Josef Omorotionmwan argues that the loot belongs to both the federal and state governments

NIGERIA has become like the case of the farmer who in the course of the year eats up the yam tubers as well as the seed yams. Yet, at the beginning of the next farming season, the farmer wonders why he has no seed yams to plant and even the family is hungry.

This country bleeds from the wounds inflicted on it by successive administrations. They steal it blind and leave it to bleed.

 William Shakespeare (1564-1616) remains relevant: “Sweet are the uses of adversity….” In a nation where looting is rife, Abacha’s loot easily becomes a compulsory saving of sorts. Had Abacha not stolen the money, other better organized thieves would have stolen it without trace. For some time now, the repatriated loot has formed a significant part of federal government revenue for the implementation of its annual appropriations.

Plans have just been concluded for the United States of America to repatriate another tranche of the $23 million of the Abacha loot to Nigeria. We are told that this repatriation will bring to $324 million repatriated from the USA alone.

Abacha’s loot was so much that it did not matter to his handlers whether they were scattered at bus stops all over the world capitals.

Each time we have this repatriation, the federal authorities in Nigeria sound like a cracked record. “We shall apply this money in the Abuja-Kaduna Highway; Lagos-Ibadan Highway; and the Second Niger Bridge”.

This is a direct admission that the administration may have found a euphemism for the re-looting of the fund. For one thing, the three items on which the federal government constantly devotes the repatriated loot are adequately provided for in our annual appropriations.

The trick here is that the people who repatriated this money will occasionally send inspectors to go and find out the progress of work in the projects. Such inspectors will always meet workers on ground, very busy – unknown to them that the people they are meeting on ground are prosecuting the budget allocation.

 This means that long after the repatriated loot may have been relooted into private pockets, the impression will remain that the loot is being used as promised.

Again, who begins to spend the money that does not belong to him? That repatriated money does not belong to the federal government. Rather, it belongs to the entire federation. Good book-keeping would require that the net proceeds (amount of loot plus accrued interest minus cost of repatriation) should be standing to the credit of the Federation Account from where it would be redistributed to the federating units.

We have argued severally that assets recovered from corrupt officers must be returned to where they were stolen. For example, recoveries from a State Governor must go straight to the State. This underscores the need to maintain a proper inventory of recovered assets so that landed property and monies recovered from state functionaries belong to the relevant states.

Rather than adhere to this simple ethical procedure, the federal government has been sitting on the recovered monies to prosecute its annual budgets. This is stealing by trick.

Again, the present devious practice of the federal government may lead to a marginal propensity to encourage looting, knowing very well that the loot when recovered will belong only to the federal government to the exclusion of the other federating units.

The case here is sufficiently illustrated in Nigeria’s present predicament. Nigeria is broke to the extent that some sub-nationals cannot pay staff salaries. This situation arises from the fact that a good part of our crude oil is stolen.

A super tanker laden with 300 million US dollars of stolen product was intercepted by the Equatorial Guinea authorities, awaiting determination of its case.

How will it sound if the product gets finally sold and the federal government sits on the proceeds alone? What a warped federalism! And that’s what the federal government has been doing!

Even granting that the repatriated money belongs to the federal government, it must be readmitted into the Consolidated Revenue Fund from where it will be allocated to projects and programs.

Where the money is coming midstream, after the years appropriation has been approved, it is captured in a supplementary appropriation as provided in our constitution. Appropriation is a legislative function – not executive.

The death of our heroes past shall also not be in vain. Abacha’s death has brought many facts to the fore: First, but for Abacha’s death no one would have been talking of his loot, talk more of the repatriation. 

Abacha may not have been a clever thief, hence his loot was scattered all over the place.

Contrary to the current practices of our anti-graft agencies, we now know that it is possible to be corrupt at that giddy height of the presidency. This points to the fact that some other people who have travelled that route may have stolen a lot more than Abacha did. The only difference is that they are alive and Abacha is dead. 

With demand that those foreign countries who now claim to be Nigeria’s friends by repatriating Abacha’s loot should complete the circle of friendship by exposing other looters, dead or alive, and within the allowance of international law also repatriate their loot to Nigeria.

It takes two to tango. Abacha could not have been alone in the enterprise of looting our treasury. We insist that our anti-graft agencies should deepen the war against corruption. All those who were engaged in the process of the loot, some of whom have even looted more than Abacha have no right, walking our streets today in unfettered freedom.

Reminiscence: Wherever Abacha is today, it must be occurring to him that his primitive acquisition was self-inflicted punishment – particularly against the backdrop that at the zero hour, he could not take even one Kobo with him! 

 Herein lies a big lesson for the living!

Omorotionmwan writes from Canada

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