Repatriated £4.2m Belongs to Delta, Say House, Falana, Azinge

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•State govt weighs options

By Alex Enumah, Emmanuel Addeh, Udora Orizu in Abuja and Omon-Julius Onabu in Asaba

TThe Delta State Government yesterday got support from the House of Representatives as well as two Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), Professor Epiphany Azinge and Mr. Femi Falana, to lay claims to the £4.2 million recovered by the United Kingdom due to be repatriated to Nigeria soon.

The House at plenary asked the federal government to suspend plans to spend the money as it belongs to the state.

Azinge and Falana also rejected the expenditure outlay the federal government released on Tuesday.

However, THISDAY gathered that the state government is considering options on how to get back the money, recovered in the UK from the associates of a former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, from the federal government when finally repatriated.

The House at the plenary yesterday urged the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning to stop further appropriation or disbursement of the recovered funds, pending the final determination of the matter by the House.

It also requested the ministry and the Attorney-General of Federation to furnish it with all particulars relating to the recovered money.

In addition, the House Committees on Finance, Justice, Loans and Recovered Funds are to investigate the matter and revert to the House within two weeks.

The resolutions were sequel to the adoption of a motion of urgent national importance, sponsored by the House Minority Leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, and nine other lawmakers from Delta State.

Moving the motion, Elumelu said the £4.2 million recovered from associates of Ibori was being transferred to the coffers of the federal government for appropriation without recourse to Delta State and or the parliament.
He stated that the House is aware that the assets seized by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from states were returned to such states and wondered why that of Delta is different.

He added that the funds ought to be returned to the Delta State Government for the development of the state.
Elumelu expressed concerns that if the federal government is allowed to appropriate the funds without recourse to the state, the people will be deprived of their legitimate resources to improve the economy of the state.
According to him, the actual money is £6.2 million and the federal government should ensure that the total of £6.2 million is returned to the state.

However, Azinge, a former Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS) director-general, faulted the federal government’s bid to appropriate the money, saying it should be returned to the state.

“By the time the case was concluded, Ibori was no longer a governor, and all those monies linked to him are treated as proceeds of fraud. Consequently, such funds could not have emanated from any other part of Nigeria except Delta where he superintended and if for any reason the money had to be repatriated to Nigeria, common sense dictates that since it is considered to be money looted from the coffers of Delta State, automatically it should be returned back to them,” he stated.

According to him, the mere fact that the federal government negotiated the return of the funds does not give it the right to appropriate it.

He also decried the federal government’s decision not to spend the funds on any project within the state.
He stated that the Second Niger Bridge, which is located between Asaba in Delta State and Onitsha in Anambra State, cannot be said to be a project for Delta State.

“The fact that it is located in Asaba and Onitsha axis does not mean that it belongs to Asaba people or Delta State; it is open to everybody and you are now using Delta money to build a bridge that would benefit everybody.
“I believe strongly that courtesy demands and federalism suggests that that money should be given to Delta State and Delta State would now be in a position to determine how it wants to use the money,” he said.

He recalled that in the case of the Paris Club refund all the states involved got their money directly and wondered how many of those states engaged directly with the Paris Club.

He added that the issues involved in the Paris Club were those on the exclusive legislative list.

“But when the money came, the federal government did not appropriate everything. They got theirs and all the other states all got their own. Nobody said all the money should go to the federal government and that the federal government should utilise it on behalf of all the states in their respective states. The money went to all of them in their own respective states,” Azinge stated.

He urged the federal government to return the money to the state and monitor how it will be spent instead of appropriating it.

Falana said the funds belong to Delta State and not the federal government.

He faulted the federal government’s plan to use the money to construct the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the Abuja-Kano railway, and other federal projects.

Falana, in a statement, said: “The £4.2 million does not belong to the federal government. The money confiscated from Governor Joshua Dariye in the United Kingdom was recovered by the federal government, repatriated to Nigeria, and returned to the Plateau State government.

“The money confiscated from Governor Diepreye Alamieyesiegha in the United Kingdom was recovered by the federal government, repatriated to Nigeria and remitted to the account of Bayelsa State government.

“Since what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, the sum of £4.2 million confiscated from Governor James Ibori in the UK and recovered by the federal government has to be remitted to the account of the Delta State government.”

Falana stated that the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by the representatives of the UK and the federal government cannot supersede the constitution, which prohibits any form of discrimination.

“In other words, by virtue of Section 42 of the constitution, the governments and people of Plateau, Bayelsa and Delta States are entitled to equal rights and opportunities.

“Interestingly, some concerned citizens of Delta State have decided to join issues with the federal government, otherwise, another sum of $20 million, which will soon be recovered and repatriated from the confiscated fund will also be claimed by the federal government on very shaky legal grounds,” Falana said.

State Govt Weighs Options

Meanwhile, the Delta State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Charles Aniagwu, yesterday told THISDAY that the state government was weighing its options to ensure that the federal government treats the state fairly.
“We believe that we have had a very cordial relationship with the President Muhammadu Buhari administration and to that extent, we are open to a fair and firm discussion with the federal government.

“We are convinced that every form of reasonableness and justice and of course, equity is on our side. The federal government will not be averse to allow justice and fair play to hold sway in this matter, more so, when those who are repatriating the funds have clearly stated the source of the funds. So, we are convinced that the federal government will listen to us,” he said.

Asked if the state government will go to court, the commissioner said: “We are taking it one step at a time. We are convinced that the federal government will see reasons with us. After all, the funds have not come in, but between now and when the funds will come in, the federal government will realise that development in Delta is also as important as development anywhere in the country.

“But in this case, development in Delta has become much more important because the funds in question, unarguably, belongs to Delta and we do know that the federal government will want to be just to every component part of this federation and part of that justice is what we are asking for.”

Also speaking with THISDAY yesterday in Asaba, the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the Delta State Governor, Mr. Olisa Ifeajika, said the state government did not expect the federal government to carry through its pledge to spend the cash on projects outside the state.

Ifeajika stated that it would amount to injustice and impunity on the part of the federal government to divert the money to projects not located within Delta State.

Ifeajika said: ” The Delta State Government believes that the federal government erred by proposing that the money allegedly recovered from ex-governor James Ibori, and which is being returned to Nigeria by the UK, would be used for projects outside the state.

“We believe and hope that the federal government will listen to the voice of reason from other stakeholders and rescind its plan to use the money for projects not connected to Delta State at all.

“It would be understandable if they were proposing to use the recovered money to fund projects here in Delta State.

“For instance, there are many federal roads in the state that are in very deplorable condition; so, one may be talking about committing the money to the reconstruction and rehabilitation of some of these federal roads that are very bad.”

He identified Asaba-Illah Road, Agbor-Umutu-Abraka roads; Warri-Sapele-Benin road and Sapele-Eku road as some of the bad roads in the state that need urgent attention.