Former Nigeria leader Olusegun Obasanjo has explained what became of the funds recovered from Nigeria’s best advertised kleptocrat, General Sani Abacha.
Calling the court of law and Nigerians who want to know what he did with the money he recovered, “stupid,” he dignified his critics with some wisdom last week.
“I don’t keep account,” he said. “All Abacha loots were sent to Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), and every bit of it was reported to Minister of Finance…If they want to know what happened to the money, they should call CBN governor or call the Minister of Finance!”
To begin with, here is a general timeline of the Abacha loot story:
- May 29, 1999: Obasanjo takes office.
- July 1999, Nigeria begins civil proceedings in London against Mohammed Abacha, Abubakar Bagudu and companies owned by them, in connection with a debt buy-back transaction in which they had made an illicit profit of about 500 million DEM. Freezing and disclosure orders having been obtained, $420 million in assets are identified and frozen, and Nigeria demonstrates to the courts that Mohammed Abacha had failed to disclose over $1.1m in assets in Switzerland and Luxembourg.
- Mid-September 1999: Obasanjo hires Italian lawyer Enrico Monfini to pursue assets stolen by Sani Abacha and his family. Pursuit begins from a Nigeria police investigation which showed that between 1994 and 1998, Abacha and his sons had looted the CBN of about $2 billion and transferred the money abroad.
- 30 September 1999: Monfrini lodges with Switzerland a request for interim freezing orders. Granted within two weeks, this paves the way for the lodging of a formal request for mutual assistance by Nigeria on 20 December 1999. It is discovered that all of the bank accounts identified in the request have been closed, and their assets transferred to such places as Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, the UK and Jersey.
- November 1999: Nigeria, deploying a parallel strategy with the Attorney General of Geneva of a criminal complaint for fraud, money laundering and participation in a criminal organization, requests to be admitted in the proceedings as a party suing for damages. This is granted, leading to a blanket freezing order in which the names of the suspects, their aliases and their companies are sent to all Swiss banks.
- Within days, many accounts with assets of over $700m, are frozen in Switzerland as banks report and dutifully monitor suspicious accounts, including the receiving and paying accounts.
- On the basis of the criminal proceedings in Geneva, Nigeria lodges requests for mutual assistance with Luxembourg, UK, Liechtenstein and Jersey, and within months, an additional $1.3 billion are frozen in those jurisdictions.
December 1999: Switzerland announces the freezing of $550 million in bank accounts that belonged to Abacha and his family, former National Security Adviser Ismaila Gwarzo, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu and other businessmen; involved are 120 accounts in a dozen banks.
January 2000: the Swiss authorities announce the freezing of $645 million linked to Abacha.
April 2000: over $300 million of the stolen funds are reported to have been found in England; in May, the International Herald Tribune (IHT) reports over $1 billion in various accounts throughout Europe in the names of the Abacha family or his associates.
May 2000: Luxembourg announces the discovery and freezing of $630 million in eight bank accounts in MM Warburg & Co., a private bank, in the names of Sani Mohammed and Abba Sani Mohammed, awaiting Nigeria’s claiming of the money.
May 2000: the IHT reports the finding of “part of an additional $654 million” in Credit Suisse, Switzerland.
August 2000: Nigeria asks Liechtenstein to help recover 100m British pounds.
April 2001: Britain’s Financial Services Authority discloses that 23 London banks had handled $1.3bn belonging to the family and friends of General Abacha.
May 2002: President Obasanjo strikes a deal with Abacha’s survivors, allegedly so Nigeria could recover about $1.2 billion; the Abachas would keep $100 million and par bonds worth $300 million.
November 2003: Finance Minister Okonjo-Iweala says the Nigerian government has recovered $149 million from the Island of Jersey; she notes this is distinct from the $618 million for which she had just visited Switzerland and was confident the Swiss would repatriate to Nigeria.
19 August 2004: the Swiss Federal Office of Justice decides to transmit to Nigeria all the assets in Switzerland owned by the Abacha family, about $500 million.
September 2005: Okonjo-Iweala announces, in a Switzerland press conference, that Nigeria has recovered from the Abachas $458 million, and “about $2 billion total of assets…”
December 2006: La Declaration de Berne announces “irregularities” in Nigeria’s handling of repatriated funds; it laments that while $700 million had been repatriated to Nigeria, about $200 million of the money have been ‘siphoned’ off.
February 2007: Finance Minister Nenadi Usman says Nigeria is investigating how the recovered Abacha loot was being spent. The following month, she explains that the recovered funds—totaling $2.5 billion—were given to five ministries: Power, Works, Health, Education, and Water Resources to implement 50 projects.
June 2007: Speaking on “Corruption: Myths & Realities in a Developing Country Context” at the Second Annual Richard H. Sabot Lecture in Washington DC, Okonjo-Iweala confirms: “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.”
December 2012: Swiss Ambassador Hans-Rudolf Hodel confirms in Abuja his country has so far returned to Nigeria a total of $700 million in Abacha loot found in Swiss banks.
February 2014: Okonjo-Iweala says only $500 million was recovered when she served in Obasanjo’s government, and “channeled into rural projects.”
March 2014: US says it has frozen more than $458m in Abacha accounts around the world.
March 2014: Switzerland repatriates $380 million
June 2014: Liechtenstein announces the repatriation to Nigeria of stolen Abacha funds of $227 million; President Jonathan ‘sets up’ ministerial panel to determine its use.
August 2014, US announces the forfeiture of $480m of Abacha funds and the return of the money to the Nigerian government.
December 2014: Jersey announces a plan to return £315 million in Abacha loot to Nigeria.
March 2015: US says it froze more than $458 million in corruption proceeds hidden by Abacha and his conspirators, and is seeking recovery of over $550 million.
January 2016: Nigeria Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama announces his government is expecting the repatriation of $300m recovered from Switzerland.
March 2016: It is announced that Geneva’s public prosecutor will return to Nigeria $380m confiscated from the Abacha family.
This timeline is not comprehensive, partly because I lack the space. It is also because I lack the information: for instance, in December 2015, former Minister Okonjo-Iweala mysteriously alluded to previously unidentified “new Abacha funds of about $322 million” she transferred to NSA Sambo Dasuki for “urgent security operations.”
What this account indicates is that while a lot of money had been embezzled, some of it—$2.5 billion as of February 2007 alone —has been recovered in the past 15 years.
In the interest of every betrayed Nigerian child, every adult ought to rise up and ask: how much, where is it, or on what has this fortune been spent? You can’t have it both ways.
…By Sonala Olumhense
Ripples Nigeria…without borders, without fears.
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