The usage of “assets” instead of “loots” to describe funds recently recovered from the former Head of State, General Sani Abacha and returned by the United States, has courted the indignation of many Nigerians.
The Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), had taken to his Twitter account, @MalamiSan, on Monday to confirm the receipt of the fund.
“I am happy to confirm that the Federal Republic of Nigeria on Monday 4th May, 2020 received $311,797,866.11 of the Abacha assets repatriated from the United States and the Bailiwick of Jersey,” Malami had tweeted.
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I am happy to confirm that the Federal Republic of Nigeria on Monday 4th May, 2020 received $311,797,866.11 of the Abacha assets repatriated from the United States and the Bailiwick of Jersey.
— Abubakar Malami, SAN (@MalamiSan) May 4, 2020
Reacting to this, Lagos businessman and politician, Babatunde Olatere Gbadamosi (@BOGbadamosi) replied, “Abacha ‘assets’ or Abacha loot? Call it what it is, or tell us how that money became his ‘assets’.”
“If truly you are happy and you have also confirmed the money is Abacha’s asset. Then the money should be returned to his family or you tell Nigerians the truth that our money stolen by Abacha has been returned to us,” another user, Proudly Esan (@Angela201045315), wrote under the AGF’s tweet.
Bid Ibeobi replied, “Calling it Abacha loot is tantamount to committing political suicide. Till this date his paymaster is still living in denial.”
Aye Mojubar (@ayemojubar) said, “This statement has been written the sand of time and engraved on the granite of eternity, and each time people mention Abacha now or in the future, you will always be remembered for tagging a stolen money ‘Abacha assets'”.
Suleiman Abubakar asked, “How can anyone with a modicum of common sense and decency call our stolen funds Abacha assets? What was Abacha’s legitimate salaries as a military General? Those salaries are his assets, anything above those earnings is theft and stealing from the National treasury and is a loot.”
OjaSankara tweeted: “Lol no be only Abacha assets, Abacha’s loot dey fear you to talk? Talk am I dey here nobody go do you anything.. Call it what it is, LOOT! Buhari’s Boss and Friend was a LOOTER!”
The tweet by the AGF, which as of 6:30pm May 5 has garnered 1,300 Retweets and 4,100 Likes, continued to generate controversies.
Focus on fund utilisation, not rhetoric – Malami
However, reacting to the furore the tweet is generating, the AGF in a statement on Wednesday advised Nigerians to “look beyond verbal dexterity and vocal acrobatics, and focus more on effective utilisation of the recovered looted funds in accordance with the content of the signed tripartite agreement in the interest of the Nigerian public.
In the statement by his media aide, Dr Umar Gwandu, Malami said during the course of negotiations for the repatriation of the funds, he had always referred to the funds as Abacha loot, adding that calling it assets is not unusual.
“It may interest the general public to note that there is a unit called Assets Recovery and Management Unit (ARMU) at the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice,” the statement read.
“The use of the word ‘assets’ in relation to the post-recovery of looted assets is to qualify the same as Federal Government assets.
“It is palpable that news about the successful return of the looted assets has brought nightmares to nay-sayers and pessimists who wanted to frustrate the repatriation process through a campaign of calumny. Hence, resorting to rhetoric instead of burying the heads in shame.
“The return of the looted funds demonstrates not only commendable efforts of the present government but also a pointer to the level of confidence, trust and respect the international community accorded the Buhari-led Federal Government.”
Choice of word an abuse of language – Lawyer
A human rights activist, Barrister Inibehe Effiong, told Daily Trust, that the explanation of the choice of word by the AGF is not satisfactory.
“It is astonishing that Mr. Malami referred to Nigerian money stolen from the country as “assets”.
“The word asset presupposes that the late dictator invested the funds and the Buhari administration is now getting a return on the investment,” he said.
The Lagos-based lawyer said he disagreed with the choice of word by the AGF, adding that “It is an abuse of language to refer to Abacha loot as assets.
“Mr. Malami’s choice of words may be an indication of his affectionate disposition towards the late dictator.”
“Language is important in interpreting historical events. We should not resort to insensitive euphemism when describing the atrocities of past leaders,” he added.