N23.7 billion of Abacha loot paid to poor Nigerians, Civil society group says
About N23.7 billion of the N125 billion ($322.5 million) recovered Abacha loot has been disbursed to vulnerable Nigerians under the Conditional Cash Transfer scheme, a non-governmental group which says it monitored the disbursement said in a report Thursday.
The Monitoring Transparency and Accountability in the Management of Returned Assets (MANTRA) found about 703,506 people out of the total 834,948 in the social register got N23.7 billion. The payments were made as part of the federal government’s response to the current COVID 19 pandemic, the report said.
The payments covered January to April 2020, said the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), which led the MANTRA project.
ANEEJ said it led other civil society organisations that participated in monitoring the disbursement of the funds.
Monitoring Abacha loot
The Swiss government in 2017 returned about $322.5 million of money stolen by the late dictator Sani Abacha to Nigeria on the condition that the World Bank would be involved alongside civil society groups in monitoring its use to avoid being stolen again.
The Nigerian government chose its Social Investment Programme to reach about 834,948 poor and vulnerable Nigerians. The government in 2018 signed a Memorandum of Understanding with ANEEJ to monitor the distribution of the money.
David Ugolor, head of ANEEJ, said MANTRA monitors were able to reach about 73,998 beneficiaries located in 4,540 communities traced to 97 local government areas in 20 states of the federation.
He said monitors were able to capture in the database developed by the National Social Safety-Net Coordination Office and verified the total number of beneficiaries.
The number, he noted, was a marked improvement from the total beneficiaries of about 30,846 recorded in the first monitoring report, which covered 11 states.
“Our mission as a civil society group is to ensure transparent and judicious use of the recovered Abacha funds in line with its stated purpose, to ensure the recovered money is not re-looted,” Mr Ugolor said.
He said the conditional cash transfer is being disbursed by the National Cash Transfer Office now located in the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.
Mr Ugolor said ANEEJ deployed 1,456 monitors across the country in the exercise using a 21 per cent sample size.
“We also hired an audit firm for the upstream (Central Bank and National Cash Transfer Office), and Midstream (Payment Operators) monitoring.
“While our field monitors were deployed mainly for the downstream monitoring, covering the State Cash Transfer Offices (SCTO) and Local Government Areas), making it an end-to-end monitoring. Our first objective was to ascertain targeting of payments to specified beneficiaries,” he said.
He said by the end of the first year of its monitoring, majority of beneficiaries identified their community leaders as the source of their enrollment into the social register.
Its second concern, he said, was with the beneficiaries’ grievance and how they were addressed, noting that at the end of the first year, ANEEJ observed that less than half of the total complainants (43 per cent) had registered their complaints.
He said the complaints received included request for increase in base stipend, third party deductions, ID card-related challenges, delayed payments, irregular or late payments, tedious payment processes and distance to payment points. Only 22 per cent of complaints were resolved.
“This still remains a major challenge the scheme is facing, which needs improvement,” he said.
On the third objective of tracing the total amount disbursed out of the recovered $322.5million, Mr Ugolor said about N24.7 billion was disbursed by the Nigerian Conditional Transfer Office (NCTO) to the Private Service Operators as at December 31, 2019, out of which about ₦23.7 billion went to the beneficiaries.
He did not say what the remaining N1 billion was spent on.
In addition, Mr Ugolor said only about 72.5 per cent of the agreed 80 per cent of the amount was part of the Abacha loot in the funds disbursed to the beneficiaries during the period under review.
The current nationwide disbursements of recovered Abacha loot since last January, he said, was part of the Federal Government response to the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic being monitored by ANEEJ through the MANTRA team.
ANEEJ is working with eight partners in the project across the six geo-political zones of the country, namely Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Abuja (North Central), Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRISED), Kano (North West), Bayelsa Non-Governmental Forum (BANGOF),Yenagoa (South-South).
The other allies include FAHIMTA Women and Youth Development Initiative (FAWOYDI) ( North East), New Initiative for Social Development (NISD), Ado-Ekiti (South West) and Civil Resource Development and Documentation Centre (CIRDDOC), Enugu (South East), Economic Research and Development Centre (SERDEC), Lokoja New Apostolic Ch urch Centre for Development (NAC), GRA, Benin City.