By Gboyega Akinsanmi
A human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, yesterday asked the federal government to reject the conditions the government of Switzerland attached to the repatriation of $321 million stolen by the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha.
Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), described the proposed conditions by Switzerland as insulting, noting that the government of Switzerland did not have the right “to unilaterally impose conditions on Nigeria.”
He rejected the conditions attached to the repatriation of the stolen $321 million in a letter he addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari, referring to a statement credited to the Swiss Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Eric Mayoraz, that Switzerland “will soon return $321m of Abacha loot to Nigeria”.
In his letter, Falana said the conditions imposed on Nigeria that allowed the World Bank “to supervise the spending of returned assets by the Nigerian government breaches international law principles and standards”.
He cited Article 57 of the UN Convention against Corruption requiring state parties “to return assets on the basis of a final judgment in the requesting state party. But in circumstances where there is no final judgment, Article 57 allows for assets to be returned on the basis of agreements or mutually acceptable arrangements, on a case-by-case basis, for the final disposal of confiscated property”.
He said the government of Switzerland breached the clear provisions of Article 57. He added that the imposition of any conditions on the Nigerian government “is a flagrant violation of the principles of sovereignty and non-intervention founded in Article 2 of the United Nations Charter”.
“Imposing conditions on Nigeria regarding the spending of returned assets is disproportionate and amounts to an unlawful intervention because Switzerland has no legal or moral right to the assets. Indeed, Switzerland is completely complicit for the stashing and depositing of stolen assets from Nigeria in its banks and other financial institutions,” he stated.
Falana expressed concern that the World Bank itself had not demonstrated sufficient level of transparency and accountability in its supervision of spending of previously returned Abacha loot.
He added that the World Bank had so far refused to satisfactorily disclose information on the spending of recovered Abacha loot requested by Nigerian anticorruption NGO Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
He explained that the World Bank “has been unable or unwilling to consistently apply its own Access to Information Policy to disclose key information to civil society groups and other stakeholders. In the SERAP case, the World Bank failed and/or neglected to provide several portions of the information requested on the spending of recovered Abacha loot managed by the Bank.
“Although the Bank’s Access to Information Policy recognises the right to an appeals process when a request for information in the World Bank’s possession is improperly or unreasonably denied, the appeal lodged by SERAP has been unreasonably and unduly delayed”.
He lamented the empty promises made so far by Switzerland and the United States “to return forfeited assets worth over $800 million. It is clear that the Western countries will continue to frustrate the repatriation of the looted wealth of the nation being warehoused by them, albeit illegally”.
He, however, urged the Buhari administration to consider legal option if the government of Switzerland refuses “to return the said sum of $321 million without any conditionality, the federal government should not hesitate to initiate legal proceedings for the recovery of the asset.
“In the proposed suit, Nigeria should claim punitive and exemplary damages and interests from Switzerland for keeping the loot for over 20 years. Finally, the federal government is urged to collaborate with relevant civil society organisations to mount a campaign locally and internationally to ensure full compliance by Switzerland, the United States and other Western countries to international law principles of accountability, proportionality, sovereignty, equality, fairness and non-interference”.