With a dangerous insurgency spreading within his borders, the visit to Washington this week by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was certainly going to touch on increased military support against Boko Haram.
But it also encompassed a discussion of stolen assets – namely billions of dollars siphoned away by bankers, ministers, and in some cases newly-minted millionaires.
According to the new president, about $150 billion has been stolen in the past decade and held in foreign bank accounts by former corrupt officials. It could have been used on education and healthcare, among other spheres of national life, he said.
Adetolunbo Mumuni, director of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), praised the agenda: “We welcome the commitment by President Obama to assist the Buhari government in tracking down billions of dollars stolen from the country. However, greater efforts are required by the Obama government to follow through its commitment if it is to secure a measure of justice for Nigerian victims of corruption and money laundering.”
The Nigeria-based organisation asked President Obama to “establish a Presidential Advisory Committee and facilitate a Congressional Hearing on stolen assets from Nigeria. These initiatives would be tremendously important in bringing renewed attention to repatriation of stolen assets to Nigeria.”
“Corruption, money laundering and systematic violations of human rights go hand in hand and that is why President Obama should do everything within his power to get to the bottom of the stolen assets from Nigeria kept in the US,” the group said.
According to SERAP, “Recovering stolen assets from the US is a lingering issue that requires justice and fairness especially given the complicity of US banks and other institutions in corruption and money laundering in Nigeria, and the fact that stolen assets have contributed to the growth of US economy. “
Johnnie Carson, a former assistant secretary of state, concurred in the view that Washington should not let security issues overshadow the need for closer trade and investment ties.
“Nigeria is the most important country in Africa,” said Carson, currently an adviser to the U.S. Institute of Peace. Now more than ever, “the relationship with Nigeria should not rest essentially on a security and military-to-military relationship,” he said.
Still, to demonstrate his resolve at purging incompetence in the military, President Buhari last week dismissed his entire military top brass, even as militants launched deadly attacks in Nigeria’s remote northeast and in Cameroon.
This was discussed at a breakfast meeting Monday with Vice President Joe Biden where they compared notes on the terror war. “Victory cannot come from the military option alone,” Biden told the Nigerian leader.
After the high-level meetings with Obama and Biden, Buhari is scheduled to meet with World Bank executives, members of the U.S. Congress and West African diplomats. He is also scheduled to hold a town hall meeting with Nigerians in the DC area.