Breaking new grounds in Nigeria’s Assets Recovery and Management Efforts

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BY SONIA WARNER

I am really excited to join Nigerian civil society organisation, Africa Network for Environmental and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) at the 6th Open Government Partnership Summit in Ottawa on 29-31 May 2019.  Civil society will provide important continuity and drive demand on this global governance agenda in Nigeria.  But ANEEJ is making impressive strides in promoting the accountable and transparent management and use of stolen loot recovered and returned to Nigeria. 

The Anti-Corruption in Nigeria Programme (ACORN) for which I am the Senior Responsible Officer granted ANEEJ £689,000 to pilot the Monitoring of Recovered Assets in Nigeria with Transparency and Accountability (MANTRA) Project to monitor US$322.5 million returned to Nigeria from Switzerland.  This money, commonly referred to as “Abacha Loot” or “Abacha 2”, represents a very small portion of the vast sums stolen from Nigeria by former military dictator Sani Abacha.  During the pilot phase, MANTRA mobilised a network of civil society organisations to monitor end-to-end,  the use of the US$322.5 million which the government committed to cash transfer payments for the poorest Nigerians under its National Social Investment Fund Programme. This means MANTRA’s monitoring all movements in the Central Bank Account where this money sits, down to 30,778 beneficiary households to ensure the US$22 million so far disbursed is protected from re-looting.   This is the first time such an initiative has been piloted in Nigeria and the mobilisation of local organisations and citizens will support local ownership and sustainability.

It is really important to note that Nigeria is building from a very low baseline. Over the past decade there has been limited transparency around the US$700 million returned to Nigeria by Switzerland. But Nigeria is starting to demonstrate that money returned from other jurisdictions can be protected and used to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.  I think this has huge potential for domestic resource mobilisation in Nigeria which has much larger sums of recovered loot in the pipeline awaiting return. 

I feel a strong sense of achievement being part of an intervention which has demonstrated that it is possible to retrieve stolen money and use it to support the victims of corruption in Nigeria. The discourse around asset recovery and management is also changing in Nigeria as a result of the handling of the Abacha Loot.  There is increasing interest and debate around asset recovery and the SDGs, initiated by the Office of the Vice President which is gathering pace.

At the OGP Summit, I will support ANEEJ with their panel discussion: Asset Recovery in OGP: Peer Learning on Recovery, Return and Monitoring  - Lessons from the field, sharing thoughts from a donor perspective.  ANEEJ will proudly share their first Monitoring Report of the Utilisation of the Recovered Abacha Funds in the August/September 2018 Payment Round of the Conditional Cash Transfer Programme, which was subject to wide consultations in Abuja and has the support of Government.  They will also launch their website: https://www.mantra-acorn.com

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Whilst this is a real triumph for transparency in Nigeria, which I have the privilege to be part of, the process has been challenging and key lessons learned were:

  • The importance to political champions: The Office of the Vice President (OVP) launched MANTRA on African Anti-Corruption Day in July 2018.  This political backing helped MANTRA to leverage acceptance and recognition by high-level Government stakeholders. 
  • Adopting a collaborative approach: ANEEJ is working collaboratively, rather than “throwing stones” at Government, including appreciating the importance of handling information sensitively. This helped to build trust and confidence between government and civil society. In addition, collaboration within civil society networks enabled the project to quickly reach scale, covering 11 states with the potential for further expansion.
  • Flexible and adaptive support under DFID’s ACORN: ANEEJ was strategically supported and adequately resourced to act swiftly, taking advantage of emerging opportunities, commencing with the stepping down of the GFAR Principles; piloting the monitoring arrangement; raising public awareness about the Abacha Loot and risk management.

MANTRA is also informing the global discourse on the management of recovered assets. In the last two months alone, ANEEJ being asked to share their experience with Transparency International, United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime and United Nations Convention Against Corruption at various high level meetings. The fact that ANEEJ was successful amongst over 800 applicants for a Panel slot at the OGP Summit is therefore not surprising.

    • Sonia Warner is  Senior Adviser, Department for International Development (DFID)-UK