MANTRA Project Learning Summit

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AN ADDRESS OF WELCOME BY THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF AFRICA NETWORK FOR ENVIRONMENT AND ECONOMIC JUSTICE, REV DAVID UGOLOR AT THE MANTRA PROJECT LEARNING SUMMIT HELD AT BARCELONA HOTEL, ABUJA 15 OCTOBER 2020.\

Your Excellencies, Ambassadors/High Commissioners of Embassies and High Commissions here present,

Honourable Ministers, Federal Republic of Nigeria,

Head of various Departments and Agencies of Government here present,

Our esteemed development partners,

CEOs of Various Civil Society and other Non-State Actors here present,

Our project beneficiaries from across the country,

Gentlemen of the press,

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen.

It gives me great honour and pleasure to on behalf of ANEEJ Board, Management and Staff welcome you all to this important Learning Summit of the Monitoring Transparency and Accountability in the use of Returned Assets (MANTRA) project, which is a sub-sect of the Anti-Corruption in Nigeria (ACORN) programme of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), formerly DFID.

In the past three years, ANEEJ and its eight partners drawn from the six geo-political zones of Nigeria have mobilized over 800 community based Organisations, crisscrossing the length and breadth of the country and internationally with the three key objectives of advocating for return of assets stashed in foreign jurisdictions, carrying out end-to-end monitoring of use of returned  assets, and advocating for reforms in the assets return and management regime in the country. We have also actively followed implementation of the London Anti-Corruption Summit, Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) summit recommendations and the 2nd UNCAC review. This is anchored on the cardinal Federal Government’s anti-corruption programme.

Specifically, ANEEJ and its partners have worked collaboratively with Nigerian government to carry out end-to-end monitoring of  the use of   $322.5million Abacha 11 returned from Switzerland and being spent for poor Nigerians enrolled under the Conditional Cash Transfer of the Social Investment Programme, the $311.9 Abacha III returned from Jersey and the United States of America being spent on three infrastructural projects; the Abuja-Kaduna-Kano express road, Lagos-Ibadan dual carriage Road and the second Niger bridge. We are also following developments on the €5.5 million being returned from Ireland also to be deployed to the three aforementioned infrastructural projects.

Since 2018, we have successfully carried out 5 monitoring rounds across the country and have launched some of the reports which have informed further advocacy on how to improve Social Investment Programme, particularly the Grievance Redress Mechanism. As at December 2019, a total of 834,948 households were registered for the National Cash Transfer Programme and have received a total of 23,742,580,000 Naira. Even with the outbreak of COVID-19, our courageous monitors were not deterred as our men and women were out keeping an eye on the distribution of returned Abacha loot as part of the Federal Government’s palliative measures to poor Nigerians during the lockdowns. So, by May 2020, our monitors were able to track 16,337,370,000 Naira (13,069,896,000 Naira from recovered Abacha loot) paid to about 755,375 beneficiaries. As we speak, payment have just been made and the figures are being reconciled.

We equally played leading role in the anti-corruption working group of the Open Government Partnership by contributing our quota to deepening the implementation of open government at both national and sub-national levels.

Understanding the knowledge gaps among critical stakeholders in the areas of asset recovery, and Social investment, we have had to build the capacities of CSOs, media and other stakeholders to bridge identified gaps. We have also produced over 15 knowledge products/publications while implementing the MANTRA project, some of them are being referenced locally and internationally.

We have also worked with our co- ACORN partners to improve social norms and behaviour change in society, in our firm conviction that sanctions alone will not bring down the level of corruption in Nigeria.

Our purpose of gathering today and asking our development partners who cannot come to be with us physically to join us virtually is to share with you some of our key results, achievements and impact  from all of these efforts over the past years as we take stock of the project’s success stories and challenges. We hope that the Learning from these would help to shape the future of the project.

Sadly, however, we received the news of our donor, FCDO terminating our contract for the MANTRA project and indeed, the ACORN programme owing to downturn in the UK’s economy which necessitated its review on public spending, particularly with the merger of the erstwhile DFID and FCO amidst impact of Covid-19. The news came to us as a shock, but we have accepted the reality with the equanimity it deserves.

Interestingly, we in ANEEJ and our eight partners are determined more than ever before to continue the implementation of the MANTRA project because of the clear results it has achieved as well as the potential impact which still lay ahead of us.  We believe that with such determination, we can achieve in the next months and years to come our set targets. Our staff and partners have offered to continue to offer skeletal and pro-bono services to keep the project going as a first step.

We have deliberately invited members of the donor’s community, our friends and development partners to this important meeting to also seek your support to fill the funding gap for our beloved MANTRA project as the FDCO support winds down. We would appreciate your coming on board the MANTRA project for the betterment of our country. We will also be sharing with you our focus in the next three years in the course of this meeting to appreciate where we are coming from and where we are headed and we believe, that together, we can make Nigeria a corruption free society, a feat direly needed to free our people from the grip of poverty and drive development in the country.

I thank you all for honoring our invitation and wish you God’s blessings.