Nigeria: $6.5bn Repatriated Loots Fail to Address Poverty, Underdevelopment

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Stolen funds recovered from past public officials and stashed in foreign countries, totalling $6.5billion, have failed to address Nigeria's development gaps despite 19 years of recovery efforts.

Nigeria is one of the countries affected by the $89 billion lost annually by African countries through illicit financial flows.

A major effect of this is a widened gap between the rich and poor as the country remains economically vulnerable, with inadequate infrastructure, erratic power supply, limited access to healthcare, education, insecurity, low broadband internet penetration and general low standard of living.

The latest data from the World Data Lab revealed that of the 209,707,456 people living in Nigeria, 89,822,903, that is about 43 per cent, live below poverty line of less than $1.90 per day.

Out of this figure, the number of poor people in rural areas is put at 56,481,799, that is 63 per cent of the total poor, while 41,406, 595, being 35 per cent represents the urban poor.

The 2019 report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) noted that 40 per cent of the total population or almost 83million people live below the country's poverty line of N137,430 ($381.75) per year.

The NBS said its report was based on data from the Nigerian Living Standards Survey, conducted between 2018 and 2019, with support from the World Bank's Poverty Global Practice and technical assistance from the LSMS programme.

The recoveries have also failed to bridge the infrastructure gap as Nigeria still requires over $300 billion to build roads, railways, airports, seaports, power stations, among other critical infrastructure.

The country has resorted to loans to finance infrastructure projects, with about $79 billion borrowed so far and concerns mounting over repayment.

Since May 2002 when former President Olusegun Obasanjo's government began the recovery of stolen assets following prolonged period of military rule in the country, to 2021, about $6.5billion has been returned to Nigeria.

The funds were hoped to be reinvested into developmental projects that affect the lives of the people, but the management were often controversial, and the long term impact remain doubtful.

Some of the recoveries include $1.2bn in May 2002, taken by former head of state, Sani Abacha to Europe by then President Obasanjo; the same government recovered $149m taken to the island of Bailiwick of Jersey by General Abacha in November 2003; $500m Abacha loot from Switzerland in August, 2004 and $458m Abacha loot from Switzerland in September 2005.

In 2012, former President Goodluck Jonathan recovered $1bn Abacha loot from Switzerland. In June 2014, the government recovered $227million Abacha loot from Liechtenstein. Again, in August 2014, the Jonathan administration recovered $480m Abacha loot from USA. Another $380m was recovered from Switzerland by the government in March 2015.

On December 8, 2017, incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari administration announced recovery of $300m linked to former Bayelsa State governor, Diepreye Alamieseyeigha and Abacha, stashed in the USA and Switzerland. In February 2020, the government recovered $308m Abacha loot from the Island of Bailwick Jersey. The government recovered $311m Abacha loot from USA and Bailwick of Jersey in April 2020. And in March 2021, the government announced the return of £4.2m loot from a former governor of Delta State, James Ibori.

The utilisation of the recovered funds under the Obasanjo and Jonathan administrations were not very clear, although sources said they were put into the budget and used for capital projects.

However, it is said that the recovered loots have been tied to projects since the tenure of Muhammadu Buhari. Many of the receiver nations signed memoranda of understanding with Nigerian government and the World Bank to channel the funds to projects that are beneficial to the people or have them disbursed directly to the poor and vulnerable households under the supervision of the National Social Investment office.

Thus, the government came up with the Social Intervention Programmes, including the Conditional Cash Transfer Scheme and others with the $300m recovered in 2017. Other related social safety net intervention projects pursued by the government include: Npower, Tradermoni and Marketmoni.

When another trench of $311m Abacha loot was received in 2020, the government announced that it will deploy the money towards the completion of the ongoing work on three key infrastructure projects, being the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, Abuja-Kaduna expressway and the second Niger bridge.

The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami had, on March 9 announced that the £4.2m Ibori loot, when returned to the country, would also be used for the completion of infrastructure projects.

He said a reputable civil society had been incorporated to monitor the use of the funds for the ongoing projects.

However, there are already complaints by the Delta State Government for the funds to be returned to the coffers of the state.

Responding to the issue, an anti-corruption lawyer, Yusuf Ali, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said to address poverty in the country needed a reliable, credible social security system.

He, however, added that the culture of sharing money was not sustainable for the country. He maintained that encouraging productive activities through reducing interest rate for bank loans to single-digit would create economic activities and investment.

"We must deploy resources in infrastructure because much of the challenges we have is that of inadequacy of infrastructure like power. If we get power right, I assure you that almost 50 per cent of our unemployment problems would be solved," he said.

Also, the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) and partners on the Monitoring Transparency and Accountability in the Management of Returned Assets (MANTRA), said it was important that recovered looted fund be used for the stated agreements and not to be re-looted.

The executive director of the ANEEJ, Rev David Ugolor, said the MANTRA had been independently monitoring the use of the returned loot earmarked for infrastructural projects across the country.

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