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Nigeria: Centra Bank’s Missing $4.5 Billion and Need to Reset the Anti-Graft War

The lack of Nigeria’s seriousness in the fight against corruption is epitomised by the EFCC’s revival this January, of the N772 billion fraud cases of 13 former governors, who left office in 2007.

There is evidence that a humongous sum of $4.5 billion in Nigeria’s Foreign Reserves could not be accounted for, after an audit by the Auditor-General of the Federation in 2022, as stated in a report released last month. Apparently, the big elephant in the room – corruption, is on display, which a former President said will kill Nigeria, if it was not killed. Paradoxically, no administration has demonstrated the resolve to confront this monster squarely.

Since 12 February when the annual report grabbed headlines, the nation seems to have moved on, as it is accustomed to. But this should not be so. It is a most scandalous and embarrassing incident, and a lack of accountability in the public fiscal space, which has put Nigeria in its present forex conundrum.

Besides, the AGF, Shaakaa Chira’s report confirmed what is already in the public space – the phenomenon of re-looting recovered looted funds, with also the failure of the Central Bank of Nigeria to account for funds recovered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) between 2016 and 2019. The last time the bank’s books showed recovered loots of $40 million was in 2015. The report noted an “unsubstantiated” decline of $8 billion in foreign reserves between 2019 and 2020. The opacity, it added, “Violates Section 25 of the CBN Act 2007 mandating the bank to endeavour to maintain reserves at levels considered appropriate for the economy and the monetary system of Nigeria.”A country where the vaults of its apex bank are not safe, or some of its operators bilk the institution, cannot be taken seriously and a travesty of what a central bank should be. This is more so when the authorities are inured to holding transgressors and their predecessors to account. The misdeed calls to question the internal control mechanisms of the bank and the so-called oversight of its operations by the Senate and House of Representatives committees, for which each member received a Toyota Sports Utility Vehicle worth N167 million each, last year.

It is unimaginable that a CBN worker, Odoh Ocheme, could contemplate, let alone succeed in, forging the signature of a sitting president – Muhammadu Buhari, to steal $6.2 million in the bank’s custody, in connivance with two others, who have now been declared wanted. The heist would not have been brought to public knowledge, but for the Special Investigation into the activities of the bank at the behest of President Bola Tinubu on 30 July, 2023. Jim Obazee headed the probe. The N30 trillion Ways and Means advances under the eight-year regime of Buhari was another binge of fiscal abuses by the apex bank, which the very Senate that approved them says it will investigate now. Hypocrisy is made of this!

These banquets of fiscal absurdities, either in the CBN, the bureaucracy or the corporate arena, have taken roots because of the notorious lack of consequences for illicit behaviours in the country. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in his book, My Watch, volume (II), confirmed that by the time he left office in 2007, Nigeria had recovered $2 billion, £100 million and over N10 billion in cash and property locally from the Sani Abacha loot. Under the Goodluck Jonathan administration, $226.3 million and €7.5 million were recovered from Liechtenstein, while the Island of Jersey returned £225 million. Buhari made recoveries too. However, where these funds are, or how they were spent, nobody can say.

This is a huge slur on the so-called anti-corruption crusade. The Federal Government unashamedly confirmed it inadvertently in its response to the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) enquiry sent to the then Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, and the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, under the Freedom of Information Act, on exactitudes of the Abacha loot. The AGF’s reply was that government “has no records of the exact amount of public funds stolen by a former military head of state, Sani Abacha, and no records of its spending of about $5 billion recovered loot for the period between 2019 and 2015.”

A government committed to fighting corruption but that cannot account for the expenditure(s) of about $5 billion recovered loot, should think twice about itself and its anti-graft campaign. It is either it resets the tools for the drive, or totally surrenders to the behemoth.

It is the Federal Government’s double standards in the fight against corruption that serves as a perverse incentive to Nigerians, especially public officials, to be corrupt. Otherwise, we don’t see how Processes and Industrial Development Company (P&ID), a predatory investor, would, in cahoots with government officials, attempt to defraud Nigeria of $11 billion in a contract scam. Justice Robin Knowles of the Commercial Court of UK, eventually rescued Nigeria from that tenterhooks of sleaze in his October 2023 judgement. “The awards (contracts) were obtained by fraud,” and he added that, “Indeed, they were bribing or making corrupt payments to keep the truth concealed…” Yet, no one is in jail here for this economic sabotage that was hatched during the late Umaru Yar’Adua/Jonathan presidency over a decade ago.

The lack of Nigeria’s seriousness in the fight against corruption is epitomised by the EFCC’s revival this January, of the N772 billion fraud cases of 13 former governors, who left office in 2007. This is 17 years after. The only two who were found guilty and sentenced, accordingly, were released by the Buhari administration in the build-up to the 2023 elections, for reasons that were not altruistic.

Brazenly, crude oil theft is a booming business, oiled by foreign crooks and their local collaborators, because nobody is ever brought to book. It is unfortunate that the Tinubu administration, with its daily assurances to fix the country, is staid or aloof in recovering the $17 billion worth of stolen crude by some oil companies between 2011 and 2014. The paper trails at home and abroad, confirmed by the hypocritical Buhari regime, are there for action. Nigerians are watching.

If this clarion call is not heeded, and those enmeshed in the infamous fuel subsidy scam are not made to face the full wrath of the law and return their ill-gotten loot, the anticorruption crusade, as one of Tinubu’s eight-point Renewed Hope agenda, will remain superfluous. Then, the government would have created room for forex scarcity to worsen, with its asphyxiating pressure on the naira, and the attendant hyper-inflation to continue to run amuck.

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