The Nigerian government has kicked against an attempt by United States lawmaker, Senator Chuck Grassley, to block the repatriation of $320m laundered by the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha.
Grassley, who is the highest-ranking senator in the US, had asked the Department of Justice why the US was returning such funds to Nigeria despite the high record of human rights violation perpetrated by the government of the President Muhammadu Buhari.
The US senator, who is an ally of President Donald Trump, wondered why the US should help Nigeria to repatriate Abacha loot when it was clear that the next tranche from the United Kingdom would be given to Governor Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State, an alleged accomplice of Abacha.
In the letter dated April 1, 2020, which was addressed to Deborah Connor, Chief Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section of the DOJ, Grassley made reference to a Bloomberg report which exposed Nigeria’s arrangement with Bagudu.
The letter read in part, “In 2014, the Isle of Jersey, a British dependency seized more than $320m laundered by the corrupt former dictator of Nigeria, General Sani Abacha. After a long legal battle, the Isle of Jersey and the United States have entered into an agreement to repatriate this money back to Nigeria in the coming months.
“Yet, according to a recent Bloomberg article, the current Nigerian government is refusing to help the US Department of Justice finalise a second forfeiture action against a separate $100m in Abacha loot.
“In addition to this lack of cooperation, if Nigeria did receive the second batch of funds, it intends to return the money to an official who DOJ says was involved in corruption with Abacha.”
Grassley, who is the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said Buhari’s government also perpetrated the abuse of human rights.
The senator said, “There are also serious human rights concerns. Under President Muhammadu Buhari’s government, Nigerians face violations undermining freedom of religion, freedom of speech, due process, and the rule of law.
“In late December, the US State Department labelled Nigeria a severe violator of religious freedom.
“The Buhari government’s own agencies have also abused the civil liberties of innocent Nigerian citizens. Last December’s re-arrest and detention of a US green card-holding journalist is just the latest high profile example.
“The re-arrest and detainment of New Jersey resident, Omoyele Sowore, just one day after he was released by a judicial court, is a clear testament to its glaring contempt of judicial opinion and the rule of law. Mr Sowore, an activist journalist and former political opponent of President Buhari, is still being detained, a blatant transgression of international norms.”
Grassley also lambasted the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), and the Chairman, Economic Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu, accusing them of being agents of oppression of Buhari’s political opponents.
However, the AGF in a statement by his spokesman, Umar Gwandu, said the accusations were baseless.
The statement read in part, “The evidence on the ground establishes that the Federal Government’s operations in the fight against corruption are carried out without fear or favour.
“He (Malami)added that members of the ruling or opposition parties and otherwise are in no way spared in view of numerical data of recorded judicial convictions.”
Meanwhile, the Federal Government says it has not entered into any agreement to concede any amount of money to any individual in relation to over $300m to be repatriated to Nigeria from Island of New Jessy.
The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), made the clarification in a statement by his media aide, Gwandu.
The minister stated that the Federal Government was exclusively bound by the tripartite agreement entered into and signed by the Federal Government of Nigeria, United States of America and Island of Jessy for the repatriation of over $300m funds referred to as Abacha III.
He added that no individual was named to be a beneficiary of any amount in the tripartite agreement.
Malami said the international community had developed confidence in the present administration in view of the fact that looted funds recovered by the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) were judiciously utilised for high-impact public-oriented projects.
He said in the document of the agreement, it was clearly spelt out that the money would be utilised on the Abuja-Kano and Lagos-Ibadan Expressways, as well as the 2nd Niger Bridge only.
The minister said the country had no problems enforcing agreements and treaties, therefore it was impossible and unimaginable for Nigeria to hand over some amount of money to a third party not expressly mentioned in the agreement.