This article is part of our #FirstWord series to provide context on trending news.
Perhaps one of the things former military Head of State, Sani Abacha, is most famous for after his death is the amount of money that he looted. Billions of dollars diverted from Nigeria were stashed away in different countries by the former Head of State during his tenure. These funds have slowly been returned to Nigeria.
Over the past years, Switzerland has returned more than $1 billion looted by Abacha to Nigeria. A few days ago, the Swiss Government announced that there are no more looted funds from Abacha as Nigeria’s Attorney General confirmed the last tranche of $322 million.
“It is to be made clear that the new laws in Switzerland do not allow for any stolen wealth to be kept in any place in the country,” the ambassador added. The Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, admitted the receipt of the last tranche of $321 million of the Abacha loot from the Swiss Government, adding that it had been domiciled with the Nigerian apex bank for the purpose of using it to empower the poor and vulnerable in Nigeria” - Eric Mayoraz, Swiss Ambassador to Nigeria.
What is Nigeria doing with the stolen money?
One of the conditions given by the Swiss government for returning the stolen money to Nigeria was that the World Bank would be involved in monitoring how the money is used within the country. The idea behind this is to ensure transparency around spending and to check that the money is not re-looted. In December 2017, the Federal Government of Nigeria, the Swiss Federal Council and the World Bank signed an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) to this effect.
The Presidency disclosed that starting this month, the funds will be used to support targeted cash transfers to poor and vulnerable Nigerians under the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP). NSIP is a series of programmes by the Muhammadu - Buhari led administration aimed at tackling poverty across the country.
Under the targeted cash transfers scheme, the Federal Government gives ₦5000 monthly to poor households. According to the Vice President’s spokesman, Laolu Akande, the scheme has so far recorded more than 280,000 beneficiaries in 21 states of the Federation.
With the returned loot, the plan is pretty much the same; to distribute funds to around 300,000 households identified by various local governments in rural areas as poor.
While the idea of distributing additional funds to cater directly to the country’s vulnerable citizens comes from a good place, a lot of concerned stakeholders have questioned how much of an impact doing this will have. And rightfully so.
For example, The Socio - Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a body dedicated to promoting transparency and accountability in government believes that the cash transfer programme won’t bring tangible benefits to beneficiaries.
The organisation suggests that creating mechanisms to ensure that the repatriated funds are invested in projects that will improve opportunities for those living in poverty is a much viable option. Here, funds can be invested in public services with long-term effects like water, education and health.
“President Buhari should renegotiate the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Swiss authorities in full consultation with the communities affected by grand corruption and ensure that the returned loot is used to promote justice and development.” - Timothy Adewale, SERAP Deputy Director.
Outside of SERAP, there also seems to be distrust towards the Government around the method of selecting recipients of the money. There have been questions about the metrics used to identify poor and vulnerable people.
Responding to the criticisms around the cash transfer programme in general, Linda Ekeator, Manager, National Social Investment Office commented that it would take years before its effects are felt since the programme only began in December 2016.
From all indications, the Federal Government will most likely not consider suggested options by stakeholders around the spending of Abacha’s loot as the agreement around spending it on cash transfers has already been signed and is slated to begin this month.
One thing is clear though, and it is that the World Bank and Nigerians are watching closely on how the money is been dispersed.