Corruption is a major challenge for Nigeria, as international corruption measurement indexes clearly show. Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perception Index ranks Nigeria at 146 out of the 198 countries ranked, indicating high levels of perceived corruption.1 The Basel Institute’s 2020 Anti-Money Laundering Index ranks Nigeria as 14th in the world for money laundering risk, indicating that money laundering is a serious problem in Nigeria.2 Nigeria also ranks at 34 in the Tax Justice Network’s Financial Secrecy Index, with exceptional levels of secrecy.3
The Buhari government ran for office in 2015 on a programme that explicitly included anti-corruption reform, including encouraging whistleblowing, the centralisation through the Central Bank of numerous official bank accounts, participation in the Open Government Partnership and the creation of a Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption.4
A new whistleblowing initiative was announced in 20175 and in the first three years of the Buhari government, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) announced 603 persons had been convicted of corruption offences.6 It has further been reported that the EFCC has recovered N500 billion (USD1.3 billion) worth of misappropriated assets since 2015.7
However, neither President Buhari, nor his challenger, ran on a platform that focussed on anti-corruption and asset recovery in the 2019 elections,8 possibly limiting expectations for ongoing reforms. Discussions over a new Proceeds of Crime law, that seeks to improve the fight against corruption, money laundering and illicit financial flows, as well as crucially address transparency and accountability associated with the management of recovered funds have been in process since 2019.9 The current legal framework for asset recovery has been described as disjointed and failing to meet efficiency, transparency and accountability standards.10
Asset recovery in Nigeria
Nigeria is one of the most politically active countries worldwide in its efforts to recover its assets looted through corruption. Over the past two decades, cases related to General Sani Abacha and other officials have been used by asset recovery specialists as case studies, referred to as best practice and discussed in political arenas, more than for any other country from the Global South.11
The major asset recovery case in Nigeria is the ongoing return of the Abacha loot, a recovery that has been in process since 1998.12
A tranche of this to the amount of $322 million has been being returned from Switzerland to Nigeria since 2018 under the Abacha 2 scheme. In a Memorandum of Understanding signed with Switzerland,13 Nigeria agreed that the $322 million would be used to support the “Targeted Cash Transfer programme”, also referred to by the government as the ‘Household Uplifting Programme’. This is, in short, a transfer of cash to an estimated 300,000 households in 20 selected states of the country with each household receiving a payout of $14 a month for six years. According to the programme’s website, the aim is to enable the beneficiaries to “start small businesses and to support their source of livelihood”.14 The programme is directly managed by the National Cash Transfer Office (NCTO) under the supervision of the Office of the Vice-President and the Federal Ministry of Budget and Planning. As stipulated in the MoU, the programme is expected to be independently monitored by the World Bank. The Nigerian government is also mandated to engage civil society in participating in the monitoring of the programme.15
Several problems have been highlighted with the programme, including concerns it was directed to politically benefit the government, that the proper beneficiaries were not being reached and that there was a risk of mismanagement and lack of transparency. Nevertheless, civil society has been able to monitor the return of the funds, with the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) carrying out this task, in addition to World Bank and government monitoring systems. ANEEJ has published two major reports on the disbursement to date and has found that the programme, while having challenges, appears to be achieving its objectives.16
A further USD 300 million tranche, under the Abacha 3 scheme, was returned from the US and Jersey in May 2020 through a tripartite agreement between the US, Jersey and Nigeria. The money was transferred to a special account and then to the Sovereign Wealth Fund, which is able to spend the money only on specific infrastructure projects, including the building of roads and bridges.17 The tripartite agreement also foresees civil society monitoring of the disbursement of the funds, with the Nigerian government in consultation with the other Parties, appointing CSOs for this which have expertise in infrastructure, civil engineering, anti-corruption compliance, anti-human trafficking compliance, and procurement.18
International Institutional Engagement
Nigeria is a member of Inter Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA),19 the regional grouping of the Financial Action Task Force for West Africa. It has engaged with the StAR Initiative20 and is a member of the Asset Recovery Inter-Agency Network for West Africa “ARIN-WA”.21
Nigeria was a focus country at the Global Forum for Asset Recovery in 2017. This Forum brought officials together to coordinate next steps in the return of stolen assets. It included a number of recommendations and conclusions, civil society participation was however limited.
- Tax Justice Network, Financial Secrecy Index 2020: Nigeria, https://fsi.taxjustice.net/PDF/Nigeria.pdf [accessed 16 November 2020].
- Gbenga Abosede, ‘Buhari’s anti-corruption fight and the rule of law’ The Guardian Nigeria, 27 June 2018, https://guardian.ng/opinion/buharis-anti-corruption-fight-and-the-rule-of-law-2/ [accessed 19 November 2020].
- https://web.archive.org/web/20170206165902/http://www.internationallawoffice.com/Newsletters/White-Collar-Crime/Nigeria/Sofunde-Osakwe-Ogundipe-Belgore/Federal-Ministry-of-Finance-introduces-new-whistleblowing-initiative [accessed 16 November 2020].
- Senator Iroegbu, ‘Nigeria: EFCC Secures 603 Convictions in Three Years’ All Africa, 29 May 2018, https://allafrica.com/stories/201805290530.html [accessed 16 November 2020].
- Oluwasola Omoju, ‘Improving the Regulatory Framework for the Management of Recovered Assets in Nigeria’ CiFAR 16 October 2020, https://cifar.eu/improving-the-regulatory-framework-for-the-management-of-recovered-assets-in-nigeria/>; Chike Olisah, ‘ Magu probe: New facts suggest case is about re-looting of previously stolen funds’ 11 July 2020, https://nairametrics.com/2020/07/11/magu-probe-new-facts-suggest-case-is-about-re-looting-of-previously-stolen-funds/ [accessed 19 November 2020].
- Oluwatosin Fatoyinbo, ‘The Nigeria “Cash Transfer Programme” takes off among challenges’ CiFAR 29 March 2019 https://cifar.eu/nigeria-cash-transfer-programme-takes-off-among-challenges/ [accessed 16 November 2020].
- All Africa, ‘Nigeria: Buhari Sends Proceeds of Crime Bill to Senate’ 14 October 2020, https://allafrica.com/stories/202010140427.html [accessed 16 November 2020].
- Oluwasola Omoju, ‘Improving the Regulatory Framework for the Management of Recovered Assets in Nigeria’ CiFAR 16 October 2020, https://cifar.eu/improving-the-regulatory-framework-for-the-management-of-recovered-assets-in-nigeria/
- See for instance Ignasio Jimu, Basel Institute of Governance „Managing Proceeds of Asset Recovery: The Case of Nigeria, Peru, the Philippines and Kazakhstan”, 2009, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/nigeria-recovers-9-billion-dollars-stolen-money_us_5752daefe4b0c3752dcdc7bf [accessed 10 August 2018].
- https://star.worldbank.org/corruption-cases/assetrecovery/sani%20abacha [accessed 16 November 2020].
- Oluwatosin Fatoyinbo, ‘The Nigeria “Cash Transfer Programme” and the $322 million return: More shadows than lights?’ CiFAR 11 January 2019 https://cifar.eu/nigeria-cash-transfer-programme/ [accessed 16 November 2020].
- ANEEJ, ‘WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT NIGERIA’S NATIONAL CASH TRANSFER PROGRAMME (NCTP)’ May 2020, https://aneej.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/FAQ-on-the-National-Cash-Transfer-Programme.pdf [accessed 16 November 2020], ANEEJ, ‘MANTRA Second monitoring Report’ https://aneej.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/THE-DISBURSEMENT-OF-THE-RECOVERED-322.5-MILLION-ABACHA-LOOT-IN-NIGERIA_done-1.pdf [accessed 16 November 2020].
- BBC, ‘Jersey £241m seizure returned to Nigeria’ 5 May 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-jersey-52550107 [accessed 16 November 2020].
- Government of Jersey, ‘Repatriation agreement between Jersey, Nigeria and USA’ 4 February 2020, https://www.gov.je/News/2020/Pages/RepatriationAgreementNigeria.aspx [accessed 16 November 2020].