Civil society group and asset recovery and management watchdog, the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) has faulted the plan by the Federal Government to divert the recovered £4.2million from James Onanefe Ibori into financing infrastructural projects outside Delta State.
On Tuesday, the United Kingdom reached an agreement with the Nigerian government to return the £4.2 million (about N2.2 billion) confiscated from the former Delta State Governor, James Ibori in 2012.
The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, said the agreement followed the conclusion of negotiations by the two governments for the return of the loot to Nigeria pursuant to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) earlier executed by the two governments in 2016.
Ibori, who was the governor of Delta State between 1999 and 2007, was convicted of corruption by a UK court in 2012 and sentenced to 13 years in jail after being found guilty of stealing almost £50 million from the state coffers. He has since completed his jail terms and returned to Nigeria.
However, Malami said in line with the existing framework in the management of previous recoveries, the Executive Council of the Federation (FEC) directed that the repatriated funds should be deployed towards the completion of some legacy projects across the country.
He listed the projects to include the Second Niger Bridge, Abuja–Kano expressway and the Lagos–Ibadan expressway under the coordination of the Nigeria Social Investment Authority (NSIA) to ensure integrity of the process.
“We have established, as a government, a reputation of transparency and accountability of utilization of recovered assets as a nation. These assets will in no way be different in terms of application,” he said.
Although the Minister said reputable civil society groups would be engaged to monitor and supervise the expenditure of the recovered funds on the execution of these critical projects, it appears the decision by the government is generating criticisms from concerned groups.
One of the groups is ANEEJ, which has been involved in the management of recovered loots in the country, including the Abacha loot.
In a statement on Wednesday, Executive Director of ANEEJ and head of Transparency and Accountability in Management of Returned Assets, (MANTRA) project, David Ugolor, faulted the decision by the government to use the recovered loot to execute projects outside Delta State.
Ugolor called for the UK and Nigerian governments to immediately review the signed agreement annex to the 2016 MoU on the Ibori loot, saying it would amount to grave injustice to the poor people of Delta State if the recovered loot was not returned to them by the Federal Government.
Besides, he called on the two governments to openly disclose how much was recovered from the former Delta State governor and how much was returned to Nigeria.
Wondering why returned assets looted from the people of Delta State would be used to finance Federal infrastructural projects outside the state as announced by Malami at the MoU Annex signing ceremony in Abuja.
“We at ANEEJ are alarmed at the annex of an MoU signed between our Federal Government and the UK government on the returned £4.2million from former Delta State Governor’s assets.
“Their action is in obviously a 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 on Tuesday and deliver justice to the poor people of Delta State who should receive such returned assets and not the Federal Government as stated in the executed MoU,” Ugolor said.
“The MoU 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),” Ugolor said.
He said the section 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.”
ANEEJ, who described the government decision as vexatious, insisted there was already a precedence in the case of Plateau state, where looted assets of former Governor Joshua Dariye were returned to Plateau State government for the victims of corruption in that state.
“Why should the returned Ibori assets be confiscated by the Federal Government for the federal government?” Ugolor queried.
“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 confiscated from Ibori and his associates in the UK.
“Our government, in the spirit of transparency and accountability, should disclose to the public how much it received from the UK government,” The group demanded.
Ugolor called on Malami to immediately intervene and ensure a reversal of the controversial MoU to ensure that justice was served the real victims of corruption—in this case, the people of Delta State.
“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 urgently reviewed, as I am sure he understands our position on this matter,” Ugolor stated.