Sunday, September 6, 2015

Mr. Buhari, bring back the Loots

Without a doubt, serious discussions about the mitigation of corruption in Nigeria have taken a front seat since the election of President Muhammadu Buhari. As a matter of fact, if you were to take a look at the newspapers and you don’t read about how the monies stolen by Nigerian politicians in the past six years of civil rule in the country are going to be recovered, then you must be living in either Sweden or Norway or Finland. My friends in those Scandinavian countries are adamant that it is impossible for one as an individual to withdraw a thousand dollars from one’s bank account without eye brows being raised about how one came about such a “large” amount of money. But that is to be contrasted with how we are in Nigeria: allegations making the rounds say that one minister alone in the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan made away with as much as $6bn. I do not know if those kinds of monies actually exist and how possible it is for an individual who does not control the instruments of state to steal so much.

But the tantalising thing about the mitigation of corruption in Nigeria is that at long last, we now have in President Buhari a certain Judge Dredge armed to the teeth, and in the mould of a Heracles is willing to take on the rot and flush the shit in our religious institutions, our offices and most importantly from government. We should be grateful. Else, how do you explain that in a Nigeria where people live on just a dollar per day, where power supply is still at its epileptic best and where the universities are shut for months for lack of funding, and where the average life expectancy is just 58, nearly $150bn of what has been stolen by politically exposed persons, businessmen and civil servants is stashed in safe havens in Europe and America? If we were to add the $20bn of allegedly unremitted Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation funds together with the $6bn that is also allegedly in the hands of a single individual, Nigerian money abroad would be totalling nearly $200bn, that is, if allegations that there are other monies yet to be traced are anything to go by.

I have put $200bn in perspective. With that amount of money, all primary school children in Nigeria will get warm tea and bread for breakfast, school uniforms and textbooks in two decades. As a matter of fact, with that amount of money, I very much doubt if we would be going cap in hand to any government for help or to any multilateral institution for a loan to enable Nigerians live off the fat of their land. What the UN Fund for Development Conference held recently in Addis Ababa is thinking of putting down to help Africa transit from the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals in the next three years is $400bn – that money is just double the amount that some privileged Nigerians have stashed away in some of the banks in some of the countries that we go to get loans.

Therefore, if the supreme irony of that fact – that we are often going to borrow our own money – is lost on us, let us be consoled that at least that we have a President whose “body language” is against corruption, and who wants to get those monies back. A major consequence of Mr. President’s trip to the US is that the American government appears sincere with helping Nigeria recover all or part of that $150bn stashed away in American banks or anywhere close to their territory. Whether or not we have the balls to go with the conditions attached to this gesture of friendship remains to be seen. Consequently, I will try to avoid focusing on the twists and turns of pursuing those close to Mr. President who have stolen in the past six years, and the jousts and fencing involved with repatriating $150bn, and be optimistic that Buhari would support innovative methods at recovering Nigeria’s $150bn and more stashed in European and American banks.

At another podium, I have suggested a truth commission on corruption operating on a voluntary disclosure programme akin to what the World Bank has. We are happy that Buhari is nibbling at the idea. But there is a “but” with Mr. President’s fight to bring back Nigeria’s loot in bank vaults abroad. I refer to a secret agreement between the Federal Government of Nigeria under Jonathan with the Abachas over $227m, (N36.32bn), from the Government of the Principality of Liechtenstein, which is part of the looted funds already recovered from the Late Gen Sani Abacha family for repatriation to Nigeria. That amount is different from the US$2bn identified in a Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative report, 2007, as being fourth in place to the $35bn of Mohammed Suharto’s of Indonesia, the $10bn of Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and the $5bn of Zaire’s Mobutu Sese-Sekou. My position has nothing to do with the already identified-and-repatriated-loot but in the finer details of that agreement between Nigeria, and the Abachas. A lawyer friend of mine who lives abroad and who has read the leaked “secret” agreement said the now unsecret agreement “gives the Nigerian government (of former President Goodluck Jonathan) unfettered and secret control over the funds, ensures the lawyers are paid handsomely as first in line and protects the Abachas in numerous ways from further criminal, civil or financial risk”. According to him, Article 2(5) of the agreement says that the Abachas have no obligation to disclose any other stolen assets they may still have – bringing to light the possibility that there are still many hidden monies somewhere. In the agreement, Nigeria cannot further look for these hidden stolen assets, and if any other stolen monies traced to the Abachas are found, they cannot be seized and repatriated. By far the most bizarre aspect of the agreement between the Federal Government and the Abachas is that it prohibits “everyone else in the world from seizing corrupt assets of the Abachas that might be uncovered in the future; and from taking any criminal law enforcement action against the Abachas for any presently unknown crime that might in the future come to light.”

The controversy already generated by Buhari’s insistence on fighting only the corruption of the past six years gets stronger in the light of these issues. That stance of his that fighting the corruption of 16 years will distract him gets things all muddled up if he personalises the crusade against corruption. All he has to do is strengthen all the anti-corruption agencies by passing on whatever information he gets from our American friends, and demands to see results from what he has passed to them. That way, it gives him time to deal with other serious issues like unemployment, security, power, education and agriculture.

The President rode to power on so many assumptions, and one of them is that he would deal with corruption in Nigeria, and not the corruption of his predecessor. Matters get even more awkward with the insinuations making the rounds that he does not have the stomach to address the framework of corruption like the Siemens and Halliburton scandals on which cases of corruption attributable to the Jonathan administration rest.

We believe that Buhari can do it. We believe that his starting point would be the repudiation of that agreement that his predecessor had with the Abachas.

MajiriOghene Bob Etemiku is communications manager with the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, Benin.