Swiss officials have announced they are returning to Nigeria millions of dollars stolen by former military ruler Sani Abacha. A Swiss court last year agreed to return hundreds of millions of dollars in looted funds stashed in Swiss bank accounts, but some in Nigeria say the process has been too slow.
An official from the Swiss Ministry of Justice confirmed Friday that the order had been given to transfer $290 million in looted funds back to Nigeria.
The money, stolen by ex-ruler Sani Abacha and deposited into Swiss accounts, is part of around $700 million frozen by Switzerland's government after the general's death in 1998.
The national coordinator for Nigeria's Zero Corruption Coalition, Lilian Ekeanyawu, says the return of the funds is an important step for the country's people.
"The money means quite a lot to us, both in terms of the financial needs of the country, but also for the psyche of the people," said Lilian Ekeanyawu. "This is one of the first times people have returned money, and then this money is coming back to Nigeria. So, its quit a significant moment for us."
Despite deciding to give back the money in 2004, Swiss officials waited to give the green light to return the funds until early this year, when a court officially rejected an appeal by members of the Abacha family attempting to block the
With this latest repatriation, Switzerland will have now returned around a half billion dollars to Nigeria.
But some, including Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo, have criticized the Swiss for not returning the money fast enough.
In May, Mr. Obasanjo, whose heavily indebted, but oil-rich nation is considered one of the world's most corrupt by watchdog group Transparency International, accused Switzerland of setting conditions for the money's repatriation. Swiss officials denied the charge, saying any delays were the result of carrying out monitoring requirements in cooperation with the World Bank, which is overseeing the process.
Ms. Ekeanyawu says she has been disappointed with Swiss cooperation.
"Well, they've run out of excuses," she said. "In fact, we set up a coalition to do our part to track and monitor the use of that money. And, since then, they have also been dragging their feet. So, I believe, as it is now, they don't have any excuse."
Nigeria accuses General Abacha, who seized power in a 1993 coup, of stealing over $2 billion from government coffers during his five years in power and hiding the money in foreign bank accounts.
President Obasanjo, who was elected in 1999, has been pushing for the money's return as part of an anti-corruption drive.