The United States Department of Justice said it has transferred over $20.6 million to the Federal Government of Nigeria as part of the loot traced to former Nigerian military leader General Sani Abacha and his co-conspirators.
The US DoJ, in a statement on Thursday, said the fresh repatriation brings the total amount forfeited and returned by the United States in this case to approximately $332.4 million.
In 2014, a judgment was entered in the District of Columbia ordering the forfeiture of approximately $500 million located in accounts around the world, as the result of a civil forfeiture complaint for more than $625 million traceable to money laundering involving by Abacha, who became Nigeria’s Head of State through a military coup on November 17, 1993, and held that position until his death on June 8, 1998.
In 2020, the department repatriated over $311.7 million of the forfeited assets that had been located in the Bailiwick of Jersey. Last year, the UK government enforced the US judgment against the additional over $20.6 million.
The US government said the repatriation was in accordance with an August 23 agreement between both governments to repatriate assets the United States forfeited from Abacha.
“Under the agreement signed in August, the United States agreed to transfer 100% of the net forfeited assets to Nigeria to support three critical infrastructure projects in Nigeria that were previously authorized by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and the Nigerian legislature.
“The $20,637,622.27 marks a slight reduction from the $23 million announced in August due primarily to exchange rate fluctuations between British pounds sterling and U.S. dollars.
“The funds governed by this agreement will help finance the Second Niger Bridge, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, and the Abuja-Kano road – investments that will benefit the citizens of each of these important regions in Nigeria,” the statement partly read.
The agreement includes key measures to ensure transparency and accountability, including administration of the funds and projects by the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), financial review by an independent auditor, and monitoring by an independent civil society organization with expertise in engineering and other areas. .
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa has asked frustrated motorists plying the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway to pay back the All Progressives Congress (APC) for subjecting millions of road users to perpetual and untold agony due to its failure to complete the vital road.
He described as unacceptable and unfair, the way and manner the APC government has handled the reconstruction of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the busiest road in sub-Saharan Africa.
The human rights lawyer also said the APC government of President Muhammadu Buhari is using the completion of the road as a campaign strategy for the party to get re-elected in 2023.
“This is the longest project anybody has constructed in the world because it started under the Goodluck Jonathan administration who was using it as political strategy to get re-election. And that is exactly what the Buhari administration engaged in and it is unfair on our people,” Adegboruwa said on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily on Tuesday.
“We must say it: that every time we get these kinds of fake promises on the delivery of infrastructure that leads to the death of people, we should rise up and reject those people when the opportunity comes for election.
“I believe Nigerians should use this particular frustration to pay the APC government back in its own coin. Why would you do a less than 200km road for eight years? It is unacceptable.”
Highway Of Kidnappers, Robbers
For months, road users along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway have been stranded for hours in the perpetual gridlock associated with the Kara-OPIC end of the busiest road in West Africa. From the Magboro axis to the notorious Otedola bridge, road travellers groan endlessly to come into Lagos and exit the state.
In recent weeks, the gridlock has become compounded and nightmarish with kidnapping as unscrupulous elements attack motorists, cart away their valuables and abduct them in exchange of millions of naira as ransom.
According to Adegboruwa, Nigerians whose health have been jeopardised due to prolonged time in traffic, those who have lost productive work time, and those who lost loved ones to accidents and kidnapping on the road should sue the government.
“All of us who suffer agony on this road should have the courage to approach the court and challenge the government and hold it accountable,” he stated.
‘Fashola Has No Excuse’
Adegboruwa further said his fellow senior advocate, the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola (SAN) has no excuse for failing Nigerians.
“No excuse can be proffered by any minister. No reasonable justification can be propounded by any government to rationalise the frustration, the agony that our people go through on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and indeed other roads across the Federation.
“He (Fashola) should take responsibility…the reality on the ground is that our people are suffering, the reality on the ground is that our government is not showing responsibility in terms of the acceleration of the project, in terms of the funding, in terms of warnings for people through enlightenment programmes. You should know, for instance, the alternative roads you can take,” he said.
‘December Completion Date Wishful Thinking’
In September, the Director, Federal Highway (South-West), Federal Ministry Of Works and Housing, Adedamola Kuti, said the “whole stretch of Lagos to Ibadan will be completed, the main carriageway will be completed before the end of this year, 2022”.
However, Adegboruwa described as “wishful thinking”, the government’s calculations that the road will be completed before the end of 2022.
“The telltale signs are all there, major sections of the road are not tackled at all.
“How can anybody accept this as a reconstruction project and then we’ve used all our resources, Abacha loot, loans here and there, and then our generation will be paying the loans upon this poor construction?” the lawyer queried.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against President Muhammadu Buhari over the $23m looted by ex-Head of State, General Sani Abacha.
In suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1700/2022 filed last Friday at the Federal High Court in Abuja, the group is asking the court to “direct and compel President Buhari and Mr Abubakar Malami to release and widely publish a copy of the agreement on the Abacha loot with the U.S.”
This was disclosed in a statement on Sunday by SERAP Deputy Director Kolawole Oluwadare, who said the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) is joined in the suit as respondent.
The United States government had in August signed an agreement with the Federal Government to repatriate $23 million Abacha loot to Nigeria. The $23 million is in addition to the $311.7 million Abacha loot repatriated from the U.S. to Nigeria in 2020.
“The Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended], the Freedom of Information Act, and the country’s international obligations impose transparency obligations on the Federal Government to widely publish the agreement on the $23 million Abacha loot,” SERAP argued in the suit.
“Publishing a copy of the agreement with the U.S. would allow Nigerians to scrutinise it, and to monitor the spending of the repatriated loot to ensure that the money is not mismanaged, diverted or re-stolen.
“The repatriated $23 million Abacha loot is vulnerable to corruption and mismanagement. A substantial part of the estimated $5 billion returned Abacha loot since 1999 may have been mismanaged, diverted, or re-stolen, and in any case remain unaccounted for.
“Publishing a copy of the agreement would ensure that persons with public responsibilities are answerable to the people for the performance of their duties including the management of repatriated loot.”
The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Ms Atinuke Adejuyigbe, said the Nigerian Constitution, Freedom of Information Act, and the country’s international obligations rest on the principle that citizens should have access to information regarding their government’s activities.
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.
As the United States government plans to return the over $23 million looted by the late dictator Sani Abacha, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has demanded a copy of the agreement.
Last Tuesday, Nigeria and the United States reached an agreement on the return of over $23 million of the Abacha loot.
Five days after, the rights group wrote a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, asking him to “direct the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) to provide our organization with a copy of the agreement the Federal Government recently signed with the United States for the repatriation of $23 million stolen by late General Sani Abacha.”
In the letter dated August 27 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the group said its demand is based on the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, the 1999 Constitution as well as some international obligations Nigeria is meant to follow.
“By the combined reading of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended], the Freedom of Information Act, and the country’s international obligations, there are transparency obligations imposed on your government to widely publish the agreement on the $23 million Abacha loot,” the letter read in part.
“The Nigerian Constitution, Freedom of Information Act, and the country’s anti-corruption and human rights obligations rest on the principle that citizens should have access to information regarding their government’s activities.”
SERAP argued that the current administration has a responsibility to ensure transparency and accountability in how any repatriated stolen funds are spent, to reduce vulnerability to corruption and mismanagement.
It also asked President Buhari to provide details of the transparency and accountability mechanisms that have been put in place to ensure that the repatriated funds are not mismanaged, diverted, or re-stolen.
“We would therefore be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within seven days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel your government to comply with our request in the public interest.
“Publishing a copy of the agreement signed with the US would also promote transparency and accountability in the spending of public funds. Nigerians are entitled to their constitutionally and internationally recognized human right to information.”
“Publishing a copy of the agreement would ensure that persons with public responsibilities are answerable to the people for the performance of their duties including the management of repatriated loot,” SERAP added.
According to the group, the Freedom of Information Act, Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution, article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantee everyone the right to information, including to a copy of the agreement on the repatriated $23 million Abacha loot.
A member of the House of Representatives Dachung Musa Bagos has suggested that part of the recently returned $23m Abacha loot should be used to settle the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
Members of the union have been on strike since February 14 over improved welfare, revitalisation of public universities among others. But one bone of contention for academics is the non-payment of university revitalisation funds, amounting to about N1.1 trillion.
While the Federal Government says it does not have enough funds to settle the lecturers, Bagos who represents Jos South/Jos East is wondering why the recent Abacha should not be used to settle ASUU.
“We have pressing needs. Like now, ASUU has been on strike and the government is trying to settle those issues,” he said during an interview on Channels Television’s Politics Today on Wednesday.
“As a representative of the people, if I have to argue where those funds should be channeled to on the floor, I will say, ‘Why can’t you channel this fund to ASUU so that most of the youths that are at home would go back to school?’ But some of the areas we feel that the executive is channeling those funds are not the immediate needs of Nigerians.”
The lawmaker also accused the Federal Government of not carrying the National Assembly along in the disbursement of recovered loots.
“This is my third year in the National Assembly, we have never discussed any of the recovered loots. We just sit down and we hear that the executive recovered loots and allot the same to projects that they so desire,” Bagos explained.
He said it appears the Federal Government is not alloting these recovered funds to the right areas, saying if there are agreements entered before such monies are repatriated, the National Assembly should ratify such.
“We believe that when we discuss these issues at the National Assembly, we appropriate those funds according to the needs of Nigeria, it is going to go a long way; not just the executive looking at it and alloting it (the fund) to what they feel it should be,” he added. “The constitution has given us that right.”
Nigeria and the United States government have reached an agreement on the return of over $23 million of the Abacha loot.
The agreement signing ceremony was held in the office of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami on Tuesday.
While Mr. Malami signed on behalf of the Nigerian government, the U.S Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard signed on the behalf of the U.S government.
According to Mr Malami, the fund when returned will be invested in three ongoing projects by the Federal Government, including the ongoing Abuja-Kaduna road and the 2nd Niger Bridge.
Nigeria has in the past recovered several other tranches of the Abacha loot, which are proceeds believed to have been diverted from public coffers by the military administration of General Sani Abacha in the 1990s.
In 2020, the US and Jersey also agreed to return over $308 million in confiscated funds to Nigeria.
In 2006, about $723 million in Abacha loot was returned to Nigeria from Switzerland.
The US, in a statement signed by its Department of Justice, said the latest tranche will increase the total amount forfeited to approximately $334.7 million.
“In 2014, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates for the District of Columbia entered a judgment ordering the forfeiture of approximately $500 million located in accounts around the world, as the result of a civil forfeiture complaint for more than $625 million traceable to money laundering involving the proceeds of Abacha’s corruption,” the statement said.
“In 2020, the department repatriated over $311.7 million of the forfeited assets that had been located in the Bailiwick of Jersey.
“Last year, the U.K. government enforced the U.S. judgment against the additional $23 million.”
“This repatriation of $23 million reflects the Justice Department’s unwavering commitment to recover and return corruption proceeds laundered through the U.S. financial system,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the US Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
The US commended the United Kingdom for its cooperation in recovering the assets.
“The complaint alleges that General Abacha, his son Mohammed Sani Abacha, their associate Abubakar Atiku Bagudu and others embezzled, misappropriated and extorted billions from the government of Nigeria and others, then laundered their criminal proceeds through U.S. financial institutions and transactions in the United States,” the US DOJ statement said.
“The United Kingdom’s cooperation in the investigation, restraint and enforcement of the U.S. judgement, along with the valuable contributions of Nigeria and other law enforcement partners around the world, including the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency, as well as those of the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, have been instrumental to the recovery of these funds.
The US also noted that the repatriated funds have been earmarked for specific projects to avoid mismanagement.
“Under the agreement signed today, the United States will transfer 100% of the net forfeited assets to the Federal Republic of Nigeria to support three critical infrastructure projects in Nigeria that were previously authorized by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and the Nigerian legislature,” the US said.
“Specifically, the funds governed by this agreement will help finance the Second Niger Bridge, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Abuja-Kano road – investments that will benefit the citizens of each of these important regions in Nigeria.
“The agreement includes key measures to ensure transparency and accountability, including administration of the funds and projects by the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), financial review by an independent auditor and monitoring by an independent civil society organization with expertise in engineering and other areas.
“The agreement also precludes the expenditure of funds to benefit alleged perpetrators of the corruption or to pay contingency fees for lawyers. The agreement reflects the sound principles for ensuring transparency and accountability adopted at the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) in December 2017 in Washington, D.C., which the United States and United Kingdom hosted with support from the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative of the World Bank and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.”
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to publish a comprehensive list of names of people from whom N800 billion looted funds have been recovered.
In a statement issued on Sunday by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the group called on the President to direct the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami and the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed to ensure the recovered loot is published.
Using the Freedom of Information Act, SERAP noted that “publishing the details regarding the N800 billion recovered loot and investigating the alleged suspicious payments into personal accounts would be entirely consistent with fundamental principles of due process, and Nigeria’s international anti-corruption commitments.”
The organisation also wants the Federal Government to “direct appropriate anti-corruption agencies to promptly, thoroughly and transparently investigate allegations that payments totalling N51 billion were made into individual accounts in 2019.”
According to Oluwadare, “the information will also reveal the truth of where the money is going and why it is there, and allow Nigerians an opportunity to assess the impacts of any projects carried out with the recovered loot and the alleged payments into individual accounts.”
The letter, copied to Mr Malami and Mrs Ahmed, read in part: “The public has a right to know how recovered N800 billion loot has been spent, and the details and purpose of the alleged payments into individual accounts.”
“As a signatory to the UN Convention against Corruption, the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Nigeria has committed to ensuring transparent management of public resources, and unhindered access to public information. These commitments ought to be fully upheld and respected.
“Transparency over transactions by the government is critical to ensuring public confidence in the integrity of the management of public resources. The authorities are required to set the highest standards of transparency, accountability, and probity in the management of these resources and the programmes that they oversee.
“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.
“Publishing the details of projects on which the N800 billion recovered loot has been spent and a comprehensive list of names of people from whom they have been recovered, as well as investigating allegations of payment of billions of naira into individual accounts, and the projects for which the payments were made, would also serve the best interests of the general public.”
The Nigeria government has denied reports that it is planning to hand over about $100 million of the money looted by former Head of State, Sani Abacha, to the governor of Kebbi State, Atiku Bagudu.
In court papers filed before the District Court for the District of Columbia in Washington DC, as reported by Bloomberg, the United States Department of Justice claimed that the payment was part of an agreement with the governor in 2018.
But the government clarified the controversy in a statement on Saturday from the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami.
Malami explained that the family assets of Governor Bagudu, in contention with the United States, was a separate cause.
He insisted that they have nothing to do with the assets recovered under the Abacha 2014 Non-Prosecution Agreement.
The minister highlighted the transparent management and utilisation of returned assets as core components of the government’s anti-corruption drive.
According to him, the present administration is committed to independent asset recovery efforts in a manner that is consistent with domestic laws, national interest and its obligations under international law.
Malami, however, stated that the US government and the Bagudu family have been in court since 2014 over assets already rescinded under the 2003 agreement.
He insisted that the government would continue to fight the menace of corruption and engage international partners in the recovery and return of stolen assets to the country.
The minister added that the 2020 agreement would be managed by the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority and monitored by the civil society organisations.
Read the full statement below:
WE ARE NOT COMMITTED TO PAYMENT OF $100M OUT ABACHA LOOT- MALAMI
The Federal Government of Nigeria is strongly committed, in principle and practice, to fighting the menace of corruption.
A core component of Nigeria’s anti-corruption efforts includes the transparent management and utilisation of returned assets as well as independent asset recovery efforts in a manner consistent with its domestic law, national interest and its obligations under international law.
President Buhari remains the first President of Nigeria to make this commitment and has never and does not plan to deviate from these commitments contrary to statements in the media.
To achieve the President’s objectives, the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) has engaged and continues to engage with international partners, including the United States of America, in the recovery and return to Nigeria of stolen assets.
Nigeria and the United States of America are continually cooperating in the recovery and return of those assets.
This long-standing cooperation recently culminated in the successful signing of a memorandum of understanding for the repatriation of over $300 million looted assets associated with General Sani Abacha.
It is pertinent to recall at this juncture that prior to the 2020 agreement with the United States and the Island of Jersey, the Federal Government has signed an agreement for the return of over 300 million US dollars in 2017 which was effectively deployed for the purpose for which it was agreed to be applied without any issue of reputation
The FGN is also negotiating the recovery of assets from several countries and the agreements for the recoveries and the procedure for recoveries are always presented to Federal Executive Council for approval and duly made public once the processes have been concluded.
No third-party interest was captured in the Council memo that was approved by the Council.
The 2017 repatriated funds were deployed to the implementation of the Social Investment programme and are being monitored by civil society organisations across the country.
The 2020 Agreement which will be managed by Nigeria’s Sovereign Investment Authority, will also be monitored by civil society organisations and will be used to support the completion of critical road infrastructures, namely Abuja to Kano Road, Second Niger Bridge and the Lagos to Ibadan expressways.
These projects will support socio-economic development across the country.
Nigeria is also cooperating with the United States in the recovery of several other assets, including corruption proceeds linked to former Petroleum Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke and her associates, and former State Governor James Ibori, as well as several others.
The government of President Buhari remained committed to the recovery of whatever funds are owed Nigeria and the government in that regard, has gone to court in different countries to assert its rights as a victim of corruption in order to have those assets returned to Nigeria.
In the same manner that Nigeria is asserting its rights to the assets, there are others, including individuals, entities, and countries who have rights and who have gone to court to contest the legality or otherwise of Nigeria’s claims against their assets.
It is well known that the USA and the Bagudu family have been in court since 2014 over assets already rescinded under the 2003 Agreement.
The matters are to be determined in the United Kingdom and the United States Courts.
The Bagudu family assets in contention, which constitutes a distinct and separate cause of action, does not have anything to do with the assets already recovered and being recovered under the Abacha 2014 non-prosecution agreement.
It is therefore mischievous and pedestrian for anyone to seek to turn the law and the facts on its head on the matter of repatriation whose terms are clearly spelt out and agreed among the parties.
The government of Nigeria remains fully committed to continued cooperation with the United States of America and other countries in a reciprocal manner.
We urge the media and the general public to wait for the outcome of the court decisions and ongoing settlement efforts in this matter.
Dr. Umar Jibrilu Gwandu
(Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations
Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice)
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has called on the National Assembly to save the nation by immediately undertaking a forensic probe of the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
This comes against the backdrop of reports in which the United States Department of Justice alleged that the Nigerian government plans to hand over about $100m out of the money looted by late former Head of State, General Sani Abacha, to Kebbi State Governor, Atiku Bagudu.
In a statement on Saturday by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, the PDP decried the alleged huge corruption in the Presidency.
It claimed that the recent revelation has further exposed that the government has been living a lie – parading as saints with false anti-corruption posturing.
According to the main opposition party, the Presidency has been swimming in “a huge ocean of corruption and massive treasury looting”.
The statement said, “PDP’s call is predicated on the stinking reports by the US Department of State that the President Buhari-led Government plots to funnel the repatriated money to certain individuals connected to the Presidency, including a particular state governor allegedly involved in the initial looting of the money.
“The PDP says the report that the Buhari-led government has been blocking attempts to recover part of the looted funds traced to Kebbi State Governor, Atiku Bagudu, the Chairman of All Progressives Congress (APC) Governors Forum, who was reportedly indicted by the US for allegedly helping in transferring billions of dollar out of the country during the military era, speaks volumes of the corruption and concealments going on in the Buhari Presidency.
“Moreover, further revelations in the report that instead of recovering the stolen money, the Federal Government is even in the process of funnelling $100 million (N36.3 billion) out of the looted funds to Governor Bagudu, highlights the humongous sleaze, duplicity, and treachery that pervade the Buhari administration.
“From the report, it is clear that the Buhari Presidency has further smeared itself, and no longer commands the trust and confidence of stakeholders within and outside the country in its fight against corruption.
“There are already apprehensions in the public space of huge complicity and patronising of corruption under President Buhari’s watch, which is directly responsible for our worsening corruption rating, a comatose economy, hardship, and untold suffering which have turned our nation into world’s poverty capital.”
The PDP, therefore, called on the National Assembly to redeem the image of the country by invoking its statutory instruments to order a forensic investigation into the handling of repatriated funds.
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.”
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.”
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.
The Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal by the family of late Military Head of State, General Sani Abacha, asking for an order to unfreeze some bank accounts belonging to him and other members of the family.
The accounts, domiciled in banks in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Island of Jersey, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg, were frozen following mutual agreements entered between Nigeria and the countries during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Delivering judgment in the appeal filed by a son of the late head of state, Mohammed Abacha, a five-man panel of the apex court led by Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, unanimously held that the suit which was first initiated before the Federal High Court in Kano in January 2004 had become statute-barred.
In the lead judgment read by Justice Amina Augie, on behalf of Justice Chima Nweze, the apex court affirmed the concurrent decisions of both the Federal High Court in Kano and the Court of Appeal, Kaduna division, which had both dismissed the suit for being statute-barred.
Following the mutual judicial assistance entered into between Nigeria and Switzerland in 1999, former President Obasanjo had asked the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Kanu Agabi at that time, to write to the Swiss government to freeze all bank accounts held by Abacha and his family members between 1993 and 1998 in the foreign countries.
The government discovered the accounts in Abacha’s name in Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Island of Jersey, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg and had them frozen.
On the 28th of January 2004, the Abacha’s family challenged the freezing of their accounts by filing the suit at the Federal High Court, Kano but the court dismissed the suit on the grounds that it was statute-barred.
The AGF stated that the money which is in the custody of the Island of Jersey will be sent to the USA within 27 days, and then within 45 days, the money will be repatriated to Nigeria.
The money is expected to take care of three major infrastructure projects; the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the Abuja – Kano Expressway, and the Second Niger Bridge.
“The money as it is, in the custody of Island of Jersey where it was deposited and then the United States came on board on account of the fact that it has an order of forfeiture restraining the money against the background that its financial means of exchange, the dollar, was used in the perpetration of the crime of looting the asset of Nigeria.
“So that brings about the parties of interest to be the Island of Jersey where the money was stashed, the USA which initiated the judicial process for the repatriation of the money and Nigeria which is indeed the victim; so the common agreement that was reached is that within 27 days, the money will leave the custody of Island of Jersey down to the USA and within 45 days the money will be repatriated to Nigeria.
“We are looking at around 72 days from Tuesday when the agreement was signed and executed by the party,” he added.
Other Monies To Be Repatriated
Mr. Malami also intimated that the Federal Government is in further talks to repatriate other monies looted and stashed abroad.
He revealed that the $318m recovered is not the last looted by Abacha and the Buhari-led government is also working to ensure that other funds are recovered immediately.
“As it is, there are additional monies not only relating to Abacha but indeed extending to other parties of interest, inclusive of monies to be recovered relating to James Ibori, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, former governors in Nigeria, former petroleum minister, Diezani and indeed Kola Aluko.
“Negotiations commenced on these additional monies yesterday (Tuesday) and we look forward to signing an agreement in no distant future for the purpose of the repatriation of the additional sum.
The AGF added that “Part of the money we are looking forward to having repatriated in no distant future include some of the monies that are now domiciled in the UK, US, and France.
“In respect of Abacha, it is not the last, we are still expecting additional money,” he revealed.
When asked about the fees paid by the Federal Government to lawyers for facilitating the recovery of the monies stashed abroad, Mr. Malami intimated that President Buhari had restricted payment of fees not to exceed five percent.
He stressed that before President Buhari came into power, Nigeria paid as high as 35 to 40 percent professional legal fee.
“When recoveries are involved, you have to concede certain things because as it is, Nigerian lawyers cannot come over to the UK, Island of Jersey or the US to practice for the purpose of recovering certain proceedings because he is not licensed to practice offshore; so we have a concession of lawyers both local and international that work together on the basis of negotiation.
“Before the government of President Muhammadu Buhari came on board, Nigeria was conceding around 35 to 40 percent legal fees, but he gave a restriction that the professional fee payment does not exceed 5 percent.
The AGF stated that “As far as this government is concerned, no payment has been conceded above the 5 percent over time and there are times we negotiate below the 5 percent margin.”