28 September 2020 –
The Ministry of Justice of Ireland has released the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the governments of Ireland and Nigeria on the return of USD 6.3 (€5.49) million linked to the former Nigerian dictator Mohammed Sani Abacha to Nigeria.
The case is the first time that Ireland is returning assets in line with its obligations under the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). The agreement, signed in August of this year, was published as a result of a request under the Irish Freedom of Information Act filed by the UNCAC Coalition.
The €5.5 million in assets had been identified and frozen in October 2014 in a Dublin based-bank account with HSBC Life (Europe) Ltd.
No mandatory disclosure requirements
While the MoU stresses that the parties involved “recognise the importance of ensuring that the highest possible standards for transparency and accountability are applied for the return and disposal of assets”, it includes few specific provisions on transparency and accountability and makes no reference to a role of civil society in monitoring the use of the returned funds.
Under the agreement, the funds will be transferred to the Central Bank of Nigeria. The funds are to be used by the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund, managed by the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIS), to co-fund three defined road projects: the Lagos to Ibadan Expressway, the Abuja to Kano road and the Second Niger bridge.Fullscreen Mode
The Memorandum of Understanding has been published at anticorruption.ie.
The MoU states that responsibility for the use and management of the recovered assets is with the government of Nigeria, which “is responsible for ensuring that highest standards of probity and integrity are maintained at all times”. A report on the use of assets shall be published by the Nigerian government on a relevant website, and a copy be provided to Ireland. The MoU does not include other mandatory disclosure or transparency measures.
Limited anti-corruption provisions
Both parties commit to efforts to ensure that no corruption takes place around the return of the assets. In case of credible corruption or fraud allegations, the government of Nigeria commits to take timely and appropriate actions to investigate the allegations, inform Ireland on the progress and findings of the investigations and in case fraud or corruption has occurred, reimburse any forfeited funds to the account and take other actions “as may be necessary or appropriate to remedy the damage caused by the fraudulent or corrupt act(s)”.
Statement by the Africa Network for Environment & Economic Justice (ANEEJ)
We have shared the MoU with our member organisation Africa Network for Environment & Economic Justice (ANEEJ) in Nigeria, which has been closely monitoring the return of assets from the “Abacha Loots” to Nigeria. ANEEJ highlights that the agreement does not contain a provision regarding public monitoring of the return – in other asset return cases, civil society has played an important role in monitoring the use of the funds.
ANEEJ’s Executive Director, David Ugolor, also highlights that the MoU does not make clear which stages of the three infrastructure projects are to be financed with the returned assets – assets of USD 311.9 million from the Abacha III case repatriated from Jersey and the USA will also be used to fund the same projects:
“For the purposes of transparency and to enable the National Assembly play their oversight role as well as for CSOs monitoring the use of the funds, it will be good that the Irish and Nigerian governments make it abundantly clear what stages of these projects would the returned asset be funding”, David Ugolor says.
Ugolor also positively noted that the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN has informed the public that the implementation of the MoU will be monitored by Civil Society Organizations (CSO) to be recruited under the project and would also be audited by an independent auditor in line with international best practices.