‘Seun Ibukun-Oni, Abuja – The United States Government has agreed to repatriate over $23 million of looted funds diverted by late Head of State, Sani Abacha, to the Federal Government of Nigeria.
This was disclosed during a signing of agreement ceremony on Tuesday, between the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN) and the US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard.
Recall that the Federal Government had on May 4, 2020, confirmed the receipt of ($311,797,866.11) of the Abacha assets in the United States and the Bailiwick of Jersey.
While the exact amount the late head of state looted is unclear and has been a subject of litigation especially by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), the AGF in a speech on Tuesday, said the decision to return the stolen funds, which is tagged ‘Abacha-5’, was a product of a series of negotiations and meetings between Nigeria, the US Department of Justice and the UK National Crime Agency.
Malami said the loot, when repatriated, would be used for the completion of the Abuja-Kano road, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Second Niger Bridge.
“It is worthy to note that in line with the terms of this agreement, Mr. President had already approved the funds to be utilised for the ongoing presidential development infrastructural funds (PIDF), projects namely; Abuja-Kano road, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Second Niger Bridge under the supervision of Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA).
“The president’s mandate to my office is to ensure that all international recoveries are transparently invested and monitored by civil society organisations to compete for these three projects within the agreed timeline”, he said.
Speaking at the signing ceremony, Mary Leonard, US ambassador to Nigeria, said, “The US department of justice and the FBI seized these funds in response to General Abacha and his associates’ violation of US laws when they laundered these assets to the US and into accounts in the UK.
“These actions were a flagrant breach of the Nigerian people’s trust. But today is the result of an extensive and high level corporation between the US, UK and the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“This agreement is also a kind of collaboration that our government must continue in order to right the wrongs committed under the previous regimes.
“Combined with a $311.7m seized and repatriated with the assistance of the Bailiwick of Jersey and the government of Nigeria in 2020, this repatriation brings the total amount of funds repatriated in this case by the US to more than $334.7 million.”
The US ambassador noted that the funds would be used to complete infrastructural projects earlier mentioned by the AGF.
She said, “In other words, these recovered criminal proceeds, like the $311.7m previously seized and repatriated, will be transformed into a visible and impactful representation of the possibilities of government assets that directly improve the lives of average Nigerians.
“The US government is keenly aware of the devastating impact corruption has on societies. Corruption erodes trust and the ability of governments to deliver to their citizens.
“It distorts the economies and access to key services. It hinders development, pushes citizens towards extremism and makes countries and their officials susceptible to malicious foreign interference.
“It is in recognition of the role corruption plays in undermining democracy that the US considers the fight against corruption as a core national security interest. To that end, President Biden really supported the US strategy in countering corruption last December.”