Global Policy Forum

Nigerian Leaders 'Stole' $380bn

October 20, 2006

More than $380bn has either been stolen or wasted by Nigerian governments since independence in 1960, the chief corruption fighter has said.

Nuhu Ribadu told the BBC that Nigeria has "nothing much" to show for the missing money. He said the worst period for corruption was the 1980s and '90s, but currently two-thirds of governors are being investigated by Mr Ribadu's agency.

Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil exporter but most people are poor. The country is regularly ranked as one of the most corrupt by graft watchdog Transparency International. President Olusegun Obasanjo declared a state of emergency in Ekiti State on Thursday after the governor was found guilty of siphoning state funds into personal bank accounts and receiving kickbacks.

Political corruption

Mr Ribadu said he had come up with his figure of $380bn stolen or wasted since independence "easily" through records kept by the Nigerian central bank and the ministry of finance. "Basically, this money has gone to waste, nothing much to show for it," he told the BBC's Network Africa programme. Of course, probably part of it will have gone to outside stealing."

Mr Obasanjo's critics say the fight against corruption is being used to victimise his opponents ahead of next year's elections. Mr Obasanjo is not standing after an attempt to let him seek a third term was defeated. But Mr Ribadu denied he has a political motive in his fight against corruption. "When you are doing this kind of work, you will always be accused of one thing or another."

Last month, Vice-President Atiku Abubakar was indicted on charges of corruption, which could stop him from running for office. He denies allegations he diverted $125m into personal business interests. Mr Ribadu has led Nigeria's battle against corruption as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The EFCC says in the past two years it has recovered more than $5bn and has successfully prosecuted 82 people.

Money laundering

Mr Ribadu told the BBC that $140m had been recovered from one unnamed former Nigerian leader and that nearly $400m of illegally gained assets had been identified in the possession of a former governor of Bayelsa State. Last year, Nigeria recovered $458m found in Swiss bank accounts linked to the country's late military ruler Sani Abacha. Mr Abacha was in power from 1993 to 1998 and is thought to have embezzled billions of dollars. Last year his son, Abba Sani Abacha, was charged with money laundering and fraud after being extradited to Switzerland.

Despite the missing money Nigeria has managed to pay off its multi-billion dollar debt to the Paris Club of major lenders, thanks to high oil prices. About $5bn is still owed to other lenders including the World Bank and the private sector.

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