Six years ago, in 2014, the Isle of Jersey managed to seize over $300 million dollars in embezzled funds from the grip of the warlord and notorious human rights violator General Sani Abacha, who had previously ruled Nigeria with an iron fist until 1998 and was repeatedly condemned for human rights abuses and the extrajudicial murder of his political opponents. After a long and highly fraught legal battle the United States and Isle of Jersey have now collectively decided to attempt to repatriate the funds back to Nigeria.
This decision is seemingly inexplicable, especially in light of the fact that Abacha’s same brand of corruption and brutality are still practiced by Nigeria’s current ruler, Muhammadu Buhari, and it is Nigeria’s Christians who are now facing the brunt of it.
Buhari, himself a Muslim, has overseen a situation in which many Christians in Nigeria now fear for their lives and the lives of their loved ones on a daily basis. In the first few short months of 2020 alone 350 Christians have already been brutally murdered by radical Islamist linked groups, many by beheading. All while Buhari’s government conveniently looks the other way.
Overall some 12,000 Christians have been killed under Buhari’s cruel reign as Nigerian President. This bloody toll served as the primary factor which forced the U.S. State Department to recently put Nigeria on a Special Watch List and label it a “severe violator of religious freedom.”
This is, of course, merely in addition to the Buhari regime’s pervasive and well-known corruption which has seen untold millions siphoned off from Nigeria’s taxpayers and helped make the country, once a rising developing economy of great promise, a significant investment risk for businesses seeking to invest in Africa.
Hence why the recent decision of the United States to attempt to repatriate the money into the hands of the Buhari government is not only inexplicable but also deeply irresponsible, and may result in the further imperilment of Nigeria’s vulnerable Christian population..
As the agreement contains no obvious measures for preventing the Buhari regime from misappropriating the previously embezzled millions, there is no way to even begin to ensure that they will not ultimately end up in the hands of Buhari’s seemingly unending assortment of corrupt and dangerous cronies. Cronies like Abubakar Bagudu the current governor of Kebbi State, who was one of the very officials who, according to the DOJ, was involved in stealing the funds in the first place. Bagudu is now a key part of President Buhari’s inner circle, despite being arrested in Houston in 2003 on charges of embezzlement and corruption. In fact, he was only allowed to return to Nigeria after paying back $160 million dollars in stolen funds.
Hence the reason why Republican Senator Chuck Grassley found it necessary to send an open letter to Deborah Connor, director of the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section at the Department of Justice regarding the pending $320 million transfer to Nigeria.
Grassley noted that:
It seems odd that the DOJ would help facilitate the payment of $320 million to the Nigerian government without first insisting on proper safeguards to prevent the further misuse of funds, as well as full cooperation in other forfeiture actions related to the Abacha loot.
Grassley went on to request that the funds be withheld until proper safeguards were put in place to ensure that the funds went to badly needed Nigeria state projects and not fall into the hands of corrupt officials within the Buhari regime.
It’s difficult to ascertain a valid reason to disagree with Grassley on this point. Even from a purely realist and cynical foreign policy perspective the United States gains absolutely nothing by playing an active role in the financing of a corrupt western African regime which not only allows its Christian citizens to be persecuted and murdered but also has been noticeably soft on the ISIS affiliated terror group Boko Haram, which continues to ravage the country’s North.
Furthermore the Trump administration owes much of its political and electoral success to the unwavering support of America’s millions of conservative evangelicals. The unwavering and continued support of which will be absolutely crucial if Trump wishes to retain the White House in November.
It would be extremely unwise for the Trump administration to make the same mistake of so many of its predecessors, and take the support of this key faction of its political coalition for granted. And there would be no more effective way to do this than by deciding to turn a blind eye to the targeted persecution and mass murder of their fellow believers in Nigeria.
Unlike many issues of global concern, which are frequently well out of the direct control of policy makers in Washington, in this case the U.S. has the ability to directly pressure a corrupt regime into altering its behavior using an approach predicated purely on soft power alone.
And it will be wise to do so if it hopes to maintain its status as the world’s premiere power. A status which would be radically undermined if it allowed itself to be publicly blackmailed or coerced into financing a corrupt regime with funds stolen by a tin pot African military dictator.
Attorney General Barr will have the final say in the matter. One hopes that he will make the morally and strategically correct decision and refuse to disburse Abacha’s embezzled millions back into the hands of his cronies, or at the very least ensures that there transparent, airtight, and legally enforceable measures taken to prevent the misuse of the funds as requested by Senator Grassley.
For the sake of the international reputation of the United States as well as the physical well being of Nigeria’s millions of persecuted Christians, let us all hope and pray that he makes the right choice.