By Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku
The year 2018 is on its death knell. That knelling relentlessly brings Nigerians closer to the 2019 General Elections at a pace quicker and faster than we all imagine. Therefore, one question Nigerians are already preoccupied with has to do with the choice of president for the next four years. And of course there is valid reason to be either nervous or anxious about the individual who becomes president especially with a past as checked as ours. While heading the executive arm of government, Mr. President also heads the party in power, is commander-in-chief of the armed forces and is head of state. Therefore, what decisions the individual who becomes president takes, or does not take affects us all in the short and long term.
Yet, there is another aspect of our political future that we are not giving the kind of consideration presently being invested on the eventual outcome of the presidential elections in 2019. It is the question of the recovery of monies, which present, past, living and dead public officials have stolen and hidden in safe havens. Whilst it is on record that an individual stole as much as a billion United States dollars, two aspects of this thievery seems to deserve further analysis. And they are as follows: first is that the one billion dollars that Sanni Abacha stole and hid in Switzerland and eventually repatriated to Nigeria cannot be said to be the only monies Nigerians have stolen and hidden in Europe and the Americas. There appears to be more, judging from a statement credited to Mr President, and published in The Punch newspaper of 13th November, 2018 https://punchng.com/plenty-stolen-money-still-stashed-away-in-us-europe-others-buhari/ Secondly, it does appear that Sanni Abacha was not the only one involved in looting us blind and stashing same in safe havens. There are a great many. Some are dead but a great many are alive, well, and are quietly enjoying their loot. The supposition that Nigeria is making progress with the repatriation of the Abacha and Alamieyeseigha loot because both men are dead is again a valid one, and a point already being stressed among stakeholders.
Part of the reason why Nigerians seem to carry on without as much as expressing shock at the vast amounts being stolen is probably because the monies are in US dollars and therefore the real values are unknown. Back here in ANEEJ, we have attempted a conversion of the US$322.5million recently returned to Nigeria from Switzerland. The bankers who carried out the exercise said that that amount ($322.5million) amounts to about one trillion billion naira. Our people in the villages and hinterlands may not know what one trillion billion naira is but verily with that amount of money, there are chances that no Nigerian child would ever go hungry in 50 years if the monies are properly spent, or that they will be flogged at school if their parents cannot afford to sew them uniforms in our public schools. With that amount of money, Nigeria would not be a place for incessant power outages as is the lot of many cities in Nigeria. As part of our plan to ensure that the returned monies are properly utilized, we are monitoring all recovered loot to Nigeria under a transparent and an accountable manner.
Against that background, poverty reduction and capacity building through asset recovery from the quick and the dead, and management of recovered assets deserve to be an issue that should help swing the popular vote. A publication by Transparency International, Beneficial Ownership: how to find the real owners of secret Companies, a guide for journalists and Civil Society in Ghana, Kenya & Nigeria highlights several places, apart from the Panama Papers where exactly the Federal government of Nigeria can look in identifying and recovering stolen assets especially from the living. One of those places is the OPENOWNERSHIP, the Global public beneficial ownership register which collects and connects all publicly available ownership information in a centralized databank. According to the TI document above, there are almost four million companies in the OPENOWNERSHIP, and it is expected to increase as more countries begin a compilation of their own beneficial ownership registers.
Today, many Nigerians are prepared mentally to exercise their civic duty of electing candidates of their choice to high office. What we expect as part of that mental exercise is strong scrutiny of the positions which both candidates of the PDP and the APC and indeed all the other parties have presented or will present on issues related to the accountable utilization of recovered assets. Sadly though this is not being the case. What obtains on social and mainstream media is a culture of name-calling and the mundane.
Most Nigerians do not know the stand of the major and minor political parties on asset recovery, recovered asset management and why several bills like the Mutual Legal Assistance Bill, the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, PIGB, the Proceeds of Crime Bill and a host of others are still in limbo at the National Assembly. As the minutes begin to tick and tock and pull us into a centripetal vortex, it is important that Nigerians look into the manifestoes of the parties, and find out if there are definite clauses and phrases related to asset recovery and management, and on issues of accountable and transparent use of assets to be recovered from the living and the dead.
Etemiku is ANEEJ communications manager.