By Nnamdi Ojiego
Executive Chairman of Centre for Anti-corruption and Open Leadership, CACOL, Mr Debo Adeniran, speaks on Abacha loot. Excerpts:
Abacha loot has become a recurring decimal. How much did Abacha actually steal?
It is almost evident that nobody actually has an accurate figure of how much the Abacha regime took away from Nigeria, based on findings and discoveries made in different countries. Before now, we thought it was only Switzerland that had been keeping Abacha loot.
Now, we know that part of the loot is also in the United States. It is not unlikely that some will be in other European and even Asian countries and until it is discovered, nobody will know where the monies are kept. Now, humongous monies have been recovered. What we want to be sure of is if it’s only Abacha and his family that actually stole the monies. We want anybody who has benefited from the loot to be adequately investigated, diligently prosecuted and, as a matter of fact, adequately punished.
Abacha couldn’t have stolen the huge amounts alone. Some people must have helped him…
First and foremost, I should tell you that when a criminal case involves a dead person, it is likely that you’re not going to get first-hand information about how the crime was committed. Everyone will attribute it to the dead witness because Abacha is supposed to be a principal witness in the case of the loot.
Now, what we should know is that there are procedures for the release of funds under any government. A budget and requisition must be made for goods and services to be procured. Now, the Accountant General must be aware, he will be the one to prepare the vouchers. The Auditor-General must sanction, to say that the copies are accurate.
If it is a contract, there must be an advertisement for the contract to be executed. This will be opened to the public, inviting several professionals; different MDAs, relevant NGOs will be part and parcel of the opening of the bids and the winner of the bid will be known publicly.
Now, if such things were done and the release of the money was done by the Ministry of Finance as assented to by the Auditor General, all of these people that were involved would have been aware that the contract was a funny contract not meant to be executed but money was still released anyway. And that’s the way money could have come out from the national treasury.
Again, these monies that were sent to offshore accounts could not have been sent without the involvement of some financial institutions because any money sent offshore must be with the knowledge of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, through the Financial Regulatory Commission of Nigeria, FRCN.
I’m not sure that we have NFIU then but whether we had it or not, the CBN must sanction those humongous amounts to leave the shores of Nigeria. Now, everyone that was involved in the process of preparing the monies, making requisition for them, sanctioning and releasing the monies, and transferring the monies from one financial institution to another must be rounded up and must have a lot of explaining to do. And one of them is a serving governor that they are talking about.
This man was found out and he was repatriated from America to Nigeria with a view to making Nigerian authorities to further investigate, prosecute and punish him but he entered into a plea bargain with former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration whereby he released about $165million.
We believe that if it was a proper plea bargain, that doesn’t mean that he would not be punished but punishment could be reduced or discounted. But in this case, instead of punishing him for the offence of stealing and money laundering, he was rewarded with the opportunity to contest as a senator two times. Now, he contested for governorship position and won and assumed immunity.
This immunity prevents anti-corruption agencies from doing any work on him. Now, the agreement entered into with him by the Obasanjo’s government is the reason the present government seems to be under an obligation under the agreement to release $100m to him since the government is a continuum. And we are saying that there’s no way a suspected criminal in a civilised society should be compensated with the money that could fix several infrastructural gaps in the country.
Talking about infrastructural deficiencies, to what extent will Abacha loot have resolved our road, healthcare, power and housing problems bearing the value of the naira at that time in mind?
Let me talk about what the $100m to be paid to the serving governor can do in the lives of Nigerians. Nigeria is trying to take loans to develop its infrastructure. Do you know that the budgets of 20 states put together were not up to $100 million?
That means the people in those states could have survived with that amount of money. Now, on the Abacha loot and the problems it could have fixed, some people have broken it down but I don’t readily have the breakdown of what projects it could have been executed with. However, it could have fixed several schools, it could have equipped several primary and secondary health centres, it could have fixed several roads that could help our people in the rural areas to get their farm produce to city centres. It could have provided storage facilities for perishable goods that our people produced. It could have served as micro-credit for several aspiring small and medium scale entrepreneurs. It could have made life more abundant for millions of Nigerians. This is what one man stole. Do you now see why people like the serving governor are so powerful and they believe that money can buy anything? But with the determination of the anti-corruption agencies headed by Mr Ibrahim Magu and Professor Bolaji Owasanoye of EFCC and ICPC respectively, I believe that the power of money to circumvent the cause of justice is gravitating towards nullity. Very soon, money will be useless when it comes to bringing people who have pillaged the resources of this country to justice. So, basically, the anti-corruption agencies should be circumspect and leave no stone unturned to ensure that all of the criminals that aided the Abacha regime to fritter so much money are prosecuted. And investigation should still be carried out to determine where more money could be hidden. Remember when Panama Papers came out, a lot of revelations were brought to the fore.
The same thing with Paradise Papers! Not much has been done to retrieve all the monies that were hidden in these safe heavens and Nigerians should not treat issues of corruption with kid gloves knowing that corruption is the foundation of all our problems. Therefore, we should not reward corruption with further corruption. Again, nobody should be treated as being above the law. Everybody should be equal before the law. So, the President should not allow himself to be hoodwinked into allowing criminals profit from their criminality.
Was there any way this volume of stealing could have been stopped under Abacha regime?
Well, it takes the political will of those in government to stop stealing from the national treasury. I have analysed to you that if everybody works right, it is not possible that money could have been stolen in the magnitude Abacha was said to have stolen it.
But there were several compromises of the integrity of some of the officials of the government that ought to have stopped the stealing. As soon as the Accountant General knows that the contract for which money was being earmarked is not likely to be executed, he ought not to have done any requisition that could be taken to the Auditor General to check and ensure that proper channels were followed before the money was requested for.
And if the Auditor General didn’t sanction it, it was not likely that Abacha would have access to it because Abacha was actually not a signatory to any cheque.
So, the only thing he could do was to earmark a certain amount for projects to be executed. Now, the release of the money has to pass through all of these gatekeepers. It is these gatekeepers that are supposed to stop it. Remember, those days, there were no instrumentality of corruption prevention like the Treasury Single Account, TSA, BVN, NFIU or SCUAML. If these instruments were in place, it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, for that volume of money to be frittered away from the coffers of government without anyone of the agencies knowing.
For example, the Special Control Unit Against Money Laundry, SCUAML, would have stopped the movement of that humongous amount of money out of Nigeria.
SCUAML works with even professionals because there are occasions when authorities will pay lawyers, accountants, building engineers and road contractors etc. for services they didn’t provide. But if all of them are registered under SCUAML, which is resident in the EFCC, it will be difficult for them because they have to render account of any amount that is in excess of N5m through SCUAML. If they did that, EFCC would have gotten wind of it and stop it. The same thing with the Financial Regulatory Commission of Nigeria, FRCN, which resides in the CBN! Such amount of money couldn’t have been with commercial banks.
So, it was likely to be through the CBN that the money was released to them. So, if that was the case, then somebody in CBN would know or would have been compromised. All of these accomplices should be rounded up and made to confess to what roles they have played in frittering away of our commonwealth.
So, those were the people who would have stopped the stealing and the transfer of money to offshore accounts that are being discovered now. Beyond that, the African Union and the United Nations also have protocols on the movement of money, especially on illicit money transfer. If the right agencies have been working, they would have also discovered the movement of money from a developing country like Nigeria to developed countries like USA, Switzerland and the rest of them, and would have helped us to nip it in the bud. If they had done their work the way they ought to have done it, the monies wouldn’t be in those offshore accounts where they are being recovered.
Nigeria has a mutual legal assistance treaty with the USA. We also have with several other countries that have proved to be safe havens for illicit funds. Nigeria should utilise these treaties, to get the receiving countries to help us verify how many other accounts that are yet to be discovered. These countries should also help us verify and ascertain through whom or which accounts were the loot laundered out of Nigeria.
Again, Nigeria should use the instrumentality of international cooperative endeavour to urge the UN to facilitate and ensure that every penny, every dime that had been stolen in Nigeria is returned intact.
All the receiving countries themselves should not play the role of receiver of stolen property because a thief will not succeed if he does not have an accomplice that helps him to keep the loot.
These countries are serving as accomplices for helping our thieving leaders keep their loot. For receiving those illicit funds, they are the bigger or the biggest of the thieves.
They should have raised the red flag as soon as they saw that illicit funds transfers or funds movement were taking place. However, they didn’t do it that time doesn’t make it belated for them to do it this time around. They should send back our monies without asking for a commission.
If they are not going to send them back with interest, then they shouldn’t insult us further by asking for a commission. And yes, because we cannot trust our leaders, they should help us monitor the utilisation of the repatriated funds.
They should involve civil society organizations like ours, as well as MDAs, individual professionals and bodies that have the integrity to ensure judicious utilization of the repatriated monies. That will be the way to go, moving forward.