The Federal Government will not relent until it recovers the $5 billion stolen from Nigeria by the late General Sani Abacha and his family and stashed in western countries, President Muhammadu Buhari, has said.
The President, in an opinion piece published in the Financial Times of London, also said Nigerians are delighted by the news that 72 artefacts, known as the Benin Bronzes, held by the Horniman Museum in London, were returning home, 125 years after they were stolen by British troops.
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According to him, the clamour for repatriation of looted treasures is becoming irresistible.
He said there was once a similar clamour for the return of Africa’s stolen assets, and he sees both as part of the same struggle to bring back to Nigeria what is rightfully hers.
“Countless billions siphoned from the continent by corrupt former leaders remain stashed in western bank accounts. Although Nigeria has arguably been the most successful among African nations in securing the return of stolen money, it has recovered only a fraction of what remains in the west.
“Earlier this year, Nigeria was forced to take legal action against the UK National Crime Agency after repeated delays to the return of money taken out of the country in the 1990s by former dictator General Sani Abacha,” Buhari said.
He, however, said the court case reveals the scale of challenge before Nigeria.
Stating that Abacha is thought to have siphoned off up to $5bn to the west, Buhari said this case concerned just £150 million.
According to him, given the levels of corruption across Africa, there will be concern as to whether funds returned will be used appropriately.
“But we should not forget that it was through western jurisdictions that the money was laundered in the first place. Not trusting Africans to spend their own money properly echoes the argument that we can’t be trusted to look after our own cultural heritage.
“In the case of both looted cultural heritage and stolen assets, western museums and authorities largely seem to agree that the loot should, in principle, be handed back. However, the technicalities of repatriation leave plenty of room for maintaining the status quo.
“Museums say that treasures should be returned if it can be proved that they were looted. Of course, they argue, it is a different matter if artefacts were acquired through purchases and other legitimate means. But it is the same museums that are responsible for assessing the provenance of artefacts. They have a vested interest in keeping them, encouraging a lackadaisical approach and murky criteria,” he said.
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