Nigerian Senate, General Babangida and loot recovery

 Monday, June 5, 2000

 Chike E. Okafor
 [email protected]

Finally, the Pandora's box has cracked and hopefully, the interior of the box would be exposed to the public scrutiny. On May 14, 2000, before the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria in Kaduna, the Senate Committee Chairman on Public Accounts, Mr. Idris Abubakar stated that his committee have instructed the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to furnish his committee with all pertinent documents relating to the corrupt era of General Babangida's regime. The Committee was particularly interested on documents that dealt with schemes such as "debt-buy back" and the $6 billion of public funds allegedly missing during his reign. The CBN finding would be the catalyst which would supplement John Fashanu's report released not too long ago detailing Babangida's crooked financial dealings and banking transactions with foreign banks and his mendacious fiends.

The main principles of public life are selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership (Nolan Committee, UK 1995). According to the Post Express of May 31, 2000, Mr. Jack Blum who works at Lobel, Norins and Lamont appeared before the United States of America Congressional Sub Committee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy and testified on the state of Nigerian putridity. He stated that "from independence to the present time, past leaders in Nigeria have either stolen or misappropriated state funds estimated at N400 billion ($40 billion)." Each successive government has been involved in one type of corruptive activity or another. These corruptive activities occurred in a high and low density. It was those high-density corruption that incurred the wrath of the people who demanded an answer and possibly, punishments for the culpable.


Corruption in the context as applied here is related to leadership. A tacit definition therefore, is that it applies to the ability of leaders to exploit and extract the nation wealth through fraudulent means and convert it into personal use. According to Transparency International work on National Integrity System reported on September 20, 1996, "combating corruption is not an end in itself, it is not a blinkered crusade to right the wrongs of the world. Rather, the struggle against malfeasance in part of the broader goal of creating more effective, fair and efficient government� reversing its negative impact on development and society as a whole." The question is in what contest must a nation plagued with nemesis of corruption reform itself?

Any attempt by the current National Assembly to pursue Babangida's looted treasure would be a disastrous adventurism, wasteful of public time and money, as it would lead to a dead end. It would be like a raucous market in Nigeria, which lacks control, and everyone speaks at the same time.
In the Transparency International Source Book published in September 18, 1996, Oscar Arias Sanchez wrote that "corruption can only be examined and eradicated in an environment of pluralism, tolerance, freedom of expression, and individual security-an environment that only democracy can guarantee." It is this translucent environment that has enabled Nigerians to call for a probe of its past leaders. None of these calls to probe the ex Nigerian leaders would have been possible under the leaderships of Sani Abacha or Ibrahim Babangida even though the former in his 37th Nigerian Independence Day address have professed to transparency. Abacha had said that his administration "have tackled the necessary task of checking corruption and other traits which has impacted negatively on our national life�(and) with regard to money laundering and business scams a special unit established within the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to work in conjuncture with the National Drug Law Enforcement (NDLE) has continued to function effectively in tracking suspicious financial transaction."

Interestingly, the two colossal elephants were in deep truancy when Abacha and his cronies were busy exporting peoples money which were deposited in various foreign accounts. Nothing was mentioned by CBN or NDLE regarding the purported embezzlement of the alleged $6 billion missing from the national treasury during Babangida's era. Instead of being opponent of money laundering, the CBN became the middleman between the Nigerian leaders and the foreign bank and crooks that prey on the porous Nigerian institutions. One can identify with the rational behind Senator Abubakar reasoning for relying on the CBN to investigate General Babangida given that CBN is the conduit for the transmittal of Nigerian stolen fund to abroad.

While it is extremely important that the Nigerian government pursue the recovery of looted funds, this pursuit has assumed political dimension. At issue is whether the investigation of Ibrahim Babangida should be played in a political arena at the National Assembly as against the legal arena within the chief executive branch where the Minister of Justice would play a primary role? There is a unison opinion among Nigerians that all the past Nigerian Heads of State should account for their stewardship. It was this need to be accountable that propelled President Obasanjo to investigate the late General Sani Abacha's government. In the process of doing so, a precedent has been set.

A closer look at the vigor and tenacity by which the Obasanjo's government has pursued recovery of the millions of dollars from Abacha family and his apostles revealed that when there is a will to pursue and recover looted money, a tangible result is attained. In the course of this pursuit, the government has elicited the help of foreign governments and the Nigerian intelligence apparatus. It had the Nigerian chief legal officer at the helm of the loot recovery program. The whole process took a legalistic undertone thus devoid of ethnic politicking.

Recently, the government claimed that millions of dollars have been identified and some have been recovered. According to the Vanguard of May 30, 2000, the President claimed that within the first year of his probe of past misdeeds by the Nigerian leaders, a total of N100 billion have been recovered. He also stated that another $2 billion dollars have been identified for recovery. It means that this process of loot recovery is working and one wonders why the other branch of the government should step in at this time and muddle the entire process in the political imbroglio.

Any attempt by the current National Assembly to pursue Babangida's looted treasure would be a disastrous adventurism, wasteful of public time and money, as it would lead to a dead end. It would be like a raucous market in Nigeria, which lacks control, and everyone speaks at the same time. The result would be a platform for public oratory, a deceitful act of confounding issues in order to expunge the main issue. The Chairman has not told the Nigerian people the format of this gigantic investigation.

Furthermore, it would be impossible for the National Assembly to summon a foreign national to come to Nigeria and give testimony on how the Nigerian monies were siphoned abroad. Moreover, John Fashanu's report should serve as a starting point, but that alone would not be sufficient to establish and convince Babangida that the deck has turned against him. It is widely believed in Nigeria that Babangida still wields insurmountable power and would not hesitate to deploy it to the fullest. This being the case, it would be impossible for people to risk their lives, in a country that lacked patriotism, to come out in the open and testify against the General. That would amount to signing a death warrant.

It seems that the Senate Committee is grandstanding in its proposal, which a rational mind would see through as washing of their hands in the public, in effect exonerate them from possible wrath of Babangida and the Nigerian electorate. If one depends on the past judiciousness and prudence or thereof of the National Assembly, then it is easy to speculate that the entire inquisition amount to travesty, subterfuge therefor delusionary and hypocritical. An Assembly which demanded $30,000 for each member to purchase personal furniture before they would preside over the nations business does not have the credibility to preside or probe one of its cronies where some of the members of the Assembly had served in various capacities under the Babangida regime. However, if the members proceed with the inquiry, then it is fair to conclusion that Babangida would be exonerated. If the Senators follow through on this deception, it would send a very strong signal to future leaders that it is alright to rob the country blind.

Again, this suggested probe was already been tainted as soon as the honorable Chairman of the Senate Public Accounts Committee mentioned it. It was tainted because some of those who may sit in judgement of the stewardship of Babangida benefited from his reign. It cannot be fair because those who may be implicated due to association, especially those that Mr. Bola Ige, the Minister of Power under the current political dispensation called "Abacha Politicians" and perhaps those who were elected by the benevolent proceeds from Babangida, would do everything within their power to thwart the investigation in order not to go down with their former mentor. Those who insist on the probe might be blackmailed or cajoled into submission and eventually vote to exonerate the General.

What is the purpose of this probe? Was it to devise a medium through which past and ruthless Nigerian dictators and its collaborators would be investigated for the presumed impropriety while in office, or is it a political game where people would be paraded in the public so as to satisfy the yearning of the public for accountability. Is the Senate Committee on Public Accountability the appropriate avenue to address this high profile issue? Who would determine the scope of the investigation and its content? Who would determine who might be called to testify? Is there a law in the book that makes it punishable by fine or imprisonment or both for perjury before the Committee? Is there any protection for those whose lives would be on the line when they tell the public what they know? These are questions that must be answered prior to any attempt to undertake a thorough investigation that would be credible. The issue is credibility.

If Nigerians are serious about finding the truth regarding the loot recovery, the process should be trusted into the hands of the civil servants that are not running for office as Obasanjo has successfully done in the case of Abacha. Recent Nigerian history has shown that a Nigerian fox cannot be trusted to guard a Nigerian hen house. In the interest of fair play, General Babangida deserves his day in the court of law and not in an arena riddled with partisanship and corruption. On the other hand, President Obasanjo must desist from his persistent posturing that once evidence suffices of ill gotten fund by Babangida, that his administration would pursue it to the fullest. It is a slap on the face of millions of Nigerians who think and know - by inference and acquiesce that millions of public funds disappeared during his reign of terror.

Thus far, only Abacha and his cronies have been vigorously probed. Now is the time to extend it and pursue Babangida investigation in the same vigor and manner as the Abacha case. Like the President has said in numerous occasions, "there would be no secret cow." The Presidents course of action have been tested and proven effective. Why not allow the precedent to take its course, or to make it more legal, the senate should pass a resolution instructing the Nigerian Attorney General and the Ministry of Justice to fully investigate General Babangida and to bring criminal action against him in the event that it is found that public money was misappropriated during his tenure in office.

Interestingly, Babangida has issued an invitation to any interested party that wishes to investigate his tenure as a former Nigerian head of state and that of his lieutenants. It sounds like the kind of invitation that then United States Senator, Gary Hart; a Democratic Presidential hopeful threw to the press in 1984. The investigation resulted in "monkey business" and it is important that Babangida be taken on this offer. The first question for the General should be an explanation of how he single-handedly proposed to finance Heritage University that was not approved. Where would the money come from?

Finally, Obasanjo should be advised to desist from defending the tenure of Babangida. It is striking that Obasanjo should continue to issue challenges to the public who has any information regarding Babangida's bank accounts and locations to come forward. One wonders why such challenge was not given in respect to Abacha's case. On this note, it is important, for the sake of uniformity and legality to allow the Nigerian Justice Minister to pursue loot recovery from past Nigerian leaders. This is the most effective avenue and it is working right now. According to an American saying, "if it ain't broken, don't fix it."

All the investigations should be evenhanded in pursuit and process in order to eliminate any visage of favoritism or politics. The loots recovered must be made public and should be channeled towards payment of the Nigerian external debt or in developing an efficient transit system that would connect Nigerians from east, west, north and south. This tangible usage will serve a historical purpose in hundreds years to come.

Chike E. Okafor
(Chicago, IL)
Assisted by:
Goodman Okpara (Ph.D.)
(Washington, DC)

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