By Steve Osuji
The joke is on us, you and I. Yet we don’t know it, or so we pretend. One man and his family dipped their crooked fingers into Nigeria’s treasury and purloined over $5 billion in ‘raw’ cash and via transfers. They spirited the funds away to banks in foreign lands.
Between the period of 1988 and 1998, a decade during which late Gen. Sani Abacha was Nigeria’s army chief, defence chief and head of state, he and his sons had a free rein over Nigeria’s commonwealth and pillaged it to their heart’s content.
Today, over 20 years after the demise of the ham-fisted dictator, huge funds stashed in all corners of the world are still streaming into the country. And we make jokes about cheques from yonder and lUgh about the benevolence of a ghost from hell!
But we ought to be mourning or at best be weeping in collective national pathos. Should we be thinking people, we ought to be interrogating miasma most vigorously, asking repeatedly, what went wrong?
How could this happen? How did it happen that so much money can be lifted from under our nose? Is it still happening now? If not, what protocols have we put in place? What about our regulatory and monitoring procedures; they must have been as porous as baskets; are they still so?
Most important: what is the role of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)? Which banks did what? Why did it take so long to begin to repatriate the stolen funds? What has the graft agency done?
So many questions blowing in the wind but let look at the CBN first.
So much for regulatory, monitoring and corporate governance in a country if one family could take so much liberty with our sovereign cash while the CBN seem to be in a coma.
In the heat of the plunder when Abacha and his clan were feeding frenzy on the sordid gravy, it was reported that Abacha’s boy at any point on time, had as much as $100 million in his Abuja residence sometimes and he reportedly got most of the cash from the mint through the CBN. If Abacha’s CBN was gravely complicit or was under duress to compromise what has subsequent heads of the apex body done to cleanse and improve the situation. Money laundering in any financial system can only be as much a the apex bank allows. The CBN and its top echelon my take responsibility for Nigeria becoming the the major conduit for slush money and illicit cash.
CITIBANK: IT’S A BANK, IT’S A LAUNDROMAT!
CITIBANK comes high on Richter scale of malfeasance in the Abacha loot saga. To think that Abaxha was just one military officer in a country where most generals are kleptocrats.
According to reports, way back in the late 80s, when the late head of State was heading the army, the two Abacha boys, Ibrahim and Mohammed, just in their early 20s had opened slush accounts in the London branch of Citibank.
In 1992 the young boys opened more accounts in Citibank’s New York headquarters, in Park Avenue.
By 1998 the balance in Citibank alone ran into hundreds of millions of dollars.
It was audacious brigandage in those days by this bank. Nigeria International Bank (NIB) was the hideous native name of this American brand until 2008 when it took a name change and tried to spruce up its image.
But Citibank makes no bones about it’s legitimized money laundering business. Though it has existed in Nigeria for about 36 years, this commercial bank has only 12 branches, which have become even more anonymous lately. Close your eyes… can you remember any Citibank office? Not likely.
Citibank in Nigeria would rather not be seen or be bother with you. It engages in servicing mainly corporate clients and public sector organisations. This or course, is a well polished euphemism for helping big corporates and government agencies ship our forex by any means possible.
In 2018 CBN fined Citibank and three others N5.8b over illegal repatriation of $8.1 billion on behalf of MTN Nigeria. Imagine for a moment, the magnitude of moving EIGHT BILLION DOLLARS to an economy! It’s quite auspicious and very much in character.
Though Citibank Nigeria may be the most grounded, banksterism seems to have become a global financial currency. Also entrenched in the Nigerian laundering caper are British banks like HSBC, Barclays and Credit Agricole-Indosuez banks.
Credit Suisse, the Swiss money-laundering machine also had its hands deep in the Nigerian messy pie.
20 YEARS OF SITTING ON A LOOT: It is remarkable that Swiss banks have shown much contrition over their roguish activities of the past. They have led the way in making their processes less opaque and have also returned a good chunk of cash in the past 10 years.
The American banks have just come round after two decades to commence reparation. But British banks have remained largely remorseless, sitting coolly on the heaps of Nigeria’s stolen cash.
THE THIEF HELPING HIS VICTIM: Why do they return Nigeria’s money with insulting caveat? Because we still remain like bumbling kids not aware of our environment. Loot still stream into their vaults and even the returned cash manage to do a u-turn back to UK, US offshores and Swiss banks.
While their banks make a show if putting measures in place to change their processes, our CBN and financial system remain lackadaisical and susceptible to all sorts of risks.
Here we are laughing with the world over our abiding and cyclical folly: our ratty leaders ferret our livelihoods to foreign lands, we manage to repatriate them and relentlessly, they haul them back abroad, again and again.
It must explain why we have ‘developed’ to become the poorest of the world. Yet it matters not to us, we make a joke of it all, we think not to make amends and we never mend our ways… we remain roiled in the muck.
– Steve Osuji May 20, 2020
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