Editorial

How Buhari Plans To Spend Recently Returned $311M Abacha Loot Without NASS Approval

President Muhammadu Buhari’s (far right) pictured standing, in the country’s darkest days, with the kleptocratic former military junta General Sanni Abacha, whose loot is so massive that Nigeria has been recovering it since 1998.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has concluded plans to spend a staggering sum of 311 million U.S. dollars without budgetary approval by the country’s legislative branch as constitutionally required.

The sum is the amount of the loot recently returned to Nigeria from New Jersey, United States of America, as part of a gargantuan pool of monies stolen by one of Nigeria’s most dreaded military dictators, General Sanni Abacha, and littered all over the globe.

Nigeria suffered from decades of military rule and suppression. The country has a long list of maximum rulers, including President Muhammadu Buhari, who had unfettered access to the national treasury and treated public funds as their personal estate.

Regrettably, that has not changed; judging by the desperate plot by the Buhari administration to carry out public expenditure without first sending an appropriation act to the legislative branch for approval.

Conducts like this created the conduit pipe for the massive looting that took place during the several years of protracted military rule in the country.

There is no doubt that President Buhari was once a maximum military Head of State of Nigeria and had served in all except during the General Ibrahim Babangida regime, but he rode to power again in 2015 through the ‘ballot box’ on the back of an anti-corruption rhetoric.

However, Anti-corruption is compromised the moment the executive branch begins to ignore its core principles; namely, transparency, accountability, the rule of law, checks and balances and separation of powers.

On Tuesday, May 5, 2020, the Buhari administration released a statement in which it acknowledged that on the previous day, some $311 million U.S. Dollars – stolen from the citizens of Nigeria during the Abacha regime – were safely returned to the country from the United States.

The administration went on to claim sadly that these funds have already been allocated, and will be used in full, for vital and decades-overdue infrastructure development: The second Niger Bridge, the Lagos-Ibadan and Abuja-Kaduna-Kano expressways – creating tens of thousands of Nigerian construction jobs and local skills, which can then be useful in future projects.

Without acknowledging the constitutional need for appropriations, the administration announced that part of the funds will also be invested in the Mambilla Power Project which, when completed, will provide electricity to some three million homes – over ten million citizens – in the country.

It is agreeable, the Buhari administration’s assertion that the receipt of these stolen monies – and the hundreds of millions more that have already been returned from the United Kingdom and Switzerland – are an opportunity for the development of Nigeria, made far harder for those decades the country was robbed of these funds.

But, it is indeed questionable that all previous monies returned last year from Switzerland – some $320 million U.S. dollars – are already being purportedly used for the government’s free school feeding scheme, a stipend for millions of disadvantaged citizens, and grain grants for those in severe food hardship without proper budgeting, legislative scrutiny, approval and oversight.

The Buhari administration claims that without the previously returned Abacha loot, the fight against Covid-19 would have been even tougher, but how do we verify that legally, empirically or scientifically.

The administration’s claim that the latest return is a testament to the growing and deepening relationship between the government of Nigeria and the government of the United States is not backed by facts. It has received damning rebukes from the U.S. government on several occasions.

On President Buhari’s last visit to the White House, U.S. President Donald J. Trump rebuked him for not doing enough to protect Christians in Nigeria whose lives, livelihoods and communities were being destroyed by his tribesmen and kinsmen. Top members of the trump administration are even said to have concluded plans to send a Special Envoy to the country to oversee a process that will ensure maximum protection for indigenous Christians in Nigeria.

With a United Nation’s Special Rapporteur subsequently asserting in her historic report that Nigeria, as presented constituted, is a pressure cooker for injustice, such claim of growing and deepening relationship between both countries cannot be more false.

An executive branch of a country which even stated on its own that “without the cooperation both from the UK Government, the US Executive branch and US Congress, we would not have achieved the return of these funds at all,” yet leave out its country’s legislative branch in the fund’s appropriation and expenditure, should be ashamed.

The administration’s claim that for years many countries deemed successive Nigerian administrations as too corrupt, too venal and too likely to squander and re-steal the stolen monies – so they did not return the funds is false as successive administrations before this have received loots returned from several countries.

There is no evidence to back the propaganda by the administration that the “US, UK and other jurisdictions have found the partnership with the nation they can finally trust,” and that the return of monies looted by a military ruler under whom President Buhari served and who he defended for over two decades as not stealing a dime of Nigeria’s money, cannot stand as one.

The Buhari Administration’s claim of being “committed to – and is enacting – total and zero tolerance to corruption in politics and public administration,” sounds fictional. We know that that is not possible without the rule of law, due process, transparency, checks and balances, separation of powers and legislative oversight.

Indeed, the days when government is seen and used by the political class as their personal ATM to empty the treasury should be over. And President Buhari must respect that by observing the above democratic principles and forwarding a supplementary budget to both houses of the country’s National Assembly for appropriation before making any expenditure from the returned $311 million.

Nigerians, indeed, deserve a better government and cleaner hands in the affairs of state and that resolve is here to stay.

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