Sharing the Abacha loot – Thisday

The money should be tied to some developmental projects

How best can the recently returned $322million by the government of Switzerland from the money looted by the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha be put into use? The federal government said last week that it would disburse the money through conditional cash transfers to some 302,000 poor households across 19 states. But there are concerns by many Nigerians that this is a decision that is open to abuse, such that at the end of the day the money may just be shared by politicians of the ruling party.

According to President Muhammadu Buhari, the choice of investing the recovered loot in the social investment programme of the administration was to address the problem of extreme poverty and create social equality among Nigerians. “We know people who wake up in the morning and don’t even know where to get their meal from,” said the president. “This whole project is to address that problem, to create social equality, to provide opportunity. We are using international standards developed by the World Bank. The idea is if we can lift one person out of a household out of poverty, it will inevitably affect the entire family.”

The federal government’s social investment programme targeted at the poor started in 2016. The impact of the programme is yet to be felt. Even with the promise that the cash transfer would be monitored to ensure transparency of the process, the position of the federal government will likely face an uphill battle in an increasingly fractious democracy.

Even though the decision to deploy the last tranche of Abacha loot from Switzerland for poverty alleviation was reportedly based on an agreement Nigeria entered into with the Swiss government, many Nigerians are of the view that the deal with the Swiss is heavily flawed because of worries about its distribution. Given the notorious reputation of poverty alleviation programmes in Nigeria, most people believe this could also end up as another political slush fund for the party in power, especially in an election season. How, for instance, were the 19 states that will benefit from the money selected? What happens to the remaining 17 states and the Federal Capital Territory? What are the criteria for selecting the individual households?

Shehu Sani, a senator representing Kaduna centre, argued that it would be impossible to share the loot among Nigerians, saying that the money would end up with beneficiaries nominated by governors, ministers, lawmakers and the president’s men. Instead, he argued that the money should be tied to specific projects that Nigerians could see. The national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Mr. Uche Secondus said the money was already being diverted as “no government will put money in baskets and starts sharing. It is primitive to be spending money without proper appropriation.”

Last week, the House of Representatives also voted down the memorandum of understanding signed by the Swiss government and the Buhari administration on how the latter would spend the $322 million. Hon Karimi Sunday, a member of the House from Kogi State said the MoU between Nigeria and a foreign government was not binding unless approved by the National Assembly. “This money was stolen from Nigeria. It is our money. So, it is the duty of the Nigerian legislature to decide how the money will be spent by appropriation,” he said.

Indeed, many Nigerians had earlier raised questions on how past administrations spent the earlier repatriated funds from the Abacha loot, put at some billions of dollars. Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), claimed that he recovered some $2 billion out of the over $6 billion that Abacha reportedly stole from the country’s coffers. Can the country pinpoint any developmental projects of significance that the repatriated money was used for? It will pay all if the money is tied to some developmental projects.

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