Eniola Akinkuotu, Abuja
The Federal Government will begin drawing money from the $321m loot repatriated to Nigeria from Switzerland next month.
The fund, which was part of the money stolen by the late military dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, will be used to fund the Social Investment Programme of the government.
The Special Adviser to the President on Social Investment, Mrs. Maryam Uwais, said this in Abuja on Thursday at a forum on asset recovery organised by the Swiss Embassy in collaboration with the African Network for Environment and Economic Justice.
Uwais, who was represented by the Manager, Legal, National Social Investment Office, Ms. Linda Ekeator, explained that one of the conditions for returning the Abacha loot was that the spending would be monitored by the World Bank.
She said the Federal Government and the World Bank subsequently signed an agreement to use the money to fund the Social Investment Programme, which would among other things, give money to the poorest and most vulnerable households.
Ekeator said, “The cash transfer office has been making transfers not from the Abacha loot but from some other sources. The World Bank funding will commence with the Abacha loot funding in July. The payments that have been going on before now have been through budgetary provisions.”
Responding to criticisms that the N5,000 given to poor households had not curbed poverty, she said it would take years before its effects could be felt because the programme only began in December 2016.
Also speaking, the National Coordinator, National Cash Transfer Project, Dr. Temitope Sinkaiye, said 18 states and some Internally Displaced Persons’ camps in Borno State had been receiving the cash transfers.
Sinkaiye, who was represented by Mr. Tukur Rumar, said apart from cash transfers, beneficiaries were also receiving training in social skills.
He said the states that had been benefitting from the programme included: Niger, Kogi, Ekiti, Oyo, Osun, Kwara, Cross River, Bauchi, Jigawa, Gombe, Benue, Taraba, Adamawa, Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, Nasarawa and Anambra.
When asked why 18 states were not benefitting from the programme, he said the state governments had not yet put in place the appropriate platform through which to implement the programme.
In his remarks, the Swiss Ambassador to Nigeria, Eric Mayoraz, said the possibility of stashing looted funds in Switzerland had become lower because the laws on secret banking had changed.
Mayoraz further stated that Nigeria and Switzerland had signed a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty which ensures maximum cooperation between the two nations.
He said, “The money of the Abacha family ($752m) that was in Switzerland was repatriated in 2005. The $321m that was repatriated last year was the money frozen by the Swiss Attorney-General but was not in Switzerland but mainly in other countries like Luxembourg.
“The Swiss legislation from the 1990s till date has fundamentally changed. The law in Switzerland does not allow banking secrecy any longer. It doesn’t exist anymore and all the banks and financial institutions owe it a duty to ask anyone with money where the money came from.
“That does not mean there is no illegal money in Switzerland but there is another instrument I signed with the ministers of justice and finance two years ago for mutual assistance.”
Also speaking for the United Kingdom government, the Head, Department for International Development in Nigeria, Mrs. Debbie Palmer, said the UK government would spend £600,000 (N282m) to monitor the use of government funds.
“In terms of further action, DFID is contributing toward the monitoring and evaluation of assets that are being recovered. We are already supporting third-party monitoring through Action Aid in Nigeria and we are contributing over £600,000 towards the monitoring of recovered assets through a new transparency and accountability project,” she said.
She noted that in just two months, Nigeria received $321m Abacha loot from Switzerland and $73m and called on the country not to squander the opportunity.
Palmer said reports had confirmed that Africa was losing $50bn to corruption every year, which was more than the amount the continent was receiving in aid yearly.
The DFID boss called on the National Assembly to quickly pass the Proceeds of Crime Bill, which would go a long way in curbing corruption if implemented.
Palmer added, “There are funds recovered domestically and in jurisdictions outside Nigeria. This means having appropriate legislative and institutional frameworks in place through the passing of the Proceeds of Crime bill is important. It is important that we lend our voices to that debate and ensure that piece of legislation moves forward.
“Today I would like to call on the relevant actors to take action and ensure that the legislation moves forward before the elections. That would be a major achievement in Nigeria’s fight against corruption.”
In her submission, Mrs. Ladidi Mohammed of the Asset Recovery and Management Unit of the Federal Ministry of Justice said the $73m Abacha loot recovered from the UK in January would be used in implementing the 2018 budget which was recently signed into law.
During the interactive session, Mohammed said nearly $1m belonging to the late former Governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, was stuck in the United States because the Bayelsa State Government had failed to meet some conditions put in place.
She said, “In December, we set a process for the repatriation of that $1m Alamieyesigha money. It is not up to $1m but over $900,000. It is due for repatriation. We have done everything humanly possible to get the state government to come forward.
“We have written letters, we have contacted the state attorney-general’s office; written the governor’s office and tried to get them on board because we want to use the Swiss model for the repatriation.
“The Americans asked us to present a project which the fund would be used for. We told the state government to present a project.”
Unfortunately, until today, we have not received any response from the state government.”