In what could be president Muhammadu Buhari’s first big publicized corruption win, the government will reclaim up to $153.3 million in misappropriated funds from Nigeria’s controversial former petroleum minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke.
Alison-Madueke, 56, who fled Nigeria soon after Buhari came to power in May 2015, was arrested a few months later in London on allegations of money-laundering and has been granted bail, though her Nigerian passport was seized. A close confidante of former president Goodluck Jonathan, the ex-minister is often cited as one of the more egregious examples of corruption in the Jonathan regime. America’s CBS-TV show, 60 Minutes, said Sunday that Alison-Madueke was in possession of a diplomatic passport of the Caribbean island of Dominica presumably to get around the problems with her Nigerian passport.
The funds, which were misappropriated from the Nigerian national oil company NNPC, which was overseen by Alison-Madueke, were were seized by the country’s anti-corruption agency, EFCC. The monies were found in three different local banks in a cash combination of local naira and US dollars. Legally, Alison-Madueke has “temporarily forfeited” the funds and the judge gave any interested parties 14 days to make their claim or the funds would be seized by the Nigerian government.
Buhari promised to end corruption in Nigeria’s government and institutions when he campaigned for presidency in 2015. The country says it has recovered up to $9.1 billion in stolen funds, but has refused to identify the looters. There have been reports that some former politicians and individuals have quietly returned stolen funds in exchange for immunity.
The lack of clear evidence that Buhari is beating corruption is particularly frustrating for Nigerians who had hoped that culprits would be tried and jailed to help deter future politicians. But unlike his time as a military ruler, Buhari’s government has had to deal with the slow machinations of the Nigerian legal process and even he has voiced his frustration.
While many Nigerians would be keen to see the accused corrupt politicians and officials stand trial and be convicted, the more pressing need may be to recover funds, particularly cash stashed away in Swiss banks and the like. The fall of oil prices and production forced the economy into a recession last year, and the scarcity of foreign currency has created difficulties for local businesses.