HeadlineIbori Loot Controversy: Did Delta State Shoot Self In The Foot?

Ibori Loot Controversy: Did Delta State Shoot Self In The Foot?

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…Additional £20m Coming In September – Falana
…Return Money to Delta – Elumelu
…Don’t Touch It – Clark Warns FG
…A Complicated Case – British High Commissioner
…It’s Nothing New – Ibori’s Aide

BEVERLY HILLS, March 15, (THEWILL) – The Delta State Government may have been thrown into a fix over the fireworks triggered by the announcement of the British Government to return a whopping £4.2m (N2.4billion) seized from a former Governor of the state, James Onanefe Ibori, to Nigeria.

While the Federal Government is laying claims to the recovered looted fund and has listed three federal projects the seized money would be expended on, the Delta State Government is, unfortunately, left at a crossroads. Meanwhile, controversy continues to trail the decision of the Federal Government to spend the money on three infrastructural development projects instead of releasing it to the Ifeanyi Okowa-led Delta Government, which logically should have the money.

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Dilemma of a State

The State Government may have shot itself in the foot and, ordinarily, may not have the moral right to claim ownership of the recovered money since succeeding administrations in the state did everything within its means to frustrate the trial of Chief Ibori both in Nigeria and London over the alleged theft of billions of naira belonging to the state during his tenure as governor. The government even made presentations in courts that its monies were not missing and that it could not have been stolen by the Oghara-born ex-Governor. So there are legitimate questions about Delta’s conduct during the journey to bring Ibori to justice and its demand for the proceeds of his restitution.

Delta State Versus FG

Apparently, this is not the first tango between the Federal Government and the Delta State Government over the Ibori saga. THEWILL recalls that the state government and the Federal Government under the administration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan clashed severally over access to Delta State’s financial records in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC,’s bid to help the UK Government in its prosecution of the former governor.

However, this was contrary to the stance of the Federal Government under the late President Umaru Yar’ Adua’s administration which actually frustrated Ibori’s trial through the influence of the deceased leader and the then Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Michael Andooaka. So can the same Federal Government morally lay claim to the recovered Ibori loot?

Double Jeopardy

THEWILL also recalls that the closest the state government came in a case involving Ibori was its deliberate refusal to cooperate with the EFCC to bring the Ex-Governor to justice. In what appears as a double jeopardy, the Delta State Government had earlier forfeited the sum of $15 million in cash returned to the EFCC by Ibori as restitution. The state government denied the money came from its coffers, which allowed a federal high court to order its permanent forfeiture to the Federal Government.

Additional £20 Million Coming in September – Falana

Of great concern to watchers of the development is the revelation that an additional 20 million British pounds is due to be released to the Nigerian Government in September according to human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), who disclosed this to THEWILL in an exclusive chat on Friday.

Senior Advocate of Nigeria and Human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana
Senior Advocate of Nigeria and Human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana

“The next tranche of money to be released is 20 million pounds in September 2021,” the human rights lawyer said, adding: “It was what Ibori had deposited for the purchase of a private Jet.” However independent checks by THEWILL authoritatively revealed that the monies for the purchase of the luxury Bombardier Challenger jet were contributed by some powerful state governors of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to acquire a private jet for the exclusive use of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who eventually became Chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees, BoT, after he served out his two terms as president.

However, describing the decision of the Federal Government to spend the recovered money on Niger Bridge, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and Kano-Kaduna Expressway as illegal, provocative and insensitive, Falana said: “It is insensitive of the Abuja people to the people of Delta State. Are there no roads to fix in Delta State?”

Delta Like Any Other State

According to Falana, “Delta State like any other state was receiving money from the Federation Account during the Ibori Government and the State Government put that money in its account. Ibori took the money from the state account to the UK. And the British Government confiscated it. This is against the spirit of Article 35 of the United Nation Convention Against Corruption. So, when the money comes to Nigeria, the Federal Government has no claim to it.

“In the case of former Governor Joshua Dariye of Plateau State and Diepreye Alameyeisegha of Bayelsa, the money was refunded to the states. On the grounds of precedence, the Federal Government stand is weak.”

The Agreement

Last Tuesday in Abuja, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, signed an agreement with the Federal Government on behalf of the British Government to release the seized £4.2 million to Nigeria. The Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, also signed the agreement, which came under the framework of the 2016 Britain -Nigeria Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), on behalf of the Federal Government.

Speaking after the agreement was signed, Laing described the Ibori case as complicated, adding that the British authorities were still working on the total amount involved in the matter. She said the initial £4.2 million was just the first tranche, maintaining that more of such recoveries from the Ibori case would be returned to Nigeria in due course.

“This agreement represents the culmination of many years of work by law enforcement authorities in the UK and Nigeria. The return of the assets to Nigeria has been subject to a number of hard-fought legal challenges by third parties which were defeated in the UK courts,” the British High Commissioner said.

According to Laing, the agreement demonstrates UK’s commitment to recovering and returning corruptly-obtained assets, adding, “money obtained through criminality or corruption is not welcome in the UK.”

Arrogance and Grandstanding

Falana, however, faulted the MoU, describing the conditions attached to it by the British authorities as arrogant, amounting to grandstanding, even as he wondered whether Nigeria was still under colonialism.

He told THEWILL: “When you talk of MoU between the Federal Government and the British Government, are you saying we are still under colonialism? There is currently a global collaboration not to allow money to be laundered from one country to another. So, why are you allowing the British to be arrogant and grandstand? Anyway, why are they returning the money? “

According to Falana, “What I am saying is, if the Delta State or Federal Government were to allow me, I would sue the U.K on the grounds that they collaborated with the banks for failure to comply with Know Your Customer Policy or do they mean to say they did not know that Ibori was a government official.”

Delta Has No Legal Response Yet – Attorney-General

The Attorney-General of Delta State, Mr. Peter Mrakpor, SAN, says the state is waiting to study the terms of the agreement reached between the Federal Government and the British Government before it decides on its legal options regarding the returned funds.

“I cannot speak on the matter until we obtain and study the MoU between the Federal Government and the UK. That is the logical path to follow,” Mrakpor told THEWILL, Friday.

Delta State Commissioner for Information, Charles Aniagwu, did not pick calls to his phone, Friday morning, and did not also reply the text message sent to him as at press time.

He had earlier reportedly described the decision of the Federal Government to hold on to the money as the height of wickedness, saying the Buhari regime could as well have spent the money on developing Ghana if it wished.

“Why should Delta State money be used in building Lagos-Ibadan Expressway or Abuja-Kano rail? Is the Federal Government saying it doesn’t know the origin of the money,” he was quoted as saying in widely available reports.

Nothing New in the Case – Ibori’s Aide

Tony Eleumunor, spokesperson to Chief Ibori, told THEWILL, Friday night, that there was nothing new in the case as he lamented what he described as “I love Master too-much” attitude of Nigerians to Britain.

Eleumunor, who maintains that he stands with the position of the Oghara Union on the matter, said: “This matter was adjudicated in 2012. The houses were sold and the money has been in the bank since then. So, what came up that the story is being presented as new?

“They signed the MoU in 2016 to return the money and Nigerians are not asking about the details of the MoU.The actual amount involved was six million pounds and we are now talking of 4.2 million pounds. What happened to the two million pounds difference? Does that MoU give Britain the power to take 25 per cent of the money? Is Britain on a treasure hunt?

“Beyond all else, it is tragic that Nigerians have refused to ask themselves questions on the Ibori case and the role of the British in the African political issues. We joke about tragedy! Was there a stand Ibori had taken on oil matters that is making Britain to fight back? Or they are just trying to divert the attention of Nigerians from the COVID-19 tragedy in Britain and the kidnapping and insecurity in Nigeria?”

Return Money to Delta – House of Reps

Leader of the Delta State Caucus in the House of Representatives, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, insisted that the Ibori loot belongs to Delta and should be returned to the state.

“My reaction is that the money should be returned to Delta State people,” Elumelu told THEWILL on Friday in a text message. His affirmation on the ongoing controversy came as the House of Representatives, Wednesday, called on the Federal Government to ensure that the £4.2 million Ibori loot be returned to Delta State. The lawmakers insisted that the funds were stolen from Delta State and, as such, should rightly be returned to the state. They added that the funds are needed for the infrastructural development of the state. This was the resolution reached after a motion of urgent public importance which was sponsored by all the lawmakers from Delta State. The lawmakers said the total money is £6.2 million and not £4.2 million as is being reported. The House also asked the Federal Ministry of Finance to direct Abubakar Malami to give the House all particulars relating to the recovered money.

Don’t Touch It – Edwin Clark

Elder statesman and leader of Delta Elders Forum, (DEF), Senator Edwin Clark, said he could not speak when THEWILL called him on phone, Friday morning, though he had, on Tuesday, also, opposed the plan of the Federal Government to appropriate the recovered Ibori loot. He had maintained that the plans to use the soon-to-be repatriated fund to complete roads in other parts of the country whereas federal roads in Delta State have all dilapidated, would be resisted vehemently.

Edwin Clark
Edwin Clark

THEWILL recalls that Ibori’s corruption charges actually started with the petitions from some of his kinsmen under the auspices of Delta State Elders and Stakeholders Forum influenced by Chief Edwin Clark. The petition was sent to the then EFCC boss, Ribadu, who initially refused to act on the petition. This, THEWILL gathered, made the Forum and other activists to eventually blow the lid off Ibori’s alleged crimes as they made spirited efforts to drag the ex-Governor and EFCC before the court to compel Ibori’s prosecution with the assistance of their lawyer, Kayode Ajulo.

When THEWILL sought to speak with Ajulo, Thursday evening, on his reaction to the unfolding development, he said: I’m a party to the case and it would be prejudicial for me to comment now as an interested party.”

We Have No Investigative Power – Crown Prosecution

THEWILL sought clarifications from the British Crown Prosecution Services (CPS) on the recovered looted funds based on the ensuing controversy to ascertain the actual amount involved since Ibori’s kinsmen insist that the total sum accrued from the assets disposed off was £6.2 million and not £4.2 million as claimed by the British. THEWILL wanted to know when the remaining tranches would be released but met a brickwall.

In a reply to an email sent by THEWILL on Wednesday, the CPS said Thursday morning: “It may assist if I explain that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is responsible for reviewing and, where appropriate, prosecuting most criminal cases in England and Wales following an investigation by the police. The CPS is also responsible for providing legal advice to the police about cases, although we cannot provide legal advice to members of the public.

“The CPS is not an investigative body and has no power to investigate allegations of crime. If you believe that a criminal offence has been committed, you should report it to the police so that an appropriate course of action can be taken. Any evidence that you have to support your allegations should be referred to the police in the first instance, as they have the power to investigate the matter further. They will refer the matter to the CPS if necessary…”

Loot Belongs to British Government – Candido-Johnson

But Yomi Candido-Johnson (SAN) sees the whole matter differently as he maintains that the money in question actually belongs to the British authorities.

Speaking on a radio programme monitored by THEWILL in Lagos, Candido-Johnson said: “That money belongs to British Government. The process by which the proceeds of crime is extracted from the hands of criminal such as a convict like James Ibori, the law is quite clear that the government that deprived the criminals the proceeds of their crime, has the power to take that money wherever it can be found. This is by a straight legal process which requires them to investigate, determine the value of the law, determine the source of the assets from where they are located, find them and make a forfeiture order. And this is a system of controlling money laundering and proceeds in crime which is replicated across many jurisdictions.

“ I believe there is a bill to enact a similar law in Nigeria called the proceeds from the crime act which is before the National Assembly. I am not holding my breath as to when the National Assembly will resolve that issue. And the result of this is that governments across the world would take the proceeds of crime that come to their jurisdiction and that is like a fine.

“It is a penalty extracted by specific jurisdiction and can dispose of the money in the way it chooses. The money belongs to the British Government.”

No One Can Dictate to The British How to Spend Their Money

Also speaking on the controversy trailing the recovered loot, Babatunde Ogala, SAN, in a post on his Facebook page on Friday said:

“The money was tracked, investigated and recovered by the British Government under British Law in British soil from James Ibori and his associates and family as suspected proceeds of crime.

The British Government approached the courts and James Ibori and his associates were prosecuted and convicted in London. The court also ordered that the money be forfeited to the British Government. Ibori and his associates did not appeal. Neither did the Delta State Government lay claim to the funds. So the money thereafter became vested in the British government.

So the money thereafter belonged to the British Government.

The British Government out of benevolence elected to release some of the money to the Federal Government of Nigeria with certain conditionalites contained in an MOU that it be spent on the completion of three projects. Any attempt by the Federal Government to use the funds for anything outside these three projects will be a breach of the MOU entered into with the owners and donor of the money- the UK Government.

The £4.2 million belonged to the UK Govt and no other and no one can dictate to them how they spend their money.”

Delta State Should Approach Supreme Court – Ogunye

A former Senator and legal luminary, Jiti Ogunye, however advised the Delta State Government to go and settle the matter in court even as he maintains that the money should be returned to the state.

“My view is that this money should be returned to Delta State. There should be guarantee and arrangement that this money is not re-looted . This money is ultimately destined to Delta State because that is where the money was illicitly scooped from in the first instance. And there is no debate about this . I think the money ought to go to Delta State , it doesn’t belong to the Federal Government, unless the Federal Government just wants to use its power, an overbearing pre-eminence, to spend the money.

ALSO READ: Reps To Buhari: Return £4.2m Ibori Loot To Delta State

“I think the Delta State should go to the Supreme Court and make it an issue.If at a particular time, those who were in Delta State, felt in order to protect Ibori, said they didn’t lose any money , now that ….. why can’t they declare that we lied then, we need the money now . Let the issue be trashed out in court . The issue of it saying it didn’t lose any money, let the Supreme Court decide. You know we cannot play hanky-panky in a matter of states,” Ogunye was quoted as saying on a live radio programme monitored by THEWILL in Lagos.

Ibori’s Bag of Troubles

Ibori, who governed Delta State from 1999 to 2007, was convicted by a UK court in 2012 and was sentenced to 13 years in jail after admitting to fraud of nearly £50m (N26.3bn), even though prosecutors say the actual amount stolen was about £250m (N131.7bn).

The former governor of Delta State pleaded guilty to 10 offences relating to conspiracy to launder funds fr om the state, substantive counts of money laundering and one count of obtaining money transfer by deception and fraud. He was released in 2016 after serving a fraction of his term.

Despite his voluntary guilty plea, Ibori still maintains that his prosecution and travails were motivated by his tough stance against the alleged marginalisation of oil producing Niger-Delta region where the country produces almost all of its crude oil.

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