By Innocent Anaba
The Socio-Economic Rights & Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged US Secretary of State Mrs Hillary Rodham Clinton to use her visit to Nigeria scheduled to begin on August 10 2009, to press the Nigerian government to exercise sufficient political will and good faith to fight high level official corruption in the country, and to urgently explain to Nigerians the use to which the estimated N600 billion recovered stolen funds have been put.
SERAPâ€™s Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, in an open latter said, â€œdspite the Nigerian governmentâ€™s oft-expressed commitment to the anti-corruption fight in the country, questions remain as to the governmentâ€™s lack political will and good faith to address the longstanding problem of corruption in the country.
The lack of political will is aptly demonstrated by the governmentâ€™s lack of transparency and openness in the spending of recovered stolen public funds, estimated at N600 billion, by both the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).â€
The letter delivered to Mrs Clinton through the US Ambassador to Nigeria, Ms Robin RenÃ©e Sanders also stated that â€œour investigation reveals strong and credible evidence to suggest that most of the recovered funds may have been re-stolen, misused or mismanaged. Rather than dedicating the nationâ€™s resources and wealth to achieve and advance freedom, equality, and dignity of all Nigerians, high level government officials continue to exploit and use the resources for their personal gain.â€
â€œThe spending of recovered funds from the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha (about $1.9 billion returned); the former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun (about N10 billion returned); and the former governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha (about $1.9 million returned) is shrouded in secrecy. This situation is unacceptable as it is fuelling a culture of official corruption and impunity of perpetrators in the countryâ€, the organisation added.
According to the organisation, â€œunless the Nigerian government is pressed to publicly explain the spending of recovered stolen public funds, it would continue to fail to implement its national and international anticorruption obligations and commitments.â€
The organisation also re-called President Barack Obamaâ€™s statement during his recent visit to Ghana, to the effect that, â€œNo country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves or if police can be bought off by drug traffickers. No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery.â€
Senate Foreign Relations Committee as saying that â€œFundamental U.S. national security interests demand that the United States work hard to establish a global climate of intolerance for corruption and bribery.â€
â€œGiven its legal obligations as an important member of the United Nations, its ratification of the UN Convention against Corruption, and its close relationship with Nigeria, the US has a responsibility to contribute to good governance, transparency and accountability, genuine application of the rule of law, and respect for human rights in Nigeriaâ€, the organization further argued.
The group want the Nigerian government, to explain how it spent recovered stolen public funds, since the return of civil rule in 1999. The government should explain exactly how much of stolen public funds have so far been recovered and the use to which the funds recovered have been put.
Where recovered funds are lodged in bank accounts, the government should disclose how much interests have accrued to such funds and ensure full compliance with the provisions of the UN Convention against Corruption, especially the Conventionâ€™s provisions on effective prosecution of high level government officials suspected to be involved in corruption, and on asset recovery