Abubakar Bagudu, the governor of Kebbi State, has denied any wrongdoing in demanding about $100 million from the money stolen by a former head of state, Sani Abacha.
There was a general feeling of indignation across the country on Saturday, February 22, 2020, over the report of alleged attempts by the federal government to hand over about $100 million United States authorities say was stolen by a former head of state, Sani Abacha, to the Kebbi State governor. Bagudu is a top member of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.
A Bloomberg report said a commitment by Nigeria to transfer the funds to Bagudu appeared to undermine President Muhammadu Buhari’s pledge to check corruption in the country. It quoted the U.S. Department of Justice as saying that Bagudu was involved in corruption with Abacha, and contended that the Nigerian government was hindering U.S. efforts to recover allegedly laundered money it says was traced to Bagudu.
It added that the Buhari administration says a 17-year-old agreement entitles Bagudu to the funds and prevents Nigeria from assisting the U.S., according to recent filings from the District Court for the District of Columbia in Washington. The disagreement, according to Bloomberg, may hamper future cooperation between Nigeria and the U.S. to recover money moved abroad by Abacha.
“This case illustrates how complex and contentious repatriating stolen assets to Nigeria can be,” Bloomberg quoted Matthew Page, an associate fellow at London-based Chatham House and former Nigeria expert for U.S. intelligence agencies, as saying. “Instead of welcoming U.S. efforts, Nigeria’s lawyers appear to be supporting the interests of one of the country’s most powerful families,” he added.
However, Bagudu claimed the report was aimed at using the media to sensationalize the case while the U.S. authorities were using it as a ploy to confiscate recovery of the money by the Nigerian government, adding that the money was frozen in the UK and not the U.S. He added that his name was only joined as an associate of the Abacha government and though he signed an agreement with the federal government under former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003, up to 2013 none of his assets was frozen in Nigeria, and therefore he did not admit criminal liability.
According to a copy of the agreement obtained by Daily Trust in Abuja last night, it says if at any stage Bagudu returned to Nigeria he would not be arrested and in case of any mistaken arrest unconditional bail would be granted him in respect of the Abuja proceedings, the amended Abuja proceedings, the delegated proceedings or any criminal proceedings existing or future relating to the resolved matters as in the principal agreement.
The agreement was accompanied by a presidential statement in respect of Global Settlements between Bagudu and his affiliates and the Federal Republic of Nigeria signed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo on August 18, 2003. The letter listed Bagudu’s affiliates as David Liewellyn Jones, Smith and Tyres Limited, Robinson International, and AB’s wife, children, brothers, and sisters.
When General Olusegun Obasanjo became president in 1999, he made it a priority to hunt down the money stolen from Nigeria during the regime of Sani Abacha.
According to a source who worked closely on the case at the time, the Nigerian government hit a number of stumbling blocks in laying claim to the funds which had been laundered under various companies using associates like Bagudu. Huge amounts had been kept in the Swiss banking system.
“The president was sold the idea of a compromise which would see the Abacha family keep a small percentage of the looted funds, in return for their co-operation in unlocking the investments so they could be returned to Nigeria,” the source, who was a high-ranking official in the Obasanjo regime at the time told The Trent on Sunday, February 23, 2020.
“President Olusegun Obasanjo has said that the compromise deal the Federal Government reached with the family of the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, whereby the family would refund over $1 billion or 80 per cent of their liquid asset in exchange for freedom from litigation, is one of the hardest decisions of his life,” ThisDay reported in May 2002.
Obasanjo told Tell Magazine that he essentially had to do what he had to do to get the stolen funds returned to the country.
“I know that the Abacha family hadn’t legitimately done any work to deserve US$ 100 million,” the president was quoted as saying.
“Our lawyers came and said: Well you have a choice to make. We got to a situation where we can get about US$ 1.2 billion.
“But should I go ahead to recover US$ 1.2 billion of Nigeria’s money or go to tell Nigerians that we are fighting this case and 25, 30 years from now you wouldn’t get anything.
“So I told the lawyer ‘let me think about it because it wasn’t an easy decision for me,” the retired military general said.
Obasanjo also lamented that the Abacha family was able to pay lawyers 12 times what the Nigerian government paid lawyers to handle to matter. The government paid $1 million as legal fees while the Abachas reportedly paid their lawyers $12 million.
“They were able to pay that because it is not their money. It is your money and my money, it is Nigeria’s money,” the president said at the time.
Fast forward to 2020, and the confessed money launderer, Governor Bagudu of Kebbi State is laying claim to $110 million. According to him the interest earned on the funds promised to him is also his.