Verifying Abacha Loot distribution in the land of the White Horse

by Bob Etemiku

Some years ago, the Federal government of Nigeria and the UN organized a polio eradication programme across Nigeria. To ensure that the Polio eradication exercise reached as many children in Nigeria as possible, the organizers trained a pool of facilitators.  Their job was to go from house to house to administer Vitamin A on Nigerian children. But most of the people who were entrusted with the task of taking these vaccines and vials to the children did not follow their instructional manuals. Instead, they allegedly engaged in many sharp and underhand practices which undermined the polio eradication programme and brought the exercise to international shame.

This was the story as narrated by Jadesola Ajibola, one of the field officers who took part in that UN/Federal government of Nigeria polio eradication exercise. Ajibola related in very graphic terms how many field officers threw away most of the vaccines. According to Ajibola, others simply opened the Vitamin A vials, swallowed as many as they could and ticked the forms randomly to give the impression that they had indeed administered the vaccines and Vitamin A they were supposed to take to children in the hinterlands of Oyo State.

Ajibola told this story to participants at the training of trainers, ToT, session for the verification exercise of the $322.5million Abacha loot being distributed to the poorest of the poor in Nigeria. The Abacha loot verification exercise was organized by the New Initiative for Social Development, NISD, in collaboration with the Africa Network for Environment & Economic Justice, ANEEJ, October 21, with verification proper taking place nationwide for the entire week in perspective.  It had one theme: making very sure that the Abacha loot disbursement was verily made to the poor. It involved field monitors and data collectors who would monitor the Cash disbursement exercise of the Conditional Cash Transfer Programme of the Federal Government of Nigeria.

With the return of the last tranche of the $322.5million Abacha loot to Nigeria from Switzerland, there had been widespread criticism and skepticism from across board.  Stakeholders and interest groups were wary that the distribution of the returned Abacha loot was going to be re-looted via the distribution exercise. Yet others believed that the monies being distributed had a political end to them, especially as distribution nearly resumed towards the onset of the 2019 electioneering campaigns in Nigeria.

Therefore, in telling this story to participants at the ToT for the verification of the distribution of the returned Abacha loot in Oyo State, Ajibola was basically summarizing the inner fears of the millions who believe that the monies were not really being distributed to the poor, and apparently to appeal to the field monitors not to engage in practices that would bring the monitoring exercise to disrepute. A Nigeria Oxford Poverty and Human Development Index, OPHI, credited to the Oxford Department of International Development, (2017) has said that along the three dimensions of poverty assessment – education(school attendance, number of school years), health(child mortality and nutrition) and in standard of living (electricity, sanitation, potable drinking water and security) – only 20 Nigerian states marginally met its indicators. They are such states like Lagos, Osun, Rivers, Bayelsa, AkwaIbom, Edo, Delta, Ogun Ekiti, Anambra, Imo, Abia, Kwara Ogun, Kogi, Enugu, and the FCT.  Other states like Zamfara, Jigawa, Gombe, Bauchi, Sokoto, Taraba, Kebbi, Katsina, Kano and Borno did not even meet the indicators for a proper poverty assessment.

From the above therefore, getting to know that the returned Abacha loot is being put in the hands of these hapless Nigerians became a very serious matter to watch. For instance in Oyo State – where the curious Ajibola story came from, there are over 500 local government areas. We were to observe a trend with the field officers deployed to carry out the verification exercise of the disbursement of the Abacha loot. Most took personal ownership of the process. Ige Adebimpe, 36 said she was aware of the Ajibola story.  According to her, the distribution of the Abacha loot to the poor people of Oyo state appeared too good to be true, and therefore the exercise was an opportunity to see first-hand and participate to verify that some part of the returned Abacha loot actually got in the hands of the poorest of the poor in Oyo State.

But it was actually at the Ido local government secretariat in Oyo state that the magnitude of the verification exercise came up and to understand why the polio vaccination process/exercise seems to have failed. Among the over 500 local government councils, most were inaccessible – some of the roads were unmotorable, others were located on the hills, for others it would take up to a whole day to reach the recipients.  Apparently, the polio programme did not make adequate arrangements for those it recruited to dispense those vaccines.  But not so for this programme – apparently because the plans for transport to and from these communities were already in place, the trained field officers opted to endure the difficult terrains to travel to far flung places in Ibadan like Eleshinfunfun – the village of the White Horse – for the verification exercise.

The road leading to Eleshinfunfun in Ido LGA Oyo state cannot be said to be one – we were lucky to have travelled there when there was no rain, otherwise we would have been really stuck. But as a matter of fact, this was indeed very rural environment, with very simple folk whose ways are not ironically as easy and as complex as ours.  What monies they get, they get from struggling with the dense forests which surround them – the little extra they get from the returned Abacha loot makes some difference though – one of the recipients who has five children, lives in a hut without light or pipe borne water with all five of them. Their drinking water is from one of the rivulets we drove through to get to the Eleshinfunfun village. This family puts what they get from the returned Abacha loot – N5, 000.00 in the education of their five children. The other, a mother of three spends her Abacha money on her farm.

But a key takeaway from observing the interaction between the field monitors and the people of the land of the White Horse, and indeed several other parts of Ibadan where the verification exercise took place was in the bond established through using the language on ground to verify the number and amount actually distributed to the poor in these remote Oyo villages. But apart from a few grievances here and there – the villagers insist everyone in their village is poor and should be latched on to the pool of recipients. They also want the monies increased. Apart from these, disbursement of the returned Abacha loot to the poorest in Nigeria took place in nearly over 500 local government areas in Oyo state, with that at the land of the White Horse being the touchstone. Organizers of the verification exercise, ANEEJ and NISD, together with their supporters the UKAid deserve some respect, especially in the area of deploying over 700 field monitors nationwide on a mission seemingly impossible.

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