In defense of Ex-leaders and Abacha's loot
Monday, 23 Jun 2008
In their collective bid to clear General Sani Abacha of any misdeed during his evil rule, three former Heads of State recently confirmed the general belief that leadership is the bane of the nation’s development. The three former Nigerian leaders, Generals Ibrahim Babangida, Muhammadu Buhari and Abdulsalami Abubakar, came out in defence of the late Abacha’s five-year reign of terror and debauchery at the 10th anniversary lecture in Abacha’s memory.
In their different speeches, they declared that the allegations of looting against the late General were baseless and unfounded. General Babangida, who ruled between 1985 and 1993, said he knew who Abacha was and described him as a courageous, loyal and honest leader, who stood for the country’s unity and development during his five-year regime. He emphatically said that it was not true that Abacha looted the public treasury and insisted that “Abacha contributed his best to the nation’s economy which we are still enjoying.”
While General Abubakar eulogised the late Abacha for initiating Vision 2010, General Buhari described the allegations of looting against the late dictator as lacking in credibility. For Abdulsalami who became Head of State when Abacha suddenly died on June 8, 1998, the Yar’Adua administration’s economic Vision 2020 is a replica of Abacha’s Vision 2010 initiative. He therefore tasked the nation’s leaders to concentrate on how best to contribute to national development instead of wasting time and money investigating their predecessors. The General added that probing past administrations “does not yield anything positive to the nation and should be discouraged.”
In his contribution, General Buhari who ruled the country between December 1983 and August 1985, praised Abacha for ensuring the participation of former Heads of State in the Council of State meetings, the establishment of the Petroleum Trust Fund and the sanitisation of the banking and financial systems. Buhari declared: “Ten years without the late Abacha, the said allegations remain silent because there are no facts.”
But quite contrary to the Generals’ picture of Abacha as a saint, it is on record that the late maximum ruler allegedly stole between $3bn and $5bn. The recovery of Abacha’s loot was one of the first major assignments undertaken by the Abubakar administration in 1998. A data released by the World Bank, under a new initiative called Stolen Assets Recovery (STAR) in 2007, stated that Nigeria had recovered a total of $505.5 million from Swiss authorities, being money stolen and stashed away by the late military ruler, General Sani Abacha.
Recently, the Charge d’affaires of the Swiss Embassy, Mr. Fabio Baiaradi, confirmed that his country returned $40 million to Nigeria, which was the last tranche of repatriated funds from the Abacha loot. He said at the end of January 2006 that “the Abacha family had failed to prove the legality of this sum.”
Indeed, the former dictators have been emboldened to rewrite history because none of them has been formally tried and brought to justice. For instance, General Babangida asserted on the occasion that he was still waiting for the outcome of the probe of his administration. But it is on record that as much as $12.2 billion of Gulf War oil windfall was frittered away under his watch.
Certainly, all the former leaders that looted the nation’s treasury will be brought to book one day as it happened elsewhere. Former Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Aleman, who ruled the nation from 1997 to 2002, was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for corruption. Likewise, though released in October 2007, former Philippine leader, Joseph Estrada was jailed for life for embezzling about $80m while in power.
In 2004, Transparency International’s report said that corruption in Argentina reached the lowest level in 20 years because the country’s former leaders had been brought to book on graft charges. It will be difficult for Nigeria to make any significant progress if its corrupt leaders are left to enjoy their loot.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project and the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights on Tuesday faulted statements credited to former Generals Muhammadu Buhari, Abdulsalami Abubakar and Ibrahim Babangida that the late Gen. Sani Abacha did not loot the nation’s treasury.
General Muhammadu Buhari’s latest comment, alongside his military colleagues, generals Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar, exonerating the late General Sani Abacha of financial misappropriation while in office, has been described as a big disappointment to Nigerians.
According to a respondent, “Some of us have, over the years, come to look up to Buhari as a disciplined and incorruptible gentleman; but his latest comment has made us to start having a rethink.”
The respondent was of the opinion that Nigerians could excuse Babangida and Abubakar for making such statements because, he argued, everyone knows their stand on corruption, but not Buhari.
A former military governor of Kaduna State, Col. Abubakar Umar (rtd), on Monday in Kaduna, described those exonerating the late head of state,General Sani Abacha from the looting of the nation’s treasury as hypocrites.
He argued that those [Buhari, Babangida & Abdulsalaam] who used the 10th year anniversary prayers for the late Abacha in Kano to canvass the point that the deceased former military leader should not be held responsible for the massive looting which took place while his tenure lasted, were insincere.