The loo of looters
Out of Nigeria`s sixty-three years as an independent country, the military has exercised power for about twenty-eight years. Democracy made a belated return in 1999 and has been in place since 1999. While the argument that there has been enough time to make headway is fair, it also represents a fair argument to say that the foundations laid for the country`s peace, progress and prosperity were almost irreparably compromised when the military exercised power at different points of the country`s national life.
And what was the legacy of the men who broke out of the barracks to bulldoze their way into the country`s corridors of power? To justify their actions, they have always maintained that they were on rescue missions. But the military men who barreled their way into power in Nigeria, battering all that stood in their way, left behind a broken country as they retreated to the barracks in the face of a democratic surge that was not to be stopped
A leprous legacy.
Between the many military generals who ruled Nigeria since the first military coup in 1966, Nigeria was torn apart as prey between a clan of hyenas. Under the crushing boots of the men who jumped into a space they were so ill-equipped for, and the iron fists with which they ruled, Nigeria suffocated.
The country`s image as a burgeoning democracy was shredded, just as its reputation as Africa`s great hopes was dashed. At home, life which had found new meaning after independence in 1960 returned to its pre-independence slug as a people who had put up with colonial oppression, suppression and repression for more than fifty years were confronted with a new kind of bitter pill which was entirely homemade.
Under different military regimes, those who dared to demand freedom for Nigerians were ruthlessly treated by agents of a state that was pseudo because it lacked any patina of legitimacy. Dozens were killed under various military regimes.
When in 1993, under the military regime of Ibrahim Babangida, a presidential election that was supposed to usher in a new dawn for Nigeria was sacrilegiously annulled, it appeared that the final nail had been driven into Nigeria`s coffin.
Before the annulment, it had appeared that there was no real commitment to returning the country to civilians by the Babangida administration. The suspect haste with which the elections were annulled was telling. But more telling was the fact that the chaos enabled yet another military regime to take over. Sani Abacha had worked closely with Ibrahim Babangida. In the carefully designed uncertainty surrounding the annulment, he rode into power via yet another military coup.
His five years in power between 1993 and 1998 brought with it a blizzard of assassinations, and unrivalled plunder of public funds.
In 1998, Abacha died in mysterious circumstances. His death paved the way for Nigeria to return to democracy but also lifted the curtain on just how much the Kano strongman stole from Nigeria.
He did not only steal from Nigeria on an unprecedented scale. In choosing to stash his loot in countries around the world, Abacha ensured that posthumously, he continues to paint Nigeria as a country caked in corruption and kleptocracy. Yet, to many, he remains a hero. In their eerie estimation, the Nigerian hero is not the one without sin but the one who showed pluck in committing sin.
A litany of loot
An inventory of what Abacha stole from Nigeria reads like some thriller out of Hollywood. In 1998, $750 million was recovered from the Abacha family. In 2000, $64 million was recovered from Switzerland. In 2002, $1.2 billion was recovered from the Abacha family. In 2003, $88 million was recovered from Switzerland. In 2003, $160 million was recovered from New Jersey. In 2005, $461.3million was recovered from Switzerland. In 2006, $44.1 million was recovered from Switzerland. In 2014, $227 million was recovered from Liechtenstein. In 2018, $322 million was recovered from Switzerland. In 2020, $311.7 million was recovered from New Jersey.
The Federal Government of Nigeria recently signed an agreement with the government of the United States of America, USA, to repatriate the total sum of $23,439,724 looted by Abacha to Nigeria.
Given the trajectory of the funds so far recovered, it is almost certain that more money stolen will be uncovered and repatriated back to Nigeria where they may still be plundered under an administration that has so far paid only lip service to fighting corruption.
Even in death, Abacha`s unprecedented kleptocracy continues to haunt Nigeria, indicting all those countries that provided safe haven for his loot, and showing a new generation of Nigerian kleptocrats that in a country where the system is loose and permissive, anything at all is possible.
If today, corruption is ingrained in the psyche of the everyday Nigerian, the foundations were firmly laid under the various military regimes which oppressed the country at different times.
The story of Nigeria`s journey to its current sorry state will never be complete without this part of it. Current and future governments of Nigeria owe Nigerians not only a responsibility to ensure that the repatriated funds are not further plundered, but that it shall no longer be possible for anyone to steal Nigerians blind.
To do otherwise would be to pay homage to thieves and their memories.