On December 18, 2017, the federal government received the sum of $322,515,931.83 from Switzerland, being part of the late General Sani Abacha’s loot. Unlike the previous recoveries, the latest recovery has been specially earmarked to be spent on the vulnerable, the poor and indigent under the social safety net programme of the federal government. Double confirmation for this came from Vice president Yemi Osinbajo and the minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun.
Much as Nigerians would have wished to see the impact of this money in the area of social or physical infrastructure or on the federal government’s job creation efforts for the teeming unemployed, the fate of this recovery was well ahead of its release. That the money will be expended on the poor sounds good, but the worry is with the path it would tread to achieve this.
As revealed by both Adeosun and Osinbajo, the process would simply be to table the $322.5million in liquid cash and divvy it among those who fall within government’s classification of the country’s vulnerable, poor and indigent and funnel it to them through a Conditional Cash Transfer, CCT scheme of the government. This comes off as scattershot approach at poverty reduction in a country with one of the world’s highest levels of poverty. It is simply throwing money at a deeply-rooted scourge that rather requires a measured action plan. But the federal government has its back on the wall.
Sharing the money among the Nigerian poor is a stipulation given by the Swiss government for the repatriation of the fund to which the Nigerian government had a choice to say no and continue to wait.
As Osinbajo revealed at the 8th Commonwealth Conference of Anti-corruption Agencies in Africa, the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) facilitated the efforts at the asset recovery and return and saw to the signing of the memorandum of understanding between the Nigerian and the Swiss governments for the return of the fund.
Included in that agreement, is the commitment that the funds would be invested in one of the Nigeria’s flagship social investment programmes, the Conditional Cash Transfer scheme targeted at the poorest and most vulnerable households in our country.
Figures from National Bureau of Statistics, NBS in 2016 put no fewer than 112 million Nigerians below the poverty level. This represents 67.1 per cent of the population who survive on less than one U.S. dollar or £0.63 a day.
It can be recalled that this is not the first time the Swiss authorities released a portion of Abacha’s loot to the Nigerian government. On August 19, 2004, the Swiss Federal Office of Justice furnished the Nigerian government with all it needed to know about the assets owned by the Abacha family in Switzerland, and in March 2014, repatriated $380 million to the Nigeria government without any stipulation. With $227 million that came three months later from Liechtenstein, the then President Jonathan only had to set up a ministerial panel on how to expend the funds.
The sum of $149 million was also returned in November 2003 from the Island of Jersey following a 2002 deal President Obasanjo government struck with the Abacha family that enabled the Nigerian government recover about $1.2 billion; while the Abachas would keep $100 million and bonds worth $300 million.
It is evident that the Swiss government’s resort to giving Nigeria a precondition for the repatriation of the $322.5million that entirely anchors on how to spend it, is its way of expressing displeasure with the manner the previously repatriated funds were expended by preceding governments and by extension its lack of faith in the judgement of the present government to put the latest release to a judicious use. Both are nothing to celebrate. For this, the National Assembly which has right of oversight on both the finance and justice ministries should see the need to probe the factors which made the Swiss government decide for Nigeria how it would spend the $322.5million recovered Abacha loot.
Government’s Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) under its Social Investment Programme, SIP began last year in which some lucky unemployed and the poor draw N5000 monthly. With about one year into its operation, we note that many for whom the scheme is meant for do not even know of its existence, let alone how it works. We therefore suggest that the government should utilise the boost from the $322.5million to expand and make its CCT scheme more inclusive.
In the opinion of this newspaper, the credibility and inclusiveness of the government’s CCT scheme should matter to it much more this time because the Swiss government which stipulated that $322.5million should be for the poor is watching.