The repatriation of $311 million Abacha loot to the Nigerian treasury could not have come at a better time. The combined effects of COVID-19 Pandemic and oil price slump has left the country’s economy in dire straits, with the managers at sea on what to do.
Non-oil exports and tax revenue are also sure to nosedive. This has led the Federal Government to turn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the capital market for loans.
News that, despite the heavy pressure on the American economy, it had repatriated such a princely sum looted by a former military dictator who decided to fleece his country is therefore welcome.
It’s even more heartwarming because there is a commitment to be transparent in managing and disbursing the repatriated fund. Both the original owners, Nigeria, and country of domicile for more than two decades, agreed on projects to fund with it, as well as the mode of disbursement.
The money is to fund the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Kano-Abuja superhighway. It’s also to give filllip to the Second Niger Bridge project. All the projects are strategic to fixing the infrastructure deficit in the country.
Long delayed by paucity of fund, they are expected to help in greatly benefitting all parts of the country. Although located in the South West, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway serves as the main route to link Lagos, the economic nerve-centre and Port City to the West, North and South.
It is the busiest road and carries more load than any other in Nigeria. The Second Niger Bridge is designed to further open up the South East and South South regions.
The Abuja-Kano expressway, too, links two important northern cities – the federal capital and the most populous northern city.
In addition, a credible social society group is to be involved in monitoring execution of the projects. It is unfortunate these safeguards had to be externally imposed on us before money stolen from Nigeria could be returned. However, the decision is what we ought to have taken on our own.
None of those saddled with executing and monitoring the projects is a foreigner. While it’s demeaning that the United States got inserted in the agreement a threat to pull back the fund if the terms are breached, we should know we brought it on ourselves by the laxity that allowed one person in government to fritter away so much within a short period in government.
Under this administration, about $650 million is said to have been recovered from other countries, with no one in position to accurately account for it.
So was the case under previous governments. It’s therefore not enough to argue that General Sani Abacha was a military dictator, Americans are aware of the various trials and convictions of government officials for corruption by foreign and domestic courts.
We hope no one would be able to manipulate the system to re-loot the loot. The ultimate humiliation would be if the United States has to use her influence to pay back the repatriated fund.
All Nigerians, especially the watchdogs, should watch out from now and insist on strict accountability. This is no time for the National Assembly and the media to take the back seat. If provisions of the Freedom of Information Act must be involved, the media should not refrain to do so.
It is a good opportunity for federal lawmakers to prove that the oversight gear could be actively engaged in the people’s interest. Credible civil society groups like BudgIT and SERAP should not wait to be invited before they subject every approval and release of funds being drawn under this provision to scrutiny.
This is a unique chance to redeem Nigeria’s battered image before the international community. So much money stolen by thieving leaders are still out and can be recovered if this process is handled impeccably.
The$319 million allegedly stashed in the United Kingdom and France should also be retrieved to boost Nigeria’s anaemic economy.