A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr Yemi Candide-Johnson, SAN, on Thursday explained why the Delta State Government has no valid claim to the £4.2 million expected from the United Kingdom as part of looted funds linked to former Delta State Governor James Ibori.
The UK government, Candide-Johnson argued, owns the money in accordance with its laws authorising it to confiscate proceeds of crime from persons convicted via British judicial system, such as Ibori.
He said the British government did not have to, but it decided to repatriate the money to Nigeria, as more or less an act of benevolence, based on strict terms and conditions that Nigeria was bound by.
Nigeria, he argued, could not breach the terms of that agreement without consequences.
Another SAN, Mr. Kunle Adegoke, reasoned that Delta State was not entitled to the money.
But their views contrasted with that of other senior lawyers, including Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), Dr. Babatunde Ajibade SAN; and Mr. Jiti Ogunye.
They argued that the money, proven to have been taken from Delta State, ought to be returned to it. The £4.2m, recovered mainly from Ibori’s associates and relatives, translates to about N2.4 billion at the official exchange rate.
It followed Ibori’s conviction and 13-year jail term for corruption in Britain in 2012. Some of his associates and family were jailed for similar offences.
Representatives of both the UK and Nigerian governments signed an agreement for the return of the money to Nigeria in Abuja on March 9.
The signing of the agreement, which took place at the Federal Ministry of Justice, Abuja, was done under the auspices of the U.K.-Nigeria Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which came into force in 2016.
Controversy over the funds arose following a disclosure by the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami (SAN) that the recovered loot will be channelled into federal projects.
The funds, set to be released within two weeks, are expected to be used for the completion of the Second Niger Bridge, the Abuja-Kano Road, and Lagos-Ibadan highways and not returned to the Delta State Government where it was pilfered from.
Opponents of the federal government’s decision accused the government of short-changing the state by breaking from its precedent of returning looted funds to their state of origin.
They recalled that in December 2007, the federal government handed over a cheque of £300,000 about (N72 million at the time) to the Plateau State Government being part of the funds allegedly laundered in London banks by former governor, Joshua Dariye.
They further noted that more than £5 million recovered from the funds stolen by former Bayelsa State Governor Dieprieye Alamieyeseigha was handed back by the federal government to the state government in 2012.
Weighing in on the matter during a radio programme on Nigeria Info, Candide-Johnson said: “The strict legal answer is that the money belonged to the British government.
“The process by which the proceeds of crime is extracted from the hands of criminals such as a convict like James Ibori, the law is quite clear that the government is to deprive criminals of the proceeds of their crime, (and it) has the power to take that money wherever it can be found…
“This is a system of controlling money laundering and proceeds of crime… There is a bill to replicate a similar law in Nigeria called the proceeds of crime Act, which is before the national assembly.
“Governments across the world take possession of proceeds of crime and that is like a fine.”
As to how the money should be expended, he said: “The Nigerian government didn’t recover this money, the Delta State Government didn’t recover this money. This is money recovered by a foreign government which it is going to determine according to its own laws and its own policies how that money should be disposed of…
“In this case, the British government decided as an act of political will or benevolence, if you like, to return it to the Nigerian government…”
But that they entered into an agreement tying the recovered money to specific projects which can be monitored.
“That’s the point. There’s no point in saying put it back in the pocket of the Delta State Government so that someone else can steal it. The Nigerian government is bound to fulfil that agreement or it can’t have the money. It’s as simple as that.”
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