LAGOS, NIGERIA - A Nigerian Federal High Court is ordering governments going back to 1999 to account for hundreds of millions of dollars that were returned by foreign governments because the funds were deemed to have been looted from the Nigerian state, according to the civil rights group that filed the suit.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project hailed the "landmark judgment" won through a freedom of information suit to shine light on an issue so obscure no one can even say how many billions of dollars are involved.
"It is so opaque, that is why we did not specify any amount in the court case," said Olukayode Majekodunmi, the group's deputy director, though he said their records indicated some $2.4 billion has been returned to Nigeria. Now the group wants to know what has happened to those funds.
A statement Monday from the civil rights group says Friday's ruling orders the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure that his government as well as those of Goodluck Jonathan, Umaru Musa Yar'Adua and Olusegun Obasanjo "account fully for all recovered loot."
Most was stolen by Nigeria's last military dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha. The United States in 2014 froze nearly half a billion dollars of illicit Abacha funds but has yet to say if they will be repatriated. Hundreds of millions have been frozen by the United States, Switzerland, Britain, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein.
Nigerian and foreign rights organizations charge that some of the $505 million repatriated from Swiss banks was stolen a second time by corrupt officials. Luxembourg and Liechtenstein also have returned hundreds of millions of dollars.
In the latest controversy, the project is demanding accountability from former finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for releasing more than $300 million to the office of the national security adviser for the purchase of weapons to fight the Boko Haram Islamic uprising. All looted funds were returned on condition they were to be spent on development.
Some returned funds were to be overseen by the World Bank, which the project also is demanding account for how it was spent.