The controversy over the ownership of the £4.2 million Ibori loot lingers as the federal government insists the recovered money will be used for specific projects and will not be returned to Delta State from where the money was stolen.
The office of the Attorney General of the Federation, speaking through Umar Gwandu, its spokesperson, in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, said the federal government will use the returned money “for specific projects as agreed during the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Nigeria and the United Kingdom during the repatriation process.”
The Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, had said while appearing before a National Assembly committee investigating the status of the recovered loot that the money will be used by the federal government to fund three ongoing projects; namely, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Abuja-Kano road and Second Niger Bridge.
A review of the MoU signed by Mr Malami on behalf of the Nigerian government and Catriona Laing, British High Commissioner to Nigeria, on behalf of the UK government, showed that these projects were the projects agreed upon by the governments of the nations involved.
On Wednesday, Mr Gwandu told PREMIUM TIMES that “the federal government never contemplated at any time to act contrary to the agreement signed and no amount of the funds will be sent to any state of the federation.”
In responding to the question of a seeming uniqueness in this case given that other loots recovered were returned to the states they were stolen from, Mr Gwandu said, “States that agreed that they have their monies looted by those in authorities, not those who swore affidavits that no kobo was missing from their state government’s fund.”
By this, Mr Gwandu implies that Delta State Government had sworn an affidavit saying no monies were missing from its coffers.
In response, Olisa Ifeajika, the Chief Press Secretary to the Delta State Government, said, “We are not aware of any MoU between the federal government and the United Kingdom that the money will be deployed to anywhere and they have no reason to have entered such MoU to use state government money to do something elsewhere.”
Mr Ifeajika said that when monies were recovered from Diepreye Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa State and Joshua Dariye of Plateau State, they were returned to the states.
“If there is going to be any kind of miscarriage, it will be unfortunate but we know that the federal government in its wisdom will do the needful,” he said.
In response to Mr Gwandu’s comment on an affidavit, Mr Ifeajika said the case in question is an entirely different case from the one under review.
“It was one particular fund that came in the course of investigation by federal authorities then… about $15 million in 2012,” he said, insisting that Delta State never denied this money (Ibori loot) was missing from its purse.
In a bid to verify the claims of both the federal government and Delta State Government, this reporter found that the case alluded to by the attorney general’s office was a bribery case between James Ibori and the Nuhu Ribadu-led Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) where the former offered the latter a $15 million bribe to ‘get off his back.”
In order to halt a probe into his finances, Mr Ibori in 2007 tried to bribe former anti-corruption boss Nuhu Ribadu with $15 million in cash “in a bag so heavy one man alone could not lift it.”
According to Mr Ribadu’s testimony at a London court in September 2013, in late April 2007, a meeting was arranged for himself and Mr Ibori at a “neutral place,” the house of politician Andy Uba, where the bribe was transferred from Mr Ibori’s boys to Ribadu’s.
He (Mr Ribadu) said the bribe was taken to the Central Bank for evidence purposes. He would later arrest Mr Ibori. About 15 days after the arrest, Mr Ribadu was sacked.
In 2012, Mr Ibori pleaded guilty at London’s Southwark Crown Court to 10 counts of fraud and money laundering and was sentenced to 13 years in prison. He returned to Nigeria in 2017.
Mr Ibori was governor of oil-producing Delta State from 1999 to 2007.
EFCC Vs Ibori
The EFCC instituted a 170-count charge of money laundering against Mr Ibori, which was struck out by Justice Marcel Awokulehin. This ruling was appealed by the EFCC and a three-member panel of justices at the Benin Division of the Court of Appeal (Justice Ibrahim Saula supported by Justices P. M Ekpe and H. A Barka) ruled in favour of the anti-graft agency, insisting that Mr Ibori despite being in jail in London, had a case to answer.
During the hearing of the case, the Delta State Government asked that the $15 million bribe be returned to the state. EFCC applied for a forfeiture of the money to the federal government following an action instituted against the commission and the Attorney General of the Federation by the Delta government, stating that Mr Ibori should not be investigated and that the state had lost no money from its treasury.
“My Lord, it is too late for the Delta State Attorney General to lay claim to this money because of his action where he instituted a case against the Commission saying the governor should not be investigated,” Rotimi Jacobs, counsel to the EFCC, had stated.
Mr Jacobs went on to reveal that in paragraph 10 of the affidavit deposed in the said case by the Delta State Attorney General, it was stated that the state accountant general, after a thorough investigation, had concluded that no money was lost and that they have no complaint of any missing money.
Activist, Lawyer React
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES, David Ugolor, the executive director of Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), said, “I think it is a lack of proper democratic values in the country and the UK not obeying the Global forum asset recovery principle.”
“The federal government has stuck with their position even with the controversy from weeks ago when the accountant general made a comment during the public hearing on assets that the money has been transferred to Delta State and later on reversed its position.”
Mr Ugolor added that it shows the inconsistency within the federal government and how unfortunate it is for the government to not follow its own rules and regulations (Recovery and Management of Stolen Assets and Proceeds of Crime Guidelines, 2019) on assets redistribution to state governments.
According to the activist, also worrying is that Nigerians are not aware of some of these regulations and the complicity of the British government for not acting in favour of victims of corruption, which is a blow to the asset recovery principle that emphasises restitution to benefit those who are victims.
“Ibori stole Delta State and not federal government money, so I do not understand why the money should be used by the federal government,” he said, adding that this was not the case for Bayelsa and Plateau states who have had similar loot issues.
Mr Ugolor shared a similar view as the Delta government that the recovered loot is distinct from the EFCC case which is what the attorney general’s office was referring to.
In her reaction, Chisom Ihekwaba, a lawyer, said the regulation on assets recovery should take precedence over the MoU between Nigeria and the UK; and thus the money should be returned to the Delta State Government.
“Tthe issue of precedence arises if there’s a conflict between the provisions of an MoU and an existing law/rules/regulations. In such a situation, the Regulation on Asset Recovery and Management should take precedence, being a national instrument.
“However, parties are bound by their agreement and in some instances, if the ‘waiver and severability’ clause in the MoU subjects it to ONLY UK laws/rules, then if conflicts arise, it will be resolved in favour of the MoU. In such a case, the MoU takes precedence because Nigeria’s national laws/regulations have been excluded,” Ms Ihekwaba, the programme manager, Legal Defence and Assistance Project, said.
“The best legal way to solve this is to apply the existing Regulation on Asset Recovery and Management. It’s also an option that many Nigerians are in favour of,” she said.
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