I am pleased to be here in Nigeria in the run-up to next year’s elections. It is an incredibly important time for the country, and I have seen the passion of the people first hand during my visit. Nigeria is Africa’s biggest, and one of its most vibrant democracies. It has made huge progress in…
In a bold approach to recover looted funds, the Federal Government has announced through the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffery Onyeama, that it would henceforth consider negotiating with the justice departments of concerned countries rather than engage lawyers to recover the nation’s monies stashed abroad by some officials of successive governments. The said funds are so humongous that former United Nations (UN) Secretary General, Kofi Anan, in a famous expose on the subject said that over 400bn USD had been illegally stashed abroad from Africa, with over 70 per cent of it from Nigeria.
The difficulty the country has had tracking, recovering and repatriating monies looted abroad is common knowledge. Even under a government that has made the fight against corruption and the recovery of such monies a priority, the frustrations are not any less. So, if government in the light of these frustrations and biting economic realities, has decided to change approach, it is understandable and absolutely commendable. Countries that the government is presently engaging with under the new approach include the United States, Germany, United Arab Emirates and Liechtenstein. With the recent revelations by online publication, Wilkileaks, other such havens that have to be considered include the Cayon Islands.
Apart from Switzerland with which we have had relative success on repatriation of the late General Sani Abacha’s loot, there is not much to show for all the efforts at repatriating looted funds stashed in foreign countries. It is either the cases are tangled in legal disputes, or the countries are playing hardball and refusing to cooperate with the agents of the Federal Government.
There have been many issues in the past with legal representations, the engaged lawyers’ commissions and percentages, and unethical demands on them for parts of their legal fees. So, it is easy to see that the old regime of bypassing the appropriate departments in foreign countries and preferring lawyers as intermediaries was fueled by top operatives of the concerned Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) for the purpose of corruptly enriching themselves, their cronies and allies at home and abroad.
The country has paid and lost huge amount of money as legal fees and entitlements to this group of lawyers, with many of such cases still pending in courts abroad, to the detriment of the country’s image. The former practice of going through lawyers was, therefore, a great disservice to the country.
The new approach of negotiating directly with the justice departments or judicial agencies of the concerned countries, where these monies have been discovered, makes more sense and would bring about a regime of transparency and accountability. Moreover, the countries are bound by international protocols and conventions on such matters to avoid underhand tactics.
Efforts must now be concentrated on identifying the appropriate agencies of government of the foreign countries and robustly engaging them for the desired outcomes. Our Foreign Affairs Minister working in concert with the Minister of Justice and other relevant agencies of government must ensure that the new approach works. As we have noted earlier, the engagement of lawyers for this purpose has yielded very little, for the country, in terms of desired results. We must not forget, too, that one reason the nation has not had much cooperation with these foreign countries in the recovery of looted funds has to do with transparency and accountability. There have been issues even with the immediate past administration, concerning the apparent re-looting and embezzlement of returned funds. Some of these countries have clauses in their statutes barring them from further cooperation when such defaults are reported and found to be true.
We do not live in an island. The world has, indeed, become a global village and all are required to abide by the best practices of transparency and accountability, especially on financial matters.