Written by the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper
Nigeria’s hope of recovering looted funds and other assets from the United Kingdom will soon be realised, several years after the country had shown, in unmistakable ways, her desire to recover all such assets anywhere they are found across the globe. The other day, Nigeria and Britain signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that provides for the mechanism and modalities by which assets looted from Nigeria but found their way to the United Kingdom would be returned to the country. Although, the actual return of the looted assets may still take some more time, given that it is dependent on the fulfillment of necessary legal processes, that a MoU has eventually been signed by both countries, keeps hope alive.
This accomplishment should be seen as the first concrete fruit from the London Anti-Corruption Summit that was held in London. At that Summit, Britain committed to accelerating the procedures and processes for the identification and confiscation of illegally acquired assets with the intention of not only alerting the appropriate and relevant authorities on who brought the assets into the UK but also ensuring that such assets are returned to their beneficial owners.
The point had long been made that when countries that receive and husband looted assets from other countries begin to return such assets any person or group of persons that may nurse the intention to loot assets will be discouraged. As the UK has undertaken to assist in fighting corruption from such mechanism, the explicit promise is that the UK will no longer be a haven for such loots and perhaps, the looters as well.
In order to achieve significant mileage from this mechanism in the fight against corruption, it is imperative that other countries that serve as havens for looters and their loot should emulate the UK example. To realise this will necessitate the strengthening of regulations, procedures and processes that will assist in early identification, watch-listing and safe-keeping of looted assets pending their return to the legitimate and beneficial owners. In this regard, for instance, banks and other financial institutions as well as other establishments that may be used as conduits by looters should be alerted with serious deterrent sanctions dangled on their faces for any violation of set rules and standards. What this means is that such organisations should be warned that there is zero tolerance for accepting or receiving and processing looted or corruptly acquired assets.
Granting that some challenges may confront the country in recovering looted funds/assets with ease, the government should nevertheless, develop and deploy multi-faceted strategies (including effective use of diplomacy and tact) that will enable it to successfully deal with arising challenges. There is also the need to work in a cooperative and collaborative manner with governments of countries where looted assets from Nigeria are hidden. The ability to negotiate and navigate issues successfully should also be explored. For instance, it was recently reported that the government of the United States of America has been unable to return USD458 million said to be in the name of the late General Sani Abacha due to a claim by a lawyer who wants to be paid for representing the Nigerian government in the suit that led to the forfeiture of the loot. Reports also have it that there is another USD100 million being contested by the Kebi State government and others. If the lawyer’s claim is confirmed, that should not be allowed to stall return of the huge amount which the Buhari administration can use to meet some of the socio-economic needs of the country. After all, under good governance, the lawyer would only have embarked on representing the government after securing a documented brief and specified fee payable.
Now, as the country prepares to receive another set of looted funds/assets to be returned from the UK, U.S. and other places, it needs re-emphasising that the government should prepare itself to deal with such funds transparently, disclosing all available and material facts about each recovery. As it were, Nigerians and even the international community will hold the government of President Buhari responsible and accountable. It is strongly advised that government should open country-by-country account at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) where recovered assets should be warehoused pending their disposal on publicly agreed qualified socio-economic programmes, projects or infrastructure. Furthermore, government should maintain detailed country-by-country list of all recovered loots. The minimum details to be contained in the list should include the names of persons assets were recovered from, the country and institution loots were returned from and value in monetary terms of all such recoveries. It is essential that the government keeps the Nigerian people informed on these assets.
Much as it would be a shame for any recovered asset to be re-looted by anybody, it would even be a death knell on the anti-corruption crusade of the Buhari government if the assets are neither properly accounted for nor properly deployed into identifiable and positively impactful projects/programmes that will serve the overall interest of the citizenry.