Delta State Govt, Lawmakers, Others in Fierce Battle with FG over £4.2 million Ibori Loot

James Onanefe Ibori Photo
James Onanefe Ibori

The decision of the federal government to keep for its use the £4.2 million expected to be repatriated from Britain being recovered funds from former Delta State governor, James Onanefe Ibori has sparked off a big row with the state government and prominent Deltans insisting on its return to the state.

The Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, had on Tuesday disclosed that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) had directed that the £4.2million expected loot be deployed to fund some key federal government infrastructure projects. Malami, who disclosed this during the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the British and Nigerian Governments, added that the money would also impact significantly on the Lagos-Ibadan and the Abuja-Kano expressway projects.

According to the minister, “In consonance with existing framework engaged in the management of previous recoveries, the Federal Executive Council has directed that the instant repatriated funds should be deployed towards the completion of the second Niger bridge, Abuja-Kano expressway, and the Lagos-Ibadan expressway under the coordination of the Nigeria Social Investment Authority (NSIA).”

Malami recalled that the Nigerian government had all along provided the required mutual assistance and back up to the British authorities while the prosecution of James Ibori lasted in London.

The Delta State government and other indigenes of the state, are however kicking, contending that the funds belonged to the state and must be handed over to it. The government describe the decision of the federal government as an act of impunity and injustice. Charles Aniagwu, the state commissioner for information, argued that rather than disburse the money to fund projects in other parts of the country, it should be deployed to rehabilitate federal roads in the state which the state government had been maintaining in the past five years.

Aniagwu who was guest of Arise Telvision on its 9 o’clock news on Tuesday, said “To the best of my knowledge, if they said the funds were taken out of the state by previous administration, it would be unfair now to secure the money and then bringing it back to the country, deciding that you need to take the money elsewhere.

“I don’t have any information that the person they are talking about was a former minister, and in that case, you now say that the money belongs to the federal government. And so, if you were able to recover funds, at best you can ask for a certain percentage being a cost of recovery. But to now take the funds out of Delta and you begin to take it elsewhere… We don’t have any problem with the development of other parts of the country. Development in any part of the country, to a very large extent, amounts to development of the country. But to deny the state from where you claim the fund was taken out of and then ignore the development of the place; even the federal roads in our state also need attention”.

According to Aniagwu, “If the government can even come and fix the federal roads in our state, we will clap for them. Let them address the issue of decaying federal roads in the state where we have expended so much money to continue to correct. Up to this point, I can bet you that the Sapele-Benin road has been in a very deplorable state; for the past five years, we have continued to fix that road. The Agbor-Osubi road, with one leading from Agbor to Eku has also been in a very bad shape; for the past five years, we have continued to fix that road. If the federal government, knowing that they also have federal projects in Delta, can decide to deploy these funds even if they don’t want to give it to us to determine what to do with it… But to take out the funds and ignore Delta amounts to great injustice… It amounts to the height of impunity and we want to believe that the president of the country is not yet aware of this decision announced by the attorney general”.

Warning of the likely consequences of such action, the commissioner “You do know that since 2015, we have tried as an administration to continue to maintain the peace in the state and which is why Delta State has always been in the news for the good reasons in the past five and a half years, running up to the sixth year by May this year.

“So, that being the case, we would want to believe that the federal government would be very much interested in the continued pursuit of peace in this region where we remain the number one oil-producing state; where we have continued to ensure that the peace remains because through peace, we were able to ensure development. When you carry out some actions as announced by the attorney general, it is capable of triggering some disturbances which we don’t pray for”.

The Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof. Itse Sagay, a Deltan, shared the position of the state government, asserting that “The money is Delta State money and must be returned to Delta State. Federal Government cannot appropriate it for any reason whatsoever. Delta State should officially demand it, failing which the court can be activated for a judicial pronouncement in that regard”.

Also supporting the position of the state government, a non-governmental organization, the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, (ANEEJ) an asset recovery and management watchdog, wondered why returned asset of people of Delta State is to be used to finance Federal infrastructural projects.

At a press conference in Benin, on Tuesday, Executive Director of ANEEJ and head of Transparency and Accountability in Management of Returned Assets, (MANTRA) project, David Ugolor, called on the United Kingdom and Nigerian Governments to review the recently annex to the 2016 MoU signed by both Governments on the £4.2million Ibori assets for a return to Delta State. He also called on the United Kingdom and Federal Government to openly disclose how much was seized from the former Delta State Governor and how much was returned to Nigeria.

Ugolor said “We are alarmed at the annex of an MoU signed between our Federal Government and the UK government on returned £4.2million former Delta State Governor’s assets. Their action is in obviou breach of the Global Forum on Asset Recovery, (GFAR) and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, (UNCAC) principles as well as the Federal Government Gazette on Asset Tracing, Recovery and Management (2019).

“I call on both governments to take a second look at the annex of the MoU signed today and deliver justice to the poor people of Delta State who should receive such returned asset and not the Federal Government as stated in the executed MoU.”

Faulting what he called the “vexatious MoU,” Ugolor noted that “It is in clear contradiction of Section B, Sub-section 6 of the Asset Tracing, Recovery, and Management Regulations, Gazette of the Federal Government of Nigeria (2019) which states: “ Where the funds belongs to other tiers of government, the Honourable Minister responsible, with the office of the Minister of Finance shall within 45 days of being informed of funds in the Central Bank of Nigeria cause the proceeds to be transferred to the relevant tier of government.”

The ANEEJ recalled that there was already a precedence in Plateau state of Nigeria, where returned assets of former Governor Joshua Dariye were returned to Plateau State for the victims of corruption in that state. “Why should the returned Ibori assets be confiscated by the Federal Government for the federal government?

“Whereas the British High Commissioner, Catriona Laing disclosed at the MoU Annex signing ceremony that £ 4.2 million was returned, we demand to know the exact amount seized from Ibori and his associates in the UK, and that government, in the spirit of transparency, should disclose to the public how much it received from the UK government,” the group demanded.

Calling on the attorney general to immediately intervene and ensure a reversal of the controversial MoU to ensure that “justice is served the real victims of corruption—in this case, the people of Delta State” Ugolor said “With all due respect to my friend and Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), this annex to the 2016 MoU on returned Ibori assets should be reviewed, as I am sure he understands our position on this matter”.

The House of Representatives also on Wednesday asked the Federal Government to ensure that the controversial Ibori loot was returned to Delta State. The House adopted a resolution to this effect after a motion of urgent public importance sponsored by all the lawmakers from Delta State.

According to the lawmakers, the sum of £4.2m being proceeds of crime recovered from Ibori “is being transferred to the coffers of the Federal Government of Nigeria for appropriation without recourse to the Delta State Government and or Parliament in two weeks time”.

They insisted that “the said recovered looted funds belongs to the good people of Delta State and as such ought to be refunded to the coffers of the Delta State Government for developmental purposes” adding that if allowed to utilise the funds, the federal government would be depriving the state government of their legitimate resources to improve the economy of the state.

The lawmakers also claimed that the total sum actually recovered was £6.2 million, and not £4.2 million.

“From all indications and information available to Delta state indicate that the actual money is £6.2m and federal government should ensure that the total of £6.2m is credited not £4.2m as stated,” they demanded.

Consequently, after a unanimous adoption of the motion, the House asked the federal government to stop “forthwith further appropriation and/or disbursement of recovered loot of the 4.2 million pounds pending the final determination of the matter by the House”. The House further asked the Federal Ministry of Finance to direct the Attorney General of the Federation and minister of justice, Abubakar Malami, to furnish it with all particulars relating to the recovered money and make them available to the House.

Recall that in February 2012, Ibori, who was governor from 1999 to 2007, was sentenced to 13 years in prison by the Crown Court in the UK after he pleaded guilty to money laundering, conspiracy to defraud, and forgery. His wife, Nkoyo, mistress, Udoamaka, and lawyer, also served different jail terms. He was released December 9, 2016.

Abubakar Malami Photo
The Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, during the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the British and Nigerian Governments

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