Breaking from the past, the House of Representatives yesterday passed a motion seeking to set up an ad-hoc committee to investigate the total amount so far recovered from the General Sani Abacha loot by the federal government from 1998 to date.
It further sought to establish the sources of the monies; payments to lawyers, if any, and whether procedures were followed in the negotiation process for the release of the loot.
The lower House is also seeking to establish if the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the federal government and foreign countries on the repatriation were in line with constitutional provision and if recovered funds had been utilised for the benefits of the common man.
The probe will also cover all other recoveries made from looted public funds.
The House resolution followed a motion moved under matters of urgent public importance by Hon. Sunday Karimi (PDP, Kogi) on the need to stop the federal executive from expending the last tranche of the Abacha loot or any recovered loot at all without parliamentary approval.
His motion originally requested that the sum of $322 million to be released by the Switzerland Government be paid to the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) and distributed to the federating units in line with the current revenue sharing formula.
The motion further urged the federal government to come up with a supplementary appropriation bill, earmarking the funds due to it from the Abacha loot for the completion of the Ajaokuta Steel Complex.
The motion had called on the federal government to immediately present to the National Assembly how much has been released from the recovered loot and how they have been spent.
In his lead debate, Karimi said although the Swiss Government had released the loot to the federation in several tranches in recent times, there had been little disclosure to the public by the federal government.
He further picked holes in a recent statement credited to the Special Adviser to the President on Justice Reforms, Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu, who was reported to have stated that in line with the MoU signed between the Swiss Government and the Nigerian Government, the $322 million would be paid directly to the accounts of the poorest Nigerians without recourse to the National Assembly.
The lawmaker noted that by the virtue of Section 12 (1) of the 1999 constitution (as amended), no treaty between the federal government and any other country should have the force of law except to the extent to which the National Assembly has enacted such treaty.
Therefore, he argued that no agreement or MoU purportedly signed by the federal government with the Swiss Government can have any force of law in Nigeria, except approved and enacted by parliament.
He also said all revenues raised and received by the federal government shall be paid to the CRF by virtue of Section 80 (3) of the constitution, adding that no such monies shall be withdrawn from the account unless the issue of such funds has been authorised by the National Assembly.
According to him, “As a result, no monies can be paid or expended without National Assembly approval.”
He said it was difficult for government to determine who qualifies as a poor family to be able to benefit from its financial hand-outs, adding that the parliament is closer to the people to know who is impoverished.
The lawmaker added that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) “has no power to use Nigeria’s money anyhow they like. Let the constitution be followed: this is impunity…This parliament must decide what they’ll use Nigerian money for.”
Contributing to the motion, Hon. Hassan Saleh (APC, Benue) said: “I smell corruption in disguise,” adding that the funds cannot be effectively distributed to the poor by the executive, as he pointed to the Sure-P and school feeding schemes of the government where no tangible results have been achieved.
Rather, he said part of the loot could be committed to the completion of Ajaokuta steel company to provide millions of jobs to unemployed Nigerians.
Hon. Nkem Uzoma-Abonta (PDP, Abia) added that with all its noble intentions, the federal government’s decision to keep money “runs contrary to our law.”
Hon. Sunday Adepoju (APC, Oyo) argued that the recoveries could be distributed to states to finance critical infrastructure that’ll have chain effects and boost economic well-being of Nigerians.”
On his part, Hon. Nicholas Ossai (PDP, Delta) said the National Assembly has power to prescribe usage of the recovered loot.
He said: “We can make a law to determine how the money is to be spent. We have instruments, which the House has not used. This money can alleviate poverty if well used. We should make a law distributing that money. The EFCC has also recovered loots but how have they been spent?”
Also, Hon. Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje (PDP, Abia) raised an issue with the agreement entered into with foreign countries by the federal government, adding: “No country has the right to tell us what to do with our money.”
Hon. Chika Adamu (APC, Niger) also said “no country should dictate what we use our money for.
“How can the government be giving out N5,000 to people? No one has the right to keep and dish out the money. Let us advise the executive on better projects.”
However, Hon. Abdulmumuni Jubrin (APC, Kano) noted that the recoveries ought to have been paid into the CRF, adding that the federal government could have consulted the National Assembly on the issue.
He, therefore, suggested that the House should investigate every money recovered from Abacha loot and determine if they have been judiciously utilised.
Nevertheless, the House Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, further sought to know if another country can “tell us what to use our money for when the law says the money should be paid into the CRF.”
He added that the matter should be investigated to enable the House take an informed and firm decision over the recoveries.