The FG-Delta State tango over Ibori loot

AS controversy rages between the Federal Government and Delta State over the apposite destination of the  £4.2 million to be  repatriated by the British Government to Nigeria as part of the recovered loot ascribed to James Ibori, an erstwhile helmsman in the state, it is imperative to sound a note of caution to both parties.  Both the central  and the sub-national governments  have been going about the issue in a rather unabashed manner as if this is a mere competition between two  tiers  of government. The issue is about sleaze that has an international dimension to it and in which both parties had contributed one way or the other to the near loss of the funds with impunity.

The polar positions held by the two parties on the recovered loot ought to be interrogated on two grounds.  One, it is the same case that the Federal Government  could not prosecute diligently  in the country, which was dismissed and over which the culprit was acquitted, that  has now generated the recovered loot in question, albeit from a jurisdiction that seldom  brooks  shenanigans on judicial matters. Now, the same Federal Government plans to have the sole discretion to apply the recovered loot, notwithstanding the original owner of the funds. Two, it is saddening that there was no indication that money went missing in Delta State. Despite the evident loot, the state did not set up a committee to recover that loot. Indeed, the loud insinuation in the corridors of power in the state then was that Ibori did not steal any money but that he was a victim of a witch-hunt by a top and overbearing politician with whom he had loyalty issues.

And when he was released from the British prison after completing his jail term, the same people rolled out drums to welcome him from what they apparently construed as an unjust incarceration. Yet, the same state officials have been very vociferous lately, clamouring for the handover of the recovered loot to them. Truth be told, neither of the two governments deserves the recovered funds but the people do, and the people in this context are the vast majority of Deltans who are unaware of the game their ruling elite have been playing with their collective patrimony and, by implication, their lives.

Yes, it was the Federal Government that negotiated and facilitated the repatriation of the looted funds, but it should be recognised that it is the only tier of government that can go into the kind of negotiation entered into with the British Government. Such negotiations are customarily between two sovereignties. Nonetheless, the Federal Government should not have entered into the negotiation with the British Government without taking Delta State government into confidence. Perhaps the Federal Government’s untoward disposition in that regard was predicated on Delta State’s earlier position that there was no loot to recover. But even at that, the central government should still have carried the state along because the looted resources did not belong to the state officials; they belonged and still belong to the people of Delta State.

Moreover, since it has been established by the court judgment that Ibori stole the money from Delta State’s coffers, it would be in tandem with the principle of natural justice for the Federal Government to put Delta State at the centre of projects to be executed with the looted funds to be recovered, even if it has to deduct the legal/running cost of the recovery. The funds were its ab initio and it would be unfortunate and unfair if Delta State loses everything, notwithstanding the fact that its political leadership has obviously failed to conduct itself properly. To be sure, there is nothing novel about this variant of recovered loot to generate the current   controversy; the country had received similar proceeds of corruption from foreign jurisdictions in the past and they were treated in a particular way.

The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, is enjoined to draw lessons from those precedents and reverse himself of the egregious error he is about to lead the Federal Government into.  It will be recalled that similar looted money by Joshua Dariye, a former governor of Plateau State, was returned to the state when it was recovered. In a similar vein, Bayelsa State was the beneficiary of the recovered funds earlier looted by an ex-governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.  In these two previous cases and in the instant one, there is no controversy as to where the looted funds originated from ab initio because the court has already settled that.  We urge that public funds recovered from looters should be returned to the original owners. Perhaps states would be encouraged to look for their missing money if the returned loot would be used to fund projects in their domain.  No attempt should be made to treat the Ibori loot differently from the two cases mentioned above, as that will be tantamount to playing dangerous politics with justice and fairness.



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