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Sunday, 22 March 2009

Mindless Liars

Source:The News

At the 10th memorial anniversary of General Sani Abacha in Kano on 8 June, his fellow former Heads of State, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar - strove to assail the intelligence of Nigerians with their widely reported chorus that contrary to the long-held vilification of Abacha as a plunderer of the national treasury, he was, indeed, irreproachably saintly.

The media quoted Babangida as asserting that “it is not true that he (Abacha) looted public treasury” and Buhari as concluding that “all the allegations levelled against the personality of the late Gen. Sani Abacha will remain allegations.” Abdulsalami saw it as “quite unfortunate to accuse the family of the late Sani Abacha of looting funds.” Of course, the trio are entitled to their opinions. It becomes, however, disturbing when opinions which affect national consciousness are constructed on parochial foundations, abuse factual records and seek to celebrate villainy that should, in fact, be unreservedly condemned. For it is such celebration accorded inglorious leadership in Nigeria without wholesale condemnation that empowers tongues that should be endumbed in shame to reel off comments which insult the moral demand of Nigerians. The conspiracy of the generals to wear their departed colleague the monk’s hood is understandable. The same brush tars them in many respects. But that conspiracy further confirms their insensitivity to the feelings and emotions of the people, as regards the debilitating effects of misrule and grand larceny on the growth and development of Nigeria and its inhabitants. It is not accidental that Nigeria, despite its streaming earnings from oil, sits atop the poverty index of every objective global agency; the impoverishment can clearly not be divorced from the amoral proclivities of the former military rulers. In case the three generals egocentrically chose to afflict themselves with amnesia on Abacha’s theft records, we owe it a duty to jerk them out of their reverie. The need has also arisen to refresh the memory of the public on a ruler that Raymond W. Baker, a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington D.C., USA and world renown expert in capital flight and money laundering, remarked after an exhaustive research: “The biggest single thief in the world in the 1990s was almost certainly the late (Nigerian) military dictator, Sani Abacha, with $12 to $16 billion passing out of Nigeria in corrupt and tax-evading money during his murderous five-year regime.”

The diary of Abacha’s loot attacks the heart. Investigations spanning the two terms of the Olusegun Obasanjo administration revealed how Abacha criminally accumulated stupendous wealth through kickbacks from outrageously inflated contract awards, direct printing of the naira a la Uganda’s Idin Amin, diversion of huge security votes into his personal and family accounts, over-invoicing of fuel imports, debt buy-back scams with Russian steel companies and direct siphoning of money to foreign accounts owned by him, cronies and Muhammed, his son.

On 25 March 1994, Abacha stole $37.6 million. In one proven instance, his National Security Adviser, Ismaila Gwarzo, narrated to a Special Investigation Panel set up by the Obasanjo government how he sent his special assistant to the bank many times between June 1996 and October 1997 to collect a total sum of $456 million and £232 million for Abacha. Details of withdrawal trips to the Central Bank of Nigeria unveiled that on 15, 17 and 27 February 1995, $4 million and £2 million were stolen on each occasion; on 8 July 1995, $5 million, £2 million and another £2 million in travellers’ cheques and 29 December 1995, $5 million.

On 28 March 1996, Abacha collected $3.80 million from the CBN; on 29 May 1996, $12.5 million; 20 June 1996, $10 million and £5 million; 20 August 1996, $30 million and £15 million; 24 September 1996, $50 million; 30 September 1996, $30 million and £3 million; 14 October 1996, $5 million and 11 November 1996, $5 million and £3 million.

The 1997 withdrawal records of money by Abacha from the CBN read 18 February, $6 billion; 28 February, $3 million; 3 March, $3.27 million; 6 March, $1.21 million; 22 April, $60 million; 28 April, $60 million and £30 million; 30 June, $4.9 million; 9 July, $5 million and £2 million; 8 August, $10 million; 18 October, $12.3 million; 21 October, £5.88 million; 23 October, £14.76 million; 29 October, £11.76 million; 14 November, $10 million; 26 November, $24 million; 10 December, $24 million and 18 December, £6.15 million.

This list can by no means be exhaustive and fully representative of Abacha’s robbery of the people’s wealth as it is limited to only his autocratic withdrawals from the CBN. There existed numerous routes through which the dictator stole endlessly while he ruled from 23 November to 8 June 1998. Investigators discovered, at least, 130 bank accounts in which Abacha’s stolen monies were domiciled. The banks include Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, ANZ, London Branch; ANZ New York; ANZ Frankfurt; Bank in Liechtenstein A.G Vaduz; Bank Len, Zurich; Bankers Trust Company, London; Bankers Trust Company, Frankfurt; Bankers Trust Company, New York; Banque Barring Brothers, Geneva; Barclays Bank, New York; Barclays Bank, London; Banque Edouard Constant, General; Bank Nationale De Paris, Geneva; Banque Nationale De Paris, London and Banque Nationale De Paris, Basle.

Others are Citibank N.A. London; Citibank N.A. New York; Citibank N.A. Luxembourg; Citibank Zurich, Switzerland; Credit Lyonnais, New York Credit Suisse, New York; Credit Suisse, General; Credit Suisse, Zurich; Deutche Morgan Grenfell, Jersey; FIBI Bank (Schweiz) A.G. Zurich, First Bank of Boston, London; First Bank of Nigeria plc, London; Goldman Sachs and Company, Zurich; Gothard Bank, Geneva; Inland Bank (Nigeria) plc, Lagos; LGT Liechtenstein Bank, Vaduz; Liechtenstein Landesbank, Vaduz; M.M. Warburg and Company, Luxembourg; M. M. Warburg and Company, Zurich; M.M. Warburg and Company, Hamburg; Merrill Lynch Bank, New York; Merrill Lynch Bank, Geneva; Midland Bank, London; National Westminister Bank, London; Nigerian Intercontinental Bank Limited, Lagos; Paribus, London; Paribus, Geneva; Royal Bank of Scotland, Leeds and Standard Bank London Limited, London.

The financial institutions also include UBS A.G. Zurich; UBS A.G., Geneva; Union Bancaire Privee, Geneva; Union Bank of Nigeria, London Branch; Universal Trust Bank of Nigeria Limited, Lagos and Verwaltungs Und Private Bank, A.G. Vaduz.

As early as the first year into the Obasanjo administration, both the local and international media became awash with discoveries of public funds stolen by Abacha and the efforts being made by both the administration and the international community to repatriate them to Nigeria. For purpose of further reviving the failed memory of these lying generals, we will relate here some of the efforts.

In December 1999, the Swiss authorities announced a freeze of $550 million in bank accounts that belonged to Abacha, his family, and his associates including Gwarzo and Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, an economist and close associate of the Abacha family. Bagudu, a major laundering pipe for the Abacha family, admitted in May 2000 before a Swiss court investigating the Abacha loot that the CBN deposited huge funds in the book of Goldman Sachs, Zurich, in April 1997 in favour of Mecosta Securities, a company owned by him and Muhammed Abacha, son of the dictator.

Muhammed himself confessed to lawyers that, Abacha, his father, once gave him $700 million cash which Bagudu subsequently arranged to be transferred into various accounts owned by the Abachas in foreign banks. In January 2000, the Swiss authorities again announced another freeze of a total of $645 million linked to Abacha. In April 2000, investigators announced discovery of more than $300 million of the stolen funds in England. A month later, the International Herald Tribune reported that more that over $1billion had been found in various accounts in Europe in the names of the Abacha family or his associates. The Tribune also reported that part of an additional $654 million had been found in Switzerland’s famous Credit Suisse.

Within the same month, Luxembourg confirmed it had found and frozen $630 million in eight bank accounts in M.M. Warburg & Co., a private bank, in the names of Alhaji Sani Mohammed and Abba Sani Mohammed, Abacha’s sons. In July 2000, Switzerland returned $64 million of the recovered Abacha loot to Nigeria. The following month, Nigeria asked Liechtenstein to help recover £100 million. In April 2001, the Financial Services Authority, Britain’s financial watchdog, revealed that 23 London banks had handled $1.3 billion belonging to family and friends of General Abacha. Within the same month, judicial authorities in Britain ordered some of the world’s largest banks to freeze accounts believed to belong to the former dictator. In October 2001, the British High Court gave the government there the approval to help Nigeria trace more than $1billion looted by late Abacha. The Guardian of London, in an editorial, had to lampoon banks in London for footdragging in assisting Nigeria to recover monies stolen by the late dictator. Erstwhile Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, announced in November 2003 that the Nigerian government had recovered $149 million from the Island of Jersey, an offshore-banking centre in the British-ruled Channel Islands notorious as a haven for dirty funds. In September, the Swiss authorities agreed to release $500 million of the Abacha loot.

In Sepember 2005, in Switzerland, the authorities returned $290 million out of recovered $458 million to Nigeria. Okonjo-Iweala said Nigeria had so far recovered about $2 billion total of assets. In November 1998, Mr. Michael Ani, Nigeria’s former Finance Minister, also revealed $1.3 billion in illegal withdrawals by Gwarzo under the personal authority of Abacha. Some of the money was traced to Beirut and $700 million was recovered. The Obasanjo administration detained Muhammed Abacha for three and half years over attempted murder. In May 2002, President Obasanjo struck a deal with some elders sympathetic to the Abacha family over release of Muhammed. Under the arrangement, government would recover about $1.2 billion from the Abachas while they keep $100 million and par bonds worth $300 million.

Buhari and the two other lying generals cannot feign ignorance of a recent development which concretises the fact of stealing against their late friend. In January this year, the news broke of alleged police extortion of one Yakubu Manfred Isah, who once worked as a guard in a company located in a building at F1 Sani Abacha Way, Kano, owned by Sani Abacha. Isah claimed in a six-page affidavit he swore to at the Federal High Court, Abuja, that while he was a guard at the company, he and his colleague were always observing siblings of the late Head of State as they occasionally came to the eighth floor of the building to lug away bulging big sacks which they loaded into vehicles snd drove away.

He averred that he and his colleague could not challenge the visitors because they have been severely ordered not to intrude on anything or anybody connected with the last floor. However, sometime in 2005, the security men summoned courage to trail two aides of the Abacha siblings who were visiting the eighth floor when there was power outage. Isah stated that when they happened on the men and turned on their torchlights, they beheld “bags of different shapes and sizes bursting open with foreign currencies, with some spilling on the floor.”

The men appealed to Isah and his colleague to keep mum on the discovery. “They explained that because of the assault of the Federal Government on the Abacha family, they could not lodge any money in any bank account anywhere in the world. They solicited for our silence and co-operation,” the guard posited. The security men were consequently settled with six bags filled with foreign currencies to buy off their conscience. Unfortunately, Isah would later become an object of blackmail by a taxi driver and extortion by the police arising from his fortune. It was in the resolve to resist further police extortion that Isah contacted Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Festus Keyamo, who wrote a letter of protest, accompanied by a copy of the affidavit, on the petitioner’s behalf, to President Umaru Yar’Adua. He copied the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mike Okiro.

With such available welter of evidence to define what stealing is, it confounds us that the three Abacha apologists saw it differently. Babangida, especially, proved he remains a master of doublespeak with his recent pronouncement contrasting sharply with his views when, in June 2000, he granted a team of Newswatch editors an interview. The former military president expressed in that chat how amazed he was by the startling disclosures on Abacha’s loot. Babangida has lately been traversing the country in an indication that he still nurses his ambition of leading the country once again, this time as civilian president. In the south-west, he has even succeeded in winning over top-drawer converts who have been dropping persuasive comments by proxy. But, as the philosopher says, you can fool some of the people some of the time, but definitely not all all the time. Nigeria has been so despoiled by the ilk of these dictators that it would be naive of Nigerians not to assess their present and potential presidents by the moral fibre of their comments. The friend of a thief is a thief and an endorsement of robbery by anybody portends serious possibilities of the same crime by the guarantor. The statements by the three generals could only have been made to protect a common honour, according to their own contextual definition of the word. Surely, Abacha’s soulless pillage of public funds and, indeed, pillage by Nigerian leaders generally leaves sores of abject poverty across the land, whether south, north, east or west. Abacha could even have stolen and resided the loot in Nigeria either for use by Nigerian banks to grow the economy or create jobs by establishing productive ventures. But it has emerged a nauseating culture for these leaders to locate their stolen monies abroad for only their families to savour. Around them, they watch callously as the talakawas emaciate with hunger or feed from their dustbins. Shamelessly, they usually seek to pander to the tribal, cultural and religious sentiments of these deprived when it suits them to do so. The treachery here is that the greater beneficiaries of these stolen funds are the foreign economies where these loots are stashed away. The billions of money in all currencies stolen by Abacha and his friends would have gone kilometres in developing Nigeria in all ramifications - jobs, power supply, good roads, healthcare, education, etc. Every kobo stolen by them is mass murder, for many lives are lost on accidents that could have been avoided if the roads were smooth, the hospitals were well-equipped and doctors well-trained, youth armed robbers who are snuffing life out of the innocent were well-educated or developed and power is regularly supplied to avert unnecessary fatal fire incidents. Any person who fails to appropriately situate condemnation for these lapses is an enemy of the people.

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