opinionBy Bob Majirioghene Etemiku
In June 2018, the Swiss Ambassador to Nigeria announced that with the repatriation of the sum of $322.5million, the Swiss government had concluded the return of about $1billion stolen and hidden in Switzerland by Sani Abacha. The Ambassador said that prior to this, Switzerland had returned close to $800million as part of the monies which Sani Abacha stole and hid in his country.
Because there was a clause within the MoU signed by and between Switzerland and Nigeria concerning the utilisation of the loot for the Nigerian people, the Nigerian government decided to embed the returned loot within an already existing programme— the National Cash Transfer. Even though pundits are divided in their opinions regarding the use of the returned loot, our organisation ANEEJ is more interested in the transparent and accountable distribution of the $322.5million. With support from the Department for International Development, DfID, ANEEJ is Monitoring the returned assets to Nigeria through transparency & accountability, the MANTRA project, and to tackle the social norms which support magomago and jibiti at all levels of our lives. Therefore, whatever it is that the government decides to do is its prerogative as long as the monies are not re-looted, but utilized for the benefit of Nigeria’s ‘poorest of the poor’.
And all and well for the poor. This is because Nigeria was recently designated world capital of poverty. A Guardian Newspaper report of Thursday, November 1, 2018 (page 4)https://guardian.ng/news/nigeria-slips-in-ease-of-doing-business-ranking/, also said that Nigeria houses 88million extreme poor and this is in spite of the fact that OPEC figures say that Nigeria is Africa’s largest crude oil exporter, with 400,000 bpd, valued at USD$10billion annually. Projections from credible sources indicate that Nigeria has a population of about 185 million people with many living on less than a dollar daily. Nigeria has the highest gross domestic product, GDP, at purchasing power parity, PPP, among key African nations – Egypt, South Africa, Algeria, Morocco, Tanzania, Angola, Sudan, and Ethiopia – ‘poverty remains significant at 33.1%’..
From the above we begin to realise that even though the merits behind the proper utilization of the Abacha loot far outweigh the demerits in using the returned monies for the poorest of the poor,there is a ticking time bomb which more repatriated monies can help defuse. That time bomb is the problem of youth unemployment and the building of their capacity to meet the huge challenge of living in a dotcom millennium. Half of Nigeria’s population is under 30 years of age. Most of them are graduates of Nigerian universities, colleges of Education and Polytechnics spread right across the 36 states of the Federation and are perceived as largely unemployable or underemployed.
But there appears to be more unrecovered monies from the Abacha and other thefts that Nigeria can put to the use of this teeming young Nigerian population. In July 2014, the government of Nigeria entered into an agreement with the Abacha family concerning the return of all monies which Abacha stole and hid abroad. That agreement, with about 10 articles and three schedules one of which has an unsigned letter by former president Goodluck Jonathan, authorised Mr. Mohammed Adoke SAN, CFR ‘to contract… in relation to repatriation agreement between Nigeria and the Abacha family. Under article 5 of that agreement, it was expressly stated that there were two lawyers responsible for brokering that agreement. They are Enrico Monfrini of Crettol Associates, Switzerland, standing for Nigeria and Nicola Boulton of Bryne and Partners in the UK. For his services, Enrico Monfrini got an initial four percent of ‘any recovered sums recovered and to be repatriated to, or transferred to Nigeria’.
Under that agreement, the Federal government of Nigeria was also to pay a certain Christian Luscher of CMS Von Erlach Poncet Ltd, 2.8 percent (USD$28million) cash of sums recovered and to be repatriated to, or transferred to Nigeria for the ‘benefit of, the FRN or its people’. While what the lawyer representing the Abachas got is not very clear as at this time, certain issues jump at us immediately. One is what is contained in Article 2(3) which stated that ‘no Party will bring any new proceedings nor pursue further any existing proceedings in relation to the Resolved Matters save as necessary to enforce this agreement. But the most important clause in that agreement between the Goodluck Jonathan government and the Abachas in Article 4 (f) & (g). Signed by Minister of Justice in the Goodluck Jonathan governments and Mohammed Sani Abacha and Abba Abacha on their own behalf and on behalf of the ‘affiliates’, the aforesaid clauses read:
(f) The FGN (ie Nigeria) will end, without any finding of liability or guilt, any and all proceedings of whatever kind including criminal, civil, or administrative proceedings contemplated or pending in any court in Nigeria (including in relation to forfeiture and or restraint) relating to or arising out of any investigations into the Resolved Matters (sic), including in particular the security votes allegations
(g) The FRN will provide to any government, authority or organisation, where necessary information, clearance or such other documentation or support as may be required by any or all of the Settling parties to ensure and guarantee unrestricted movement in and out of Nigeria or in any other state or country.
Gobbledygook as this may sound to the simple, what the above implies is that there are apparently other Abacha loot(s) somewhere else apart from Switzerland. And the agreement seems to suggest to Nigeria that to get all or any of the monies listed on Schedule 1 of that agreement (there were assets in England, Jersey, France, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein), Nigeria must write off any other undiscovered assets after the repatriation of the USD$322.5million from Switzerland. If that is true then it is indeed unfortunate.
In the last 30 months, reports indicate that Nigeria has borrowed close toN10trillion-a tiny fraction of what more that that agreement between the Goodluck Jonathan administration and the Abachas seek to hide from Nigerians. And that is why it is important for President Buhari to repudiate that agreement and resume the search once again for Nigerian monies hidden in countries where we sometimes go and borrow from. While seeking to extend the dragnet against corruption in Nigeria, President Buhari signed 9 bilateral agreements with the UAE in August 2017. He has also signed two Executive Orders, apparently to demonstrate his strong commitment to ridding Nigeria of corruption and entrenching transparency and accountability, fiscal responsibility and to build our economy. If he repudiates that odious 2014 agreement and seeks out other Abacha and other loot by the living and the dead still dotting the nooks and crannies, Nigeria may just be better off for it.
Etemikuis ANEEJ communications manager