By Emmanuel Elebeke & Meribole Chiamaka & Eromosele Fortune
ABUJA- President Muhammadu Buhari says the federal government signed the Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, with the World bank and Switzerland to lift people out of poverty.
President Buhari made this known at the inception meeting of the Mantra project on asset recovery and development in Nigeria by Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ in collaboration with World bank and Switzerland government.
The President, who was represented at the occasion by his Special Adviser on Justice sector reform, Barr. Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu said the choice of investing the recovered loots in the Social Investment programme as captured in the MoU was taken to address the problem of extreme poverty and create social equality among Nigerians.
The president said the administration is committed in partnering with both local and internal partners to ensure transparency and accountability in the management of the recovered loots.
‘‘We are determined to ensure all returned assets back to Nigeria are well utilized.
‘‘When it is returned we want Nigerians to know where this money is being invested in and that is why we signed the memorandum for understanding on the management of the returned assets from Switzerland. The $322million that was returned to Nigeria, we invited Civil Society Organisations to be part of the negotiation. After the negotiation by Nigeria with World bank and Switzerland, we signed that memorandum to make sure that everybody can monitor the use of the funds.
‘‘The use of the funds to be applied to Social Investments, particularly to targeted cash transfer is to lift people out of poverty. We know people who are today in this country that wake up in the morning and don’t even know where to get their meal from. I’m sure you’ve experienced people within your communities so this whole project is to address that problem to create social equality, to provide opportunity.
‘‘There are several countries in Africa where this project has been implemented and it has worked perfectly well, so we are using international standards developed by the World bank. The idea is if we can lift one person out of a household out of poverty, it will inevitably affect the entire family.
‘‘A woman was being paid five thousand naira consistently over time when this program started in 2016, the money she has been able to use it to buy cassava, she’s able to process cassava, she’s now selling garri. What it means is that every day she’s sure that her family will have something to eat and so we want that to happen to several millions of Nigerians, who are living below poverty line today.’’
Recall that the federal government’s Social Investment programme started in 2016 with the federal government budget. In 2016, the federal government budgeted 500 billion naira to support the social investment schemes across the country.
It started with the Northeast due to the problem with the zone, where many people were displaced and so many people could not even go to their farms.
According to the AGF, all the 36 states of the federation today have signed onto the social investment program.
The program is expected to be launched this July which will see the disbursement of the $322 million Abacha’s loot from Switzerland.
However, she said the government is currently working on deployment of the social electronic platform that would help government and the public monitor the disbursement process.
Earlier in his address, the Chairman, Board of Directors of Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, Prof. Ben Aigbokhan said the MANTRA Project is a culmination of their commitment to the process of effective recovery and management of looted assets in Nigeria for over 20 years.
To advance the anti-corruption course, he said the organisation has engaged in advocacy, launched campaigns, attended conferences and meetings, contributed to processes of policy formulation and other activities with the objective of ensuring that assets looted from this country are returned and utilised for the benefit of the citizens of this country who continue to suffer as victims of corruption.
‘‘The perspective of the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, the official commencement of this project can be viewed from two perspectives: the first being specific to the organisation and the other being broader.
‘‘Our focus has also been to ensure that those who engage in the range of corrupt activities that enables the looting of our collective resources are held to account. This is the essential element of our “Corruption Must Not Pay” Campaign that will be pursued as part of this Project.
‘‘The MANTRA Project provides us a unique platform to strengthen our work in this area beginning with the independent monitoring of the use of the 322.5 million dollars Abacha loot for the cash transfer programme of the Federal Government.
‘‘At a broader level, the Project goes beyond just the monitoring of this loot to the more sustainable objective of establishing a regime for the transparent and accountable return and utilisation of looted assets in Nigeria from both external and domestic sources. We must all share the understanding that the continuing debate in the country about the use of the Abacha loot and other domestic and international recoveries will never be resolved fully if there is no established framework to deal with these cases.
‘‘We will continue our work in advocating for the passage of the Proceeds of Crime Bill and other complementary legislative and institutional frameworks that will enhance the overall asset recovery and management regime in the country.’’