A legal practitioner, Dr Kayode Ajulo, tells OLUSOLA FABIYI why it will be wrong to return the €4.2m the United Kingdom government recovered from ex-governor James Ibori of Delta State to the coffers of the state
Would you know whose purse the €4.2m recovered from former Governor James Ibori came from?
There is no doubting the fact that the recovered funds were stolen from the coffers of the Delta State Government by Chief James Ibori. The ex-governor in his avaricious quest for unending wealth had monopolised the commonwealth of the people of Delta State.
If it was stolen from Delta State, where then must it be returned to?
While I agree that the loot was taken from the coffers of Delta State, the circumstance poses a peculiar situation and each case must be treated on the heel of its peculiar facts. What is more crucial and fundamental are the facts which culminated in the recovery of the funds looted by James Ibori. It is pertinent to note that as of the time of Ibori’s trial, the Delta State Government with an unshaken enthusiasm denied outright the looting of its purse by the ex-governor and questioned what it described as “cooked up” charges against him. History will never forget how the ex-governor was greeted with funfair upon his release from prison. The flock of supporters that visited his Oghara residence to accord him a heroic welcome is a clear testimony and confirmation of the fact that the people of Delta State strongly believed Ibori’s innocence. In fact, they believed lbori was a victim of political machination and regarded the period he spent in the penitentiary as a learning experience in the ‘University of Life.’ But more importantly, the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, headed by Honourable Justice Gabriel Kolawole, in 2016 ordered that Delta State Government should not benefit from other funds recovered from Ibori, consequent upon its failure to cooperate with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission during Ibori’s trial, thereby permanently forfeiting Ibori’s loot to the Federal Government. The chicken has come home to roost for them and they must bear the consequences of their actions. If the people of Delta State and their allies who had said they were not looking for their money can suddenly claim ownership of the same money, then something is not adding up somewhere.
The money recovered from former Plateau State governor, Joshua Dariye, by the Federal Government in London was returned to the state, why should this be different?
In the Dariye situation, the confiscation recovery was 250,000 dollars and Nigeria again secured recovery as a victim of unlawful diversion. These proceedings were independent of the civil suits brought by Nigeria against Dariye. The Federal Republic of Nigeria did not seem to contest the legitimacy of Plateau State’s claim to be the legitimate owner or at least the proper ultimate recipient of the funds repatriated from the civil recoveries and confiscations in the United Kingdom, although the Federal Government had the right to reserve some of the funds to ensure payment of expenses. Considering the circumstance and the attitudinal disposition of the people of Delta State and their allies who see James Ibori as a hero and survivor of persecution by the government of the then President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Goodluck Jonathan. In circumstances like this, both the state party seeking confiscation and the state party which had frozen the funds might be understandably reluctant to see the funds returned to the official or associates of the official. In that situation, either the confiscating or freezing state might simply wish to preserve the status quo; confiscate the funds for its own national treasury in preference to returning them to the state that formally is the victim or to expend them at its own discretion on what it thinks could be projects that would benefit the state and the nation at large.
Are you alluding to the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Federal Government and the British government?
The United Nation’s Convention Against Corruption to which Nigeria is a party makes copious provisions on the procedures to be followed in the repatriation of confiscated loot. Article 57(5) provides that “Where appropriate, States Parties may also give special consideration to concluding agreements or mutually acceptable arrangements, on a case-by-case basis, for the final disposal of confiscated property”. From the foregoing, it implies that the procedure to be followed in the final disposal of the confiscated property to a beneficiary state would be dependent on the peculiarity of each case. In the case of Ibori, the United Kingdom had entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Nigerian Government to ensure that the funds were not re-looted. Thus, the Federal Government was made to undertake that a civil society organisation would monitor the refund of the looted funds. We must also recall that at the time of Ibori’s sentencing, the UK International Development Secretary issued a statement that, ‘We are committed to rooting out corruption wherever it is undermining development and will help bring perpetrators like Ibori to justice and return stolen funds to help the world’s poorest.’
Is FG not supposed to protect the interest of the states in its actions?
I believe the actions of the Federal Government are geared towards ensuring transparency and efficient use of the repatriated funds for the benefit of the nation at large. It suffices to equally state that the Federal Government which represents all the constituent states of the federation holds in trust and exercises the powers of the federation for and on behalf of all the states.
Can states also go after looted funds and repatriate them as well without the support of the federal government?
It is imperative to note that only nation states are subjects of international law and the component states of a country are integral parts of the country. A component state therefore cannot apply for confiscation of money looted from its coffers without the support of the Federal Government. See the holding of Uwais JSC (as he then was) in the case of AG Federation vs AG of Abia State & ors (2001) LPELR-24862(SC).
Are there fears that the state could give the money back to Ibori because of his position in the state?
Well the devil, they say, does not know the intent of a man. However, considering the trajectory and the circumstance of the present case, one cannot but conclude that the government of the day is an ally to the ex-governor James Ibori whom it sees as its hero.
It seems many don’t trust the Delta State Government’s ability to judiciously spend the money, why is that?
Issue of trust here is circumstantial, it’s not mine to say if the state government is trustworthy or not. I have it on record via affidavit evidence of the position of the state government in respect of the Ibori loot. Government everywhere is in perpetuity and whereas the extant government led by Dr Ifeanyi Okowa hasn’t said anything in contrary to the previous government’s position and this is in the face of the allegation or should I say intel that the governor was anointed by Ibori from prison in England.
Would you say governors are learning from the Ibori case?
While it is adjudged that history is the best teacher, however events in the past have confirmed that political office holders have a rapacious and unquenched desire to amass wealth damning the consequences of their actions. They enjoy immunity in office and even when they leave, they hope the government of the day would wipe their slate clean.
Why are senior lawyers not involved in the process of making sure our judicial system is not sabotaged?
As ministers in the temple of Justice, it is admonished that like knights of old, lawyers are supposed to be bound by a code of conduct, embracing duty, loyalty, integrity, gallantry, honour, courtesy and chivalry which are the founding tenets of this noble profession and lawyers are expected to act in a manner consistent with the best interest of their clients and what will promote the interest of justice. Any act of sabotage and truncation of the course of justice ought to be reprimanded and condemned.