THEWILL Editorial: Repatriation Of Stolen Assets As Deterrent To Corrupt Officials

SAN FRANCISCO, June 06, (THEWILL) – Nigeria is perceived across the globe as a highly corrupt nation. This is not unexpected, given its long years of stinking corruption reports. Over a period spanning decades, public officials have looted the nation’s treasury with billions of dollars stolen annually and laundered into foreign bank accounts.

Corruption has become so endemic in the system that leaders no longer see appointment as a call to service, but a quickest opportunity to steal public funds. Unfortunately, these stolen funds have deprived the country of the resources needed to develop critical infrastructure for the people. The diversion of funds has left the nation with decrepit infrastructure.

The situation reached a pathetic level until the coming of President Muhammadu Buhari, whose electioneering activities majorly focused on ensuring zero tolerance for corruption if elected.

Since coming into power, the President has demonstrated a strong resolve to fight the monster in an unprecedented manner. Today, several people are standing trial for corruption cases, while the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, is investigating several others.

Much as this anti-corruption fight is being intensified, a school of thought still thinks the horizon could be further widened to drag in some allegedly corrupt government officials who are yet to be touched, despite incriminating evidence against them.

The toga of corruption has been so encompassing that recently, British Prime Minister David Cameron described Nigeria as one of the “fantastically corrupt” nations of the world.

Nevertheless, it is a common knowledge that these nations pontificating that Nigeria is corrupt are not unconnected with the growing menace. Nigeria could not have reached this stinking state but for the connivance of these critics; who aid and abet the looting of public treasury in the first instance.

It is in the light of this that THEWILL restates that the only way these foreign countries can support the current efforts aimed at ending corruption in Nigeria and Africa is to repatriate the billions of stolen funds stashed in their lands. This will make corrupt government officials and their collaborators in the private sector realise the futility of stealing from the treasury as there will be no place to hide such ill-gotten wealth.

In apparent realization of the role of foreign countries in the success of the anti-corruption fight, President Buhari has made several diplomatic shuttles to seek their support and collaboration.

It is encouraging that some of these countries not only pledged to support the anti-corruption fight, but equally expressed willingness to repatriate all funds hidden in their banks and financial networks.

Here the United States’ government, Switzerland and Britain readily come to mind. The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, had in Washington DC, pledged to assist Nigeria in recovering looted assets in their country. “It’s not easy to hide that amount of money and we are pretty good in tracing them,” he had assured.

Also, Switzerland, which over decades has been safe haven for Nigeria’s stolen funds, signed an agreement with Nigeria in Abuja and Geneva, where it agreed to repatriate about $321 million to Nigeria, as part of leftover of loots laundered by the late military Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha.

Unfortunately, this represents a fraction of stolen funds deposited for decades in Switzerland alone.

The Federal Government extended the search for looted funds to the United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates, UAE, where much of Nigeria’s stolen funds have also been hidden. So far, a mutual Legal Assistance Agreement has been signed by UAE and other countries to expedite the repatriation of stolen funds.

THEWILL therefore urges all existing international anti-corruption institutions to collaborate with a view to tracking and repatriation all funds which have been looted from Africa over the past decades. The pledges to return these funds may not achieve the desired result until the funds are returned to enable Nigeria develop at a time the crash in oil prices has dwindled government revenue.

We also call on the United Nations, UN, to prosecute the corruption monster the same way the International Court of Justice is prosecuting war crimes and other related offences. We are convinced that returning these funds could prove far more beneficial than granting aids to developing countries.

THEWILL urges the West to enforce their moral and legal obligations to Nigeria, by ensuring that every Kobo stolen from the country is returned. They should show good faith by not foot-dragging on this, since sentiments are rife that the countries are selfishly retaining the looted funds for the continued growth of their economies.

We therefore charge the parliaments of countries of the world to take advantage of the Inter-Parliamentary Unions in enacting laws that would make it difficult for stolen funds to be easily laundered across nations.

However, should these smugly foreign countries continue to pay lip service to the repatriation of stolen assets, they must be stripped of their global policing status and be made to realize that they have lost the moral high-ground to describe another country as corrupt.

In such circumstance, African countries must develop its counter offensive against indicted foreign nations by going after their interests and adopting homegrown approach including capital punishment to deter corrupt officials from placing them at the mercy of such countries notorious for receiving stolen wealth.