Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari has urged the World Bank to do all within its powers to facilitate the speedy repatriation of Nigeria’s stolen funds still being held by the Swiss authorities.
The president specifically enlisted the World Bank’s help in recovering $320 million in Switzerland, which has been identified as stolen from Nigeria by the late General Sani Abacha.
A statement issued in Abuja wednesday by the president’s media aide, Mr. Garba Shehu, said Buhari sought the World Bank’s help in repatriating the country’s stolen wealth at a meeting with the visiting Managing Director of the Bank, Ms. Sri Mulyani Indrawati.
Buhari said that the repatriation of the $320 million in Switzerland would help to ease the current economic hardship in the country.
The president assured Indrawati that his administration was taking appropriate steps to ensure that public funds are no longer stolen or misappropriated by government officials.
Buhari said: “We need the support of the World Bank in the repatriation of the funds.
“We are as concerned as the World Bank about accountability. If such repatriated funds had been misapplied in the past, I assure you that the same will not happen with us.
“Three hundred and twenty million dollars is a lot of money and we will not allow it to be misappropriated or diverted.”
One of the conditions given by the Swiss authorities for the repatriation of the funds is that it should be expended on the implementation of social programmes for the benefits of the Nigerian people in an efficient and accountable way, guaranteed by the monitoring of the World Bank.
Buhari also assured the World Bank’s managing director that his administration would honour all agreements with the bank that would help to stimulate Nigeria’s economy and reduce the level of poverty in the country.
He said Nigeria would welcome greater international assistance for the rehabilitation of damaged homes, schools, health facilities and other infrastructure in the North-eastern states affected by the Boko Haram insurgency.
Indrawati told Buhari that the World Bank was ready to use its knowledge, expertise and resources to help Nigeria achieve faster growth and development.
“We will strongly support you to create jobs and ensure prosperity in Nigeria,” she assured Buhari.
She also expressed the Bank’s full support for the war against corruption being waged by the Buhari administration.
After her meeting with the president, Indrawati, while briefing journalists, said she discussed the Nigerian economy, climate change, the fight against corruption and insecurity with Buhari.
She said the World Bank’s team came to find out from the government how it could help Nigeria to take important decisions, whether on macroeconomic policies and other sectoral policies, that would propel the Nigerian economy into a strong middle-income country with vibrant economic activities and one with much more inclusive growth that could eradicate poverty.
She commended the president for restoring stability and security in the country. Indrawati also said that the president’s focus on creating jobs, eradicating poverty, and curbing corruption were policies in the right direction.
She said: “I am here with our team to visit Nigeria. This is my first visit to this country. It reminds me a lot about my own country, Indonesia. This is a very short visit but very productive.
“This is a good opportunity for us to discuss with the government to understand the challenges the Nigerian economy is facing just like many other countries in the world which are now facing weak economic conditions, low commodity prices, the challenge of climate change and insecurity. These are all the issues that we discussed.
“We also see that Nigeria and the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari are now working towards restoring stability and security. The second one is creating jobs and eradicating poverty, the third is fighting corruption.
“I think these are very commendable goals and we discussed with the government about how we can support the law in order for the government and its leadership to achieve the goals.
“We had the opportunity to meet with five governors of different states in order to discuss more on our programmes to support the North-east region, especially in dealing with internally displaced persons and how to restore both the livelihoods of the people with the development programme.
“So we discussed both in terms of what is the area of priority, the mode of engagement and the operational details of how this is going to be used in the most effective way.
“We also discussed more in terms of the need to diversify the economy away from oil. We also discussed how to improve the fiscal side with the Minister of Finance and how the government can try to improve on the revenue side, whether to improve tax collection, as well as to fight against inefficiency and corruption. That is one of the areas which is commendable.
“We would like to support all these objectives in order for Nigeria to have a healthy, stronger and transparent budget, which can be very useful and effective in addressing the issue of poverty and creating a healthier and inclusive growth.
“We also discussed support in the management of natural resources, especially oil, for which I think Nigeria has its own reform agenda to improve the governance and management of the oil sector.
“The last thing I would like to add is that the president placed great emphasis on infrastructure and agriculture. That is one area we would also like to support with our own ideas from the private sector arm of the World Bank.”