Concerning account number 80020796 and the Abacha Loot

By Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku

I have on my table a letter written by the Attorney General of the Federation and Honorable Minister of Justice of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and dated 24th May 2014. It is addressed to the Asset Forfeiture Money Laundering Section, Criminal Justice System of the United States of America. A perusal of the content of the letter shows that it is merely a response to a query from the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section of the US Justice Department who were seeking to confirm the identities of certain individuals in the US purportedly holding brief for the Federal Government in the matter of the Assets held in Account number 80020796 in the name of Doraville Properties Corporation domiciled in the Deustch Bank International Limited in Jersey, Channel Islands and etcetera.

The story is that while the US government was working on freezing about $480million(overN700billion) looted by the Abacha regime and forfeiting same, certain individuals presented themselves to the US government as representatives of our government with regard to the action filed by the US government against All Assets held in Account 80020796 of the Deutsch International Bank in Jersey. What eventually happened after that letter from the Attorney General was that the US government forfeited the said $480million (over 700billion) and is working with the Nigerian government to repatriate those monies. A lot of people are raising concerns that instead of going the hog and prosecute these individuals who want to steal from what has been stolen from us, and prosecute the secondary beneficiaries of the Abacha loot, the Nigerian government is entering into a sort of deal so as to recover the loot. Recall that prior to this, the Principality of Liechtenstein repatriated the sum of $225million (over N36billion) to Nigeria in June this year. Much of the effort that led to the tracking, and identification of over $500million (over N800billion) stolen by the late Sanni Abacha can be ascribable to the work of a coalition of civil society groups and affiliates locally and abroad, and which has kept the pressure on the people who continually hold brief for and support the looting of Africa to bank vaults abroad.

This discussion is not about the unethical motive of the ambulance lawyers who sought to misrepresent our country with the plan to repatriate those stolen funds. It is not also about a constituting of an inter-ministerial committee already set up by the Jonathan government to identify what projects and programmes that the returned loot will be better invested and served. We are Nigerians and we know as a matter of fact that sometimes when committees are set up that is a signal that nothing is going to get done concerning the issues the committee was set up for in the first place. But this discussion is on the need to keep the process of tracking, monitoring of the repatriated funds alive. I tried to make this point clear, on Thursday 21st August 2014 when a consultative meeting of civil societies as convened by the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, met in Abuja. It would be better left to the imagination what would have happened to the funds in question if the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section of the US Justice Department did not check the backgrounds of four of the lawyers who initiated interest in representing Nigeria, with the Attorney General and Minister of Justice. In fact, even before the letter from the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering department reached the Attorney General, it had been firmly ascertained that one of the lawyers purportedly filing pro hac vice for Nigeria had since August 21, 2012 been debarred from the Maryland Attorney General Grievance Commission on charges that cannot be verified at the time of writing this.

It is indeed a shame that Nigeria will go cap in hand to borrow money either for security or for developmental purposes when these unbelievable sums of monies, which belong to Nigeria, are in banks in the countries that we want to borrow money from. It is also a shame of monumental proportions that at a time when we are looking for money to fix our health care delivery systems in the light of the Ebola scare, and when university teachers downed tools because they needed money to fix the rot in the education sector, such monies as the ones that the US plans to repatriate are somewhere in foreign banks. What makes the scenario even more absurd is that loot like the Abacha dot banks and safe havens in Europe. The Abacha loot is the one we know about and that, I guess is because the chap is no more and no longer has the benefit of mind and body to continue to protect what was stolen from Nigeria.

It is in the light of this that Civil Empowerment wholeheartedly aligns with resolutions reached at that August 21 consultative meeting, i.e., on behalf of the Nigerian people, civil society organisations will interface with the US and Nigerian governments to ensure that reasonable awareness is brought to bear on efforts to recover this loot, and on the ones that have not been discovered. We believe that an enlightened people are of better use in a democracy than an educated one. If they are educated and enlightened, all and well – and this is even though we believe that being enlightened has nothing to do with your level of education. If Nigerians know that Nigerian money nearly equivalent to $20billion is in foreign banks, they will want to know why we have to borrow as much as $1billion (One Billion Dollars) for the sake of providing ‘security’.

• Etemiku, trustee and secretary of Civil Empowerment and Rule of Law Support Initiative wrote in from, Abuja.