It’s not often that any of the money a dictator has stolen from his or her people is discovered and returned, but the Nigerian people will be the beneficiaries of this too-rare occurrence.
On August 23, the United States and Nigeria signed an agreement returning $23 million to Nigeria. The money is part of the large tranche of corrupt funds laundered during and after the military regime of General Sani Abacha, who ruled Nigeria from 1993 until his death in 1998. Including this latest repatriation, the United States has agreed to return a total of $334.7 million linked to Abacha.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, “General Abacha, his son Mohammed Sani Abacha, their associate Abubakar Atiku Bagudu and others embezzled, misappropriated and extorted billions from the government of Nigeria and others, then laundered their criminal proceeds through U.S. financial institutions and transactions in the United States.”
The latest $23 million in cash was found in accounts in the United Kingdom and was identified and frozen by the United States. Under the agreement signed in Abuja by U.S. Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard and Nigerian Attorney General Abubakar Malami, the returned funds will be used to support three critical infrastructure projects in Nigeria that were previously authorized by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and the Nigerian legislature.
The funds will help finance the Second Niger Bridge, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Abuja-Kano road, which, the U.S. Justice Department notes, “will benefit the citizens of each of these important regions in Nigeria.” The agreement includes key measures to ensure transparency and accountability, as well.
Speaking at the signing ceremony, Ambassador Leonard said, “The U.S. Government is keenly aware of the devastating impact of corruption on societies. Corruption erodes trust and the ability of governments to deliver for their citizens. . .As a partner deeply invested in Nigeria’s success, we will continue to do our part to facilitate the recovery and return of the proceeds of corruption to the Nigerian people.”