The Nigerian government has been faced with the problem of a shortage of funds to finance its programs since the return to democracy in 1999. One of the major reasons touted for the inadequacy of funds is the illicit acquisition and mismanagement of national assets and funds under previous military governments. The regime of late General Sani Abacha between 17 November 1993 – 8 June 1988 witnessed a lot of sleaze in the mismanagement of government resources. This has been a recurring feature of many heads of States even before the late Head of State. Many of the funds stolen from the national treasury were taken abroad through different schemes and kept in financial institutions in supposed safe havens. In many instances, many of the Heads of State are still alive and this poses difficulty in repatriating the resources that were siphoned abroad due to a lack of political will. However, in the case of the Abacha regime, these facts became evident after the demise of the Head of State. There were several efforts by the Federal Government of Nigeria to determine the amount of the funds stashed abroad and the various location of these funds for the purposes of repatriation. While a specific sum cannot be determined as the total stolen from Nigeria, subsequent governments have recorded successes in repatriating some of the stolen funds at different times.
The Policy Solution
The Nigerian government subsequently engaged the services of professionals to trace the national assets looted. It was discovered that the funds illicitly looted under the late Gen. Sani Abacha regime was kept in different countries including Switzerland financial institutions and Luxembourg. The Nigerian Government, therefore, engaged the Swiss Government and the World Bank in its efforts to repatriate these assets in line with the provisions of several international treaties to which the parties were signatories such as the following:
- Article 25 of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda;
- Goal 16 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; and
- Chapter V of the United Nations Convention against Corruption.
The Swiss Government and the World Bank agreed to proceed and assist with the repatriation of the said sums subject to certain conditions including the following:
The setting up of a National Cash Transfer Office (NCTO)
The institution of a Targeted Cash Transfer Project (‘the Project’) for which the repatriated sums will be deployed to.
The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will govern the relationships between the parties and provide a framework for the monitoring of the disbursement and effective use of the funds for the Project.
The setting up of both a Dollar Denominated Account and Naira Denominated Account held by the Nigerian Government in the Bank for International Settlements (BIS). Disbursement will be made out of the Dollar Denominated Account into the Naira Denominated Account for the sole purpose of implementation of the Project. The MOU entered into force the moment it was signed by the designated authorities of the parties. The strategic importance of the MOU is to ensure that a framework is set up to ensure that there is a monitoring system to ensure that the funds that are repatriated are put into use in a manner that is beneficial not just for the Government but in a manner that has a direct impact in the lives of the least and economically disadvantaged Nigerians as it is believed that these are the people who are most affected by the deprivation occasioned by the looting of the public treasury by the late Head of State.
Furthermore, the policy initiative incorporated in the MOU was also to ensure that the repatriated sums were not again looted by Nigerian Government officials by providing for reporting obligations and structures on the utilization of the funds to both the World Bank and the Swiss Government.
NIGAC Constructive Position/Take
The decision to use the repatriated sums for the Project was a laudable initiative given the fears that the funds may be mismanaged when released without a plan to channel the funds into. The issues surrounding the implementation of the Project especially the determination of the recipients of the cash transfers was however a concern. The MOU provided the inclusion of the Civil Society Organizations (CSO) to ensure that the Nigerian Government is prodded to provide details about the implementation of the Project. CSOs like SERAP has demanded data of the recipients of the Project because of the perceived inequality among the regions of the country and the opaque structure of the implementation of the Project.
It is however important that in subsequent situations where MOUs are signed in respect of the repatriation of similar funds, it is necessary that the specific structure and details of the projects that the funds will be directed into are provided in the MOU so that this can be made available to the general public. This will inspire confidence in the process of release of the funds and the utilization of the funds.