SERAP threatens to sue govt over Abacha loot

By Adebisi Onanuga

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has threatened to sue the Federal Government over its failure to offer data on the precise quantity of public funds stolen by former army head of state Sani Abacha, or of the spending of about $5billion recovered loot for the interval between 1999 and 2015.

The two events had disagreed on the quantity of public funds stolen by Abacha and the spending of about $5 billion recovered loot.

While the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abukabar Malami (SAN), mentioned his ministry doesn’t maintain information of the precise quantity of public funds stolen by the late Abacha, or of the spending of about $5 billion recovered loot, SERAP mentioned “the failure of Malami to provide the information on the exact amount stolen by Abacha and on spending of recovered loot for the period between 1999 and 2015 implicitly amounts to a refusal by the government.”

The Minister of Finance didn’t ahead any response.

Federal Government’s response adopted SERAP’s Freedom of Information (FoI) requests despatched to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abukabar Malami (SAN) and Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed.

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SERAP had requested data on the precise quantity of public funds stolen by Abacha, and particulars of spending of about $5 billion recovered loot for the reason that return of democracy in 1999.

But Malami, in his reply dated February 26, 2020 reportedly mentioned: “We have searched our records and the information on the exact amount of public funds stolen by Abacha and how recovered loot was spent from 1999 to 2015 is not held by the Ministry.”

The Minister of Justice nonetheless gave the breakdown of cash recovered to incorporate: “a total of $322 million recovered from Switzerland in January 2018 and the funds were used for Social Investment Project. Also, $308 million was recovered from the Island of Jersey in collaboration with the USA. While awaiting the transfer of the money to Nigeria, it has been designated for the following projects: Lagos-Ibadan Expressway; Abuja-Kano Expressway, and Second Niger Bridge.”

Dissatisfied with Malami’s reply, SERAP Deputy Director Kolawole Oluwadare mentioned: “The failure to provide information on the exact amount stolen by Abacha and on spending of recovered loot for the period between 1999 and 2015 implicitly amounts to a refusal by the government. The government also failed to provide sufficient details on the spending and planned spending of the $630 million it said it recovered since 2018.”

In a press release dated March 15, 2020, SERAP mentioned: “In the circumstances and given that Mrs. Zainab Ahmed has failed and/or refused to response to our FoI request, we are finalising the papers for legal actions under the FoI Act to compel the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to fully and effectively comply with our requests.”

Malami’s reply with reference quantity MJ/FOI/REQ/035/11/34, was signed on his behalf by a principal counsel on the Ministry of Justice, Hamza Adeyinka Omolara.

In its FoI requests, SERAP had expressed: “Concerns that substantial part of the estimated $5 billion returned Abacha loot since 1999 may have been diverted, re-stolen or mismanaged, and in any case remain unaccounted for.”

The FoI requests dated February 14, 2020, learn: “The Federal Government ought to disclose particulars of initiatives executed with the Abacha loot and their areas, particulars of corporations and contractors concerned within the execution of any such initiatives, particulars of all of the agreements on the loot, the roles performed by the World Bank and different actors, in addition to the implementation standing of all initiatives since 1999.

“Publishing the details of projects on which Abacha loot has been spent would allow the public to know the specific projects carried and the areas of the country in which the projects have been implemented as well as the officials that may be responsible for any alleged diversion or mismanagement of the loot.”

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