By Bennett Oghifo
A top Presidency source last night assured that the federal government remains committed to spending the $308 million forfeited Abacha loot, for which an Asset Recovery Agreement was recently signed with the government of Jersey and the United States of America, in expediting the construction of the three major infrastructure agreed on i.e. Lagos – Ibadan Expressway, Abuja – Kano Expressway and the Second Niger bridge.
This is coming on the heels of the worries by the United States government over some outstanding loot of the deceased former dictator, Sani Abacha, traced to Governor Abubakar Bagudu of Kebbi State, in which the US government is opposed to an alleged plan by the Nigerian government to hand over €98.5 million to Bagudu.
The assurances by the Presidency on the utilization of the $308 million recovery, is coming amid fears that the money may be diverted.
The Presidency source assured: “We are committed to the agreement; the assets will support and assist in accelerating the construction of the three projects. We have given our words to the government of Jersey and the United States of America. Not even a kobo will go into anything outside these agreed projects.”
But the U.S. is opposed to an alleged plan by the Nigerian government to hand over €98.5 million to the Kebbi State Governor, which the American authorities say was stolen by Abacha, and traced to Bagudu in 2013.
The Buhari administration says a 17-year-old agreement entitles Bagudu to the funds and prevents Nigeria from assisting the U.S., according to recent filings by the US Department of Justice (DoJ), at the District Court for the District of Columbia in Washington, United States.
“This case illustrates how complex and contentious repatriating stolen assets to Nigeria can be. Instead of welcoming U.S. efforts, Nigeria’s lawyers appear to be supporting the interests of one of the country’s most powerful families,” said Matthew Page, an associate fellow at London-based Chatham House and former Nigeria expert for U.S. intelligence agencies.
Bagudu did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for Malami, Gwandu Jibril told THISDAY that the allegation that part of the fresh Abacha loot would be paid to Bagudu was false
In this case involving Bagudu, the U.S. 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 U.S district court filings.
The DoJ alleged in a February 3, 2020 statement that Bagudu, 58, was part of a network controlled by Abacha that “embezzled, misappropriated and extorted billions from the government of Nigeria.”
Bagudu is the chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress’ Governors Forum.
According to the court filings, despite the forfeiture action being initiated, following a Nigerian state request in 2012, Buhari’s government now says it can’t assist the U.S. because it’s bound by a settlement Bagudu reached with the administration of then-President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003.
Under the terms of that accord, which was approved by a U.K. 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, 2019 memorandum opinion by U.S District Judge, John D. Bates, in Washington D.C.
That meant “Nigeria renounced any interest whatsoever” in Bagudu’s trust assets, including those the U.S. is attempting to recover for the West African nation, the opinion stated.
Bagudu was able to return to Nigeria after concluding the settlement and was elected as a senator in 2009. Six years later, he was voted in as Kebbi’s governor in elections that brought Buhari and his party to power.
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. The funds are currently restrained by the U.K. at the request of the U.S.
Nigeria’s government claims the updated 2018 agreement with the Kebbi governor, which requires court approval in the U.K., will “curtail and mitigate its looming exposure” from the judgment in Bagudu’s favor.
The full texts of settlement were published in the court filings.
Buhari’s administration submitted the 2018 deal to the U.K. court last September to support its application to unfreeze the assets so they can be sent to Nigeria, according to the opinion. The court has yet to make a decision.
Successive Nigerian governments have sought to recoup the money looted by Abacha, who died in office, and have so far repatriated more than $2 billion with the cooperation of other countries, according to U.S. court filings.
This raging disagreement between the US and Nigeria may hamper future cooperation between the two nations to recover state money moved offshore by Abacha, who Transparency International estimates may have looted as much as $5 billion during his 1993-98 rule.
A commitment by Nigeria to transfer the funds to Bagudu appears to undermine President Muhammadu Buhari’s pledge to quell rampant graft in Africa’s top oil producer.
The U.S. Department of Justice says Bagudu was involved in corruption with Abacha.
The DoJ also contends that the Nigerian government is hindering U.S. efforts to recover allegedly laundered money it traced to Bagudu.
…The Deal Obasanjo Reached with Bagudu
Faced with forfeiture actions against a host of his assets initiated by the Obasanjo government, in conjunction with the government of the United States, Abubakar Bagudu, who is the current Kebbi State Governor, entered into a settlement deal with the federal government in 2003.
Under the terms of that accord, which was approved by a British 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 alleged corruption.
In the deal signed by then President Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria, in return, renounced any interest whatsoever in Bagudu’s trust assets, including those the United States is now attempting to recover for the country.
After the agreement, the federal government issued a formal statement, titled: “Presidential statement in respect of global settlement of disputes between Mallam Abubakar Bagudu and his affiliates and named affiliates and the federal republic of Nigeria.”
It states: “This statement is executed as a side letter to the Agreement (the Agreement) of today’s date between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and its Government (FRN) and Abubakar Bagudu (AB) on behalf of himself and his affiliates and named affiliates as set out below (together AB).
“This letter is confidential except that it may be produced to third parties by AB as confirmation that the Agreement finally resolves and releases all claims and liabilities of any kind which exist or might exist against AB in favour of or at the of any organ of government of the FRN (the Resolved Matters).
“The Resolved Matters include (but are not limited to): all civil claims, all administrative claims, all claims arising out of, deriving from or associated with criminal proceedings, the claims made by the FRN in relation to security votes (London High Court, No HCO/CO/3260) (the Security Votes Proceedings), Ajaokuta (London High Court, 1999 Folio No 831), Ferrostaal, vaccines, the Imo River dredging contract and other government contracts.”
Sources close to Bagudu says he is not interested in pursuing a large part of the settlement deal, but just wants to be protected.