Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Nigeria says it has recovered $9.1 billion in looted funds

The Nigerian government says it has recovered assets and funds totaling $9.1 billion as part of its anti-corruption drive. The recovered assets “include monies withheld by past government officials, monies kept in private accounts, monies diverted to private pockets and monies in possession of government officials not disclosed after leaving government,” a spokesman said. The funds were recovered during president Buhari’s first year in office.

The news of the recovered funds signals gains made by president Buhari’s anti-corruption drive as he remains intent on ensuring transparency in state institutions and agencies previously known for being opaque and corrupt.

The recovery will also likely enhance Buhari’s reputation internationally as being intolerant of corruption despite aspersions cast inadvertently last month by David Cameron, prime minister of Britain. Cameron had described Nigeria as “fantastically corrupt” in the run-up to an anti-corruption summit in London but Buhari responded strongly asking Britain to return Nigeria’s stolen assets kept in the country.

But while the news of recovered funds has been hailed as a major win by the government, it has been received with a healthy dose of skepticism from many Nigerians. The skepticism is because the government did not release any names of persons and officials the assets were recovered from. This was despite an earlier promise by president Buhari to “make a comprehensive report” on “what has been recovered in whatever currency from each ministry, department and individual.” The report was expected to come during the president’s democracy day address on May 29.

The government says it cannot release names of looters for legal reasons but various groups within the country have questioned and criticized the government’s decision to withhold the names. Critics say by not naming the looters, there is little deterrent to prevent others from looting funds as they suffer no reputational damage. “These people will do it again and again,” said a comment on one of the country’s biggest newspapers. “Because all you have to do in the eventuality that a government changes, is that you simply return the money and you wait until you can do it again.”

The timing of the recovery of the funds is crucial for Nigeria’s stumbling economy. The recovered funds are set to come in at a time when the government is doubling down on efforts to diversify its oil-dependent economy and fund a record $30.6 billion national budget. With oil prices falling and state revenue dwindling as a result, Nigeria’s economy has had a rough year typified by job losses, investor reticence and slowed GDP growth.

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