INTERVIEW WITH BBC ON THE $23M ABACHA LOOT AGREEMENT
Hello and welcome to Newsday with Rana and James. The trail of millions of dollars put away in foreign banks by the Nigerian Former President Sani Abacha.
Nigeria has just signed an agreement for another $23M stolen money to be returned by the United States. The money is part of the asset hidden by the former president, Sani Abacha in foreign bank accounts. Up until now, between 500-600 million dollars of the hidden Abacha asset have been returned by the US, Switzerland, and the Island of Jersey which is a financial centre for the UK. So what happened to these ill-gotten gains when they return to Nigeria? Someone that knows is Rev. David Ugolor, Executive Director of the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice. They monitored how returned loot is spent and he joins us now. Welcome to the programme. So far, what has happened to all the money that has come back?
Ugolor: As you know there are different assets that has been returned to Nigeria from different countries. The US has returned, the UK government has returned, the Swiss government has returned and Ireland has also returned and several other countries have also returned different assets back to Nigeria. So if you ask the question what has happened, it depends on the one you are asking at what time. But as you know, the popular one that everybody is familiar with is the Military Dictator Sani Abacha who stole so much from the country that Transparency International tried to put a figure to about 5 billion US dollars. If you look at the total, today we are now in Abacha 5. We have decided to categorize them. We have the Abacha 1, which was the first tranche that came from Switzerland. Over $700M and then the second tranche which we refer to as the Abacha 2, which is the $321M, we have the third tranche, which is $311M that came from Jersey, and then we have this $23M which the government has now referred to as Abacha 5. And so these different tranches that have come, we have monitored the Abacha 1 and Abacha 2. Now in Abacha 1, there were quite a number of problems, lack of transparency and accountability and so when Abacha 2 was returned which is the $321M and the agreement was signed in the United States in 2017 at the sideline of the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) and the provisions were very clear. The issues of transparency and accountability were mentioned in that agreement. The involvement of Civil Societies was also focused on monitoring, so we can say very clearly that there was difference between what happened in Abacha 1 and Abacha 2.
Is it in your sense that your monitoring Civil Society looking closely at what happened to the money has made a difference?
Exactly, and then the US and UK government decision to be a bit more active in terms of what and how the money is used played a major role as well. Over 200 CSOs were recruited across the country under the MANTRA project. MANTRA is an acronym for Monitoring recovered assets through transparency and accountability. The MANTRA model became a very big success. We had support from the UK government through this support, over a million pounds was provided for Civil Society capacity building in Nigeria that monitored funds and that played a major role in seeing what we are seeing towards the success around the Abacha 2.
What do you think this latest S23M, Abacha 5 should go towards and how can it help Nigerians?
The agreement already identified that it is going into 3 major projects in Nigeria. They are big presidential infrastructural projects. One of them is the Abuja -Kano road and the second is the Niger Bridge while the third is the Ibadan – Lagos Road. These are three major infrastructural projects which the $23M will be going into and for us that is a huge step and we are very happy that if those three projects are completed, it will have impact on the economic development of Nigeria.
INTERVIEW WITH VOICE OF AMERICA ON THE $23M ABACHA LOOT AGREEMENT
Good evening and welcome to Nightlife Africa, we are coming to you from the English service of the Voice of America. Thanks for joining us, I’m Peter from Washington DC.
Still in Nigeria, A civil society group has welcomed an agreement signed between the government in Abuja and Washington to return $23M recovered from the late military ruler Gen. Sani Abacha. The Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice says it plan to be part of the process to independently monitor the disbursement of the recovered fund and the project that the money will be used for. The agreement between the two countries Nigeria officials said is due to negotiations between the country, the US state department, and the United Kingdom National Crime Agency. Rev. David Ugolor, the Executive Director of the Civil Society Group and leader of the monitoring transparency and accountability project is calling on Nigeria’s Attorney General to make public the agreement signed between Nigeria and the United States. For more reaction about the recovery of the S23M, I reach Rev, David Ugolor.
Ugolor: Firstly, I welcome it because we think this is a demonstration of leadership by the US government. Again, like they say, “Put your mouth, where your money is”. What the US government has done is to put live to the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) principle. If you recall in 2017, the US and UK governments convened an asset recovery forum in Washington. At that forum, An historic agreement was reached with the Nigerian government and Swiss government that led to the Abacha 2 which is the S321M that was returned to Nigeria in 2017. 5 years down the lane, the US government again now showed that they are leaders on the issue of asset recovery by returning another tranche of $23M, after the $311M that was returned which was Abacha 3. Now this is Abacha 4 which the US government have returned now, and what the US government has done with this return, they made it explicitly clear that there was not going to be any compensation for any lawyer and they want the entire money to go back to the victims which are the Nigerian People
It is understood that the Civil Society groups including yours will monitor the disbursement of this fund. How will this act as a check and balance and ensure transparency in this process?
Ugolor: We have a history of doing this, that is why we launched the MANTRA model. The MANTRA model is the acronym for Monitoring Recovered Assets Through Transparency and Accountability. In the same work we designed, we were able to recruit about 200 CSOs across the entire country to monitor the Abacha 2 which is the $321M and in the monitoring, we were able to track the money movement from the Central Bank of Nigeria down to the beneficiaries across the entire country. As we speak, a groundbreaking record was reached on this. Over 1.9M poor Nigerians benefitted from that entrenched money and that was possible because of the MOU we entered with the Federal Government that guarantees us access to the data on how they were moving from Central Bank to the Beneficiaries across the country. To us, it was a landmark compared to Abacha 1 when we discovered that on the money released, what they claimed that they used it for didn’t happen. I think that Abacha 2 was an improvement in transparency and accountability and I do hope that the experience the Federal Government of Nigeria has gained so far with the disbursement of Abacha 2, will have an impact on Abacha 3 and Abacha 4.
The agreement says this amount of money will be used for infrastructural project specifically what infrastructural project would it support?
Ugolor: Now there are three major infrastructural projects which they call Presidential infrastructural projects. One is the Abuja-Kano Road, the other one is the Niger Delta Bridge, and the third one is the Lagos Ibadan Road. These are the three major projects across the country that the Present government is putting these resources into.
What is next after this late tranche of money that would be repatriated back to Nigeria for these infrastructural projects? I understand there is still a lot of money stashed away in foreign banks by Gen. Sani Abacha.
Ugolor: We hope that as you know the US government in December will be hosting the US African leadership summit, one message that we African Civil Society Organization will be bringing before the US government is for the US government to continue to maintain its leadership in ensuring that illicit financial flow from the continent is stopped because without that you cannot talk about democracy in Africa. Without resources to finance the budget, you cannot talk about democracy because the rate and impact of corruption in the continent are very damaging and the only way to resolve this problem is for the US and other western country government to rise to the challenge by taking the full step like the US government in repatriating some of these amounts that are stashed in western banks and return them for financing development in the entire continent. You could imagine the impact of $23M on the Nigerian economy at this point, particularly against the background of the crisis, the health crisis in the continent, and the lack of resources. So, to have $23M at this point in time is really helpful.
Reverend David Ugolor is the Executive Director of Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice. He spoke with me from Benin City, Edo state, Nigeria.