Corruption is a major challenge for Nigeria. Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index ranks Nigeria at 154 out of 180 countries, indicating high levels of perceived corruption.1 Nigeria also ranks 34th in the Tax Justice Network’s Financial Secrecy Index, with exceptional levels of secrecy.2
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.3
A new whistleblowing initiative was announced in 2017,4 and in the first three years of the Buhari government, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) announced that 603 persons had been convicted of corruption offences.5 It has further been reported that the EFCC has recovered ₦500 billion (USD 1.3 billion) worth of misappropriated assets since 2015.6
Neither President Buhari nor his challenger ran on a platform that focussed on anti-corruption and asset recovery in the 2019 elections,7 possibly limiting expectations for ongoing reforms. However, after being passed in the first reading in March,8 the Nigerian senate passed the long-debated Proceeds of Crime Bill in the second reading in June 2022, pending presidential assent. The bill seeks to enhance the ability of law enforcement agencies in Nigeria to seize, freeze and confiscate stolen assets. A special emphasis in the bill has been placed on improved management of recovered assets, which were said to suffer from bad record keeping, mismanagement and misuse in the past.9 The Senate also passed a bill to amend the money laundering act of 2011.10 The Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Act 2022 stipulates that banks and other financial institutions need to report any single transaction or lodgement in excess of a ₦5 million for an individual and ₦10 million in the case of a corporate body. It is believed that this Act will help to combat corruption, money laundering and terrorism in the country.
Asset recovery in Nigeria
Asset recovery in Nigeria took a new turn beginning in 1999 as successive democratic governments prioritised recovering loots held in other countries. Legislative and judicial interventions have been instrumental in defining the recovery and management of these funds. The formal launch of a centralised asset database initiative to trace, track and recover stolen assets was commended by various stakeholders as a critical factor in asset recovery transparency and accountability.11
The Mohammadu Buhari-led administration, which came to power on an anti-corruption agenda in 2015, recently listed its achievements on asset recovery, which includes $100 million recovered by the EFCC for the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) from a company operating in the oil and gas sector, ₦53 billion for the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN) from a real estate developer, $43 million security funds from an apartment in Ikoyi, Lagos and ₦189 billion in restrained funds from inflated personnel budgets by Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC). ICPC’s audit of constituency projects between 2015 and 2018 further helped recovered ₦2 billion of diverted funds. The Federal Ministry of Finance also launched Project Lighthouse in 2018 as a data-mining initiative on tax, income and assets from individuals and corporate bodies. The project has identified debts in excess of ₦5 trillion owed to the Federal government.12
Nigeria is one of the most politically active countries worldwide in its efforts to recover its assets looted through corruption and hidden overseas. Over the past two decades, cases related to General Sani Abacha and James Ibori’s loot have been used by asset recovery specialists as case studies, referred to as best practice and discussed in political arenas more than any other country in the Global South.13
The major asset recovery case in Nigeria is the ongoing return of the Abacha loot, a recovery that has been in process since 1998.14
A tranche of this to the amount of $322 million has been ongoingly returned from Switzerland to Nigeria since 2018 under the “Abacha 2” scheme. In a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed with Switzerland,15 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”.16 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 monitoring the programme.17
Several problems have been highlighted with the programme, including concerns that 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 along with the World Bank and the government. ANEEJ has published two major reports on the disbursement to date and have found that the programme, while having challenges, appears to be achieving its objectives.18
A further $300 million tranche, under the “Abacha 3” scheme, was returned from the US and Jersey in May 2020. This tranche was returned 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 can spend the money only on specific infrastructure projects, including the building of roads and bridges.19 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 with expertise in infrastructure, civil engineering, anti-corruption compliance, anti-human trafficking compliance, and procurement monitoring.20
In a more recent case, assets misappropriated by the former Delta state governor, James Ibori, were seized by the United Kingdom and returned to Nigeria. This was contained in the 2016 MoU between the United Kingdom and the Federal Government of Nigeria on the modalities for the return of the assets.21 The destination of the funds upon their recovery has created some confusion between the Federal Government and Delta state on who should be the beneficiary of the £4.2 million loot from the United Kingdom.22 The Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation (AGF) initially claimed the loot received from the UK government had been returned to the Delta state government, while the state government refuted the claim by the AGF that no money was received from the Federal government.23 Some local civil society organisations reported that this breaches the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) principles, which call for the recovery of monies for the benefit of the victims of corruption.24
International Institutional Engagement
Nigeria is a member of Inter Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA), the regional grouping of the Financial Action Task Force for West Africa.25 It has engaged with the StAR Initiative26 and is a member of the Asset Recovery Inter-Agency Network for West Africa ARIN-WA.27
This profile was created with a support of Kolawole Ebire.
- Transparency International. Country Data: Corruption Perceptions Index 2021. https://www.transparency.org/en/countries/nigeria [accessed 15 June 2022].
- Tax Justice Network, Financial Secrecy Index 2020: Nigeria, https://taxjustice.net/country-profiles/nigeria/ [accessed 15 May 2022].
- 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 15 May 2022].
- Babajide Oladipo Ogundipe (2017 February 6) Federal Ministry of Finance introduces new whistleblowing initiative. International Law office. 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 15 May 2022].
- Senator Iroegbu, ‘Nigeria: EFCC Secures 603 Convictions in Three Years’ All Africa, 29 May 2018, https://allafrica.com/stories/201805290530.html [accessed 15 May 2022].
- 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/>; [accessed 15 May 2022].
- 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 15 May 2022].
- News Agency of Nigeria (2022). Senate passes amended proceeds of crime bill. The Guardian https://guardian.ng/news/senate-passes-amended-proceeds-of-crime-bill/ [accessed 15 June 2022].
- Queen Esther Iroanusi (2022 June 29). Proceeds of Crime Bill passes second reading at Senate. Premium Times. https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/more-news/470624-proceeds-of-crime-bill-passes-second-reading-at-senate.html [accessed 12 August 2022].
- QueenEsther Iroanusi (2022 March 16). Senate passes bill to amend money laundering Act. Premium Times. https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/top-news/517654-senate-passes-bill-to-amend-money-laundering-act.html [accessed 16 June 2022].
- Samuel Lamai (2020 September 18). Asset recovery: FG launches central database, sensitizes stakeholders. Federal Ministry of Information and Culture. https://fmic.gov.ng/asset-recovery-fg-launches-central-database-sensitizes-stakeholders/ [accessed 17 June 2022].
- Omeiza Ajayi (2021 September 3). Buhari has recovered N1trn stolen funds, assets in 6 yrs – APC group. Vanguard. https://www.vanguardngr.com/2021/09/buhari-has-recovered-n1trn-stolen-funds-assets-in-6-yrs-apc-group/ [accessed 16 June 2022].
- 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 (visited 15 May 2022)
- https://cifar.eu/nigeria-asset-recovery/ [accessed 15 May 2022].
- Gabriel Ewepu (2021). Switzerlan, ANEEJ sign contract on MANTRA Phase II over recovered $322.5m Abacha loot, December 18, Vanguard. https://www.vanguardngr.com/2021/12/switzerland-aneej-sign-contract-on-mantra-phase-ii-over-recovered-322-5m-abacha-loot/ [accessed 15 May 2022]
- 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 15 May 2022].
- 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 15 May 2022].
- BBC, ‘Jersey £241m seizure returned to Nigeria’ 5 May 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-jersey-52550107 [accessed 15 May 2022].
- UK (March, 2021) Government of Jersey, ‘Repatriation agreement between Jersey, Nigeria and USA’ 4 February 2020, https://www.gov.je/News/2020/Pages/RepatriationAgreementNigeria.aspx [accessed 15 May 2022].
- MoU between UK and Nigeria on the modalities for return of stolen assets confiscated by the Uk: annex 1. Policy paper. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/return-of-stolen-assets-confiscated-by-the-uk-agreement-between-the-uk-and-nigeria/mou-between-uk-and-nigeria-on-the-modalities-for-return-of-stolen-assets-confiscated-by-the-uk-annex-1 [accessed 30 July 2022]
- Elfredah Kevin-Alerechi (2021 June 15). The Ibori Loot: The controversy surrounding the destination of the returned money. CiFAR. https://cifar.eu/ibori-loot-the-controversy-surrounding-the-destination-of-the-returned-money/ [accessed 29 June 2022].
- Chike Olisah (2021 May 26). Delta state says it is yet to receive the £ 4.2 million recovered Ibori loot. Nairmetrics. https://nairametrics.com/2021/05/26/delta-state-says-it-is-yet-to-receive-the-4-2-million-recovered-ibori-loot/ [accessed 17 June 2022], Abdulkareem Mojeed (2021 May 27). Ibori loot: Accountant general clarifies stance, says money not yet returned to Delta. Premium Times. https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/464096-ibori-loot-accountant-general-clarifies-stance-says-money-not-yet-returned-to-delta.html [accessed 17 June 2022].
- Gabriel Ewepu (2022 May 24). ANEEJ decries poor handling of recovered Ibori loot. Vanguard. [accessed 29 June 2022], https://www.vanguardngr.com/2022/05/aneej-decries-poor-handling-of-recovered-ibori-loot
- Financial Action Task force. (2022) Inter governmental action group against money laundering in west Africa http://www.fatf-gafi.org/pages/intergovernmentalactiongroupagainstmoneylaunderinginwestafricagiaba.html [accessed 17 June 2022]
- Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (2017). Beneficial ownership guide Nigeria 2017. The World Bank. https://star.worldbank.org/publications/beneficial-ownership-guide-nigeria-2017 accessed 17 June 2022
- UNODC (2014). Launch of the asset recovery inter-agency network for West Africa “ARIN-WA” https://www.unodc.org/westandcentralafrica/en/launch-the-asset-recovery-network-arinwa.html accessed 17 June 2022