Critical Conversations

Where Are the Recovered Loots?

The Federal Government has been urged by the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar III, to provide an explanation as to what use recovered loot has been put under the incumbent administration in the last six years.

The Sultan made this known on 25 May at the zonal dialogue with stakeholders on the National Ethics and Integrity Policy, put together by the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, in collaboration with the Independent Corrupt Practices (ICPC) and Other Related Offences Commission for the North-West in Sokoto.

While urging anti-corruption agencies to be transparent, the Sultan noted: “Nigerians need (an) explanation on how much was recovered. Where is the money and what are they doing with them?“

The monarch, who was represented by the Wazirin Sokoto, Prof. Sambo Wali Junaidu, said the “explanation is necessary” even as he urged anti-graft agencies to be wary of keeping mute on the recovered loot, which, according to him, will badly affect the fight against corruption in the country. He also stressed the importance of public awareness in the fight against corruption.

The issue raised by the Sultan of Sokoto has been a recurring one in the country. The Federal Government has always been up and doing in its resolve to recover looted funds, but how these monies have been spent have remained a mystery to many Nigerians.

The concerns have remained strong especially as the Attorney-General of the Federal, Malami Abubakar disclosed that the Federal Government has recovered $700m funds stashed in foreign countries in the last four years.

Mr. Malami who spoke at the International Conference on Illicit Financial Flow (IFF) and Asset Recovery organised by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) said:

“Nigeria, through proactive and collaborative efforts with other countries has recovered and ensured the return of over $700 million from the United States, the United Kingdom, Bailiwick of Jersey, Switzerland, and Ireland in the past four years.

“We are still working with our international partners and other countries to ensure that all Nigeria’s assets that are identified are recovered.”

Similarly, on 3 June 2016, the Federal Government reported that it had recovered nearly $9.1 billion in stolen money and assets since Muhammadu Buhari became President. This was according to an interim report on financial and assets recoveries made by various government agencies between 29 May 2015 and 25 May 2016.

The report also gave details on 239 non-cash recoveries including farmlands, plots of land, buildings, as well as vehicles and maritime vessels.

Nigeria also recovered over $311 million of the alleged stolen funds by the country’s former military ruler, General Sani Abacha, from the United States and Jersey.

Upon the repatriation, a statement released by Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Sheu pointed out:

“On Monday, May 4, 2020, some $311 million US Dollars – stolen from the citizens of Nigeria during the Abacha regime – were safely returned to our country from The United States.

“These funds have already been allocated and will be used in full, for vital and decades-overdue infrastructure development: The second Niger Bridge, the Lagos-Ibadan and Abuja-Kaduna-Kano expressways – creating tens of thousands of Nigerian construction jobs and local skills, which can then be useful in future projects.

“Part of the funds will also be invested in the Mambilla Power Project which, when completed, will provide electricity to some three million homes – over ten million citizens – in our country.

“Indeed, previous monies returned last year from Switzerland – some $320 million US dollars – are already being used for the government’s free school feeding scheme, a stipend for millions of disadvantaged citizens, and grain grants for those in severe food hardship. Without these funds, the fight against COVID-19 would be even tougher.”

Meanwhile, the presidency in April 2018 hinted that the incumbent administration had been spending the recovered money lost to graft on infrastructural structures. It was, however, not specific on the infrastructural developments ongoing with the recovered funds or thorough on information detailing how the monies are being spent.

This is why in line with the Freedom of Information (FoI) law, SERAP through its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, in a statement dated 22 May 2021 demanded disclosure of the list and location of projects completed with recovered loots under the Buhari-led administration, as well as details of the contractors that executed the projects. This is particularly expedient, especially as the country received £4.2m Ibori loot recently.

In a similar development, the Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, maintained that the money had been transferred to the Delta State Government, but the latter has since denied receiving any of such money even as the Account General has now taken back his words.

More so, earlier reports had it that Ahmed Idris was unable to provide records to account for €5 million recovered funds said to be missing when he appeared before the ad-hoc committee of the House of Representatives.

Simultaneously, at a House of Representatives sitting on 25 May 2021, the ad hoc committee, while querying the Attorney-General of the Federation for allegedly requesting payment of approved solicitors’ fees from the recovered loot, raised an alarm over the discrepancies in the records of recovered assets presented by various government agencies.

According to Adejoro Adeogun, chairman of the committee, “The honourable AGF is requesting payment of approved solicitors’ fees. You see, you are asking for solicitors’ fees from recovered funds’ accounts. I don’t think it is proper; that is what we are talking about.

Read Also: Utilisation of Ibori’s N2.5 billion Loot: Robbing Peter to Pay Paul?

“The EFCC said they handed over this number of vessels to your office, the Navy gives a different number and you have a different number — the same items, different inventories, different figures.”

Malami in response said he was “not in a position to confirm the discrepancies with the number of assets” and asked the lawmakers to “do the verification through their oversight roles”.

The panel, through Adeogun, also queried Malami on the recovered loot which they maintained was never approved as a budgetary allocation:

“The question I want to ask as regards the payment of N2 billion which you received for the prosecution of terrorism suspects; was it supposed to come from that [recovered funds] account or should it have been part of the budgetary spending? Is it that when you exhaust your budget, you ask these people to send you some money?”

Despite the fact that Malami did not dismiss the claims of receiving N2billion from the CBN, he denied making specific requests from the recovered loot. In his words, “Where the money comes from is a function of the federal ministry of finance and I am not making specific requests out of the recovered assets”.

To substantiate its claims, the panel presented a letter from the Central Bank titled, “Request for approval to effect critical payments in respect of federal ministry of justice for the recovered (funds)”.

Adeogun said the letter shows “the AGF knows that this is coming from the recovered funds; which means that the Attorney-General knows that he is making a request that is against the law.”

The AGF followed it up by insisting that “There is nothing indicating a previous correspondence from the office of Attorney General nor is there anything in the opening paragraph making reference to a letter from the office of the Attorney General.”

Even with the current back and forth over the issue of recovered loot, it is only right that as SERAP pointed out “Disclosing spending details of the recovered $700m loot, as well as spending plans for the £4.2m loot, would promote transparency, accountability, and be entirely consistent” with the president’s constitutional oath of office.