There was a general feeling of indignation across the country on Friday, over a report of alleged attempts by the Federal Government of President Muhammadu Buhari, to hand over about $100 million, that was stolen by a former Head of State, late Gen. Sani Abacha, to the Kebbi State Governor, Abubakar Bagudu, a top member of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.
A Bloomberg report said that a commitment by Nigeria, to transfer the funds to Bagudu, appeared to undermine President Muhammadu Buhari’s pledge to check corruption in the country.
It quoted the United States, US, Department of Justice, DoJ, as saying that Bagudu was involved in corruption with Abacha, and contended that the Nigerian government is hindering the US’ efforts in recovering allegedly laundered money, which it said was traced to Bagudu.
It added that the Buhari administration stated that a 17-year-old agreement entitles Bagudu to the funds, and prevents Nigeria from assisting the US, according to recent filings from the District Court, for the District of Columbia, in Washington.
The disagreement, according to Bloomberg, may hamper future cooperation between Nigeria and the US, to recover money moved out of Nigeria by the late Abacha.
“This case illustrates how complex and contentious repatriating stolen assets to Nigeria can be”, Bloomberg quoted Matthew Page, an Associate fellow, at London-based Chatham House, and former Nigeria Expert for the US Intelligence Agencies, as saying.
“Instead of welcoming US efforts, Nigeria’s Lawyers appear to be supporting the interests of one of the country’s most powerful families”, he added.
Successive governments had made efforts to recover money looted by Abacha. In the case involving Bagudu, the US, in 2013, initiated a forfeiture action against a host of assets, including four investment portfolios held in London, in trust for him and his family, according to the District Court filings.
The US Department of Justice, said in a February 3, statement, that Bagudu, 58, was part of a network controlled by Abacha, that “embezzled, misappropriated, and extorted billions from the government of Nigeria”.
According to the report, despite the forfeiture action being initiated, following a request in 2012, the Buhari administration said that it cannot assist the US, because it is bound by a settlement which Bagudu reached with the administration of then-President Olusegun Obasanjo, in 2003, according to the court filings.
Under the terms of that accord, which was approved by a UK court, Bagudu returned $163 million, of allegedly laundered money to the Nigerian authorities, which in exchange dropped all outstanding civil and criminal claims against him, “stemming from his involvement in government corruption”, according to a December 23, memorandum opinion by District Judge, John D. Bates, in Washington D.C.
That implies that Nigeria renounced any interest whatsoever in Bagudu’s trust assets, including those the US is attempting to recover for the country, the report added.
Bagudu returned to Nigeria, after concluding the settlement, and was elected as a Senator in 2009. Six years later, he was voted as the Governor of Kebbi State.
After Bagudu successfully sued Nigeria, for violating the 2003 settlement, Buhari’s administration reached a new agreement with him, in October 2018, according to the court filings. That would result in the transfer of ownership of the investment portfolios worth 141 million euros ($155 million), to the Nigerian State, which would then pay 98.5 million euros to Bagudu and his affiliates, according to Bates’ Dec. 23, Opinion. The funds are currently restrained by the United Kingdom, UK, at the request of the US.
The Federal Government, claims that the updated 2018 agreement with the Kebbi State Governor, which requires court approval in the UK, will curtail and mitigate its looming exposure” from the judgment in Bagudu’s favour.
The Buhari administration later submitted the 2018 deal to the UK court, in September, to support its application to unfreeze the assets, so that they can be sent to Nigeria, according to the report, but the court is yet to make a decision.
Reacting to the development, the Kebbi State Governor, Abubakar Bagudu, denied any wrong doing, saying that he believes that the report was aimed at using the Media to sensationalise the case, while the US authorities were using it as a ploy to confiscate recovery of the money by the Nigerian government, adding that, the money was frozen in the UK, and not the US.
He added that his name was only joined as an Associate of the Abacha government, and though he signed an agreement with the Federal Government under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in 2003 up to 2013, none of his assets were frozen in Nigeria, and therefore, he did not admit to criminal liability.
According to a copy of the agreement obtained, it stated that if at any stage Bagudu returned to Nigeria, he would not be arrested, and in case of any mistaken arrest, unconditional bail would be granted to him, in respect of the Abuja proceedings, the amended Abuja proceedings, the delegated proceedings, or any criminal proceedings existing, or future relating to the resolved matters, as in the principal agreement. The agreement was accompanied by a Presidential statement,in respect of Global Settlements between Bagudu and his affiliates, and the Federal Republic of Nigeria, signed by former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, on August 18, 2003.
The letter listed Bagudu’s affiliates as David Liewellyn Jones, Smith and Tyres Limited, Robinson International, and AB’s wife, children, brothers and sisters.
The Buhari Presidency, in a reaction to the report, advised against any action that would complicate ongoing efforts to recover more money from abroad.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, when contacted, said that the Embassy of the United States, might be approached for any clarification on the agreement already reached by the three parties.
Shehu, in a text message said: “We have a lot more money to recover oversees, and no one has the right to complicate things for the government of our country.
“The US and the British crown dependency of Jersey, have agreed with the President and government of Nigeria, to repatriate $308 million connected to General Sani Abacha, the three governments said.
“By a decision of this government, the entire sum will be paid to the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority, NSIA, and will be used in expediting the construction of the three major infrastructure projects across Nigeria, namely Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Abuja-Kano Expressway, and the Second Niger Bridge.
“The position of the Buhari administration is still the same on this. The Embassy of the US may be approached for any clarification on the agreement already reached by the three parties.”
Elsewhere, the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, and the Nigeria Coordinator of Transparency International, TI, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said that it is a well-established fact that Bagudu assisted late General Abacha and his son, to embezzle, misappropriate, and extort billions from the government of Nigeria, and others.
He stated that CISLAC is frustrated that the Nigerian government seems to use a legal obstruction, based on a 17-year-old agreement that entitles Bagudu to the funds, and prevents Nigeria from assisting the US.
“It is scandalous that Buhari’s government refuses to assist the US, because it is bound by a settlement Bagudu reached with the administration of then-President Olusegun Obasanjo, in 2003, according to US court filings. If this case is not settled and Mr. Bagudu is allowed to enjoy his political privileges, stemming from his prominent APC membership, the current administration will lose any credibility to demand the return of stolen assets from abroad.Show original message
He added that if no drastic action is taken, the Nigerian government will sacrifice repatriation of potentially billions of dollars, to maintain political protégés.
His words: “We therefore, call on the government of Nigeria, to further clarity this issue and clear doubt. Also, the government should ensure that we have a legal framework that will manage recovered assets, and utilise it for the benefit of Nigerians.”
On his part, the Executive Director, YIAGA Africa, Samson Itodo, a Lawyer, said that the Federal Government’s action is double standard.
“It raises questions on the fight against corruption. It is obvious there are separate rules for different category of persons. Once you have access to the President or in the President’s party, you are shielded from prosecution.
“Actions like this not only ridicule us in the international community, but it affirms the beliefs that Nigeria thrives on corruption, and you cannot eradicate corruption in this country”, Itodo said.
Also, Oluwadare Kolawole, the Deputy Director, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, said: “The Federal Government’s position, if true, will be inconsistent with its avowed commitment to fight corruption and recover all looted funds.”