Representatives of the Swiss government are expected in Nigeria on Tuesday to discuss with their Nigerian counterparts the repatriation of another tranche of huge public funds stolen by late Head of State, Sani Abacha.
The delegation will be led by the Swiss Minister for Foreign Affairs, Didier Burkhalter, who is expected to meet with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, over the repatriation of the $321million confiscated from the family of late former head of state, Sani Abacha.
An official of the Swiss Embassy in Nigeria, Pascal Holliger, confirmed the visit exclusively to PREMIUM TIMES on Monday.
“Yes, our foreign Minister is on his way to Nigeria on Tuesday,” Mr Holliger said. “He is coming on a working visit to Nigeria. During the visit, he would open the Consular General’s office in Lagos and meet with the Vice President of Nigeria and the Minister of Foreign Affairs to discuss the issue of the repatriation of the second tranche of the Abacha loot,” he said.
But some Swiss and Nigerian civil society groups, who got wind of the impending visit, dispatched a petition to President Muhammadu Buhari, demanding that his government give assurance that the $321million that would be returned to Nigeria by the Swiss government would be put to good use.
Copies of the petition titled “Restitution of Abacha funds: Swiss and Nigerian NGOs demand guarantees,” was sent to the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, and her foreign affairs counterpart, Geoffrey Onyeama, and the Attorney-General of the Federation and minister justice, Abubakar Malami.
A copy of the petition obtained by PREMIUM TIMES was also sent to the World Bank Vice President for Africa, Makhtar Diop, and the Federal Department for Foreign Affairs Office for International Public Law (DDIP) in Berne, Switzerland.
Signed by representatives of eight civil society groups, the petitioners expressed concerns that the fund could disappear just like the repatriated funds by the government of Liechtenstein in 2014 if government did not take steps to guarantee transparency and accountability.
“Swiss and Nigerian NGOs demand that the authorities of these two countries, together with the World Bank, take all measures necessary to guarantee that these funds be returned in a manner that is transparent and benefits the general population of the country, the people that were initially cheated out of their money,” the petition said.
The groups said their fears followed the confidential agreement reached between the Nigerian government and the Abacha family in 2014, in which the Nigerian government agreed not to prosecute any member of the family in lieu of the returned loot.
The controversial agreement reportedly received the backing of Geneva’s public prosecutor, resulting in the withdrawal of all criminal charges against Mohammed, the eldest son of the late dictator, allegedly implicated in a case of laundering his father’s loot.
“There are fears in civil society, in both Switzerland and Nigeria, that this money could be embezzled once again,” Executive Director, African Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, David Ugolor, told PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr. Ugolor said the petition was sent to the Nigerian and Swiss governments, as well as the World Bank, to demand a guarantee that these funds would actually be used to finance projects that would improve the living conditions of the Nigerian people.
“It is imperative that they be allocated through a transparent process that involves both Swiss and Nigerian NGOs,” Mr. Ugolor said. “The transfers must also be performed in installments and upon the condition that the sums returned in previous installments were used as supposed,” he said.
Under the Goodluck Jonathan administration, Mr. Ugolor said the $235million returned by the Liechtenstein government vanished without trace after government said the money was used to acquire arms to fight the terrorist group, Boko Haram.
Other signatories to the petition included Olivier Longchamp, Berne Declaration (Switzerland); Martin Hilti, Finances and Tax programs coordinator, Transparency International (Switzerland); Adetokunbo Mumuni, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (Nigeria); Mark Herkenrath, Alliance Sud (Switzerland); Debo Adeniran, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) (Nigeria); Godwin Uyi Ojo, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth (Nigeria), and Blair Glencorse, Accountability Lab (UK).