Emmanuel Onwubiko: Ibori loot for Delta poor

  Some actions of President Muhammadu Buhari–led government have made some critical minds to begin to think about the value the president an...

 

Some actions of President Muhammadu Buhari–led government have made some critical minds to begin to think about the value the president and his Kitchen Cabinet members attaches to the import, significance and actual impact the concept of equity and equality should play in the act of political governance of geopolitical space named Nigeria.

One amongst the plethora of actions that puts to question also the meaning of integrity in governmental decisions and policy implementation is the plot by the central government to receive and deploy for national projects the proceeds of the financial resources plundered from Delta State by the convicted and released erstwhile governor of that crude oil rich state- James Onanete Ibori.
When I read that President Buhari has said he would spend the recovered loot which Britain agreed to return to Nigeria, in the building of the National Asset of second Niger Bridge, this thinking smacks of double standard and is absolutely unfair going by legal precedents which we will point out as we progress with this reflection. And then I ask, why does President Muhammadu Buhari always plays petty politics with infrastructures that are meant to benefit the South East of Nigeria. Bit that angle is a topic for another day.

Suffice it to just mention that the billions stolen by the then military dictator, General Sani Abacha which kept in many foreign financial jurisdictions that were recently returned to Nigeria were simply distributed to those the current government identified as poor Nigerians. Although a lot of these recovered funds were re-looted or re-stolen by officials of the current federal government.
The loot recovered from the erstwhile governor of Bayelsa State Mr. Depreye Alemesagha was similarly surrendered to Bayelsa State. So why will the case of Delta State be any different? The EFCC’s website has a piece that detailed recovered assets and how they were spent and much of it went back to the States from which they were stolen.
But first, let us revisit the delivery of the landmark judgment of the British Court and read how the presiding judge deprecated the fact that someone entrusted by his people and elected to serve can amass so much illicit wealth off the common wealth of the same people who in the first place elected him to serve and not be served. After looking at the verdict, we can then return to assess how the likes of Alemeseigha’s and Abacha’s recovered stolen money were redistributed.

It should be recalled that the former Delta State governor was convicted and sentenced to 13 years in a British prison and had served a total of 7 years before being freed and he found his way back to Nigeria whereby he was celebrated by the then government that was headed by his Cousin Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan who held powerful positions in Ibori’s administration. Ibori is still politically influential and was instrumental to the emergence of the current governor Ifeanyi Okowa who succeeded James Ibori’s cousin Uduaghan. This is why I think the recovered funds should be redistributed to the poorest people in Delta State by a team to be supervised by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. This is to prevent the proceeds of crime from being re-stolen. Well, this was how the conviction of James Ibori was celebrated after he was arrested by INTERPOL in Dubai where he was hiding.

In an article published 8 years back in The Guardian of London the Delta State former governor James Ibori, was described as a ‘petty thief’ who eventually became one of Nigeria’s richest men, has received a 13-year jail sentence after admitting fraud of nearly £50m, described by the judge as probably “ludicrously low”.

The Metropolitan police estimates that Ibori embezzled $250m (£157m) of Nigerian public funds belonging to Delta State.

Andrew Mitchell, the UK international development secretary, then said: “James Ibori’s sentence sends a strong and important message to those who seek to use Britain as a refuge for their crimes.

“Corruption is a cancer in developing countries and the [UK] coalition government has a zero-tolerance approach to it. We are committed to rooting out corruption wherever it is undermining development, and will help bring its perpetrators like Ibori to justice and return stolen funds to help the world’s poorest.”

The Department for International Development (DfID), which funds the Proceeds of Corruption Unit, began investigating Ibori in 2005, alongside Nigeria’s anti-corruption unit, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

As Ibori was sentenced, NGOs called for further investigation into how he managed to move his money through his British and US bank accounts. Global Witness called for a thorough investigation into British banks for their roles in the laundering of millions of pounds by Ibori.

Robert Palmer, a campaigner with Global Witness, said: “By doing business with Ibori and his associates, these banks facilitated his corrupt behaviour and allowed him to spend diverted state assets on a luxury lifestyle, including a private jet and expensive London houses, while many Nigerians continue to live in poverty.”

According to the prosecutor, Sasha Wass, Ibori and his associates used multiple accounts at the banks to launder funds. Millions of pounds passed through these accounts, some of which were used to buy expensive London property.

At Ibori’s sentencing hearing, Wass told the court how Ibori – once a “petty thief with his hand in the till” at the DIY store Wickes – amassed a portfolio of six properties outside Nigeria worth £6.9m at a time he was being paid £4,000 a year as state governor of the Delta region.

The properties in London included a flat in St John’s Wood, a house in Hampstead, and one in Regent’s Park. He also had a £3m mansion in South Africa, and properties in Texas and in Dorset, near to where his children attended private school.

Ibori also bought a fleet of luxury cars, and in three years ran up £920,000 on his American Express Centurion card – a card only available to the super-rich, Wass told the court. In 2005, Ibori instructed a London solicitor to buy a private jet costing $20m.
Global Witness said the case raised serious questions about the due diligence that the banks carried out on Ibori and his associates.

“It’s welcome that the FSA [Financial Services Authority] has said it will do more to target banks that fail to tackle financial crime. But unless they issue penalties that really hurt, nothing will change,” said Palmer. “And we now need an investigation into how Ibori was able to move so much money through these British banks for so long and whether or not sufficient checks were carried out.”
The FSA has said it will take a tougher line in future after an industry-wide review in 2011 of compliance with money-laundering rules. Last month, Coutts, the Queen’s banker, was fined £8.75m for breaches of money-laundering rules after three years of “serious” and “systemic” problems in handling the affairs of customers vulnerable to corruption because of their political links.

Ibori, 49, changed his original plea as his trial was about to begin and admitted stealing money from Delta state and laundering it in London through a number of offshore companies. Ibori admitted to fraud totalling more than $79m, said to be part of total embezzlement that could exceed $250m.

As governor of Delta state, he racked up credit card bills of $200,000 a month and owned a fleet of armoured Range Rovers, said the prosecution. He was trying to buy a plane at the time he was arrested. Once seen as one of Nigeria’s wealthiest and most influential politicians, Ibori was seized in 2010 in Dubai at the request of the Metropolitan police and extradited to London last year.

His wife, Theresa Ibori; sister, Christine Ibori-Idie; mistress, Udoamaka Okoronkwo, and London-based solicitor Bhadresh Gohil have all already been convicted of money laundering.

DfID said Ibori systematically stole public funds, depositing them in bank accounts across the world. A major breakthrough came when officers from Scotland Yard found two computer hard drives that revealed the extent of his crimes.

But the case has also embarrassed DfID. CDC Group, the private enterprise arm of DfID, according to the BBC, put $47.5m into a private equity fund, Emerging Capital Partners (ECP), which invested in Nigerian companies allegedly linked to Ibori.

In January, of eight years back, Andrew Mitchell issued an unreserved apology to an Anglo-Nigerian whistleblower after the BBC’s Newsnight revealed DfID had betrayed his identity to the people he was accusing. Dotun Oloko had warned DfID about potential problems with CDC investments. The department passed a document containing Oloko’s name to ECP, which he had accused of investing in potential corruption.

Perhaps, the heavy damage done to the global image of Great Britain by the revelations that emerged from the trials of James Ibori was instrumental to the statements credited to some British officials who tried to offer reasons why Britain is returning the loot. The Guardian of London reports that the UK government has faced criticism for not doing enough to prevent foreign officials acquiring property and assets in UK jurisdictions.

Nigeria’s justice minister signed an agreement on Tuesday with the UK high commissioner in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, to return the recovered funds. Nigeria said they would be used on key infrastructure and building works.
The UK’s Africa minister, James Duddridge, hailed the move. “When money is stolen from public funds it hits the poorest communities the hardest and means money can’t be spent where it’s most needed,” he said.
Home Office minister Susan Williams described the deal as “a significant moment in our fight against illicit finance wherever it is found”.

The agreement follows a memorandum of understanding signed between Nigeria and the UK, its former colonial power, in 2016, which aimed to return the seized proceeds of bribery or corruption within a framework that commits Nigeria to transparent use of the returned funds.
It is my contention that these recovered fund from Britain belong to Delta State people and must go to them. In line with established practice, the loot belongs to the people from whom it was stolen in the first instance. I also add that the very poor indigenes of Delta state should be the beneficiaries by way of disbursement of cash for each of these persons to become economically empowered. On no account should the Delta people’s money be funneled into some ghost critical national infrastructures’.
When it was the turn of the recovery of the ‘Abacha loot’, the cash was paid directly to some poor Nigerians as was reported by most media establishments including the British Broadcasting Corporation.

From official website of EFCC, these are how they told the story of what they did with recovered stolen assets. They wrote that a lot of questions have been asked by Nigerians in the past in respect of recovered loot by the Commission; these questions were given some prominence under the administration of a former chairman, through a certain George Uboh who has a dubious history of being a serial convict, first in the United States and recently in Nigeria for fraud. The Commission, however, uses the petition addressed by Uboh to the National Assembly to put the records straight on what EFCC did with the recovered loot. Find below, point-by-point response to the allegations.

On DSP ALAMIEYESEIEGHA FORFEITED ASSETS the a) ALLEGATION: “That you Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, as the Director of Operations, conspired with some officers in the EFCC to manipulate the forfeitures and recoveries from DSP Alamieyeseigha, which events took place between 2006 and 2007, as if it took place in July, 2008, with a view to shifting responsibilities to the regime or tenure of Mrs. Farida Waziri. By this act, you traded with recoveries amounting to over N3.7billion for almost 2 years before formally documenting the transaction”.

EFCC’s RESPONSE: DSP Alamieyeseigha was convicted in July, 2007. The process of the disposal of his forfeited asset also commenced same year following his conviction as it could not have been possible to dispose his assets in 2006 before conviction in July 2007 (as alleged by George Uboh)! The first part of the money realized from the disposal was remitted to the Commission’s account by Real Estate Derivatives Limited on 24th July, 2008 while the last payment from the sale of his assets in Nigeria was received in March, 2009. On 9th July, 2009, the total sum of N3, 128,230,294.83 realized from the assets was remitted to the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Finance in favour of Bayelsa State.

A summary of the assets recovered from DSP Alamieyeseigha are as follows: i. Sale of 5 real estate N1, 982,915,352.22; ii. Recovery from Bond Bank N1, 000,000,000.0; iii. Legacy Bond Bank recoveries N105, 314, 942.61;iv. Proceeds from Chelsea mgt. N40, 000,000.00;v. Proceeds from rent collection N60, 000,000.00;vi. Pesal Nig. Ltd bank account N97, 708, 387.64
Other recoveries are: vii. USA Treasury cheques $215,000.00;viii. Chelsea Hotel Management $226,000.00;ix. Chelsea Hotel Management €7,000.00; x. Chelsea Hotel Management £2,000.00; xi. Two properties were returned directly to Bayelsa State i.e. Chelsea Hotel and No.2 Marscibit Street, Ishaku Rabiu Estate, Wuse II Abuja.

EFCC then stated that apart from the proceeds from rent collection and Pesal Nigeria Limited bank account, all other monies listed above have been remitted by the Commission to the Federal Government through the Ministry of Finance IN FAVOUR OF BAYELSA STATE.

EFCC reports further: The balance of N157,708,387.64, with the Commission comprise of the sum of N97,708.387.64 forfeited by Pesal Nig Ltd, which was remitted to the Commission by Diamond bank on 12th June, 2015, and the sum of N60m discovered through routine account reconciliation in 2014. This balance will be remitted at the end of the ongoing audit of the Commission’s exhibits and recoveries by a reputable international audit firm. Regarding the offshore assets of DSP Alamieyeseigha, the repatriation of the forfeited foreign assets was handled by the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, not EFCC. b) ALLEGATION: “That you Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, conspired with some EFCC officers to transfer a lower amount of N3,128,230,294:83 to the Government of Bayelsa State on 18/1/2010 instead of N4,257,503,009:23 being proceeds from the recoveries from DSP Alamieyeseigha”. EFCC’S RESPONSE: For the record, Ibrahim Lamorde was not in EFCC between May 2008 and December 2010 and could not have conspired with any EFCC official from his duty post in the Nigeria Police to transfer or withhold any recovered fund.
However records available in the Commission, indicate that the total sum of N3, 128,230,294.83 was remitted to the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Finance in favour of Bayelsa State on 9th July, 2009 as earlier stated and not 18th January, 2010.

The balance due to be remitted is as stated in this publication. George Uboh should provide evidence to show that EFCC remitted the proceeds of DSP Alamieyeseigha assets to Bayelsa State through the Federal Government on 18th January, 2010 (instead of 9th July, 2009) and to also produce evidence for the sum of N4, 257,503,009.23 he claimed ought to have been remitted to Bayelsa State.

So why does President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration wants to shortchange the people of Delta State by redirecting their recovered loot away from Delta to be used to build national infrastructure? This is a clear case of INJUSTICE.

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is the Head of HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA HURIWA and blogs @www. huriwanigeria.com[email protected]www.thenigerianinsidernews.com.

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