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APC Won’t Account For Recovered Loot

Occasionally, Nigeria’s judiciary wakes up.  It looks around, acknowledges its fundamental obligation, and acts with that sense of responsibility. One week ago, the Federal High…

Occasionally, Nigeria’s judiciary wakes up.  It looks around, acknowledges its fundamental obligation, and acts with that sense of responsibility.

One week ago, the Federal High Court in Abuja, ruling in a case brought by SERAP, ordered the federal government to disclose how much of General Sani Abacha’s stolen funds it has recovered since 1999, and how the money was used.

The words of the presiding court officer, James Kolawole Omotosho, are: “the exact amount of money stolen by General Sani Abacha from Nigeria, and the total amount of Abacha loot recovered and all agreements signed on same by the governments of former presidents Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan and Buhari.”

We have been here before: In 2012, SERAP filed the first case of this nature.  It took a while, but delivering judgement in February 2016, Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court in Lagos ordered that President Muhammadu Buhari and his predecessor governments since 1999 must “account fully for all recovered loot.”

Justice Idris ruled that all those governments had “breached the fundamental principles of transparency and accountability for failing to disclose details about the spending of recovered stolen public funds, including on a dedicated website.”

That ought to have been easy enough.  After all, Buhari had for decades proclaimed from every available rooftop that he was the champion of integrity and would vanquish corruption in Nigeria.

But that was before he tasted the presidency, and because Nigerians did not know that Buhari was a stage actor who was more fundamentally corrupt than anyone who had ruled before him.

And so, no longer wearing his actor’s robes, Buhari scoffed at the court order.

In July 2017, it happened all over again.  Giving judgment on another FOI suit, also by SERAP, Justice Hadiza Rabiu Shagari of the Federal High Court asserted that the government had a legal obligation to identify to Nigerians all suspected looters of the public treasury, past and present.  She ordered the Buhari-led government to publish a list of such people from whom it had recovered public funds and the sums recovered from them, since it assumed office.

Buhari had promised to publish the list earlier in the year but reneged.   Following the judgment, Abubakar Malami, the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, told reporters in Abuja that the government agreed with the ruling and would implement it.  He told State House correspondents the same thing the following day.

But lying was the principal currency of trade of the Buhari government, and Malami was one of its key traders.

A few months later, he met with officials of SERAP in Abuja.  He told them that President Buhari had directed all agencies involved in the recovery of looted funds to put relevant documents together towards “fully and promptly” enforcing the judgment of the court.  The bodies included the Ministries of Justice and of Finance, the EFCC, and the ICPC.

Again, Malami was lying on behalf of Buhari, the government and his office.  The proof is that they spent five more years in office without honouring that promise.

Buhari’s commitment to democracy had never gone beyond “elect-me” pretense.  Once elected, he acknowledged only one lever of power: the military.  In his mind, there was no recognition of the theory that the government had other arms, particularly the judiciary.

The legislative arm, particularly in his second term, was the docile Senate President Ahmad Lawan, whom he needed for purposes of facilitating large foreign loans.  He tantalized the manipulable man with dreams of succeeding him in Aso Rock.

There was something else.  As soon as Justice Idris gave that first verdict in 2016, Obasanjo provided Buhari with guidance on how to use the strongman approach: ignore everybody and tell them you are not the Central Bank.

That counsel came in an interview in which he called “stupid” and “ignorant” all who asked him to account for the recovered loot he received while in office.  “The man who asked for it, the man who gave the judgment or who answered them are all stupid, with due respect.  I don’t keep account, all Abacha loots were sent to Central Bank of Nigeria…”

A president, current or former, ought to be decent enough never to insult a judge, but decency is not something Obasanjo could be accused of.  Nevertheless, I was one of those at whom he lobbed his missiles, having followed the loot recovery story from the beginning, and being within earshot when he melted down at that interview.  I had consistently asked various administrations to account for the recovered funds.

My intervention began in The Guardian on June 22, 2008, in an article headlined, “Whatever happened to the Abacha loot?”

Among others, in February 2014 I wrote, “Dear Mrs Okonjo-Iweala” and, following her response, “Dear Mrs Okonjo-Iweala II,” an appeal to a key official of the Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan administrations, in which I commented on some of the Abacha recoveries.

“Some of those resources include over $2.5 billion recovered of the Sani Abacha loot,” I said.  “Your successor in Finance, Nenadi Usman, who is now a Senator and who I am sure you run into in the privileged corridors of Abuja, told Nigeria that the funds were given to five Ministries for certain projects.  The funds—$2.5 billion—and the so-called “projects” vanished…”

In July 2014, after Nigeria received from Liechtenstein another tranche of $227 million, l let my skepticism show, as Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala announced that President Jonathan would set up an inter-ministerial committee “to ensure the proper utilisation of the funds.”

I said the new question was the same as the existing one: what had happened to all the recovered funds?  And I predicted that within three years, the Lichtenstein repatriation would also have disappeared.

In March 2015, two months before Buhari took office, I revisited the issue, and told Nigerians who questioned the whereabouts of the Abacha recoveries that the answer was, “GONE!”

That was the preface to the court rulings of 2016 and 2017.

I also wrote this timeline in 2016, questioning whether the recovered funds—officially $2.5bn as of February 2007—had been re-looted, saved or stolen.

I said: “In the interest of every betrayed Nigerian child, every adult ought to rise up and ask: how much, where is it, or on what has this fortune been spent?  You can’t have it both ways.”

Mr. Umaru Yar’Adua, Mr. Jonathan, and then Mr. Buhari, each saw further significant ecoveries, with none of them accepting responsibility to stand by their country and answer the question.

Will the truth now be told?  In effect, will the powers that be, led by the Governor’s ‘Class of 1999’, many of whom were indicted as being leading kleptocrats while they were in office, come forward?

That is a demand for probity from an APC government with eight years of experience during which standards and ethics dropped significantly lower.

That is not going to happen.  APC will protect itself, which means protecting PDP so they can both laugh at Abacha.  If Nigeria wants salvation, it must save itself.

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