Accountability is a key component of good governance. No government business or activity should be shrouded in secrecy. It is the duty of the citizens in free, democratic societies to hold elected leaders accountable. The original excitement that accompanied the repatriation of the Abacha loot has now evaporated because the former Obasanjo administration didn’t show convincing evidence of how and where those funds were applied to the welfare of Nigerians.
While many Nigerians got tired of reading about the repatriation of the Abacha loot because they have no idea where the money went, one must praise the tenacity of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) for its persistent efforts to get the accurate facts about the expenditure of the recovered Abacha loot.
Despite the razzmatazz that greeted the recovery of the Abacha loot, amounting to 500 million dollars, Nigerians have remained unimpressed about these huge figures. Instead, they want to know exactly where these huge funds were applied to in order to improve their welfare. It is not enough to be telling Nigerians about the recovery of the Abacha loot without also informing them how these huge funds were invested. Based on these concerns, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project forwarded a petition to the former finance minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala and the World Bank.
According to the transparency watchdog, it recently received 700-page documents from the World Bank containing details of explanations offered by the former finance minster regarding the expenditures of the recovered Abacha loot. Dr Okonjo-Iweala explained that the Abacha loot was spent in the 2004 and 2005 budgets on roads, electricity, education, water and health across all the six geo-political zones of Nigeria.
According to the documents made available to SERAP, N18.60bn was spent on roads, N6.20bn on water, N10.83bn on health, N21.70bn on electricity and N7bn on education. The special adviser to the former minister of finance, Mr. Paul Nwabikwu, also explained that the recovered Abacha loot was channelled into rural development projects in line with the agreement with Swiss government, which repatriated the funds. He said a combined team of Nigerian and Swiss NGOS, with the World Bank, verified the use of the 500 million dollars Abacha loot. However, as for as sceptical Nigerians are concerned, there are still more questions to be answered. Giving a breakdown of figures is not enough if these projects cannot be independently confirmed by other Nigerians.
For example, Nigerians want to know precisely where these rural projects are located. The beneficiaries of the health, education, water and road projects should be able to identify and feel the impacts of these projects. Reeling out figures of expenditure which cannot be verified or confirmed by the supposed beneficiaries of these figures may not be enough to convince Nigerians. According to Dr Okonjo-Iweala, the monies were spent in the 2004 and 2005 budgets. Ironically, the 16 years of PDP witnessed significant decline in the quality of electricity, health, water, education and road projects. Projects are not executed on paper; they should be physically identifiable and verifiable. Nigerians want to know the names of the rural areas and states where the recovered Abacha loot was expended for. Beyond the Swiss NGOS and the World Bank which were cited as witnesses to the expenditure of the Abacha loot, there must be an independent assessment and confirmation of those projects.
President Muhammadu Buhari should establish an independent committee of experts to go round the country to verify the location of these projects and establish how much of the Abacha loot actually went into those projects. Transparency in the management of recovered looted funds is as important as fighting corruption. What is the point recovering billions of looted funds, and leaving the citizens in the dark about the expenditure of the stupendous wealth? Public trust is critical to the success of government policies.
Once the Abacha loot is shrouded in controversy, especially the proper utilization of the funds for the benefits of the citizens, Nigerians would lose interest in any future loot recovery efforts.
Former President Obasanjo made so much noise about the Abacha loot, but his administration owes Nigerians convincing explanations about the expenditure of the Abacha loot with a view to establishing that every penny of the repatriated funds was invested honestly for the welfare of Nigerians.
Kachalla, a retired local government worker, contributed this article from No. 68 Yahaya Road, Kaduna