· Money to fund Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Abuja-Kano road, Second Niger Bridge
Deji Elumoye and Alex Enumah in Abuja
The federal government yesterday confirmed the receipt of $311,797,866.11 of the Abacha assets repatriated from the United States and the Island of Jersey.
Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), said in a statement in Abuja that the amount increased significantly from over $308 million mentioned in the press release issued in February 2020 to over $311million because of the interest that accrued from February 3, 2020 to April 28, 2020, when the fund was transferred to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
The minister, in the statement issued by his media aide, Dr Umar Gwandu, explained that in line with the agreement reached with the repatriating countries, the money would be used to fund the reconstruction of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Abuja-Kano Road and the building of the Second Niger Bridge.
He noted that the litigation process for the return of the assets titled: “Abacha III” commenced in 2014 while the diplomatic process that culminated into the signing of the Asset Return Agreement on February 3, 2020, by the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the United States and the Bailiwick of Jersey commenced in 2018.
“This agreement is based on international law and cooperation measures that set out the procedures for the repatriation, transfer, disposition and management of the assets,” he added.
The statement noted that the recovery effort consolidated on the record of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, which recovered $322 million from Switzerland in 2018 that is being deployed in supporting indigent Nigerians as specified in the agreement signed with Switzerland and the World Bank.
Malami, who led the negotiation team, noted that the tripartite agreement and the process towards the implementation represent a major watershed in international asset recovery and repatriation as it seeks to provide benefit to victims of corruption.
“In line with the 2020 Asset Return Agreement, the fund has been transferred to a Central Bank of Nigeria Asset Recovery designated account and would be paid to the National Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) within the next 14 days. The NSIA is responsible for the management and execution of the projects to which the funds will be applied,” the minister said.
According to him, Nigeria is in the process of establishing a project monitoring team to oversee the implementation of the projects and report regularly on progress made to the public.
“To ensure transparent management of the returned assets, the Nigerian government will also engage a civil society organisation, who has combined expertise in substantial infrastructure projects, civil engineering, anti-corruption compliance, anti-human trafficking compliance, and procurement to provide additional monitoring and oversight,” he stated.
Malami called for greater cooperation and mutual respect amongst countries in the implementation of expeditious cooperation measures already set out in the United Nations Convention Against Corruption and in the implementation of the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) principles on the repatriation of stolen assets.
He assured Nigerians that the federal government would ensure that the returned assets are transparently managed.
The recovered funds were said to have been laundered through the US banking system and then held in bank accounts in the Bailiwick of Jersey.
In 2014, a US Federal Court in Washington D.C. forfeited the money as property involved in the illicit laundering of the proceeds of corruption arising in Nigeria during the period from 1993 to 1998 when the late General Abacha was Head of State.
In 2017, the federal government filed a case in the Bailiwick of Jersey to assert its authority as the owner of the funds and as the victim of the action of the late Abacha.
The United States and Jersey had agreed with Nigeria to repatriate more than $300 million in funds.
The governments of Nigeria, Jersey and the United States had said in a statement that they had entered into an asset recovery agreement to repatriate forfeited assets to Nigeria.
The funds were laundered through the U.S. banking system and then held in bank accounts in Jersey in the name of Doraville Properties Corporation, a British Virgin Islands company, and in the name of the son of the ex-military ruler.
“This agreement has culminated in a major victory for Nigeria and other African countries as it recognizes that crime does not pay and that it is important for the international community to seek ways to support sustainable development through the recovery and repatriation of stolen assets,” Malami had said.
Nigeria has been working with governments around the world in recent years on an asset recovery scheme to help repatriate stolen funds to boost its finances.
The government did not state how much in total it believes Abacha stole.
As of 2013, Nigeria had recovered about $1.3 billion of Abacha’s money from various European jurisdictions, with more than a third of that from Switzerland.
The Swiss government in 2017 said it would return to Nigeria about $321 million in assets seized from Abacha’s family via a deal signed with the World Bank
Senate Cautions against Use of Recovered Loot without Appropriation
Meanwhile, the Senate yesterday asked the federal government not to expend the $311 million recovered from the United States and the Bailiwick of Jersey without the fund being appropriated by the National Assembly.
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Ajibola Basiru, told THISDAY that it will be illegal for the Presidency to spend the recovered fund without proper appropriation by the National Assembly in line with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
Asked if it is appropriate for the federal government to have voted the recovered fund for the completion of three major projects namely Lagos-Ibadan railway, Abuja-Kano highway and second Niger Bridge in Onitsha, the Senate spokesman expressed doubt that the Justice minister would have made such utterances.
According to him, the Justice minister should know better as the chief law officer of the country that appropriate procedures for the National Assembly to appropriate the said funds are strictly adhered to.
“I don’t think the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation said the money will be spent without appropriation. He is the Chief Law Officer of the Federation and I believe he knows how to ensure appropriate laws and procedures are followed to manifest the intention of the federal government,” Basiru stated.