How much the world owes Nigerians

It’s taken Nigeria 20 years to ferret out pocketfuls of the billions the late Abacha stowed abroad. No end in sight yet–even for President Buhari who needs the monies badly


PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari begged the world at the 71stUN General Assembly to help return funds stolen by the late Gen. Sani Abacha because Nigeria needs them now.

His plea could have been occasioned by one of two things: His understanding of the hassle it takes to track and repatriate tranches of money Abacha squirrelled around the world between 1993 and 1998. Or a sheer display of the victim mentality in the face of international politics.

But, certainly, following the paper trails to put a tag on the mint of greenbacks the world’s biggest looter–according to EFCC’s former boss Nuhu Ribadu– stashed around the world is no easy task. Even the government isn’t exactly clued up on the figures.

Ex-Finance Minister Okonjo-Iweala, in 2007, said, “General Abacha looted about $3-5 billion from the Nigerian treasury in truckloads of cash in foreign currencies, in traveler’s checks and other means.”

Some corruption-tracking bodies have their estimates, too. The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) believes the stash alone adds up to $5 billion. Others mark it up–both money and assets–to $7 billion.

However, the National Daily analysis has identified eight countries, mostly tax havens, in Europe and America–the US, U.K, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, London, Jersey, and the Bahamas–where millions of dollars and pounds were hidden, uncovered, and repatriated.

Switzerland heads up the list of those nations where most of the loot was hidden–and where a lot more has been done, so far, in recovering it. At least nine tranches, totting up to $4.7 billion, have been unearthed in the last 18 years in more than 130 bank accounts.

But only $730 million of the stash, the Swiss government says, was remitted in the last 10 years ago. That amount is different from the $321 million it has promised to return to the Buhari administration, according to a March 28 agreement between Abuja and Bern.

Liechtenstein holds the least of the loot. In 2000, ‎£100 million was discovered in that tiny island country. And in 2014, some $220 million was traced to the Abacha money.

In 2010, all over Europe, at least $1 billion of the loot was discovered.

While all the European countries were assisting in tracing and flagging the illicit monies, the U.S wouldn’t join in the hunt until 2014.

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Between March and August 2014, America unearthed two of the funds–$458 million and $480 million respectively. This year, about $550 is being cleared in the U.S court to be repatriated to Nigeria.

Across the U.K, especially in no fewer than 23 banks in London, the authorities discovered $1.3 billion. They flagged some $300 million in April 2000, too.

Luxembourg was able to nail $630 million in eight of its banks in 2000.

Most of the efforts at tracing and freezing the Abacha assets were concentrated in the year 2000, the turn of a new millennium. It was about the time the campaign to rake up the loot got the highest support. The year 2014 got some pep too.

Here’s the timeline:
Switzerland: $420 million
Switzerland: $700 million; $654 million;$645 million
Liechtenstein: £100 million
Luxembourg: $630 million
UK : $300 million
Switzerland: $500 million
Switzerland: $380 million
Liechtenstein: $227 million
Jersey: £315 million
U.S: $458 million, $480 million
US: $550 million

SERAP’s advocacy effort to bring to the open how the $500 million former President Goodluck Jonathan recovered and spent has not been particularly fruitful. The group’s requests, two, between last December and October, to the World Bank have been put on hold.

“In response to your request under AI3982, we would like to inform you that we are still considering your request and need additional time to provide you with a more comprehensive response,” said Ann May of WB’s Access to Information Team.

Which is why the confusion, analysts worry, over the exact amounts stolen, recovered, and spent in the last 20 years will not go away soon.

And that’s sad news for the cash-strapped APC government that’s willing to sting anything for money now.