Abacha Loot: AGF Malami speaks on Punch Editorial (See full text of Punch Editorial)

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Abacha Loot: practice journalism not antagonism, AGF charges Media


Our attention has been drawn to an editorial published on May 4th,2020 by The Punch newspaper, on the giant efforts of the office of theHonourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice,Abubakar Malami, SAN in relation to the recovery of funds connected to Abacha.


The initial reaction of the office was to ignore the editorial, as it was replete with misinformation, unsubstantiated allegations and vituperation of calumny with evinces lack of proper understanding of the issues implicated.


The Office of Attorney General of the Federation has, however, decided to respond thereto in order to clarify the issues involved in the overall interest of the public.


One wonders what insinuation The Punch is making by way of calling for condemnation as against commendation over a recovery process having a multi party states dimension involving a clearly spelt out agreement approved by the Federal Executive Council in the Nigerian circumstances.


The recovery of the funds brought embarrassment to nay-sayers and pessimists who wanted to frustrate the process through unfounded information and groundless allegations. Hence, resorting to figment of imagination and opinionated writing of antagonism in the name of editorial.


The editorial was marred by unsubstantiated claims as it has failed to address the so called “angst that replaced the elations that greeted the recovery”. Why angst? By whom and how? How has concerted efforts that culminated into successful transfer of the funds that were to be used for the execution of people-oriented projects enmeshed in scandals? What were the unconvincing denials by government that the recovered funds will be strictly used for the projects agreed in the repatriation agreement?


How does punishment fits into the conduct of United States of America in submitting to repatriation of the looted assets, the Bailiwick of Jersey for conceding to the repatriation of the funds and Nigerian Government whose Federal Executive Council sanctioned the execution of the agreement on the basis of which terms the repatriation was executed?


The Federal Republic of Nigeria is a democratic and sovereign country which cherishes the ideals of freedom of speech and expression. To that extent, citizens are free to express their opinions- albeit consistent with the limits espoused by the Constitution and other relevant laws sanctioning free speech. It is in this context that the editorial by the Punch Newspaper is flawed on its commentary on the receipt of the over $311 million as repatriated loot from the United States of America.

The flaws are apparent in two fundamental areas of the law.
First, the editorial piece lack of understanding governing the dynamics of sovereignty of a nation. Section 2 (1) of the Constitution 1999 (as amended), guarantees the sovereignty of the country as the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Attendant to this is the fact that at international law, Nigeria is at liberty to engage in relations that will enhance her development, prosperity, respect and standing in the international arena.

Second, it is against this pedestal that Nigeria acceded to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. This Convention is a binding multilateral treaty, amongst others, dealing with the repatriation of looted assets which have been tainted with corruption. It is in the same context that the return of the over $311 million is to be viewed.

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Article 4 of the Convention guarantees the protection of the sovereignty of Nigeria. Nigeria signed a tripartite agreement with the United States and the Bailiwick of Jersey. Nigeria, acted through its executive authority as enshrined in section 5(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to formalize the multi-party agreement culminating in the return of the over the $311 million.


Importantly, Article 7 (4) of the United Convention Against Corruption guarantees that each Party shall in accordance with the fundamental principles of its domestic laws, endeavor to adopt, maintain and strengthen systems that will promote transparency and prevent conflict of interest. This informed the decision of Nigeria to subject the received funds to civil society oversight. The utilization of the funds for specific purposes, such as the construction of the Ibadan- Lagos expressway, the third Niger bridge and the Abuja- Kano expressway are clear testimonies to the sincerity of purpose by the Federal Government in respect of how the funds will be utilised.


The funds will be managed by the Sovereign Trust Fund and the proposed projects will undergo all public procurement processes and quality audit to ensure that Nigerians benefit from the recovered proceeds.


These are all development processes consistent with the spirit in which the tripartite agreement was signed, the principles of Nigeria’s national sovereignty and the laws of Nigeria.
The stark choice facing Nigeria before the initiation of the Federal Government’s efforts to recover the looted funds was either to totally forfeit the funds by taking no action or to take all proactive steps to recover the funds.

Given this obvious reality, Nigeria should actually be commended for this bold initiative to engage jurisdictions where the funds are located to mutually pursue avenues that will help Nigeria recover those looted funds amicably. That was the reasoning and the wisdom behind Nigeria’s decision to utilise the instrumentality of a legal process incorporating the roles of the United States of America and the Bailiwick of Jersey to repatriate the looted funds.


In matters of serious national interests, media outlets have a civic responsibility to eschew sentiments and comment on issues objectively.


One wonders, therefore, where the editorial piece of the Punch Newspaper stands on this colossal recovery of funds stolen from Nigeria and now returned. The duty of journalism is to inform not to distort.

Dr. Umar Jibrilu Gwandu

(Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice)

Tuesday 5th May, 2020

Read full text of PUNCH Editorial published on 4th May, 2020

Returned Abacha loot and anti-graft war

Angst has replaced the initial elation that greeted an agreement with the United States to release another $308 million tranche of the Abacha loot. The transfer has become enmeshed in scandal. Amid unconvincing denials by senior Nigerian officials, the US and United Kingdom authorities are kicking against a plan to gift an alleged enabler of money laundering with $110 million of recovered funds.

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Last week, the United States Justice Department warned that Nigeria must spend the repatriated funds on the agreed public projects or refund it.

A universally accepted protocol in the global war on corruption is underscored by a resolve to deny the corrupt and their accomplices of any benefit from their illicit activities. In Singapore and the UK, this underpins their successes in combating graft. Nigeria should not be different.

The latest twist in the sordid long-running Abacha loot saga, however, could further stain the Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) regime’s posturing against corruption. It began in February when it was announced that the country had reached a tripartite agreement with the US government and the Bailiwick of Jersey to repatriate $308 million of the funds plundered by the late head of state, Sani Abacha. The Asset Recovery Agreement came with the strict caveat that the money would be ploughed into specific infrastructure projects, this time, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Second Niger Bridge and the Abuja-Kano Expressway.

Transparency International estimates that during the five years of his iron-fisted dictatorship, Abacha stole between $3 billion and $5 billion and transferred the money to offshore accounts using shell companies and fronts. Long-running efforts since 1999 had so far yielded the recovery of over $2 billion from diverse countries.

The whole affair is messy. The deal has soured following the filing of court processes in Washington by the US Department of Justice accusing the Nigerian government of planning to hand over about $100 million to an Abacha alleged ally, Atiku Bagudu, currently the governor of Kebbi State and some of his family members. The US and the UK authorities also accused Abuja of obstructing their efforts to recover other laundered funds. Abubakar Malami, the Attorney-General of the Federation, denied that the government would pay part of the $308 million to Bagudu. But his rebuttal was revealing: “In the same manner that Nigeria is asserting its rights to the assets, there are others, including individuals, entities and countries that have rights and who have gone to court to contest the legality or otherwise of Nigeria’s claims against their assets.

“It is well-known that the US 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, do not have anything to do with the assets already recovered and being recovered under the Abacha 2014 non-prosecution agreement.”

This is the smoking gun: early this month, the UK’s National Crime Office joined the US Department of Justice to oppose legal action filed by a third party, laying claim to another $155 million stash that had been frozen by the foreign governments. Bagudu in 2003 agreed to return $163 million in exchange for being allowed to return to Nigeria and has since been elected, first as a senator and twice as governor of Kebbi.

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What irks foreign governments and rubs insult into the wound of Nigeria is that the government did not only fail to prosecute Abacha’s enablers, but also went ahead to ink an agreement under which it will pay them with funds from other recovered funds.

This is reprehensible. The country has suffered greatly from the effects of graft. Apart from the $400 billion reportedly stolen between 1960 and 1999, up to 40 per cent of the $300 billion oil receipts from 2010 till 2015 are also estimated by Transparency International to have been stolen. A World Bank report found that 10 to 50 per cent of public procurement funds are diverted and laundered abroad. “These losses are enormous when perceived from the development point of view,” says the OECD, adding; “The true value of the loss is symbolised by the lost opportunity to invest in development or alleviation of poverty and human suffering…”

To discourage looting, it is better to forfeit stolen assets than to reward those accused of facilitating theft. The responsibility of the government is to investigate, identify and prosecute all who raided or helped in raiding the treasury. The Bagudus are under the law, innocent until pronounced guilty by a competent court. The minimum expected of the Buhari regime, however, in line with its anti-corruption programme, is to follow through on the US, the UK and Jersey indictments, investigate, review all the files and repudiate any pacts by its predecessors that subvert the national interest. Crime must be punished, not rewarded.

Nigeria and 159 other countries are signatories to the United Nations Convention against Corruption that makes stolen assets recovery an international priority in the fight against corruption. Many countries are willing today to help developing countries repatriate stolen wealth, but Nigeria, where The Economist of London says “recovered assets are often re-looted,” discourages them, prompting the humiliating conditions attached to stolen assets recoveries.

With such cooperation, Angola announced in December 2019 that it had recovered over $5 billion in stolen wealth, including $3 billion from its Sovereign Wealth Fund. To manage part of the recoveries of the estimated $5 billion to $10 billion that the late Ferdinand Marcos filched, the Philippines set up an Agrarian Reform Fund to help small farmers.

There should henceforth be accountability in the utilisation of recoveries: the practice of spending funds without parliamentary approval violates the constitution. Even where agreements are made to use the funds for specific projects, the National Assembly should approve their expenditure through supplementary appropriation bills.

Buhari should ensure no one benefits from the proceeds of crime. He should pursue the recovery of all assets stolen by Abacha and his accomplices with more vigour and transparency. To drive home the message that crime does not pay, all who assisted Abacha in stealing the country blind should be identified, investigated and prosecuted accordingly.

Source: Punch Editorial 4th May, 2020

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