Where are we with disbursement of returned $322.5M Abacha Loot?
By Innocent Edemhanria
The Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) in a press statement on March 17, 2022 raised concerns over the stoppage of cash disbursement of returned $322.5m to poor Nigerians by the National Cash Transfer Office (NCTO) since June 2021. ANEEJ also called on President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene immediately to restore payment. ANEEJ, is a leading Civil Society organization undertaking independent monitoring of the disbursement of the $322.5million repatriated from Switzerland. The last major payment cycle was May/June 2021. Payment and reconciliation of accounts was completed in 24 States (Abia, Adamawa, Cross Rivers, FCT, Bayelsa, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Katsina, Bauchi, Kogi, Kwara, Niger, Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Lagos, Plateau, Anambra, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Ebonyi, Sokoto, Taraba. Between July 2021 and December 2021, there was clearing of backlog owed beneficiaries in the previous year (2020) in nine States – Benue, Nasarawa, Ekiti, Imo, Kaduna, Kano, Zamfara, Yobe and Rivers which were at different payment cycles.
At the moment, all 36 States and Abuja have been enrolled into the programmes as payment from the $322.5million recovered loot has reached about 76%. By the initial design, the disbursement of $322.5million recovered loot was to be concluded by June 2022. However, from September 2020 to June 2021, no payment was made to the poor beneficiaries ostensibly due to change of leadership at the National Cash Transfer Office and system strengthening process in the project to improve the implementation of the programme and further enhance service delivery to ensure value for money, transparency and accountability. The process became necessary as a result of change in administration/management, tweaking of payment modalities to respond to cashless realities, security concerns and digitization of the payment process.
One would expect that full payment would resume thereafter, cycle by cycle, but this is yet to happen.
Beneficiaries in Edo, Enugu, Ondo and Kebbi were Last paid In December 2019
Beneficiaries on the National Cash Transfer Program in four States, namely: Edo, Enugu, Ondo and Kebbi were last paid in December 2019. These States had issues with their Payment Service Operators (PSPs) – JV Nipost/ Innovectives Ltd, the issue bordering on account reconciliation was at some point reported to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) for investigation. The issue was eventually resolved and the States were cleared for payment. However, up till the first week of March 2022, the poor beneficiaries in those States are yet to be paid.
Beneficiaries in these four States and other States including Abuja have expressed sadness over the stoppage of payment and decried the untold hardship they are currently experiencing. This is considered especially with the rise in cost of living as basic food items, cost of transportation and other basic necessities have sky rocketed, leaving the poor with no hope of survival.
Nigerians expect complete operationalization of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) entered into between Nigeria and Switzerland Governments as well as the conclusion of the cash transfer disbursement from recovered loot which until the stoppage has been largely successful. The federal government of Nigeria, and Switzerland Government had agreed on a Memorandum of Understanding signed by both countries at the maiden edition of the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) summit held Washington DC in 2017, witnessed by the World Bank. It is important that the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN) should follow through with the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, to ensure that this process is concluded to serve as a model for other nations experiencing asset return to emulate.
Mr. Innocent Edemhanria is Programme Manager of ANEEJ