Falana: Public Officers Criminally Diverted $4bn Recovered from Abacha Loot

Femi Falana
  • Laments Buhari’s failure to account for recovered loots
  • Asks state govts not to allow EFCC, ICPC handle their cases

Gboyega Akinsanmi

A human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) has alleged that some unscrupulous public officers had criminally diverted over $4 billion recovered from the late head of state, General Sani Abacha between 1999 and now.

Falana, also alleged that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has treated the court orders secured for the publication of all the recovered loots of the late military ruler with disdain.

He made the allegations in the keynote address he delivered at the 18th anti-corruption situation room held in Abuja with focus to review the efforts of the state and non-state actors in the fight against corruption in Nigeria in 2019.

The Human Rights and Environmental Development Agenda set up the situation room with Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism, National Orientation Agency, Technical Unit on Governance & Anti-Corruption Reforms and African Centre for Media and Information Literacy.

At the session, Falana expressed concern that the administration of US President Donald Trump, which warehoused part of the Abacha loot, had arrogantly set conditions for the repatriation $308 million that the federal government negotiated with the US and Jersey Island in the United Kingdom.

He lamented that after signing the tripartite agreement for the release of the stolen fund, the representative of the US Government threatened that the fund would be recovered if officials of the federal government re-looted.

The rights activist added that there was no protest from the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), who signed the agreement on behalf of the federal government.

He, however, observed that the federal government could not have protested because some unscrupulous public officers had criminally diverted over $4 billion recovered from the Abacha.

He said: “In fact, the order of the federal high court secured by SERAP for the publication of all looted wealth since 1999 has been treated with disdain by the Buhari administration.

“Apart from inviting Nigerians to participate in the fight against corruption the Buhari administration has partially fought corruption on the basis of the above listed priorities.

“Having realised that it cannot fight and win the fight against corruption alone, the Buhari administration has rightly decided to educate, mobilise and encourage Nigerians at the grassroots level to take ownership of the fight against corruption,” he said.

Falana lamented that the courts had dismissed some serious corruption cases because the Federal Executive Council (FEC) illegally awarded contracts.
The rights activities, therefore, urged president Buhari upon to constitute the National Council on Public Procurement in line with the provisions of the Public Procurement Act to avoid the loss of more corruption cases.

Consistent with section 15 (5) of the 1999 Constitution (as Amended), Falana argued that the legal regime had imposed a duty on the state “to abolish corrupt practices and abuse of power. The federal government has set up the CCB, EFCC and ICPC to fight corruption.

“Only the governments of Kano and Oyo states have established anti graft bodies to fight corruption. Other state governments including those who are calling for restructuring should no longer allow the EFCC and ICPC to investigate and prosecute corruption cases.”

He, also, asked the National Assembly to amend the relevant laws to grant the EFCC, ICPC and CCB) autonomy in order to strengthen them to perform their duties without interference

He, thus, noted that the proposed amendment should ensure that the majority of the board members of the agencies are nominees of accredited representatives of credible civil society bodies.

He explained the significance of Section 85 (2) of the 1999 Constitution (as Amended) in the fight against corruption, noting that the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation was central to the anti-corruption war.

The section states: “The public accounts of the Federation shall be audited and reported on to the Auditor-General who shall submit his reports to the National Assembly; and for that purpose, the Auditor-General or any person authorised by him in that behalf shall have access to all the books, records, returns and other documents relating to those accounts.”

Falana, therefore, noted that each chambers of the National Assembly “shall cause the reports to be considered by the Committee of the House of the National Assembly responsible for public accounts.”

Specifically, the rights activist challenged the National Assembly to stop passing the budget of any ministry, department and agency (MDA) indicted by the Office of the Auditor-General until the money diverted is refunded.

He, however, observed that the Buhari administration had not made any attempt “to mobilise the people to fight corruption. As a matter of fact, the federal government has engaged in budget padding and manipulation. For instance, the President presented a budget of N10.2 trillion for the 2020 financial year.

“The national assembly increased the estimates to N10.4 trillion. After the enactment of the Appropriation Act, 2020, the national assembly has been passing the budgets of about 65 agencies of the federal government including the NNPC, CBN, FIRS, NDCC, NIMASA and NPA.

“The NFIU has challenged the CBN for budgeting N1.1 trillion which is 10 percent of the nation’s annual budget. In passing the budget of the Central Bank, the House of Representatives had to send media men and women packing and secretly increased the budget to N1.3 trillion.

“Having conceded that the anti-corruption fight should not be seen as an end in itself, the Buhari administration has refused to view corruption as a manifestation of impunity,” he said.

He warned that the diversion of money that has been earmarked to build hospitals or the refusal to remit funds earned by departments of the government to the accounts of the government constituted a violation of the Appropriation Act and the 1999 Constitution.

“The public officers who engage in such criminal behaviour deserve to be treated like armed robbers because they have robbed the people and sentenced them to eternal agony and want.

“Since the violators of budget laws are top government officials, the system is too weak to punish them. Hence, the menace of corruption has become so rampart due to lack of political will on the part of the government to arrest and prosecute the major culprits.”