Looting describes egregious instances of theft and embezzlement, the “plundering” of public assets by government officials. The proceeds are described as loot. Loot is a 1970 British film in which two bank robbers hide their loot in a casket with a dead body. They hid the cash but they couldn’t hide the casket. The investigative agencies of loot and proceeds of looting in Nigeria: NPF, EFCC, ICPC, NDLEA, CCB, NEITI, NAPTIP, FIRS, BPP, OMB, PCC, CAC, CBN, investigative units in federal ministries, the military and others in the government’s war against corruption are up for scrutiny as Nigeria’s position in the global anti-corruption tapestry becomes clearly untenable.
Re-looting began during the Obasanjo administration with the alleged looting of Abacha’s loot. Following intense criticism for failing to fulfill a promise President Muhammadu Buhari made on May 14, 2016 in London, the Federal Government published “details of recovered assets” – withholding the names of the looters. Published by the Federal Ministry of Information, it showed that the Nigerian government retrieved total cash amounts: ₦78,325,354,631.82, $185,119,584.61, £3,508,355.46 and €11, 250 between May 29, 2015 and May 25, 2016.
Also released were recoveries under interim forfeiture, a combination of cash and assets during the same period: ₦126,563,481,095.43, $9,090,243,920.15, £2,484,447.55 and €303,399.17. Anticipated repatriation from foreign countries totaled: $321,316,726.1, £6,900,000 and €11,826.11. The ministry also announced that 239 non-cash recoveries were made during the one-year period. The non-cash recoveries are – farmlands, plots of land, uncompleted buildings, completed buildings, vehicles and maritime vessels.
In February 2017, the Federal Government said it recovered $151 million and ₦8 billion looted funds from three sources through the whistle-blower policy. Lai Mohammed said the looted funds do not include the $9.2 million cash recovered from a former GMD of NNPC, Andrew Yakubu. Aforementioned are humongous stashes of cash and assets exposed to re-looting. Many Nigerians are skeptical of the anti-corruption crusade with reports of official duplicity and complicity in re-looting.
The crux of the matter is the management of recovered looted assets and accounting for them. These include safekeeping, storage, warehousing and keeping detailed records of the looted assets. Re-looting the loot was de rigueur before Buhari launched his war against corruption.
In his remarks at the “Strategic Retreat on Tracking the Progress of Anti-Corruption Bills in the National Assembly” in Abuja on Tuesday Nov 28, Senate President Bukola Saraki accused anti-corruption agencies of looting recovered proceeds of corruption. Saraki said: “. . . Nigeria is finding it difficult to convince other nations to return funds looted from our treasury because of the other nations’ exasperation over the management of returned assets . . .” Both the Swiss and British governments have expressed their reservations with how recovered looted funds and assets are managed in Nigeria.
In response to outcries and probably a Wednesday July 5 order by a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, for the Federal Government to publish names of looters, President Buhari inaugurated an audit committee in Abuja on Wednesday Nov 22 to audit assets and loots recovered by government agencies. The committee is to submit its report to the presidency in four weeks time. The committee comprises Mr. Olufemi Lijadu, Mrs. Gloria Chinyere Bibigha and Mr. Mohammed Nami. The term of reference of the committee is to audit all recovered accounts up to April 10, 2017.
The urgent need to manage recovered looted assets came to the fore when the fugitive ex-chairman of Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), Abdulrasheed Maina, and the federal Attorney General claimed in separate statements in Kaduna and a Senate Hearing respectively, that human rights lawyer, Femi Falana SAN, was the beneficiary of a recovered asset worth ₦2billion but bought for ₦1 billion. The allegation is that the property Falana converted to his office in Abuja was one of the Properties Maina’s PRTT helped the government to recover from pension thieves through the EFCC. Falana denied complicity but this exposé exhibits dearth of honest management of looted assets.
While Buhari has inaugurated an audit committee, I hope their mandate will include a broader telescopic audit of all government bodies including the Nigerian armed forces. The navy in particular should come within the telescopic lenses of this Buhari audit. Nigeria is losing up to 40% of its oil revenue to corruption. The navy handles the oil sector recovery of assets in the Niger Delta. The Nigerian Navy patrols the territorial waters of Nigeria and one of their mandates is the stoppage of illegal shipping and illegal oil bunkering vessels/barges in the creeks. After an NTA coverage of a barge seizure, nobody knows what happens to the seized barge. Reports will later claim the navy sank the barge. What about its seized cargo, was the barge actually sunk?
The telescopic audit should also view the NDLEA which confiscates illicit/illegal drugs, assets and cash proceeds from drug barons and/or couriers. Who monitors to make sure these seized assets are accounted for by NDLEA officials? Another re-looting strategy is the inclusion of recovered looted funds into annual budgeting by the Federal Government. As soon as these recovered funds pass through the crucible of budgeting, without previous accounting, they are re-looted – again! The telescopic lenses must view all anti-corruption agencies’ management of recovered looted funds and assets. There is an ongoing methodology in Nigerian official circles which encompasses what I will call the “revolving door syndrome”.
This syndrome entails a situation where something is stolen, recovered by official(s) and stolen again by the same or other officials(s) – all in a revolving thieving cycle of re-looting the loot. Like the bank robbers who hid the cash but couldn’t hide the casket, Nigeria’s anti-corruption crusade will not escape internal and international ridicule until the Buhari administration puts in place a comprehensive central management of recovered looted funds and assets, and publish the names of looters to stem the ongoing and prevalent tide of re-looting the loot.