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The Federal Government is desperate for money. It is so desperate that if it were an individual, it could well resort to armed robbery and kidnapping for ransom.

That much is inferable from the unprecedented measures the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari’s (retd) regime is taking to raise revenue. It is one thing to increase taxes, resort to bonds and sell off assets. These are common resorts by governments. But encumbering citizens’ bank accounts is an entirely new territory. Yet, that’s very much what the Buhari administration is doing by having banks turn over money in dormant accounts and unclaimed dividends. The language of the recently passed and signed law is that the government is merely borrowing the money. Yea, sure. If pensioners have a hard enough time getting paid, one wonders what it would take for owners of the “borrowed” money to get it back — rightfully with interests.

There is an estimated N5.20tn gap between FG’s 2021 budget and the projected revenue. And the primary reason is the shortfall in oil revenue and the financial pressures of the coronavirus pandemic. Yet a recent story by the BBC, points to another reason government revenues have consistently failed to meet the needs of the people: corruption. Even as the FG goes for the dormant account of its citizens, there is one that rightfully belongs to it, and it is in the amount of $192 million.

Yes, that’s the amount the BBC recently reported has yet to be recovered from the loot General Sani Abacha stashed away in foreign banks. There might be a lot more still remaining, but $192 million is the amount a loot hunter has verified. Enrico Monfrini, a Swiss lawyer reputed for tracking such funds, was engaged for the purpose by President Olusegun Obasanjo in September 1999, that is about four months after assuming office. Monfrini told the BBC that he has since helped Nigeria recover and repatriate $2.4 billion (about N960 billion), but that still leaves $192 million, which the government sorely needs at this time.

So, what is holding that tidy amount? Well, one would think that tracking down the funds is the greatest challenge, but that is actually the beginning. There are diplomatic, legal, and administrative hurdles to scale thereafter. Then there is the paternalistic policy of some holding countries, who assume the prerogative of deciding how much to repatriate, to whom and for what purpose.

The loot-holding countries of Switzerland, UK and France are well known to many Nigerians. Not as well-known are the tiny countries of Liechtenstein and Channel Island of Jersey, a British dependency. The hurdles vary from country to country, with Switzerland occupying the easy end of the spectrum and Liechtenstein the most difficult.


All it took in Switzerland was for the attorney general, at Monfrini’s request, to call on banks to disclose all accounts linked to Abacha. “In 48 hours, 95% of the banks and other financial institutions declared what they had which seemed to belong to the family,”Monfrini told the BBC. The experience was much different regarding Liechtenstein, Monfrini said. “Liechtenstein … was a catastrophe,” Monfrini bemoaned. “It was a nightmare.”

Even in Switzerland, where the accounts were quickly disclosed, it still took years before they would be released. “The Abachas were fighting like dogs,” Monfrini said. “They were appealing about everything we did. This delayed the process for a very long time.”And they are still fighting.


And then there was the paternalism. Some Swiss politicians delayed the repatriation by saying that the funds would be stolen again if returned to Nigeria. Painfully condescending as that may be, Nigeria’s history of corruption bears them out. But then that raises the question of the morality of retaining and benefitting from stolen money on the grounds that it would be stolen again if returned.

Last May, according to the BBC account, Jersey returned $308 million only after the Buhari regime agreed to commit the money to specific projects, including the Second Niger Bridge, the Lagos-Ibadan expressway and the Abuja-Kano road. Even this morally defensible imposition is still an affront to Nigeria’s sovereignty. And because of these roadblocks, there remains $192 million of Abacha’s loot in foreign banks, Monfrini said. $144 million of that is in France, $30 million in the UK, and another $18 million in its dependent state of Jersey.


The paternalism only demonstrates the multiplier effects of corruption. It is not just a matter of the money involved, it is also about the broader consequences. If a tiny dependent territory such as Jersey could dictate to Nigeria, how much more does our image cost us in terms of development opportunities? How much international investment capital stays away?

And talking of broader consequences, Monfrini gets a four per cent commission on the loot he helped Nigeria repatriate. That computes to $96 million for the roughly $2.4billion he has recouped so far. That’s another sum that could have helped to shore up the budget. And that further illustrates the reality that the government’s financial burden increases the more money it has to allocate to combating criminal activities, be they corruption, banditry, insurgency or organised murders.

Even as the Buhari regime desperately seeks sources of revenues, can Nigerians be sure that their money is not being siphoned even now? Perhaps not with the same level of brazenness and greed, but with inimical consequences nonetheless.

According to the BBC story, Abacha’s most brazen method of theft was to ask aides to request for funds for a secretive high security project. He would then send a request to the Central Bank for that amount—in cash. The money would be trucked to his home, from whence it is taken abroad. And this happened again and again. That form of looting was augmented by money from kickbacks and inflated contracts. Of course, with Abacha setting this example, his subordinates and their subordinates must have learned from him.


In one of his early speeches as president, Buhari lauded Abacha as a patriot. In so doing he sent a mixed message on his proclaimed war on corruption. As Abacha’s legacy of corruption continues to loom large, has Buhari considered retracting that praise? It might do some good. If nothing else, it might help to mend Buhari’s image as a president whose loyalty is to his own rather than his country.

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