By Robert Egbe
A Lagos-based lawyer, Chukwudi Enebeli, has given three reasons why the Federal Government is not entitled to the £4.2 million expected from the United Kingdom as part of looted funds recovered from former Delta Governor James Ibori.
Enebeli, partner in the law firm of Pinheiro LP, faulted the Federal Government’s proposal to invest the money in the construction of the second Niger Bridge, Abuja–Kano Road, and Lagos-Ibadan Express Road.
He reasoned the appropriate recipients of the sum are the people from which it was stolen – Delta State natives – notwithstanding a claim by a Delta State official that the money was not missing from the state’s coffers.
Relying on case law and the constitution, Enebeli advanced three grounds for his argument.
Firstly, he contended that the victim of Ibori’s fraud were “for all intents and purpose” the Delta State Government and its citizens.
“The stolen monies belonged exclusively to the people of Delta State; it is they who were affected by the act of the ex-Governor of Delta State,” Enebeli said.
Secondly, the lawyer said the Delta State Government being the trustee of the state’s residents “is entitled to the funds to hold same in trust for the people of Delta State.
“This point is made more poignant against the backdrop of the fact that the ex-governor has never served in any federal capacity.”
Lastly, Enebeli noted that the natural justice of the case “requires that the people of Delta State be afforded exclusive access to the monies by forwarding same to the Delta State Government immediately.”
He advised the Delta State Government to approach the Supreme Court “in furtherance of their rights under Section 232 (1) of the Constitution”, should the federal government fail to transfer the money to the state.
“The earlier the Delta State Government acts the better, because it has also been reported that the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation had stated that over £100 million pounds allegedly stolen by the ex-Governor is still being expected,” Enebeli added.
The Delta State native disagreed with proponents of the argument that the victim of the loot was the federal government because the law breached by the ‘looter’ is a Federal Law (the Money Laundering Act) and that the federal government is the party that has been fully involved in the processes that culminated in Ibori’s conviction, confiscation of his properties and the proposed repatriation of the £4.2m.
Enebeli said: “The starting point in analysing this issue would be to identify the owner of the monies stolen and siphoned by the ex-Governor. Indeed, it is the owner of the stolen monies that is the victim of the theft and is entitled to the repatriated funds. See: David v. Federal Republic of Nigeria (2018) LPELR-43677(CA)…
“Another way to view the issue is to answer the question, Had the ex-Governor not embezzled, stolen or siphoned the monies, who would have taken benefit of the monies? Certainly, the monies would have been available to the benefit of the people of Delta State exclusively. It is my view therefore, that the repatriated funds be paid exclusively to the Delta State Government.”
Ibori looted the funds while serving as Delta State Governor between 1999 and 2003, but the attempt to prosecute him within Nigeria was unsuccessful as the charges were quashed.
However, a Southwark Crown Court in the UK sentenced him to 13 years imprisonment on April 17 2012 and his assets and properties were confiscated.
On March 9 2021, the UK signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Federal Government to return £4.2m.
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