Mixed reactions have continued to trail the N2.5 billion loot recovered from former Delta Sate Governor, James Ibori by the UK government. The money is expected to be transferred to Nigeria in the next two weeks. The Federal Government is planning to use the recovered funds to finance projects outside of Delta State. Recall that the United Kingdom had on 9, March 2020, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (Mou) to return to Nigeria the sum of 4.2 million pounds (N2.5 billion) looted by former Governor James Ibori.
The Attorney General of the Federation who doubles as the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, opined that the stolen funds will be used for the construction of the second Niger Bridge, Abuja-Kano road, and Lagos-Ibadan expressway. The decision has nonetheless met with varying shades of opinions as to why the money should or should not be returned to Delta State.
While some are of the opinion that the Delta State government has no moral justification to make such demand having played a complicit role in frustrating the efforts to recover the loot, others insist that the money irrespective of the state government’s ignoble role, should still go back to Delta, or it will be a clear case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, if the federal government uses it to fund projects outside Delta state.
It was revealed that the government of Delta State did nothing to facilitate the push to retrieve the looted funds. Instead the state was busy projecting evidence that such amount was not missing from the state’s treasury.
The House of Representatives equally waded into the issue. The House implored the Federal Ministry of Finance to stop further appropriation and/or disbursement of the recovered looted fund until final determination of the matter by the House is reached.
Following the plenary presided by deputy speaker, Ahmed Wase, the lawmakers espoused that the looted fund was the birthright of the Delta State people, and that it will make no sense to expend the money on a project outside the state. In the urgent public notice motion, sponsored by the ten lawmakers from Delta State, they maintained unequivocally that Delta State needs the money for infrastructural development as much as it was right to cede the money to them as was done in the case of Bayelsa, and Plateau State.
Mr Ndidi Elumelu who is the minority leader of the House berated the decision to transfer the money to the coffers of the Federal Government for appropriation without recourse to the Delta State Government.
According to Elumelu, if the Federal Government is allowed to appropriate the funds without recourse to the Delta State Government, it would affect the people of the state who would be deprived of legitimate resources to improve on her economy, as well as provide the requisite infrastructural development for their benefit.
This case is however a dicey one. This is because the Federal Government expended its resources and energy to build up evidence to establish the case that in deed and in truth, billions of naira were siphoned. So does it make any case to return it to a government that was complicit in an attempt to pervert justice? Doesn’t it make the federal government have full right to the money and the sole right to do whatever it wants with it, especially when it was the Federal Government that was largely involved in the repatriation processes?
The Federal Government equally nurses concern that such money can get into wrong hands again. Presently, James Ibori is still gallivanting with the Delta State government. Any serious government fighting corruption will be very uncomfortable giving such money back to a regime that claimed earlier that there was no record of stolen money from her coffers. Perhaps, that is why the federal government is looking to expend the money on major national projects like the third Niger bridge, Abuja-Kano road, and Lagos-Ibadan expressway.
Furthermore, the attorney-general of the federation opined that, “The major consideration relating to who is entitled to a fraction or perhaps the money in its entirety is a function of law and international diplomacy.” He added that “All the processes associated with the recovery were consummated by the Federal Government and the Federal Government is, indeed, the victim of crime and not the sub-national.”
It must be noted that the Attorney- General used the word victim because the law breached by Ibori was simply a federal law. Is it therefore equitable to deprive an entire community of what is theirs following the sins of one man, and because the repatriation process was facilitated by the sovereign authority?
Besides, the Abacha’s loot of over $600 million was earmarked for the same projects. Recall that the Federal Government had in March 2020, in response to its Freedom of Information request, told the economic rights group, SERAP, that the $322 million Abacha loot recovered from Switzerland and the $308 million recovered from the Island of Jersey would be used for the construction of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Abuja-Kano Expressway and Second Niger Bridge.
According to analysts, if details of the outstanding work on the two projects can be provided, then it would make sense to use the recovered Ibori loot to supplement it. As Oluwadare, SERAP’s Deputy Director stressed, explaining exactly the total budget for Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Second Niger Bridge, and whether the Abacha loot earlier earmarked for the same projects is not enough to complete them would ensure transparency and accountability in the spending of the Ibori loot.
Even so, many fail to realise that a Federal High Court Judge in Asaba, Marcel Awokulehin, had dismissed all the 70-count charges against Ibori after he had pleaded not guilty knowing the trial was going to be in his favour.
On the question of consummating efforts to prove that Ibori stole funds, Chief Edwin Clark, a Delta chieftain and leader of the South-South geo-political region recalled his roles and that of other Delta stakeholders in ensuring that the money allegedly stolen by the former governor was recovered through the Nigerian court:
“I was among the people that said that Ibori was corrupt. The Federal Government charged him to court and later, the court freed him from all the 70 charges.
“We petitioned again in another matter and he was declared wanted. He tried to run away but was taken to England and charged to court where he pleaded guilty. He was convicted alongside his wife, sister and a friend.
“With all the allegations we made, the Federal Government knew that the money belonged to Delta State government. So, it is very provocative, unconstitutional and irregular to listen to the Attorney General saying that the money belongs to the Federal Government.
“To worsen the situation, you want to use money belonging to Delta to complete Lagos-Ibadan expressway, Second Niger Bridge and Abuja-Kaduna-Kano road. This is very offensive.”
As one public observer noted, the starting point in analysing this issue would be to identify the owner of the monies stolen and siphoned by the ex-governor. Indeed, it is the owner of the stolen monies that is the victim of the theft and is entitled to the repatriated funds. He cited that another way of approaching the issue was to answer the question, had the ex-Governor not embezzled, stolen or siphoned the monies, who would have taken benefit of the monies? Certainly, the monies would have been available to the benefit of the people of Delta State exclusively.
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Meanwhile, recall that the Buhari-led administration started tracing looted Nigerian funds to foreign nations with the aim of recovering and repatriating them. This move came on the heels of the president’s declaration on his first day in Aso Villa that he inherited an almost empty treasury from his predecessor, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, thus vowing that his administration would recover all the looted funds stashed in foreign banks by corrupt Nigerians. Buhari was quoted at the time by his media aide, Femi Adesina that “The next three months may be hard, but billions of dollars can be recovered, and we will do our best.”
In all objectivity, the Federal Government and the Delta State government have equal rights on how the money should be expended. The sovereign authority and the indigenous government can strive to reach a common ground that will acknowledge the exigencies of both parties. As pundits aver, instead of using all the money to execute national projects, they can use a huge percentage of it for projects around Delta State which will benefit people from the state since they are the primary victims of this crime.