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EDITORIAL

Looted Funds: Matters Arising

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Recently, the issue related to the repatriation of looted funds back to Nigeria has continued to dominate the media space generating needless controversies that tend to suggest that there is personality clashes going on among government officials who, by their position should know more than divert attention from the real subject-which is to track corruption down and defeat it decisively.

Those funds stashed away in the United States of America (USA) are attracting deserved attention that culminated to a state visit by President Muhammadu Buhari to that country. What followed was a high level discussion between the two countries’ topmost legal representations. During the meeting, President Buhari reiterated the need for the United States to repatriate stolen assets and funds traced to Nigeria’s public officials, saying these funds would assist in developing Nigeria’s economy.

Following this meeting, the Attorney General of Nigeria and the Attorney General of the United States met to discuss the details of how to facilitate an early repatriation of the forfeited funds to Nigeria. The matters discussed and the decisions taken to facilitate the repatriation are indication of the government’s determination to have those monies returned to the country’s treasury as soon as possible.

We recall that the funds are traced to the late maximum ruler, General Sani Abacha whose loot is put at $480 million. The Bagudu family claim to the funds in the Blue Trust worth over $145million is another matter. The $1million alleged to have been laundered to the United States by former Bayelsa State Governor D.S.P Alameisiegha as well as the assets of the former Governor of Delta State James Ibori valued at $3 million are part of the mix. The Deziani Allison Madueke and Aluko Assets, which Nigeria is expecting to recover more than $150million, make the pursuit of the repatriation process urgent for the simple reason that these are huge funds that can make meaningful impact in the economy if recovered and utilised.

Considering past experiences during which looted funds were repatriated and re-looted by kleptomaniacs in government in Nigeria, the United States government is requesting from the Nigerian government that it indicates the projects it would like the funds to be applied to. The Attorney General, Abubakar Malami, who is spear-heading the efforts to untie all the legal knots that are delaying the return of the funds, in his response, appreciated the concerns of the USA government but made it clear that he cannot commit the nation without due authorisation from the President –in –council. This, even to any lay man, will require consultation with the President and other cabinet Ministers. Nigeria, therefore, requested for two weeks to enable the Minister review the 2018 budget and determine which of the President’s development priorities already set out in the appropriation bill would be approved and the fund appropriately injected into.

Unfortunately, Malami’s efforts are not sufficiently appreciated going by criticisms and seeming booby traps by those who are in a position to know, including top government functionaries. Considering the amount involved, there is likely to be perceptions, obviously misdirected, but which are capable of insinuating personal gains. The high level nature of the discussions, which involves directly the presidents of the two countries, makes any such thinking grossly misplaced.

The Attorney General is a politician and politicians are grandmasters in the art of plotting intrigues and causing mischief. Unfortunately, some of his colleagues, with axe to grind, are using his handling of the matter, dexterously we dare say, to settle personal scores; including divulging confidential information just to make the AGF look like a bad guy. Those behind these acts know they are capable of jeopardising the interest of the country and that may explain why the USA government is insisting on assurances before repatriating the funds. Already, this infighting within the system is giving the Buhari administration an ugly hue it does not deserve.

Before now, the AGF has consistently led the fight against graft without necessarily indulging in media propaganda because, to him, it is part of his job schedule. His interventions had led to the return of some looted funds. It is from this perspective that this newspaper is calling for a united front as the push by the government to repatriate stolen monies that are hidden outside the country’s shores gathers momentum. In our view, there ought not to be any cavalier proclivities from any quarters in the matter because national interest is of paramount concern.

Nigerians are one in their condemnation of the disastrous impact of corruption in the nation’s body polity. And to that extent, the fight against graft should attract a united front, especially from officialdom devoid of any tendencies towards grandstanding aimed at outsmarting one another. This attitude, in our opinion, becomes even more imperative given the fact that external interests are involved.    




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