The United States’ government has reportedly exposed and opposed the Buhari-led administration’s plan to hand over $100m out of the recovered Gen Sani Abacha’s loot to an All Progressives Congress member and Governor of Kebbi State, Abubakar Bagudu.
Bloomberg reported that while the U.S. Department of Justice said Bagudu who spent six months in federal detention in Texas while awaiting extradition to the Island of Jersey was involved in corruption with Abacha, Buhari’s administration is insisting there is a 17-year-old agreement which entitles Bagudu to the recovered funds.
Documents made available by the US Department of Justice revealed that the Kebbi State Governor who is a close ally of President Buhari was handed over to criminal trial in Jersey before he agreed to return $163m to Nigeria. He was subsequently released on bond to Nigeria where he was supposed to be prosecuted for money laundering, but that trial never took place.
In the case involving Bagudu, the U.S. in 2013 initiated a forfeiture action against a host of assets, including four investment portfolios held in London in trust for him and his family, according to the district court filings.
In court documents filed before the district court of Columbia, it was learnt that the Nigerian government said there is an agreement which stops it from assisting the US in investigating Bagudu. The US Department of Justice also said the Nigerian government is preventing the US from seizing Bagudu’s alleged loot.
The report reads in part;
“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.
“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.”
Bagudu who was cleared to contest in three different election cycles, was first elected as a senator in 2009. He became Kebbi’s governor in an election that brought Buhari and his party to power and is now the chairman of an influential body of governors representing the ruling All Progressives Congress.
It was gathered that he successfully sued the Nigerian government for violating the 2003 agreement of investigating him and dropping all outstanding civil and criminal claims against. In 2018, the Kebbi Governor reached a new agreement with the Buhari-led administration.
The agreement will reportedly lead to;
“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.”
Asides claiming that the updated 2018 agreement with the Kebbi governor which requires court approval in the U.K will “curtail and mitigate its looming exposure” from the judgment in Bagudu’s favor, it was alleged that 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. The court is however yet to make a decision.
It is also speculated that the disagreement may hamper future cooperation between Nigeria and the US to recover state money moved offshore by Abacha, who Transparency International estimates may have looted as much as $5bn during his 1993-98 rule.