Even though he is no more, General Sani Abacha has been humorously described as one of the ancestors of Nigeria who has been donating money generously to successive governments from the land of the dead as his loot was outrageous. Sunday Vanguard captures the looted funds:
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
He’s a man of multiple impressions. To some people, he was an enigma. To others, he was humane. But to many, he was simply a mean dictator and the man who wore the thickest goggles in town. Yet, some quarters preferred him as a consummate soldier, leader par excellence, trailblazer, stabilizer and strategist.
The Man Abacha
That was the late General Sani Abacha, Nigeria’s former Head of State between 1993 and 1998.
The name ‘Abacha’ resonates across Nigeria. He rose through the military ladder to the top echelon.
On December 31, 1983 when the army removed then President Shehu Shagari from power to give way for Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, Abacha announced the power takeover. He also co-announced the coming of the Babangida regime with Gen. Joshua Dogoyaro and it was in that regime that he served as the chief of the army staff.
On November 17, 1993, Abacha took the reins of power after sacking the Shonekan interim administration where he served as Defence Minister. From that day to June 7, 1998, Abacha reigned supreme and maximally. Since he died, however, his name has continued to resonate for mostly the wrong reasons of corruption, fraud and financial embezzlement.
Many believe that his regime encouraged corruption by stashing away illicit funds in foreign bank accounts. One huge surprise about the saga, however, is that it’s been 22 years since Abacha passed on, yet government after government have continued to talk about Abacha loot. Though it may be difficult to place a hand on the figure stolen and hidden in many offshore accounts, Transparency International once said Abacha may have stolen up to $5bn between 1993 when he assumed office and 1998 when he died. Of this amount, successive governments made recoveries.
Recall that there have been one military leader and four civilian Presidents since the passage of the maximum ruler: General Abdulsalami Abubukar from June 8, 1999 to May 29, 1999; President Olusegun Obasanjo from May 29, 1999 to May 29, 2007; President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua from May 29, 2007 to May 6, 2010; President Goodluck Jonathan from May 6, 2010 to May 29, 2015; and President Muhammad Buhari who assumed office on May 29, 2015.
The recovered monies were principally stashed away in four major countries: Switzerland, Jersey Island in United Kingdom, United States and Liechtenstein. During the Abdulsalami era in 1999, $750 million was recovered. Under the Obasanjo administration, $1.2 billion was recovered in 2002; $149 million from Jersey Island, UK in 2003; $500 million recovered in 2004 from Switzerland and another $458 recovered in 2005 from Switzerland. During the Jonathan administration, $1 billion was recovered in 2012 and $380 million in 2015, both tranches from Switzerland. The Jonathan administration also recovered $227 million from Liechtenstein in 2014 and $48 million from the United States the same year.
The government of Buhari government recovered $322 million from Switzerland in 2017 and $308 million from Jersey Island, United Kingdom in February 2020 which is the most current. Of the four countries, Switzerland tops the list of recoveries. A total of about $2.6 billion of the funds so far repatriated to Nigeria was from Switzerland while the other recoveries came from UK and USA.
Significantly, in 2014, the Abacha family entered into an agreement, forfeiting several billions of dollars to the Federal Government, following plea bargaining to drop charges against the late military ruler’s son
Buhari’s government has however decided to plough the recovered funds into its Social Intervention Programmes, SIPs, but there were alarms that that is the vehicle to re-loot the money.
Meanwhile, an agreement was signed by the Federal Government, the government of Jersey and the United States to repatriate the latest $308m under some conditions to ensure the money was not re-looted.
The agreement, which the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, signed behalf of Nigeria, was said to have detailed that the money be used to finance three major projects across Nigeria: Lagos-Ibadan Expressway (Western Region), Abuja-Kano Road (Northern Region), and Second Niger Bridge (Eastern Region).
But the issue took a twist when reports surfaced that there were plans to pay $100m of the money to Alhaji Abubakar Bagudu, a former associate of Abacha but now the governor of Kebbi State, on the grounds of a condition that facilitated the recovery of the money.
The plan has since been denied by the federal authorities.
Transparency International had this to say on the controversial Abacha loot: “In Nigeria, plans are in motion to distribute US$322 million recovered in Switzerland from the late General Sani Abacha, the country’s former military ruler. Abacha is suspected of looting between US$3 and $5 billion in public money.
“Where institutions of accountability are not working well, such cases pose a complex problem: how to make sure that the money is not embezzled again, and actually benefits the real victims of corruption – the ordinary people whose state finances were plundered. In 2006, US$723 million illicitly acquired by Abacha’s family was returned to Nigeria from Switzerland. A significant amount of these funds remains unaccounted for.
“That past experience led Switzerland to controversially attach conditions to the repatriation of this batch of Abacha loot, including third party oversight – meaning that the World Bank will now monitor the distribution of the funds.
“Under the deal, around 300,000 poor families in just over half the 36 states in Nigeria will each receive approximately US$14 per month through the Nigeria National Social Safety Net Program. However, this cash-transfer model has proved controversial, in part because of documented problems with how the safety net programme operates.”
Reps Talk Tough
Getting wind of the redistribution of the funds, the House of Representatives, in 2018, rejected the move by the Buhari government, saying government could not spend money not appropriated by parliament.
The Reps action followed a motion by Hon. Sunday Karimi of the 8th House titled: ‘Urgent Need to Stop the Federal Executive from Spending the Last Tranche of Abacha Loot or Any Recovered Loot At All Without Parliamentary Approval’ on July 5, 2018.
Parliament also rejected any form of conditionalities given to Nigeria by any country, saying that no country had the right to give it conditions on how to spend the money. The House then resolved to investigate the recoveries from 1999 to 2018.
According to Transparency International, below are the details of the recoveries made by successive governments after Abacha’s death in 1998.
- Under General Abdulsalami Abubakar: $750 million
- Under President Olusegun Obasanjo: $2 billion
- Under President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua: $0
- Under President Goodluck Jonathan: $227 million
- Under President Muhammadu Buhari: $630 million
Bottom line: Perhaps there are more looted funds still out there going by the frequency of recoveries by the federal authorities. In that regard, a member of the House of Representatives, Salam Bamidele, said: “I believe that we may not have really gone half way in digging some of those monies stashed away in foreign accounts by the late Gen. Sani Abacha and maybe some people who were close to him”.