Recovered loots: NGO sensitises citizens on close monitoring

A non-governmental organisation is at the forefront of the campaign to give close marking to how government is spending several looted funds. ENE OSANG writes on one of those initiatives by an NGO.

At a two-day event organised by the African Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), state supervisors and deputy state supervisors received training with skills and technical capacity to return to their localities in order to train citizen monitors in preparation for the second phase of the flagship project of Monitoring Recovered Assets through Transparency and Accountability (MANTRA).

In the first phase of the MANTRA, anti-corruption activists successfully kept close watch on the disbursement of funds for the programmes which the government had promised would reach vulnerable citizens grappling with extreme poverty.

Anti-corruption activists and organisations that attended the training were partner organisations from the six geo-political zones. They include Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civic Education (CHRICED, North-west), Socio Economic Rights Development Centre (SERDEC, North-central), Centre for Social Justice (CSJ, North-central), Civil Resource Development and Documentation Centre (CIRDDOC, South-east), Bayelsa NGOs Forum (BANGOF, South-south), FAMWOYDI (North-east) and New Initiative for Social Development (NISD, South-west). All committed to the next phase of the monitoring by signing their respective memorandum of understanding for the next phase of the initiative.

The federal government had previously announced that the $322.5m would be used to support the poorest of the poor through the Cash Transfer Programme of the National Social Safety Net Programme. The cash transfer programmes actually started since 2016 but the disbursement of the $322.5m Abacha loot commenced from August/September 2018 payment round just before the election, a development analysts say was tied to winning the election. Under the programme, the federal government pays beneficiaries 5,000 Naira monthly but for convenience, 10,000 is paid every two months.

Citizens as watchdog

 In the light of these transfers, the MANTRA project team led by ANEEJ executive director, Reverend David Ugolor, has stayed the course by insisting on citizen’s oversight as the only antidote to the re-looting of recovered assets.

To that end, the MANTRA project team has equipped a broad spectrum of civic actors across Nigeria with technical skills. The plan is to enable them mobilise citizens in their respective states to monitor the disbursement of the $322.5m Abacha loot. As at the July/August 2019 payment round, $42, 429,309 has so far been protected from re-looting through the MANTRA project and paid to the poorest of the poor.

The MANTRA project wants to get to a point where the public would be more aware and knowledgeable enough to hold government accountable on issues about the recovery and management of looted assets.

The project, according to investigation, also wants to build the capacity of CSOs and citizens to effectively monitor the use of the recovered $322.5 million Abacha loot, the $900,000 Alamieyeseigha loot and other looted assets recovered. Beyond these objectives, the implementers of the project are using it to advocate for a policy framework that would engender transparent and accountable recovery and management of looted assets, while collectively monitoring the implementation of Nigeria’s commitments from the London Anti-Corruption Summit and Global Forum on Assets Recovery principles.

The ANEEJ-MANTRA project is also keen on actualising societal and behavioural changes. In a welcome address, Rev Ugolor first went down memory lane tracing how efforts by civic groups have now yielded an atmosphere in which managers of government programmes are ready to subject what they are doing to scrutiny and citizen’s oversight. He recalled that in December 2017, the Swiss government repatriated funds stolen from Nigeria by the late General Sani Abacha.

According to Rev Ugolor, “A total of $322.5m was repatriated comprising actual loot of $321m and an interest of $1.5m which accrued. That was about the last tranche of money kept in Swiss Banks by the former Nigerian dictator. This repatriation followed some periods of negotiation between Nigeria and the Swiss governments following which an MoU for the return of the loot was signed during the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) held in Washington, December 4 – 6, 2017.”

Rev Ugolor also recalled that as part of the implementation of the first phase of the project, the network worked with six partners and about 544 monitors, supervisors and deputies across 11 states to monitor the Cash Transfer Programme in December 2018.

 “The report of that exercise has since been released to the public. Through the monitoring exercise and other project activities, engagement with government institutions has been very healthy and productive changing the narratives of corruption perception in Nigeria as we have been able to demonstrate that an end-to-end monitoring of returned loot by citizens can effectively help to prevent the re-looting of such assets.

“The returned asset is now contributing to the achievement of sustainable development goals in Nigeria. At the last Open Government Partnership held from May 29-31 in Canada, we were able to organise a side event to show-case this success story. Next month, God willing, we would be organising a side event at the World Bank/IMF Annual Meetings in Washington DC to also showcase the MANTRA model which is fast assuming a global appeal.”

Improved response to inquiries

With the availability of data on what the government agencies are doing with recovered assets, Rev Ugolor explained that there had been a corresponding increase in the availability of information by government institutions on the utilisation of recovered assets as well as increased demand by citizens for the use of recovered assets for the benefit of the citizens. With all these efforts in context, Ugolor pointed out, saying the point could now be made confidently that there is reduced corruption in the use of recovered assets when compared to what happened in 2005 when the first set of the Abacha loot was returned.

Partner organisations were unanimous that the role of civil society in the asset recovery and distribution should focus on monitoring and data gathering with the goal of ensuring that CCT gets to the right beneficiaries. They also agreed that the cardinal principles of accountability and transparency should be at the heart of government’s use of recovered assets. This commitment towards accountable and transparent use of the recovered assets put to use by the trainees would help them to organise other citizens in their localities to keep a close watch on the CCT processes as the monitoring gets underway towards the end of October.

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