Corruption in Nigeria has reached a fatal proportion. President’s Buhari warning that ‘if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria’ receives scant attention these days. In its efforts to fight corruption and retrieve stolen public funds, Nigerian government has sought international cooperation towards repatriation of looted funds.

One of the earliest efforts of this government against corruption was the signing of Extradition Treaty between Nigeria and the United Arab Emirate (UAE) in 2017. Nigeria has continued to benefit from repatriations of looted funds stashed away in foreign lands. Of popular note is the unending repatriation of the former Head of State, General Sani Abacha’s looted assets; and recently, that of James Ibori, former Governor of Delta State. However, with the coming of COVID-19 pandemic, the fight against corruption and its international dimensions seemed to have taken a plunge.

 Also, COVID-19 and its attendant detractions have made it possible for criminals and corrupt public office holders around the world to fleece their economy and siphon wealth from one part of the world to another. The resultant suspension of social, economic and government activities including those of anti-corruption and criminal justice apparatuses, due to the global lockdown measures have provided enough shadow cover for a significant rise in the activities of corrupt citizens to feast on public funds and engage in other criminal acts to the detriment of the public.

In Nigeria, this period seems to provide further avenues for corruption to thrive. In point of fact, the antics of some public officials became manifest in many respects in the course of the Nigeria’s government containment of the pandemic. Across the federation, the hoarding of billions of naira worth of COVID-19 palliatives by state governments during the pandemic was exposed with the discovery of multiple warehouses filled with food stuffs allocated to cushion the effect of the pandemic on the poor and vulnerable communities. The hazy processes employed in some poverty alleviation and socio-economic intervention initiatives by government officials especially in the school feeding exercise while the schools were under lock and key and distribution of funds to individuals and businesses without an index register are clear roadmap to entrenching corruption taking advantage of the pandemic. The alleged fraud and non-adherence to the provisions of the Public Procurement Act in the course of acquiring test kits, access to testing especially by returnees from foreign countries and provisions of storage facilities for COVID-19 vaccines are clear examples of corruption incidences during the pandemic

With the benefit of hindsight and almost predictable nature of Nigerian public office holders, most of the fund corruptly retained as a result of the pandemic will find its way into foreign lands for safe-keep. Many countries of the world are not insulated from corruption by public officials who will lap unto the weaknesses generated by the pandemic. Therefore, there is need for the world to reinvigorate international cooperation towards arresting corrupt tendencies of public officials during the pandemic. Even with already existing international collaboration and alliances as stated in Article 5(4) of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), there is an urgent need for a greater global alliance to deal with the atmosphere created by COVID-19 in aiding the virtual movement of stolen funds from one part of the world to another.


This was the rationale behind Nigeria’s Country Statement at the 14th United Nations Crime Congress at Kyoto Japan, where the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) in his delivery canvassed for the need for enhanced international collaboration in combatting money laundering. This is particularly necessary given the billions of dollars received by the Nigerian Government in emergency funds in 2020, during the pandemic, the use of the returned $322.5 million Abacha loot during the pandemic as payment to beneficiaries enrolled in the Cash Transfer Programme, and the history of misappropriation of loans/ funds by government officials.


The enhancement of local capacity in abating increasing transnational crimes like corruption in a pandemic is therefore essential. Local law enforcement agencies and specialized agencies like Nigeria’s Economic and Financial crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) need to renew inter-agency collaboration with sister agencies in these “safe haven” countries and across the globe in, recovering evidence, repatriation of stolen monies and assets, sharing intelligence resources and the prevention of re-looting of already retrieved funds.


In the words of Kenyan anti-corruption activist, Wanjeri Nderu, “Theft doesn’t even stop during a pandemic”. It is time to move beyond the pre-COVID-19 asset recovery efforts; be on top of the corruption situation amidst the new world of COVID-19.