•No third-party interest was captured in the memo approved by council
•Says court’ll decide Kebbi governor’s claim
•PDP, Southern, Middle Belt leaders kick, demand investigation
Tobi Soniyi in Lagos, Deji Elumoye, Chuks Okocha, Alex Enumah and Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
The federal government has denied entering into any agreement to pay the Kebbi State Governor, Abubakar Bagudu, or any other third party $100 million from funds recovered from the family of the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha. Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), stated this in a statement on Saturday in Abuja.
Malami said agreements for the recoveries and the procedure for recoveries were always presented to the Federal Executive Council for approval and duly made public once the processes had been concluded. He, however, noted that the claims by Bagudu would be decided soon in court, even as he insisted that the federal government did not strike any deal with him or anyone.
In a related development, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMLF) has told President Muhammadu Buhari to stop insulting Nigerians with a false anticorruption war. SMLF called for a thorough investigation of the allegation that the federal government planned to pay Bagudu $100million from the Abacha loot.
Similarly, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) called on the National Assembly to undertake a forensic probe of all funds repatriated by the Buhari administration in view of the latest developments regarding the Abacha loot.
But Malami maintained that the claim by Bagudu was not true.
In the statement issued by the minister’s Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, Dr. Umar Jibrilu Gwandu, Malami said Nigeria remained committed to working with the United States and other countries to recover the country’s assets stashed abroad.
The statement said, “It is pertinent to recall at this juncture that prior to the 2020 agreement with the United States and Island of Jersey, the federal government has signed an agreement for the return of over $300 million in 2017, which was effectively deployed for the purpose for which it was agreed to be applied without any issue of reputation
“The FGN is also negotiating the recovery of assets from several countries and the agreements for the recoveries and the procedure for recoveries are always presented to Federal Executive Council for approval and duly made public once the processes have been concluded. No third-party interest was captured in the Council memo that was approved by the Council.”
The minister said Nigeria was cooperating with the United States in the recovery of several other assets, including corruption proceeds linked to a former petroleum minister, Deziani Alison-Madueke, and her associates, as well as a former governor of Delta State, James Ibori, and several others.
Malami reiterated the determination of the Buhari administration to recover all funds owed the country. He said it was for this reason that the government went to court in different countries to assert its rights as victim of corruption in order to secure the return of the assets to Nigeria.
“In the same manner that Nigeria is asserting its rights to the assets, there are others, including individuals, entities and countries, who have rights and who have gone to court to contest the legality or otherwise of Nigeria’s claims against their assets,” Malami stated. He added,
“It is well known that the USA and the Bagudu family have been in court since 2014 over assets already rescinded under the 2003 Agreement. The matters are to be determined in the United Kingdom and the United States Courts.
“The Bagudu family assets in contention, which constitute a distinct and separate cause of action, does not have anything to do with the assets already recovered and being recovered under the Abacha 2014 non-prosecution agreement.
“It is, therefore, mischievous and pedestrian for anyone to seek to turn the law and the facts on its head on the matter of repatriation, whose terms are clearly spelt out and agreed among the parties.”
The minister also noted that the federal government was strongly committed to fighting corruption.
He said a core component of Nigeria’s anti-corruption efforts included the transparent management and utilisation of returned assets as well as independent asset recovery efforts in a manner consistent with its domestic law, national interest and its obligations under international law. He claimed Buhari was the first president of Nigeria to make this commitment and had never and did not plan to deviate from the commitments, contrary to statements in the media.
He stated, “To achieve the president’s objectives, the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) has engaged and continues to engage with international partners, including the United States of America, in the recovery and return to Nigeria of stolen assets. Nigeria and the United States of America are continually cooperating in the recovery and return of those assets.
“This long-standing cooperation recently culminated in the successful signing of memorandum of understanding for the repatriation of over $300 million looted assets associated with General Sani Abacha.”
Malami said the funds repatriated in 2017 were deployed to the implementation of the Social Investment Programme and were being monitored by civil society organisations across the country.
He said the 2020 agreement would be managed by Nigeria’s Sovereign Investment Authority and would also be monitored by civil society organisations.
The 2020 funds, he added, would be used to support the completion of critical road infrastructure, namely Abuja-Kano Road, Second Niger Bridge, and the Lagos-Ibadan expressway.
According to him, “These projects will support socioeconomic development across the country. The government of Nigeria remains fully committed to continued cooperation with the United States of America and other countries in a reciprocal manner. We urge the media and the general public to wait for the outcome of the court decisions and on-going settlement efforts in this matter.”
Also yesterday a top presidency source who didn’t want to be named told THISDAY the allegation by the United States that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari wants to cede $100 million of the recently repatriated $308m loot from the US to Kebbi State governor, Abubakar Bagudu was not true. .
Bagudu was said to have helped the former despotic Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, to launder billions of dollars to the US.
The US said whereas it expected Bagudu to be tried for money laundering offences in Nigeria, it surprisingly got to know that he first contested and won election into the Senate for two terms before becoming a governor in 2015 and subsequently re-elected in 2019.
According to the US, the embattled governor was laying claim to $100 million of the Abacha loot and the federal government had opted to accede to the request.
But a top presidential source who did not want to be named, described the US allegation last night as untrue.
The source said the $308 million loot, whose repatriation to the country was signed by both the officials of the US and Nigeria recently, would be domiciled with the National Sovereign Authority (NSA) and channelled to some ongoing construction projects including the Lagos-Ibadan express way.
“Claims that the Buhari administration is planning to pay $100 million to Bagudu from the $308m on the home stretch are absolutely untrue.
“That money, being paid to the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority is going into the funding of ongoing work on Lagos-Ibadan expressway, the Second Niger Bridge and the Abuja-Kano expressway,” he said.
The source added that the clarification had become necessary to clear the air on insinuations of any planned diversion of the money.
He explained that Nigeria’s negotiations with the US on the looted funds by Abacha stashed in US banks are in three phases.
He said: “It is important that the fog of misinformation and disinformation on the position of the Buhari administration on the ongoing recovery from the United States of the Abacha loot be cleared.
“The administration is currently talking to the the US government on the return of three tranches of Abacha loot.
“First is the USD 308 million which has already been agreed to.
“Yes, there is a USD 100 million yet to be resolved which the Obasanjo administration ceded to Senator Abubakar Bagudu, an agreement that is being litigated because the US government itself does not recognize that Obasanjo-Bagudu settlement.
“Hence there is a third tranche of $60 million which is also a subject of private litigation by the Abacha family.”
Citing court filings, the United States-based media company, Bloomberg, had reported that the Buhari government reached an agreement with Bagudu in October 2018 for transfer of ownership of 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 United Kingdom at the request of the U.S.
But the Nigerian government claimed the updated 2018 agreement with the Kebbi governor, which required court approval in the UK, would “curtail and mitigate its looming exposure” from the judgement in Bagudu’s favour, Bloomberg reported.
The federal government’s alleged decision to allow Bagudu benefit from his crimes was said to have irked the United States and might force it to stop cooperating with Nigeria in its effort to recover stolen funds kept abroad.
Meanwhile, SMBLF, in a statement issued on Saturday, signed by Yinka Odumakin (South-west), Gen. C.R.U Ihekire, rtd, (South-east), Senator Bassay (South) and Dr Isuwa Dogo (Middle Belt), described the alleged financial deals as scandalous, saying, however, they are not surprised by the revelation.
They said, “The forum is scandalised but not in the least surprised by the allegations made by the United States of America that the Buhari regime is planning to re-loot Abacha loot by giving $100m to Governor Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State, who was/is Abacha’s alleged chief financial crimes agent.”
SMBLF called for a judicial inquiry into the U.S. allegations and asked the government “to shut its mouth and stop insulting us that it is fighting corruption until it clears itself”.
The forum described the Presidency’s denial of the alleged deal as feeble and dismissed the government’s claims that the allegation amounted to “corruption fighting back”, saying,“this now integrity-challenged regime is wont to slander all those who call it to account locally”.
According to the statement, “Only 48 hours back, we learnt that the Excess Crude Account (ECA), which used to be in billions of dollars, is now down to $70m”.
SMBLF criticised the federal government for its rising external debt profile, saying, “The administration has plunged Nigeria into un-payable debt borrowing in three years, more than what we previously borrowed in 30 years, with no deliveries in town.
“We recall how the former finance minister, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, queried the Acting Chairman of EFCC of having no record of what EFCC recovered from corrupt politicians.”
The forum stressed, “The US Department also stated that the Nigerian government was frustrating attempts to recover part of the looted funds allegedly traced to Bagudu, who is the chairman of the All Progressives Congress governor’s forum.
“The governor was said to have spent six moths in Texas Prison on allegations of laundering billions of dollars for Abacha and was to be extradited to Island of Jersey for criminal trial before he cut a deal to refund $163m and return to Nigeria for prosecution. He, however, returned to Nigeria, joining and rising in politics, which has become a criminal project in the country and currently and shamefully the chairman of governors elected under the anti-corruption propaganda promoting APC.”
The forum also noted that the US government, in a more damning allegation, accused the Buhari government of frustrating efforts to recover more loot traceable to Bagudu.
“The Department of Justice also contends that the Nigerian government is hindering US efforts to recover allegedly laundered money it says it has traced to Bagudu. Buhari’s administration says 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,” SMBLF alleged.
PDP also lashed out at the Buhari government and called on the National Assembly to probe the presidency.
In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, PDP said the recent revelation of huge corruption in the Buhari administration had further exposed the fact that the administration had been living a lie and parading as saints fighting an anti-corruption war, while swimming in a huge ocean of corruption and massive treasury looting.
The opposition party noted that the report accusing the administration of blocking attempts to recover looted funds traced to Bagudu spoke volumes about the corruption and concealments going on in the Buhari Presidency.
PDP said the revelations in the report stated that instead of recovering the stolen money, the federal government was in the process of funnelling $100 million (N36.3 billion) out of the looted funds to Bagudu, saying such highlights the humongous sleaze, duplicity and treachery in the Buhari administration.
The party stated, “From the report, it is clear that the Buhari Presidency has further smeared itself, and no longer commands the trust and confidence of stakeholders within and outside the country in its fight against corruption.
“There are already apprehension in the public space of huge complicity and patronising of corruption under President Buhari’s watch, which is directly responsible for our worsening corruption rating, a comatose economy, hardship and untold suffering which have turned our nation into world’s poverty capital.”
PDP pointed out that the failure of the Buhari presidency to give a direct response to the issues raised by the US Department of State only validated the widely held position within and outside the country that the administration was not only irredeemably corrupt but also served as a haven for corrupt individuals.
The party called on the National Assembly to redeem the image of the country by invoking its statutory instruments to order a forensic investigation into the handling of repatriated funds.