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Mailafia, activists back opposition to Nigeria’s alleged plan to hand $100M looted funds to Bagudu

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Some Nigerians have backed the United States’ (US) opposition to alleged plans by Nigerian government to hand about $100million the American authorities said was stolen by former dictator, the late Gen. Sani Abacha, to Kebbi State Governor Abubakar Bagudu.

According to US-based Bloomberg, the disagreement might hamper future cooperation between the two countries to recover state money moved offshore by Abacha, who Transparency International (TI) estimates may have looted as much as $5billion during his 1993-98 rule.

It said commitment by Nigeria to transfer the funds to Bagudu appears to undermine President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade.According to Bloomberg, the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) alleged that Bagudu was involved in corruption with Abacha, contending that the Nigerian government was hindering US efforts to recover allegedly laundered money it said it has traced to Bagudu.

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The Buhari’s administration said 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.Bloomberg reported that neither Bagudu nor a spokesman for Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN), responded to requests for comment, while a spokesman for Buhari said the settlement and the litigation were matters for Malami, just as a spokesman for the DoJ also reportedly declined to comment.

In their separate reactions, social justice activists, as well as former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, have thrown their weights behind the decision not to return the latest $100million back to Nigeria through Bagudu.

Mailafia said the US is right for not acceding to the Nigerian government’s action, noting: “I am inclined to go with the Trump’s administration on this one. The reasons for transferring $100million from the Abacha loot to the governor of Kebbi State must be clarified.  “As a matter of fact, Abacha has become the fall guy for all sorts of financial shenanigans from the days of Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar to the present.

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“I would have expected that a special account should have been opened, where all the recovered funds are kept. All the money should have been invested to provide scholarships for indigent Nigerian students. “We need to do something morally constructive with the funds as a memorial against those who have stolen the future of our children.”

Team Lead of the Centre for Social Justice (CENSOJ), Mr. Eze Onyekpere, queried why the government would nominate a person alleged to be a close associate of the late dictator, adding: “I fully back the American government’s decision. To start with, is it not intriguing that Buhari never believed that Abacha stole Nigeria’s money, so why do you think America would trust him to return the looted funds to him or to his nominee touted to be the late Abacha’s associate?

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“America is not foolish, because they know the implication, which is re-looting of the funds. It is so unfortunate that America is seeing us as a people that lost their conscience with reckless stealing of money from home and pulling it overseas for those countries to manage their economies.”

Oh his own part, the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and Head of Transparency International-Nigeria, Mr. Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, also backed America’s position, saying: “It is a well-established fact that Bagudu assisted Abacha and his son to embezzle, misappropriate and extort billions of naira from the government of Nigeria and others through U.S. and Jersey financial institutions and purchased bonds backed by the US.  

“Bagudu, who now enjoy immunity from prosecution as a sitting governor, was once arrested for his role in the Abacha money laundering enterprise and spent six months in a US federal detention. He negotiated a deal with the US and Jersey authorities to return over $163million of the allegedly laundered assets to Nigeria in exchange for Jersey’s withdrawal.

“However, after his return, he has never been questioned over his involvement in the Abacha loot.“The US is continuing to seek forfeiture of over $177million of laundered funds held in trusts that name Bagudu and his relatives as beneficiaries. This has been underlined in the press statement by the US State Department to the occasion of the announcement of the repatriation of the $308million from US through the Jersey jurisdiction. This is part of the loot Bagudu helped to launder for Abacha.”

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He added: “CISLAC is extremely frustrated that the Nigerian government seems to use a legal obstruction based on a 17-year-old agreement that entitles Bagudu to the funds and prevents Nigeria from assisting the US. It is scandalous that Buhari’s government refuses to assist the US, because it is bound by a settlement Bagudu reached with the administration of then President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003, according to US court filings. 

“If this case is not settled and Bagudu is allowed to enjoy his political privileges stemming from his prominent APC membership, the current administration will lose any credibility to demand the return of stolen assets from abroad. “This whole episode confirms the political nature of the anti-corruption fight. A US court filings reveal the extent and role of the current elites in the looting of Nigeria by Abacha.”

Rafsanjani declared that CISLAC has long maintained that the government needs to show credible and impartial efforts to investigate grand corruption and in particular, money laundering, saying recovery of stolen assets abroad is potentially a windfall of much-needed revenues for the stricken economy and unparalleled poverty. 

“The Government of Nigeria claims that international partners do not cooperate in investigation and repatriation of stolen assets. The Bagudu case provides a reason for this lack of cooperation, as the basic precondition of the preclusion of the benefit of offenders- or enjoying the looted funds by those that stole the assets- is not guaranteed in Nigeria. “If no drastic action is taken, Nigerian government will sacrifice repatriation of potentially billions of dollars to maintain political protégés.   

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“We therefore call on the government of Nigeria to further clarity this issue and clear doubt and ensure that we have a legal framework that will manage recovered assets and utility it for the benefit of Nigerians.”Successive Nigerian governments had sought repatriation of the looted funds with the cooperation of other countries, according to U.S. court filings, adding that in the case involving Bagudu, the US 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.

The DoJ alleged in a February 3 statement that Bagudu, who is Chairman of APC’s Progressive Governors Forum, was part of a network controlled by Abacha that “embezzled, misappropriated and extorted billions from the government of Nigeria.” Despite the forfeiture action being initiated following Nigeria’s request in 2012, Buhari’s government said it cannot assist the US because it is bound by a settlement Bagudu reached with the administration of then President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003, according to the court filings.

Under the terms of that accord, which was approved by a United Kingdom (UK) court, Bagudu returned $163million 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 memorandum opinion by District Judge, John D. Bates, in Washington D.C.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.

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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, according to Bates’ December 23 opinion.

The funds are currently restrained by the UK at the request of the US.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 favour.The full texts of neither settlement were published in the court filings.Buhari’s administration submitted the 2018 deal to the U.K. court in 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.

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Abubakar Bagudu
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