By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
Eighteen groups identified as Civil Society Organizations, CSOs, have applied to monitor how the Federal Government will spend the recent tranche of $311million that was allegedly looted by late former Head of State, General Sani Abacha but repatriated to the country from the United States of America and the Bailiwick of Jersey.
Applications by the various groups were opened during a bidding process that was organized by the Federal Ministry of Justice in collaboration with the Bureau of Public Procurement, BPP, in Abuja on Thursday.
According to the Head of Assets Recovery Unit of the Ministry of Justice, Mrs. Ladidi Mohammed, the open bidding process was part of conditions the US government and the Island of Jersey gave before they agreed to return the looted fund tagged “Abacha III”, to Nigeria.
Noting that the negotiation spanned over 2yerars with a final agreement that CSOs would be involved to monitor the implementation of projects the repatriated fund will be used for, was reached, Mrs. Mohammed, said: “The government wants the process to be as transparent as nature can allow”.
“We believe that CSOs are part of the grassroots and can be able to make an assessment of how the money was spent”, she added.
She disclosed that following advertorials in the media, a total of 18 groups entered their submissions both in hard-copy and electronically through email.
Meanwhile, whereas submissions by 17 of the groups were accessed and accepted for review by the Committee, one of the groups was however disqualified in view of the fact that its application was received around 12:30 pm, which was 30 minutes after the stipulated submission period had elapsed.
The groups that successfully entered their applications on Thursday were; Triump Oil & Gas Ltd, International Action Center, GPM Associates, Phenai Consults Ltd/Africa In Foundation Infrastructure, CLEEN Foundation, Olotu Lekan F. & Co, Anti-Corruption and Research-Based Data Initiative, Public & Private Development Center, PPP Advisory Consortium, Center For Social Justice.
Others are: Arewa Community and Social Development Network in Nigeria, Quadrante, IBLF Global, Restitution Impact Limited, Urban Projects Prospects Integrate Services Ltd, Foundation for Public-Private Partnerships, and Global Society for Anti-Corruption.
Head of the BPE team, Nasir Bello, explained that groups that scaled through the technical bid review procedure would be invited to participate in the financial bid phase.
He further disclosed that while 12 out of the 17 listed groups submitted hardcopy applications, five of them made their entry through softcopy applications that were received via email.
It will be recalled that the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, had earlier indicated that the repatriated fund will be channeled towards expediting the construction of three major infrastructure projects across Nigeria, namely: The Lagos – Ibadan Expressway, Abuja – Kano Road, and The Second Niger Bridge.
He said FG was in the process of establishing a Project Monitoring Team to oversee the implementation of the projects and to regularly give progress reports to the public.
“To ensure transparent management of the returned assets, the Nigerian government will also engage a Civil Society Organisation, who has combined expertise in substantial infrastructure projects, civil engineering, anti-corruption compliance, anti-human trafficking compliance, and procurement to provide additional monitoring and oversight”, Malami stated.
The AGF said the $311,797,866.11 “Abacha assets” repatriated from the United States and the Bailiwick of Jersey, included interest that accrued from February 3, 2020, to April 28, 2020, when the fund was transferred to the Central Bank of Nigeria.
He noted that the litigation process for the return of “Abacha III” commenced in 2014, while the diplomatic process that culminated into the signing of the Asset Return Agreement on
February 3, 2020, by the Governments of Nigeria, USA and the Bailiwick of Jersey, commenced in 2018.
The recovered funds were laundered through the U.S. banking system and hitherto held in bank accounts in the Bailiwick of Jersey.
However, in 2014, a U.S. Federal Court in Washington D.C. forfeited the money as property involved in the illicit laundering of the proceeds of corruption arising in Nigeria during the period from 1993 to 1998 when General Abacha was Head of State.
In 2017, Nigeria filed a case in the Bailiwick of Jersey to assert its authority as the owner of the funds and as the victim of the action of the late Head of State, General Abacha.