Since the return to democracy in 1999, all Nigerians are familiar with the disclosures and recoveries of Abacha loot. The latest is the repatriated $322.5 million Abacha loot by Swiss government. More than ever before, the repatriated Swiss loot has generated healthy controversy with respect to its use among Nigerians. Frequently asked questions deal with the choice of how to use the money either for job-creating economic activities or direct cash transfer to the most vulnerable Nigerians? This controversy is unnecessary and diversionary. For one, we must commend all the stakeholders in Nigerian project who helped in tracking looted funds for repatriation.
But the long term lesson is how we must stop the criminal capital flight through looting of public funds by some public officials. Certainly corruption passes for modern day colonialism in terms of systematic under-development of the nation. The National Assembly members should concentrate on passing laws to damn corruption instead of being “loot-excited” on how to share what should not have been looted or what they never recovered in the first instance. Legislators must leverage “on the awareness and momentum created by the return and use of these funds to advocate for the immediate passage of the Proceeds of Crime Bill and other complementary legislation that will establish the institutions and enhance the overall framework for the recovery and management of looted assets in Nigeria”.
Yours comradely supports the Federal Government’s decision to pay the $322 million Abacha loot as monthly transfer of N5,000 to poor Nigerians within the context of Conditional Cash Transfers (CCT). We compare “like with unlike” when we treat recovered looted funds as monies that must go to Federation accounts. No! Much hitherto recovered loots that were used for so- called projects in the past have proven to have been re- looted! Let poor Nigerians have the cash to themselves either as “ fish” or as “fishing nets”. We should stop patronizing the poor. The poor need cash no less than the some rich steal their cash. The recovered Abacha loot from Switzerland in particular was negotiated to be used for budgeted World Bank assisted Social Investment Programme (SIP) through cash transfer to the poor. It was therefore wise that the Federal government give poorest Nigerians the cash transfer as a matter of right rather than the issuance undignified handouts by some corrupt politicians through phony constituent projects .
The National Assembly must partner with the Executive through the Federal Character Commission to ensure the cash transfer was not limited to the poor households in 19 states alone but must be spread to all the 36 States of the Federation and the Federal Character Territory in line with the Federal Character principle. “The use of the funds for cash transfers is an outcome of the process that enabled the repatriation of the funds in the first place. The court order in Switzerland that commenced the repatriation process was made conditional on the involvement of the World Bank in supervising the use of the funds to prevent their mismanagement and re-looting, as has been the case in the past. To enable the mandatory involvement of the World Bank in the process, the Bank indicated that the money be used in one of its subsisting programmes in Nigeria to enable it to use its existing monitoring and broader institutional resources to monitor the use of the funds.
Since the Bank already had a social investment programme running in the country, the decision was taken to channel the funds to the cash transfer component of this programme. This would also mean that the funds would be “used for the benefit of the people of Nigeria”, which was another condition in the MOU. The use of the funds for the cash transfer programme is therefore largely a result of the preconditional involvement of the World Bank. Whilst we advocate for and hope that the meaningful use of these funds would make such conditions unnecessary in the future, this is now the case and the conversation needs to move towards ensuring a transparent, accountable and equitable use of the funds for the designated purpose; providing safety nets for the poorest Nigerians amongst us.
The beneficiaries of the cash transfer programme are households contained in the National Social Register which is developed by the National Social Safety-Nets Coordinating Office (NASSCO) in collaboration with and support from the World Bank. This register is built employing three targeted mechanisms to identify poor and vulnerable people across the country. The point cannot be overstated; “Social safety-net programmes like conditional cash transfers have proven to raise people out of poverty and positively impact the lives of poor people in other parts of the world. The use of the Abacha loot for this purpose will also provide a good case study of this in the context of Nigeria”.