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NIGERIA: Just how ‘sensible’ is it to share $300m looted fund to the poor?

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What to do with $300 million repatriated by the Swiss government from the stock stolen and stashed away in Switzerland by former military dictator, late General Sani Abacha, is threatening to drive a wedge between the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration and members of the civil society in Nigeria.

The government, over the weekend, said that the money, stolen by Abacha in the 1990s, will be given to around 300,000 households, with each getting around $14 a month, beginning next month.

Given this projection, the payments – to be made to residents in 19 of Nigeria’s 36 states – would most probably last for about six years.

However, government plans have met with some resistance from sections of the civil society. The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) on Sunday said that it was unimpressed with the Buhari-led administration’s plans to redistribute the recovered loot to some poor families, alleging that it didn’t make much of economic sense.

SERAP said, “The authorities have a legal obligation under the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party to make sure that the returned Abacha loot is properly and efficiently used, both from the viewpoint of using asset recovery as a tool of ensuring justice to victims of corruption and breaking the cycle of grand corruption. But the plan to share the loot among households is mere tokenism and would neither have significant impact on poverty alleviation nor satisfy the twin objectives of justice and development.”

“The government should source funds elsewhere to continue its NAASP. The authorities should do the right thing with the returned loot and show Nigerians that they can properly and efficiently invest the funds in projects that would provide tangible benefits to the victims of corruption who are the socially and economically vulnerable sectors of the population.

“The authorities can use the loot to fund universal healthcare programme and a tuition assistance programme that would provide post-secondary/university education scholarships to young Nigerians from poor families and who would otherwise lack the resources to carry out their studies,” SERAP added.

The group also queried the efficacy and credibility of the entire plan, wondering the justification of leaving out some states from the exercise.

“In any case, distributing the returned loot to households in 19 states because the remaining 17 state governments have not yet put in place the appropriate platform through which to implement the NAASP is both unfair and discriminatory.

“The planned distribution is also vulnerable to abuse and corruption by state governors, who may push for the funds to be given to their supporters and thus used for parochial and political purposes. The proper and efficient spending of recovered funds is key for development and can support efforts to combat grand corruption, “ SERAP said.

Politics

African leaders seek change in fight against terrorism at Nigerian summit   

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At a security summit in Nigeria, African leaders have called for a revamp of institutions that fight violent extremism on the continent.

The leaders also began to push to set up a standing military force and give the government more power over efforts to keep the peace.

Attacks on citizens and the military have been happening all the time in Africa, including in the Sahel, Somalia, and Mozambique, by groups with ties to Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

President Faure Gnassingbe of Togo said that coastal states like Togo were facing more threats, even though people were being attacked the most in the Sahel.

“I say this with prudence and regret, but I think the institutions that have been in place for several decades are no longer able to respond to the security situation that we face,” said Gnassingbe.

Moussa Faki, chairman of the African Union Commission, reported that between 2017 and 2021, there were four attacks and 18 deaths a day in Africa. Last year, there were eight attacks and 44 deaths a day.

The AU chief added that last year 7,000 citizens and 4,000 military members were killed stressing that the situation was being used in some countries as a reason for military coups. The Deputy Secretary-General of the UN, Amina Mohammed, said that half of all terrorist deaths happened in the Sahel.

Until a military coup in July that called for France to leave, Niger was the West’s last major ally in the central Sahel area south of the Sahara Desert. In July, France pulled out 1,500 troops from Niger.

Faki said that Africa needed more money to help stop the spread of terrorism. Bola Tinubu, the president of Nigeria, said that more needed to be done to stop the spread of small guns and weapons. He also called for the creation of a regional standby force whose job it would be to fight terrorism.

“I am mindful of the funding, legal and logistical complexities that face the proper establishment of such a force. Such a force can stand as a strong deterrent to large scale and protracted terrorist operations and the capture, occupation or disruption of strategic land and resources,” Tinubu said.

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Togo’s civil society, opposition plan mass protests following constitutional review

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Some of Togo’s opposition parties and civil society groups have called for mass protests again on Saturday following lawmakers’ approved changes to the country’s constitution a week ago.

The legislation is widely believed to enhance the continued stay of President Faure Gnassingbe in power after 19-year rule. The opposition group Dynamique Pour la Majorité du Peuple (DMP) and other signatories said in a statement that the changes to presidential term limits and how presidents are chosen were just a political move to let Gnassingbe stay in office forever.

“What happened at the National Assembly yesterday is a coup d’etat,” they said in the statement that reiterated calls for the population to mobilise against the changes.

“Large-scale action will be organised over the next few days to say ‘no’ to this constitution,” they said. In Friday’s vote, lawmakers unanimously approved an amended charter under which the president will no longer be elected by universal suffrage, but by members of parliament.

The amendments also set up a parliamentary system of government and cut presidential terms from five years to four years, with a maximum of two terms. Since the changes don’t consider time already spent in office, Gnassingbe could stay in power until 2033 if he is re-elected in 2025. This is very likely because his party controls the parliament in Togo, where his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, took power in a coup in 1967.

The most valuable company in Abu Dhabi has made an offer of more than $1 billion to buy a 51% stake in Vedanta Resources’ copper assets in Zambia, according to two people who know about the situation.

In the past few years, the Central African Republic, Rwanda, the Congo Republic, the Ivory Coast, and Guinea are just a few of the African countries that have changed their constitutions and other laws to allow leaders to serve longer terms.

In the last three years, there have been eight military coups in West and Central Africa as well. As they were during his father’s long rule, violent police crackdowns on political protests have been common in Togo under Gnassingbe, who was returned in a landslide in 2020 that the opposition says was rigged.

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