Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
The federal government Wednesday empowered the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami (SAN) to sign an agreement between Nigeria and Switzerland for the repatriation of $321 million linked to former military Head of State, the late Gen. Sani Abacha, at the forthcoming global forum in the United States in December.
Briefing State House correspondents at the end of Wednesdayâ€™s weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Malami said the federal governmentâ€™s efforts to recover stolen assets had started yielding fruit, recalling the recent recovery of $185 million from the United Kingdom, linked to the Malabu Oil scandal.
According to him, signing the agreement would empower him to recover the funds on behalf of Nigeria, explaining that representatives of both countries would sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the repatriation of the money at the Global Forum on Asset Recovery scheduled to take place in the U.S. next month.
â€œAs you are aware, the federal government has been making efforts to recover stolen funds, loot, assets and the efforts have indeed been yielding fruit, particularly as it relates to local recoveries.
â€œA memo was presented to council this afternoon by the Office of the Attorney-General which is intended to shift focus to international recoveries.
â€œBefore going into the memo, I think it is important to bring to your attention that recently, about a week ago, we succeeded in recovering $185 million relating to the Malabu deal from the UK.
â€œNow, there exists a forum, that is the Global Assets Recovery Forum taking place in December in the U.S. and we are looking towards that.
â€œWe are in agreement substantially with the Swiss government for the recovery of the additional sum of $321 million. That memorandum of understanding has been substantially agreed between Nigeria and the Swiss authorities.
â€œWe intend to now execute or sign off the agreement during the global forum on assetsâ€™ recovery coming up in December.
â€œThe intention of the memo, first, is to seek the approval of the council to allow the Attorney-General to sign the agreement on behalf of the Government of the Federation of Nigeria.
â€œTwo, is to develop an instrument of ratification which will now give the Attorney-General the powers to ensure the repatriation of the funds.
â€œIt is collectively agreed upon between Nigeria and the Swiss government that we on our own part should seek the approval of council to ratify the MoU as agreed, and they on their own part too should procure the instrument of ratification that will now give the respective officers of the two countries the desired power and effect to now sign off the agreement.
â€œThe memo has accordingly been approved by the council. The implication of which is that the MoU, as negotiated between Nigeria and the Swiss government, has been agreed and ratified by council.
â€œAccordingly, the Attorney-General has been mandated to execute the agreement that will see to the repatriation of the $321 million and added to this, to develop the instrument of ratification that will be expected from both sides of the divide which will constitute the basis for the signing of the agreement in December in the U.S. during the Global Forum on Asset Recovery,â€ Malami explained.
Also briefing reporters attached to the State House, the Minister of Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, said FEC celebrated Nigeriaâ€™s improved ranking in the World Bank Doing Business report which saw the country moving 24 places, up the from 169th place last year on the global ease of doing business ranking.
Okechukwu said the ranking was significant because it exceeded the target of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) which sought to move Nigeria up 20 places.
Describing the feat as a turning point for the country, in view of Nigeriaâ€™s slide in the last 10 years, Enelamah said the ranking showed that the government was moving in the right direction.
However, he said what was paramount to the cabinet would be to see the ranking translate to practical ease of doing business in the country.
He also said FEC commended the National Assembly for passing the necessary legislations that now enable owners of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to obtain loans for their businesses.
He also commended states, which had partnered with the council to improve the business environment in the country.
Enelamah said the National Action Plans I and II which were recently launched translated to another round of reforms being pursued by the government to enhance Nigeriaâ€™s business environment.
In his briefing, the Minister of Water Resources Suleiman Adamu said FEC approved N40.2 billion for the completion of an irrigation dam in Kotangora, Niger State.
He said the project which has been under execution since 1985, witnessed an upward review from the initial N18 billion required to complete the project to N40.2 billion, after rigorous analyses.
Disclosing that the duration of the project was 36 months, Adamu said the National Irrigation Master Plan launched in 2016 would guarantee the provision of irrigation for 100,000 hectares of land.
Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, in his briefing, said despite governmentâ€™s efforts to boost local production, massive smuggling of rice into Nigeria through the land borders has remained a great challenge.
The minister also said FEC approved a memo to use pesticides on pests destroying farm produce in 11 states in Northern Nigeria using aircraft. He listed the states to include Zamfara, Kebbi, Kano, Yobe and Borno, among others.
He also said there was a suggestion for the consideration of drones to spray the pesticides on the pest, which he explained migrate to Nigeria from neighbouring Niger Republic, noting that using drones for the exercise would be cheaper.