•Why no deal for now on $322m Abacha loot – Reps
By Emman Ovuakporie
Members of the House of Representatives spoke in one voice to counter the proposed move by the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, to share the $322million loot recovered from a former military ruler, the late Gen Sani Abacha, through the Switzerland government.
Party affiliations were jettisoned as lawmakers took turns to condemn the Federal Government which claimed the Swiss government had given a condition that the money must be shared to poor Nigerians.
According to them, Nigeria’s commonwealth cannot be shared in that manner.
Rather, they want the money paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund, CRF, where it can be disbursed to the three tiers of government as stipulated by the1999 Constitution (as amended).
In addition, they recommended that the Federal Government share of the recovered loot could be used to complete the Ajaokuta Steel Complex which will in turn have a multiplier effect on the economy.
The lawmakers spoke while debating a motion under Matters of Public Importance entitled: ‘Urgent Need To Stop The Federal Government From Expending The Last Tranche Of The Abacha Loot Or Any Recovered Loot At All Without Parliamentary Approval’, promoted by Rep Sunday Karimi, PDP, Kogi.
Eric Mayoraz, Switzerland Ambassador to Nigeria, had, during a roundtable on assets recovery organized by the Swizz Embassy in Abuja, noted that total sum of $722million of the Abacha family money, hidden in Switzerland, had been fully repatriated in 2005.
Mayoraz was quoted as saying that additional sum of $322million which was frozen by the Swizz Attorney-General, was repatriated in December, 2017.
The House of Reps members argued that the move by the Buhari administration to share the recovered loot was in breach of Section 12(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which provides that treaties and agreements reached by Federal Government must be ratified by the National Assembly.
While opening the debate, Karimi said, “Transparency International estimated that about $5billion public revenue was stashed abroad by the late military ruler, Gen. Sani Abacha, between 1993 and1998.
“In 2014, the Abacha family entered an agreement with the Federal Government, forfeiting several billions of dollars to the Federal Government following a plea bargain to drop charges against the late military ruler’s son. The funds have been released to Nigeria in several tranches by the Switzerland government but without much disclosure to the public by government”.
The lawmaker went on, “Recently, the Attorney General of the Federation signed an agreement on behalf of the government of the federation on the release of the last tranche of $322million belonging to Nigeria.
“The Special Adviser to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on Justice Reform, Juliet Ibekaku Nwagwu, was reported to have said that, in line with the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Switzerland government and the Nigerian government, the$322 million will be paid directly to the accounts of poorest Nigerians without recourse to the National Assembly”.
He pointed out that by virtue of Section 12 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), no treaty between the Federal Government of Nigeria and any other country shall have the force of law except to the extent to which such treaty has been enacted by the National Assembly.
“Consequently, no agreement or MoU, purportedly signed by the Federal Government with the Switzerland government, can have any force of law in Nigeria, except approved and enacted by this National Assembly.
“Cognizant that by virtual of Section 80(1-3) and 81 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), all revenue raised and received by the Federal Government shall be paid to the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
“Section 80(3) stipulates that no such monies raised shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund unless the issue of such funds has been authorized by the National Assembly. As a result, no monies can be paid or expended without the National Assembly approval.
“If the money is shared as is being speculated, what was the modality used because we hear that only 19 states are adjudged to be poor in Nigeria?
“They can’t spend Nigeria’s money the way they like and nobody is above the law. The money belongs to the CFR and must be distributed normally and the Federal Government share should be used to complete the Ajaokuta Steel Complex”.
When Speaker Yakubu Dogara threw the matter out for debate, all the lawmakers, who contributed, spoke in favour.
First to speak was Hon. Hassan Salem who said, “How do we determine those earmarked to benefit or identification of poor families? I smell corruption in this exercise”.
On his part, Hon. Uzoma Nkem-Abonta said, “The economic multiplier effect with all the intended reason to feed the poor although noble, let every member make bold to support this motion to protect our laws.
“The Constitution which is the ground norm says such payment should be made to CRF. A departure from it will negate our laws.
“On the other hand, should we continue to feed the poor rather rather support wealth creation and a sustainable method?
“Nobody here is against the poor but if you feed them, will you continue to feed them after the first round?”
Hon. Ossai Nicholas Ossai, in his submission, pointed out that “Section 12 sub section 2 looks into treaties and agreements that must be ratified by NASS”.
Hon. Chika Adamu echoed similar sentiment when he said, “How are we going to share the money? For instance, if I recover my money, nobody has the right to tell me how to spend it.
“I will spend it on my family the way I like and nobody can dictate to me on what to do”.
Hon. Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje, who is the Chairperson of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, had this to say, “I support what Hon Karimi said because to me sharing the money does not make economic sense as Switzerland does not have the right to tell us how to spend our recovered money”.
Hon. Abdulmunin Jibrin, meanwhile, made an amendment to the motion that all the loot traced to Abacha since1998 should be investigated or “we won’t be doing our children any good because an account was not given of how the money recovered was disbursed”.
At this point, the House decided to put Jibrin’s amendment to a voice vote and it was unanimously carried.
The House also resolved to step down the prayers in Karimi’s motion urging the House to direct the Presidency to pay the $322m recovered into the CFR pending the outcome of the work of the adhoc committee investigating the issue.
The adhoc committee is expected to submit its report within six weeks for further legislative action.