In an interview with the Guardian newspaper of Nigeria, Flt Lt Rawlings conceded he took money, delivered in a suitcase by an emissary of Abacha’s at the Osu Castle, but dismissed earlier reports dating back to more than two decades that he got $5m from the Nigerian tyrant.
“We were preparing for constitutional rule. We needed funds for some activities, and we got contributions from few places,” Rawlings told The Guardian. “The interesting thing is that I never went to, or asked Abacha for any contribution. And this is something that impressed me about the man. I didn’t ask him for a penny. But he obviously understood certain situations, our situation, and graciously sent me a small suitcase of money.”
The former president continued: “I was at the Air Force Station when a gentleman came over there and when he said he had a message from Abacha, I cancelled my flight and they set out to wait for me.
“I drove after them to the castle. As we got out of the car and we were about to move up, this elderly gentleman, Gwarzo he is called, had one of his assistants try to bring out a suitcase from the boot of a car. I had an idea of what it could be. So I said: ‘Leave it, shut your boot and let’s go upstairs first and talk’. He said he had brought something from Abacha.”
The Guardian interview, published on Monday, has sent shock waves around both Nigeria and Ghana, raising doubts about Mr. Rawlings’ integrity and bringing up uncomfortable questions about the relationship between the former Ghanaian president and the former Nigerian dictator.
In a scathing article, titled ‘Rawlings and Abacha’s blood money’, columnist, Louis Odion suggests that Abacha used money to buy the silence of Flt. Lt. Rawlings and other African leaders at the time so they wouldn’t speak out against his heavy-handed dictatorship which saw many of his opponents killed, jailed or exiled.
“The spell of dollars and the prospects of more briefcases would seem too overwhelming for the likes of Rawlings then to stand straight and speak in clear and unmistakable terms against the atrocities in Nigeria,” Odion says. “And the free dollars from Nigeria would probably have gone unacknowledged publicly had Abacha not ended the way he did.”
Abacha died suddenly in 1998, reportedly, in the arms of two Indian prostitutes.
It emerged after his demise that he stole about five billion dollars from Nigerian government coffers and stashed them in foreign banks, especially in Switzerland.
Few Nigerians, if any, have fond memories of Abacha. But in the interview with the Guardian, Rawlings praised him as “one hell of a nationalist and very patriotic.” Rawlings also claimed that “Abacha saved (Nigeria).”
The columnist, Odion, insists that Mr. Rawlings' comments betray his lack of integrity and weakens his moral authority to condemn corruption in Ghana and the rest of Africa.
“Rawlings' thunderous denunciation of corruption today would have made more sense had he taken a step further to furnish us with the details of how the $2m received was utilised for Ghana's direct benefit to demonstrate the transparency he is ever quick to evangelise about,” Odion says.
“Was the entire cash declared or partly to Ghana's exchequer? How was it recorded: "unsolicited foreign aid"? "Stomach infrastructure" from Nigeria or - to ensure some confidentiality - simply a kind neighbour? These were the simple - yet critical - details the self-assigned anti-corruption warrior of Ghana conveniently chose to deny us.”
Mr. Odion also wants the Nigerian government to try and get Mr. Rawlings to refund the money he took from Abacha.
“Now, with the receiver openly admitting collecting $2m from Abacha,” Mr. Odion says “it would not be out of place to ask EFCC [Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency] to explore diplomatic means to ensure Rawlings made a refund in the spirit of the chastity the man himself speaks so passionately about today.”
In Ghana, several political leaders and anti-corruption campaigners have also asked for a probe into Rawlings’ receipt of the money from Abacha.
credit: Guardian newspaper