements on the Abacha loot, the roles played by the World Bank and other similar actors, as well as the implementation status of all projects executed with the funds since 1999.
SERAP is a non-profit, nonpartisan, legal and advocacy organization devoted to promoting transparency, accountability and respect for socio-economic rights in Nigeria. SERAP received the Wole Soyinka Anti-Corruption Defender Award in 2014, and was nominated for the UN Civil Society Award and Ford Foundation’s Jubilee Transparency Award. SERAP serves as one of two Sub-Saharan African civil society representatives on the governing Committee of the UNCAC Coalition, a global anti-corruption network of over 380 civil society organizations (CSOs) in over 100 countries.
According to our information, a special panel set up on 23 July 1998 by the former head of state General Abdulsalami Abubakar to probe the late military dictator General Sani Abacha stated that he stole over $5 billion between 1993 and 1998 when he was in power. Much of the stolen public funds have been returned to Nigeria.
The report by the panel shows that the government recovered some $635 million, £75 million, DM 30 million and N9 billion as well as several vehicles and properties in Abuja, Lagos and Kano together with 40% interests in West African Refinery in Sierra Leone. Other assets were recovered from the Abacha family and associates.
Furthermore, former President Olusegun Obasanjo administration also reportedly recovered over $2 billion of Abacha loot. Mr Obasanjo would seem to confirm this fact when he stated in the second volume of his book titled My Watch that: “by the time I left office in May 2007, over $2 billion and £100 million had been recovered from the Abacha family abroad, and N10 billion in cash and properties locally.”
Similarly, former President Goodluck Jonathan administration reportedly recovered $226.3 million and €7.5 Million from Liechtenstein. Some £22.5 million was also recovered from the Island of Jersey while $322 million and £5.5 million from the Abacha loot were reportedly returned to the government.
The government of President Muhammadu Buhari has also recovered several millions of dollars of Abacha loot since assuming office in May 2015, including $321 million from Switzerland, and $300 million from the US and Jersey.
We are concerned that substantial part of the estimated $5 billion returned Abacha loot since 1999 may have been diverted, re-stolen or mismanaged, and in any case remain unaccounted for. SERAP is concerned that the allegations of corruption and mismanagement involving the use of Abacha loot may be responsible for the increasing level of grand corruption over the years and the entrenched impunity of perpetrators.
Getting to the root of the exact amount of the Abacha loot and how the returned funds have been spent is important for the success of the government’s fight against grand corruption and would reassure Nigerians that the government is truly committed to ensuring full accountability for the alleged corruption and mismanagement in the spending of the funds.
Publishing the details of projects on which returned Abacha loot has been spent since 1999 would allow the public to know the specific projects carried and the areas of the country in which the projects have been implemented as well as to know officials that may be responsible for any alleged diversion or mismanagement of the loot.
Any failure or refusal to provide the information requested will also be clearly inconsistent with the letter and spirit of the Freedom of Information Act. The accountability of government to the general public is a hallmark of modern democratic governance, a norm of human rights and a tool to curb corruption.
Publishing details of spending of Abacha loot by successive administrations would also ensure that persons with public responsibilities are answerable to the people for the performance of their duties including the management of Nigeria’s commonwealth.
Access to the details sought would allow Nigerians an opportunity to assess the impacts of any projects carried out with returned Abacha loot.
Transparency and accountability enable citizens to have a say about issues such as the spending of returned Abacha loot, that matter to them and a chance to monitor and influence how the funds are spent as well as hold those managing the funds to account in cases of diversion or mismanagement.
The government ought to come up with an Abacha loot scoreboard to determine the exact amount stolen and the extent of transparency and accountability of the returned loot since 1999.
If there is any indication that any of the recovered Abacha funds have been diverted, re-stolen or mismanaged, for such cases to be immediately referred to appropriate anti-corruption agencies for effective investigation, and prosecution if there is relevant admissible evidence.
A scoreboard for the actual amount stolen and the spending of returned loot by each administration since 1999 would encourage more transparency and accountability and ensure that the funds reach the real victims of corruption as well as reduce concerns by Nigerians, the holding states and other partners about the returned loot being diverted, re-stolen or mismanaged.
SERAP, therefore, urges you to:
- Disclose the exact amounts stolen by Abacha, and the total amounts of the recovered loot since the return of democracy in 1999;
- Disclose details of the projects executed with the funds, locations of any such projects and the names of companies and contractors that carried out the projects;
- Disclose details of specific roles played by the World Bank and other partners in the execution of any projects funded with Abacha loot since 1999;
- Refer any allegations of corruption involving the execution of projects with Abacha loot to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) for investigation;
- Ensure that anyone involved in alleged corruption in projects executed with Abacha loot is brought to justice if there is relevant and sufficient admissible evidence
By Section 1 (1) of the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act 2011, SERAP is entitled as of right to request for or gain access to information, including information on the exact amount stolen and spending of returned Abacha loot and related details. By Section 4 (a) of the FoI Act, when a person makes a request for information from a public official, institution or agency, the public official, institution or urgency to whom the application is directed is under a binding legal obligation to provide the applicant with the information requested for, except as otherwise provided by the Act, within 7 days after the application is received.
By Sections 2(3)(d)(V) & (4) of the FoI Act, there is a binding legal duty to ensure that documents containing information relating to the exact amount stolen and spending of recovered Abacha loot are widely disseminated and made readily available to members of the public through various means. The information being requested does not come within the purview of the types of information exempted from disclosure by the provisions of the FoI Act.
The information requested for as indicated above, apart from not being exempted from disclosure under the FoI Act, bothers on an issue of national interest, public concern, the interest of human rights, social justice, good governance, transparency and accountability.
We would be grateful if the requested information is provided to us within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, the Registered Trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions under the Freedom of Information Act to compel you to comply with our request.