The Delta State Government has asked the Federal Government to return the £4.2 million James Ibori loot being repatriated to Nigeria by the United Kingdom to the state.
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa believes that since the money was stolen from the state, it would only be just to return the funds back to the state.
“I have spoken with the Attorney-General of the federation. My Attorney-General went to have a meeting with him. I think that we are working and we are likely to come on the same page. We have written a formal letter of protest to Mr President,” the Governor said on Wednesday.
The protest by the state is in reaction to the decision of the Federal Government to spend the funds on federal projects.
Nigeria and the UK had signed a memorandum of understanding on March 9 for the repatriation of the funds stolen by Ibori, a former Delta State governor.
But the development became mired in controversy shortly after the MoU was signed when the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, revealed the money will be spent by the Federal Government.
The projects it will be spent on, he said, were the construction of the second Niger Bridge, Abuja-Kano road, and Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
Governor Okowa, however, expects the Federal Government to take a similar route as the UK Government by returning the money to the source it was pilfered from.
“In the same manner of the relationship created between the UK and Nigeria, we also expect that the Nigerian Government will do the same thing by being magnanimous to return the money back to the source, which is Delta State,” he said.
To guarantee that Deltans benefit from the repatriated loot, the governor said it had provided options to the Federal Government and made a compelling case for the state.
“We have made two suggestions; return the money directly to us or apply it directly to projects that we feel are of importance and are in Delta State so that Deltans can directly benefit from the repatriated funds and I don’t think anybody can fault that line of thinking”, he said.
The governor is not alone in his position. A day after the news of the planned return of the loot broke, the House of Representatives passed a resolution calling on the Federal Government to ensure that it was returned to Delta State.
Lawmakers passed the resolution after their colleagues from the state moved a motion of urgent public importance. As far as they were concerned, the funds were stolen from the state and should be returned to it.
Ibori, who was Delta State Governor from 1999 to 2007. He was convicted by a UK court in 2012 and was sentenced to 13 years in jail with several of his assets forfeited to the UK Government. He was released in 2016.
Human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria Femi Falana also backed the calls for the return of the funds to the state.
He commended the Federal Government for negotiating and pursuing the return of the loot to Nigeria but insisted that it be returned to the source.
“Since the money left the coffers of the Delta State Government, it has to be returned once it is recovered,” Falana said during an appearance on Politics Today.
The attorney-general of the federation, however, has a different argument.
“The major consideration relating to who is entitled to a fraction or perhaps the money in its entirety is a function of law and international diplomacy,” Mr. Malami said.
“All the processes associated with the recovery were consummated by the federal government and the federal government is, indeed, the victim of crime and not sub-national.”
Ultimately, Governor Okowa believes President Muhammad Buhari will grant the state’s request as that is the right thing to do.
“I do believe that with the approach that we have undertaken it is unlikely that they will refuse the request. It is a strong appeal,” he said.
The governor rubbished claims that if the money is returned to Delta State “it will develop wings”.
“I don’t see how the money will develop wings anyway,” he said. “That is why we have directly put down projects – three projects where this money can be applied directly to such a manner that it is something you can investigate