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Abacha Loot! Why FG Can’t Move Against Gov Bagudu

By Eric Elezuo

“The reported plan by the Nigerian government to give $100 million from loots recovered from Sani Abacha to Kebbi State Governor Atiku Bagudu is a betrayal of the victims of corruption and an affront to the UN Convention against corruption.”  – The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) 

Facts have emerged as to the reason behind President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government’s inability to move against the fraud charges levelled against the sitting Governor of Kebbi State, Alhaji Atiku Bagudu, and instead opt to gratify the governor with a hundred million dollars payment.

According to a Bloomberg report released on Friday, the Federal Government is believed to have concluded plans to transfer incoming Abacha loot of $100 million to Bagudu.

The report says the plans to transfer the said amount to the sitting governor, who was right-hand man of the former military ruler, late General Sani Abacha, and a prominent member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) would undermine President Muhammadu Buhari’s much touted fight against corruption in the country.

According to the reports, the United States Department of Justice indicted the Federal Government of blocking attempts to recover Abacha loot traced to the Kebbi Governor.

The DoJ made the claim in court papers filed before the District Court for the District of Columbia in Washington.

Bagudu, who is a close ally of Buhari and a prominent member of the ruling All Progressives Congress, was indicted by the US Government for helping the late military dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, to transfer billions of dollars in the mid-90s.

The government of President Buhari, with evidences of graft against the governor are hand-tied and bent on remitting $100 million to Bugudu, the fact that he, according to the report, fraudulently helped Abacha loot government fund notwithstanding.

The document read in part:

“Despite the forfeiture action being initiated following a Nigerian state request in 2012, Buhari’s government now says it can’t assist the US because it’s bound by a settlement Bagudu reached with the administration of then-President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003, according to the court filings.”

According to documents from the DoJ, Bagudu spent six months in federal detention in Texas while awaiting extradition to the Island of Jersey.

However, before he was handed over to criminal trial in Jersey, he quickly agreed to return $163m to Nigeria and was released on bond to Nigeria, where he was meant to be prosecuted for money laundering.

But on returning, he was cleared of all charges in very unusual circumstances, and qualified to contest elections. Bugudu has so far contested in three different election cycles – once as a senator and twice as governor – all of which he won and now enjoys immunity.

Bagudu’s ‘clearance’ was a consequence of a more than gentleman agreement with the Federal Government, which not only let him off the fraud case, but also pay him a stipend from the returned loot. Under the terms of that accord, which was approved by a UK court, Bagudu returned $163m 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.

That meant “Nigeria renounced any interest whatsoever” in Bagudu’s trust assets, including those the US is attempting to recover for the country.

Bagudu was therefore able to return to Nigeria after concluding the settlement and relaunched himself into the political mainstream, and has served as a senator in 2009 through to 2015 when he was voted in as Kebbi’s governor in the same election that brought Buhari and his APC to power.

Considering the strength of the accord, Bagudu sued the Nigeria government for violating the settlement in 2003, and successfully brought the nation to its knees as Buhari’s regime reached a new agreement with him in October 2018, according to the court filings.

This agreement would therefore, “…result in the transfer of ownership of the investment portfolios, worth 141m euros ($155m) 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.”

It is the US intention to repatriate the funds as part of the Abacha loot that has met Nigeria’s refusal, holding on to the agreement it had reached with the Kebbi governor in 2018.

Buhari’s government claims the updated 2018 agreement with the Kebbi governor, which requires court approval in the UK, will “curtail and mitigate its looming exposure” from the judgment in Bagudu’s favour.

Buhari’s administration submitted the 2018 deal to the UK 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.

This disagreement between the Federal Government and the United States, according to the report, may hamper future cooperation between Nigeria and the US to recover state money moved offshore by Abacha, whom Transparency International estimates may have looted as much as $5bn during his 1993-98 rule. But the Nigerian government seem not ready to play ball, considering its commitment to Bagudu.

While the US Department of Justice maintains that the Nigerian government is preventing the US from seizing Bagudu’s alleged loot, the report further states:

“The DoJ also contends that the Nigerian government is hindering US efforts to recover allegedly laundered money it says it’s traced to Bagudu. Buhari’s administration says 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.”

“A commitment by Nigeria to transfer the funds to Kebbi State Governor Abubakar Bagudu appears to undermine Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s pledge to quell rampant graft in Africa’s top oil producer,” the report stated.

An Associate Fellow at London-based Chatham House and former Nigeria expert for U.S. intelligence agencies Matthew Page, according to ICIRNigeria is quoted as saying that the move by the Nigerian government may frustrate further efforts by the US to repatriate stolen money to Nigeria.

“Instead of welcoming U.S. efforts, Nigeria’s lawyers appear to be supporting the interests of one of the country’s most powerful families,” Page said.

Recall that successive governments have sought to recoup the money looted by Abacha, who died in office, and have so far repatriated more than $2bn with the cooperation of other countries, according to US court filings.

Born in 1961, 58 years old Abubakar Atiku Bagudu is described as part of a network controlled by Abacha that “embezzled, misappropriated and extorted billions from the government of Nigeria”, DoJ reports

The current governor of Kebbi State, who previous served as the Senator for the Kebbi Central constituency of Kebbi state, Bagudu reportedly, is a product of a wealthy family. He is also well read, obtaining a B.Sc (Economics) from the  Usman Danfodiyo University Sokoto, and M,Sc (Economics) from the University of Jos. He also has an M.A. in International Affairs.

Bagudu’s multiple involvment in corruption cases that occurred during the regime of former dictator Sani Abacha is a subject of discourse, prompting a section of Nigerians that agree that a man of his type has no business ruling over a people.

With the outcry against Buhari’s Federal government intention to cut the governor a slack from the infamous Abacha loot, it is left to be seen how a government that pride itself as a champion of anti-corruption war will handle the issue. It can only get better, or much worse.

 

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