Looted funds – The Nation

•Countries where they are stashed should not hide under legal niceties to keep the money

The United States and other countries should remit monies seized from businesses linked with the late General Sani Abacha now.

The recent action by the United States government to make companies linked to funds looted from Nigeria by the late military Head of State forfeit such assets is welcome. In an action filed before a district court in Washington, the American government asked that the said fund, about $500 billion, be forfeited and served notice that the Nigerian justice ministry should file necessary papers to assist in repatriating same to the country. We hope the United States would not hide behind legal niceties to continue holding on to the stolen assets.

While we welcome the moves, we note that neither the American government, nor the Federal Ministry of Justice has done enough to ensure that the money is recovered and duly used for promoting the growth and development of the Nigerian economy. It is 16 years since General Abaca died, and almost 15 since civilians took over from the military, yet, not much has been done to retrieve the funds to reflate the Nigerian economy; rather it is being expended since then to further stabilise other countries.

Countries that are noted to be repositories of the Abacha loot include Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, France, United Kingdom, United States, France and Switzerland. The only one known to have cooperated in recovering the money stashed away in its banks is Switzerland.

It does no good to the image of a country that pontificates on corruption and transparency but encourages corrupt leaders to bleed their countries’ treasuries, thus depriving them use of their resource endowments and keeping such countries perpetually poor. Of the 10 most corrupt leaders ever, Nigeria’s Abacha was number four and the Nigerian funds he looted has been put at two to five billion dollars. This is about N800 billion, which is more than the annual budget of seven of the country’s poorest states.

It is unfortunate that the Federal Ministry of Finance has failed to satisfactorily account for recoveries so far and the use to which they have been committed. This is however no excuse for the United States, United Kingdom, France and other economic powers to sit on the looted funds.

We restate our consistent call on the federal and state governments to be more transparent and prudent in financial management. The people deserve to have the full details of looted funds, the countries to which they have been traced, efforts being made at recovery, the level of cooperation by the beneficiaries of the loot and what has been done with what has been repatriated so far.

In all other facets of life, government should deliberately promote openness as a means of growing local and international confidence in its activities. This would also help in mobilising the citizenry for development, and the international community in respecting Nigeria and Nigerians. The task before the Federal Government at this point is to improve the image and economic rating of the country. It is obvious that we missed previous marks because of the insincerity of successive governments. As the national planning ministry has said, the 20-20-20 Plan has failed again. What it did not say was that this government contributed largely to the failure.

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