The lack of transparency in the management and expenditure of the repatriated Abacha loot will continue to be a moral baggage on the tenure of the former President Obasanjo administration, a man whose self-righteous posturing was punctured by the large-scale corruption under his own government. In the latest reports, the Swiss government has explained why the repatriation of another $321 million dollars of the Abacha loot cannot be handed over to Nigeria “any time soon.”
The Deputy Head of the Swiss Embassy in Nigeria, Mr. Daniel Cavegn, responding to an enquiry by The Punch Newspaper, said the World Bank would have to finalise the projects to be executed with the money by the Nigerian federal government.
He explained: “Once the monitoring of the World Bank for the projects chosen by the federal government of Nigeria is finalised, we will proceed to a bilateral agreement for the restitution, which is the legal basis for the transfer of the money.
It is, therefore, very clear from the language of the Swiss official that his country is unhappy that the repatriated funds were not used for promoting the welfare of ordinary Nigerians. This development is an indictment of Nigeria, and particularly, the former Obasanjo administration should be blamed for leaving behind unanswered questions over the management and expenditure of the Abacha loot. Nigerians could not trace physical evidence of projects and other welfare programmes on which the Abacha loot was spent. It is apparent we have lost the trust of Western governments, an image crisis President Muhammadu Buhari is trying to salvage.
Obasanjo’s former Finance Minster, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was always addressing press conferences to tell us about the recovery of the Abacha loot. She wasn’t however telling us how those funds were applied to the general welfare of Nigerians. She wasn’t also telling Nigerians how much was recovered from other corrupt Nigerians apart from the Abachas. The apparent exclusive focus on the so-called Abacha loot by successive administrations since 1999 is making Nigerians suspicious about the sincerity of the government in fighting corruption vigorously at all fronts.
Was the former Finance Minister telling us that there are no corrupt Nigerians since the death of Abacha in 1998? Was she also telling us that money was not disappearing into private pockets since the beginning of this democracy in 1999? The Global Integrity Group, a Washington-based corruption watchdog, reported that “$129 (one hundred and twenty-nine billion dollars) billion were fraudulently transferred out of Nigeria in 10 years” under our so-called democratic rule. On one occasion alone, the Abachas coughed out $700 (seven hundred million dollars) to the federal government of Nigeria and the United States announced the freezing of another $400 million (four hundred million dollars) of the Abacha loot in readiness of its transfer back to Nigeria.
Many Nigerians have been asking: Why was Obasanjo’s government mainly interested in the Abacha loot? Is it because the man is dead? Is it not ridiculous to make the Abachas the constant focus of Nigerian’s anti-corruption crusade? How can we trust the government that it had the courage to fight corruption by scratching the surface of the problem? What General Abacha allegedly stole cannot stand in comparison to the extraordinary scale of corruption under Obasanjo’s so-called democratic government. Nigerians are really getting bored with the idea that the Abacha loot was the only stolen funds? As a former senior official of the World Bank, our Finance Minister has all the connections internationally to recover looted funds kept abroad by other corrupt public office holders. But we are not seeing that effort.
However, it is surprising why she was always talking about the so-called Abacha loot when billions and trillions stolen by other corrupt officials remain safely kept in foreign banks. Public support is essential to fighting corruption, but that can only be achieved if the government shows enough courage to recover looted funds from all corrupt officials. Nobody however powerful should enjoy any connection or immunity so much that the government cannot go after their looted funds abroad.
Nigerians cannot forget in hurry the amount of enthusiasm and extraordinary efforts put in by the federal government in pursuit of the Abacha loot. But should these efforts end there? Why was our former Finance Minister always silent about the billions of looted funds kept away abroad by other corrupt Nigerian public officials? If the federal government could demonstrate unusual zeal to go to courts abroad in pursuit of the Abacha loot, why was it not applying the same energy in recovering other looted funds?
The exclusive focus of loot recovery efforts on the Abachas is making Nigerians dismiss the sincerity of fighting corruption. Apart from the fact the we cannot find evidence where the recovered Abacha loot were applied to the welfare of Nigerians, it is also disturbing to create the impression that going after the Abacha loot is enough to end corruption in Nigeria.
More money was being stolen under the guise of democratic rule. In fact, a democratic government should be more accountable to the people than military administration. Democracy cannot make any impact on the lives of the people if the government cannot demonstrate enough courage to go after all looted funds instead of the current one-sided efforts on the Abachas. The war against corruption under Obasanjo was appearing to be like a dog-and- pony show.
Are we really serious about this anti-corruption crusade? The razzmatazz about the Abacha loot is diverting public attention from the billions and trillions stolen by other corrupt Nigerian public office holders, which our former Finance Minister was always reluctant to talk about. I refuse to believe that fighting corruption should end with the recovery of the Abacha loot. If the government could hire international lawyers and other experts to facilitate the recovery of the Abacha loot, why were we not seeing the same efforts directed at recovering the billions stolen by other corrupt Nigerian public office holders?
Nigerians would never be impressed by these cosmetic efforts, which focus loot recovery exclusively on the Abachas because the man is dead. The government cannot only change negative public perception towards the anti-corruption war if it is not willing to fight corruption at all levels against anybody. Concentrating loot recovery on the Abachas diminishes the credibility of the anti-corruption crusade. No nation can progress with corruption and, unless the government goes beyond the Abacha loot and go after other big thieves, its credibility will suffer more blows in the eyes of the public. We should not blame Switzerland for the latest embarrassment; we should blame the insincerity and hypocrisy of the former President Obasanjo administration instead.
Sani writes from No. 87 Isa Kaita Road, Kaduna