Press Release
Press Statement by the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) on the Final MANTRA Monitoring Report

Press Statement by the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) on the Final MANTRA Monitoring Report

Benin City, Nigeria. November 27, 2023…. In December 2017, Switzerland government returned $322.5 million of stolen funds (illicitly acquired by the late General Sani Abacha’s family) to the Federal Government of Nigeria. The fund was used to finance cash transfers programme to poor and vulnerable Nigerians by the Nigerian government, which is one of the poverty alleviation programmes under the National Social Investment Programme.

The Federal Ministry of Justice then developed and finalized terms of reference for civil society organizations monitoring the $322.5million recovered loot and recognized ANEEJ as one of the CSOs representing the Network on Asset Recovery (NAR) in interactions with the Federal Government of Nigeria.

In 2018, ANEEJ commenced the monitoring exercise under the Monitoring of Recovered Assets in Nigeria through Transparency and Accountability (MANTRA) project with support from Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).  The MANTRA project was designed to address corruption issues within the broader objectives of the Anti-Corruption in Nigeria (ACORN) programme of FCDO of the British Government.

The FCDO supported the project from April 2018 to December 2021. The Switzerland Embassy in Nigeria continued the support shortly after, up till June 2023 when the monitoring exercise was concluded.

The MANTRA project was designed to achieve the goal of strengthening the capacity of CSOs and citizens to monitor the use of repatriated loot, embark on advocacy to improve the policy, legislative and institutional framework for the recovery and management of looted assets in Nigeria and mobilise collective action in demanding a cleaner society and work in line with global recommendations, treaties, and practice such as UNCAC, GFAR and open contracting principles and practices.

The MANTRA Project conducted its first monitoring exercise of the use of the recovered funds in December 2018 in 11 States in Nigeria.  ANEEJ led 6 regional CSO partners and 47 CSOs across 6 geo-political zones to conduct the exercise which reached 30,846 beneficiaries of the cash transfer programme.

The second round of the monitoring exercise took place from October 2019 to February 2020 in conjunction with 1 audit firm, 8 regional CSO partners and 112 CSOs spanning 19 States and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), covering the 6 geo-political zones in Nigeria. This time, the exercise targeted the May/June 2019 payment cycle, with a sample size of 43,152 representing 13% of the total beneficiaries.

Beyond the two major monitoring exercise, ANEEJ has engaged over 1,458 field monitors and has issued other reports[1] to the public on its monitoring work[2] and conducted spot checks at different times to follow up with the payment process, beneficiaries’ complaints and other issues.

Following the Switzerland Embassy’s support to ANEEJ on the MANTRA project, ANEEJ conducted three rounds of spot checks, one upstream monitoring and other engagements as follows:

  • Spot check conducted in three States – December 2021.
  • Spot checks conducted in four States – June 2022.
  • Spot checks conducted in fifteen States – May/June 2023.
  • Upstream monitoring and interface with third party monitors, others

Our monitoring shows that the National Cash Transfer Office (NCTO) made withdrawals from the recovered $322.5m in September 2018 when the payment from Abacha loot started, up till April 2022 when the final payment from Abacha loot was made, amounting to $335,918,475.An interest of$13,418,526.33 accrued in the process, which was further disbursed to beneficiaries of the cash transfer programme.

By the end of the disbursement, 268,568 beneficiaries have been paid across 19 States in 2018, 835,634 beneficiaries were paid across 32 States in 2019, and 1,129,273 beneficiaries were paid in 34 States in 2020. In addition, 1,938,825 beneficiaries were paid across 34 States in 2021 and 1,940,004 beneficiaries were paid across 33 States in 2022.

In all, a total of $335,918,457.00 equivalent to ₦123,730,188,000 was disbursed to beneficiaries comprising the $322.5 million recovered loot and $13,418,526.33 interest that accrued in the process. This press briefing is to present the final update on the monitoring of the returned Abacha loot in Nigeria by ANEEJ and her partners through the implementation of the MANTRA project.

The MANTRA project intervention added value to the process and led to top reforms in the Cash Transfer Programme both at National and sub-national levels. Some of such reforms are:

  • Improvement in the integrity of the programme
  • Removal of corrupt public officials in Gombe, Osun, Anambra, Edo and in other states through ANEEJ independent investigations and reports
  • Refund of illegal deductions to beneficiaries which were collected by corrupt officials.
  • Continuous improvement of systems to aid detection of corrupt acts.
  • Digitalization of the payment system (distribution of the debit cards to beneficiaries)
  • Improved transparency and accountability in the management of recovered assets which largely prevented re-looting of the fund.

ANEEJ monitoring, reports, advocacy, and engagement while implementing the MANTRA project also influenced other recoveries. There has been successful return of $954,807.40 Diepreye Alamieyeseigha loot to finance health sector infrastructure in Bayelsa State.

The sum of $311.79 Million (Abacha 3) was also recovered and returned to Nigeria in May 2020.  In August 2020, MoU was signed between the Irish and Nigerian governments for the return of €5.5 million Abacha (4) stashed in Island since the death of General Sani Abacha. In the same vein, the US and Nigerian governments in August 2022, signed an agreement to repatriate $23 million Abacha (5) loot to Nigeria. In November 2023, the French government announced that it is set to return $150million loot (Abacha 6) to Nigeria.

The synergy and effective collaboration between civil society organizations and the relevant government agencies implementing the programme contributed to the successes recorded and ANEEJ was able to use the project to demonstrate the application of the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) principles 4, 5, 9 and 10.

In terms of recommendation, we encourage the Nigerian government to:

  • Sustain and Strengthen collaboration between government and civil society in line with the implementation of GFAR Principles.
  • Deepen the use of technology in cash transfer and other development interventions.
  • The national social register should be updated and expanded to include more poor and vulnerable Nigerians who are victims of corruption, as poverty bites harder in Nigeria.
  • Improve the grievance redress mechanism to promptly respond to complaints from beneficiaries.

In addition, returning countries should ensure that the participation of CSOs in monitoring the use of such funds is spelled out clearly in the MoU with the receiving countries, to guarantee effective monitoring of the process. There should also be greater transparency in the procurement process for getting the Payment Service Providers (PSPs), requiring due diligence to be conducted in all organizations that scale through the procurement process.

Today, over 1,940,004 beneficiaries’ livelihoods have been improved through the cash transfer programme across the 36 States and FCT.  Some of the beneficiaries interviewed said they used the money to start-up small businesses. Others said they used their money for both feeding of the family, paying School fees for their children, buying drugs and other things to improve their health. Many others confirmed that they used the money only for feeding, some for farming, some for education only while others said they only saved their money.

Conclusively, it is worthy of note that the MANTRA final monitoring report has been validated by relevant stakeholders including the National Cash Transfer Office (NCTO), the Federal Ministry of Justice (FMOJ), Switzerland Embassy and the World Bank. The lessons learnt and success story of the MANTRA project will be presented at a side event co-organized by ANEEJ and StaR Initiative at the 10th Annual United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) Conference of State Parties (CosP 10) in Atlanta Georgia USA, scheduled for December 2023.

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