Nine Nigerian civil society organizations have lauded a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Nigerian and Swiss governments that will repatriate to Nigeria $321 million in stolen assets stored in Switzerland by the late Nigerian military dictator, Sani Abacha.

The groups praised the MoU at the first Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR), taking place from December 4-6 in Washington, D.C. The summit is focused on recovering assets from Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, and Tunisia.

The organizations encouraged the sponsors of the agreement - the governments of the United States and United Kingdom - to follow Switzerland and repatriate looted Nigerian funds stored in their own countries.

“The GFAR momentum has provided an enabling environment for genuine collective action towards returning stolen assets and the participation of civil society in the monitoring framework is another safeguard to ensure transparency and accountability in the process,” said Reverend David Ugolor, executive director of the Benin City-based Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ).

“We hope this will encourage the US, UK, and others to walk the talk of GFAR political commitment to ensure a speedy return of all stolen assets from Nigeria still in the US and UK.”

The agreement was signed between Nigerian and Swiss authorities on Monday in Zurich. The World Bank will monitor the repatriation of the funds to ensure they are used to benefit the poorest Nigerians and are not stolen.

“It is important to note that the funds will be used exclusively for social investment for the poor in Nigeria by way of cash transfers to enable them to start small businesses and provide them with a source of livelihood. This is one of the most innovative agreements towards returning stolen funds to the Nigerian people,” a World Bank spokesperson said.

Yusuf Shamsudeen of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) commended the Swiss government, adding that the agreement was “a victory for all victims of corruption.”

Olanrewaju Suraju, chairman of the HEDA Resource Centre, similarly praised the MoU and the role played by civil society organizations played in making it a reality.

“The symbolic signing of this MoU is indicative of potentialities of the GFAR forum. It is a recognition of civil society organizations’ active engagement in the process leading to this MoU, a distinctive departure from the past practice of government to government agreement resulting in a re-looting of recovered funds,” Mr. Suraju said.

Late Nigerian military dictator, General Sani Abacha

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