Abacha Money: an efficient but undemocratic solution
Five Swiss NGOs – the “Aktion Finanzplatz” Switzerland, the Berne Declaration, the “Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker” Switzerland, Greenpeace Switzerland and the Institute for Ecology and Action Anthropology Switzerland – have noticed with unease that escape funds of the previous Nigerian dictator Abacha which had been frozen will immediately be transferred back to Nigeria in a dubious and legally non-transparent procedure.
At the December 2000 press conference some of the above signing organisations called for a just return of the oil escape money. It is encouraging that this procedure, which could have lasted for years, is accelerated. However, a detailed look reveals serious shortcomings.
1. The members of the Abacha clan, accused of theft and money laundering, are being granted freedom of prosecution in an agreement with the Nigerian government.
Democratic, constitutional principles should not be sacrificed to efficiency.
In the USA there is still a human rights complaint pending against Shell. The rush with which this current step has been taken apparently aims at avoiding the money being blocked by a US American court on the basis of compensation claims for severe human rights violations.
2. The money will be transferred to the Nigerian government account at the Bank for International Settlements (BIS). The Nigerian government, together with the World bank and the BIS will decide on its further use. This money was previously stolen from the Nigerian government. It is not acceptable that two institutions dominated by countries from the West have any say in the further expenditure of this money.
The Nigerian parliament can only decide on the expenditure of the money if it is not used for the repayment of the Nigerian foreign debts. There is thus a danger that part of the money will be directly paid back to the creditor countries without any democratic control. This would leave only the remainder to be decided on in a democratic manner. Thus there is a danger that the people of the Niger delta will see nothing of the money.
However, the claims of these people are very modest. Deebi Nwiado, representative of the Ogoni organisation MOSOP, said to infoe Switzerland : “If Switzerland decides to pay the money without conditions, we will not see any of it. The creditor banks, the government and the parliament in Nigeria will share the cake. However, these oil funds have led to the exploitation and pollution of our country. From the Ogoni country stems a big part of the wealth of Nigeria . We only demand that a small amount of the escape money will be used so that we will no longer suffer from pollution and contaminated water. Is this asking too much?“
$100 million US will be taken out of the total amount and given to the Abacha family, because this money has apparently been earned before Abacha’s seizure of power and not through criminal means.
Could this sum be interpreted instead as a reward to the family for having entered into an agreement and agreed to an efficient settlement of the case?
3. According to the Financial Times, Nigeria must accept a number of confidential conditions. These confidential conditions should be brought out into the open.
4. In the past few years, Switzerland imported roughly 90% of its crude oil from Africa, of which 40-50% originates in Nigeria . It would only be just if part of the escape funds was used to help the people that were and are affected by the exploitation. Therefore the five signing organisations demand that part of the total is used for compensation of the Abacha victims and for clearing up work in the Niger Delta.
5. The involved Swiss banks that profited from the escape funds must financially contribute in a fitting manner to the compensation towards the Ogoni and other population groups in the Niger Delta. The Genevan Authorities, which deal with the remaining $ 90 mio. US, should include the demands of MOSOP and its supporting Swiss NGOs.
Aktion Finanzplatz Schweiz AFP, Basel
Berne Declaration, Zurich
Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker Schweiz GfbV, Berne
Greenpeace Switzerland, Zurich
Institute for Ecology and Action Anthropology, Switzerland, – infoe CH, Zurich