Concerns Over Optimal Utilisation Of Recovered Loots
Since the return of democratic governance in Nigeria in 1999, several loots stolen from the nation’s coffers have been recovered by the successive governments. Featuring incessantly and prominently among the recovered loots was the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha’s loot that was stashed in Swiss banks.
With the establishment of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2002, more looted funds were recovered by the anti-graft agency, with several questions being raised till date on how the loots were utilised and accounted for by the governments and their agencies.
While, there have been allegations and counter-allegations on the misuse of the recovered loots by the successive governments, there are also insinuations in some quarters that the monies have always been re-looted.
The immediate past chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Lamorde, before his removal from office was accused of diversion of one Trillion Naira recovered loots by one George Uboh.
Uboh had in his petition laid on the floor by Senator Peter Nwaoboshi (PDP, Delta North) accused Lamorde of diverting 95 percent of EFCC’s recoveries in foreign currencies.
He also alleged that EFCC under Lamorde colluded with real estate companies to undervalue seized assets before they were sold to their cronies. According to him, half of the assets seized from suspects by the EFCC were not reflected in the commission’s exhibit records.
Based on Uboh’s petition to the Senate to that effect, the Senate invited Lamorde and later ordered his arrest. Till date, the former EFCC boss has neither honoured the Senate’s invitation nor been quizzed or arrested by the anti-graft agencies.
It would be recalled that in the last 16 years, no government has published or accounted how recovered loots were spent for the benefit of Nigerians. Everything about the recovered loots starts and ends with the bandied figures on the pages of newspapers.
On assumption of office, President Muhammadu Buhari expressed his government’s desire to recover funds looted by the previous administrations when he announced that in a matter of weeks, those found to have stolen the nation’s commonwealth would not only be made to refund such monies but would also be prosecuted.
The president made the remarks when members of the National Peace Committee headed by a former head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd), visited him at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.
Since then, several allegations, arrests and trials of some prominent personalities have been made by the anti-graft agency, but none has been concluded yet. There have been rumours that several billions of Naira have been returned to and recovered by the present government.
Nigerians have sought for clarification on the alleged returned and recovered loots. The Swiss government has also promised to repatriate about N312 million pounds stolen by Abacha’s government.
In what looked like a response to Nigerians’ inquiries on the returned and recovered loots, President Buhari had in December last year assured that the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, would soon make public the total amount of money so far refunded to the Federal Government coffers by corrupt officials of the past administration.
The President said this would be preparatory to eventually naming of those corrupt officials that voluntarily came forward to surrender looted funds, even as he said he is ready to step on the toes of hitherto seen sacred cows in the country. Giving reasons why his administration has been reluctant to make public the names of looters that have surrendered funds, he said there was need for caution because “any disclosure now may jeopardise the possibility of bigger recoveries.”
Also in what appeared to be a big step towards ensuring accountability of the recovered loots, a Federal High Court in Lagos ordered the administration of President Buhari to publish up-to-date information on recovered stolen funds since the return of civilian rule in 1999.
According to the court, the publication should include detailed information on the total amount of stolen public assets that have so far been recovered by Nigeria, the amount that has been spent from the recovered assets and details of projects on which recovered funds were spent.
Justice Mohammed Idris further directed Buhari to “ensure that his government, and those of former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, and Goodluck Jonathan account fully for all recovered loot.”
In the landmark judgment, the judge also held that successive governments since the return of democracy in 1999 “breached the fundamental principles of transparency and accountability for failing to disclose details about the spending of recovered stolen public funds, including on a dedicated website.”
The judgment was sequel to a Freedom of Information suit brought by a group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
As Nigerians patiently and eagerly await for the CBN’s disclosure of the looters and the amount recovered as promised by the President, Nigerians are asking the government to judiciously use the recovered loot to better the lots of the people.