British officials are working with Nigeria's Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) to return £43 million illegally stolen and placed in British banks by certain Nigerian officials. This is not the first time that stolen monies have been returned to Nigeria. In fact, over $500 million was recovered from former dictator Sani Abacha's foreign accounts. Enrico Manfrini, a lawyer hired by the previous administration to track and recover Nigeria's stolen wealth, also achieved the return of $160 million, stolen by Abacha, from Jersey in 2003. And by 2009, "the tally of recovered Abacha loot stood at about $2 billion."
Consequently, when it comes to recovering such stolen monies, £43 million (N11.25 billion) is a mere "drop in the ocean when compared to the vastness of all of the looted wealth." However, this move by Britain must be seen within the context of other intriguing factors as it is more than the simple and honorable return of stolen monies found in British controlled banks.
SIGNIFICANCE OF ICPC PARTNERSHIP
During what were considered the heydays of Nigeria's anti-corruption crusade, much was made of the Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC or 'Commission') and its then chair, Nuhu Ribadu. However, with the 2008 removal of Ribadu from the EFCC's helm, doubts arose regarding the current administration's commitment to fighting Nigeria's endemic corruption problem. These doubts were soon solidified with the 2009 judgment in the James Ibori case. There, more than 170 corruption-related charges were dropped against the former governor who once offered a $15 billion bribe to avoid prosecution. The case scandalized many and generated serious allegations of purposeful bungling of the case by the current EFCC and its new chief, Farida Waziri.
As such, the decision to partner with the ICPC instead of the EFCC can be interpreted as a clear condemnation of the Commission. This lack of trust and confidence in the EFCC's capacity to handle anti-corruption cases is but one more indicator that the Yar'Adua administration, despite its claims otherwise, is beholden to its powerful and corrupt friends.
IMPROVEMENT FROM PREVIOUS BRITISH ATTITUDE
For years, foreign backs turned a blind eye to the source of the billions shuffled to their safekeeping by devious characters from around the world. British banks have particularly been complicit in the receipt of funds illegally acquired by far too many Nigerian criminals, both government officials and ordinary individuals. Britain's Financial Services Authority revealed that by 2001, at least $1.3 billion of stolen Nigerian money passed through 23 London financial institutions. And, that money was tied to one person alone - Sani Abacha! This information caused much embarrassment for the British government which had previously frustrated efforts to find Nigeria's stolen monies hidden within its institutions.
The revelation spurred a more aggressive stance against receiving illegally obtained wealth. In light of this attitude change, Britain investigated the UK based assets of various Nigerian officials such as Joshua Dariye, DSP Alamieyeseigha and the previously mentioned James Ibori, to name a few. Dariye was ordered by a British High Court to return over £4 million to the Nigerian government, which eventually created a scandal of its own. In Ibori's case, it was determined that many of his assets were obtained with stolen funds and British authorities froze them. This case against him is still ongoing.
One can only wonder from which Nigerian person(s) the £43 million to be returned was obtained. Such information would prove rather enlightening and in the spirit of transparency, which is necessary in such corruption cases, British authorities should provide a detailed account of the monies and from whom it was obtained. The British government should provide this accounting because it is repatriating the money and also, because it is unlikely that the Nigerian government will do so.
The issue of transparency remains significant with regard to Nigeria and the monies it has retrieved from all over the globe. There is no single, easily accessible place where a detailed, up to date accounting of all recovered loot. In 2008, it was revealed that under Ribadu, the EFCC recovered $600 billion in stolen public funds. An online accounting of these and other recovered assets would go a long way in assuring concerned Nigerians that the billions retrieved have not simply ended back in the pockets of looters once again.
Additionally, there is the issue of Enrico Monfrini. Is he still working for the Nigerian government to retrieve stolen funds? If not, then why? Currently, Monfrini is working with the Haitian government (hired pre-earthquake) to recover monies stolen by that countries notorious dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. While it is not impossible for Monfrini and his firm to work on more than one asset recover case at the same time, considering Nigeria's unfortunate history of looting and President Yar'Adua's questionable commitment to anti-corruption, one can only hope that Monfrini or someone else equally capable is still on the hunt for Nigeria's money.
Then of course, there is the great 'elephant in the room' of a question - does it make sense to return stolen money to the Nigerian government? It pains this writer to even broach this subject, but, it has unfortunately become unavoidable given the mounting questions many have raised about the fate of the money. Firstly, as noted above, there is a distinct lack of transparency with regard to the return of stolen monies. Nigerians remain in the dark as to what money has been returned, from whom and when. Nigeria's 'Punishment Problem' means that there continue to be little to no legal cases that citizens can turn to as an indicator of who has returned money. Secondly, Nigeria is presently experiencing a power vacuum with its President apparently sick and recovering in a Saudi hospital. The Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, is technically in charge of the nation and he is not corruption-free as $13.5 million was seized from his wife and she was once the subject of a corruption investigation. This begs the question of what will happen to the repatriated funds upon arriving in the hands of Nigerian officials.
Nevertheless, despite these concerns, it is best that Britain return the money as it rightfully belongs to Nigeria. The Nigerian government can misplace that money and Britain has no control over that. It is the Nigerian people that are responsible for demanding that retrieved monies be preserved, preferably in a trust of some sort, and that information on these funds be readily accessible. Until that happens, Nigerians will continue to doubt their government's commitment to anti-corruption. And millions of women, men and children will continue to suffer the consequences of a government that fails to stem corruption - money intended for the greater good will make its way into the pockets of a small minority.
 - Peel, M., A Swamp Full Of Dollars:Pipelines & Paramilitaries at Nigeria's Oil Frontier, I.B. Tauris, 2009:122.
 - Ibid.
 - Blogger Anengiyefa tweeted the comment in response to a tweet from sharing the news about the announcement.
 - Peel, M., A Swamp Full Of Dollars:Pipelines & Paramilitaries at Nigeria's Oil Frontier, 122.