Efforts to recover some $500 million worth of United States-based proceeds of corruption traced to Nigeria’s former Head of State, the late General Sani Abacha have taken a positive turn. The U.S. Embassy in Nigeria yesterday, in an electronic mail exchange with The Guardian confirmed it would transmit to President Donald Trump, a letter from the Socio-economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) requesting the administration to release the assets to Nigeria.
Executive Director at SERAP, Adetokunbo Mumuni, had, in a statement, quoted the U.S. Embassy as saying, “the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are in regular communication with the Nigerian Attorney General and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding further cooperation needed to conclude pending asset forfeiture cases and to develop a mechanism for the timely and transparent repatriation of those assets.”
The embassy letter signed by David J. Young, Deputy Chief of Mission followed a memo dated February 3, 2017 and signed by the organisation’s U.S. Volunteer Counsel Professor Alexander W. Sierck and Mumuni.
The embassy’s letter read in part: “The United States government supports the government of Nigeria’s efforts to work with civil society to identify how harm can be remedied through the return of stolen assets. We encourage you to disclose these issues with the Nigerian Attorney General and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who are working closely with the US on the repatriation process.
“We were encouraged by civil society’s role in the development of Nigeria’s Open Government Partnership Action Plan and the commitment to strengthening laws to foster transparency and accountability in the management of recovered and returned assets.”
But the Press Attaché at the Public Affairs Section of the Embassy, Mr. Russel Brooks in an electronic mail exchange last night further clarified the matter on the purported Abacha loot in the US.
“Thanks for allowing me to place this in the proper context,” he said. “The DCM sent a routine, standard reply that the SERAP letter would be forwarded; no more, no less. Mr. Young also pointed out that the matter of the assets in question is being managed by the U.S. Justice Department in collaboration with the Nigerian Attorney General and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Requests for additional details or further clarification should be directed to the U.S. Department of Justice,” Brooks concluded.
Meanwhile, a constitutional lawyer, Mr. Ebun Olu Adegoruwa said SERAP should, rather than expend energy on retrieving new funds, focus its energy on how to ensure that previously repatriated funds are judiciously utilised.
According to him, “I think the efforts are commendable but I would rather say that SERAP should work more on getting the court to ascertain how the $550 million Abacha loot that was previously repatriated from Switzerland was used. I feel it’s better to have the money safe in the U.S. than returning it to Nigeria where it is likely going to be looted again.”
The Chairman of the Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), Mr. Lanre Suraj said the readiness of the U.S. embassy to take “such a step is a welcome development.”