Nigeria’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General Abubakar Malami said that Abuja has reached an agreement with a number of countries, including the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, for the repatriation of $500 million in looted public funds. This follows an earlier agreement with Switzerland for the return of $321 million allegedly stolen by the former military head of state, Sani Abachi. Though the attorney general provided no details, he said that “specific projects” have been identified to which the returned funds will be committed. After the Paris Club write-off in 2005 of an estimated $18 billion in debt, the Nigerian government identified projects to fund with the money freed up by the reduction in debt service, including the expansion of female education in the north. However, it is unclear how long the funding continued.
During his April 30 visit to Washington, DC, President Muhammadu Buhari publicly thanked President Donald Trump at their joint press conference for the administration’s assistance in the recovery of looted assets. He referred to the “machinery” the respective attorney generals had put in place for the return of some $500 million of looted assets “siphoned away in banks around the world.” Buhari also praised the U.S. Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Established in 2010, this initiative uses civil forfeiture proceedings to recover looted assets parked in, or laundered through, the United States. Notably, in 2017, the U.S. DOJ filed a civil complaint seeking the recovery of approximately $144 million allegedly laundered in the United States by two Nigerians associated with the former Minister of Petroleum Resources Diezani Alison-Madueke.
President Buhari’s electoral victory owed much to his promises to fight against corruption. The next Nigerian general election is in February 2019 and he is planning to run for reelection. However, corruption in Nigeria is structural and addressing it will require decades, if not generations. In the run-up to the elections, Buhari will look to highlight examples where his policy has been successful in his first term.
For more on Nigeria, Matthew Page and I provide an overview of its politics, history, and culture, including the threat of Boko Haram and religious conflicts in our new book, Nigeria: What Everyone Needs to Know, which will be published by Oxford University Press in July.