Nigeria`s blessing as a basket of bounteous resources has often come across as a curse because of a small group of people that have by their actions over many yawning years conspired to let loose on Nigeria a pack of plunderers and predators that would rival anything seen during the great campaigns of the Crusades or in the exertions of nature`s most gifted animals. It is now over two decades since he died, yet former Nigerian head of state and military dictator General Sani Abacha has continued to generate headlines time and again for the infamous Abacha loot – an indeterminate amount of money stolen from Nigeria and stashed in banks and countries around the world.
Whenever the subject comes up, Nigeria is immediately projected as a country of thieves and looters in the eyes of the international community. It partly explains the waves of suspicion that greets our international travels. In Africa, we do not usually speak ill of the dead. However, where the actions of the dead continue to haunt the living every day, it becomes inevitable to confront such actions so that the ghost of the past can let both the dead and the living have some peace.
The late General Sani Abacha ruled Nigeria for about five bloody, brutal years. During those dark years, many Nigerians perished under the iron boots of his military dictatorship. Rights activists were detained and disappeared, the number of political prisoners rose and a terrible sense of fear and oppression swept the country. When the military strongman died in 1998, the whole country save for those who benefited from his draconian regime heaved a huge and collective sigh of relief.
Then, the immediate relief was that the country was free from the iron grasp of a man who was bent on reducing Nigeria to the infamy of Idi Amin`s Uganda. The sigh of relief proved to be short lived when gradually but determinedly details of how Abacha plundered the country`s resources started to come into the open. The circumstances were fortuitous too because Nigeria`s resolve to recover the money, a resolve which shook and steadied with the government of the day, coincided with the determination of some of the countries where Abacha stashed away his millions to return the money.
The figures are truly astounding and point unmistakably to what unchecked and unbridled greed can do especially when having a field day in the heart of men man whose words are law, in a country with institutions and men subverted to personal caprices. Some of the money has found its way back into the country and some of it is on the way home. It is a telling moment for Nigeria, the countries involved and international law as a whole. It is also a reckoning because what a particular generation conspired to steal and hide, another generation is determined to return.
Nigeria currently reels under crunch economic conditions and an acute crises of confidence and corruption. Government continues to pledge an all-out battle against corruption. However, in the court of public opinion the credibility of the anti-corruption war has been reduced to dust by frustrated Nigerians who are yet to see tangible results from the fight. The more cynical even dismiss it as an outright weapon of political witch hunt.
So it is to an unclear fate that the Abacha loot would return; it is to a country where corruption holds sway that the money would come back; and until Nigerians see proper public accountability for the money and drastic improvement in public services and infrastructure, Peter would have only been robbed to pay Paul.
However, to return the funds would be redemption for a plundered Nigeria; it would be justice; it would be restoration; it would be retribution; it would be a promise that there would always be some form of accountability for actions. Abacha retains cult-like status among a core of his supporters who believe he was above board in life and remains beyond reproach in death. The repatriation of the funds would be a historic rebuke to this group of people, and all those who have in the past dipped into public funds to feather their nests, and those who even to this day continue to bleed Nigeria dry.
By Kene Obiezu wrote from Abuja.