FG, Delta should discuss disbursement of £4.2 million Ibori loot -Okpoko

A lot of reactions have trailed the announcement by the United Kingdom to return £4.2million, being part of funds recovered from ex-Delta State Governor, Chief James Ibori, to Nigeria. There have been arguments over reports that the Federal Government plans to channel the funds into some federal projects, instead of handing the money to the Delta State Government.
In this interview with Elo Edremoda, foremost lawyer, Chief Thompson Onomigbo Okpoko (SAN), who is the Principal Partner and Co-founder of Thompson Okpoko & Partners, gives some legal insights to the debate. Excerpts

Should the planned return of Chief James Ibori’s loot have been a negotiation between the United Kingdom and Delta State governments or the Uk with the Federal Government of Nigeria?

You must understand the intricacies of international law and the constitution that we have. In the Nigerian Constitution, there is only one sovereign country, namely, the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And under the constitution, diplomatic affairs are matters on the Exclusive Legislative List; that means they are matters to be handled by the Federal Legislature in the Federal Government. The government of the UK cannot bypass the Federal Government of Nigeria and go to a state. So, the answer to your question is that it is right and proper for the Federal Government of Nigeria to negotiate and deal with foreign authorities on behalf of Nigeria.

What are the legal implications for the federal government to appropriate the funds?

Well, I do not know where the facts came from to say that the federal government is attempting to appropriate the money. I do not think there is any official announcement to that effect. The money recovered by the Federal Government of Nigeria is owned by somebody, so we have first, to be certain as to who owns the money recovered by the Federal Government. There are so many intricate things about that. Supposing the British Government forfeited the money and decided to dash the Federal Government of Nigeria some parts of it. Then, we cannot say the money belongs to any other person. So, we don’t know yet, whether the British Government forfeited the money to itself and then gave whatever it wanted to give to Nigeria.

But, let’s look at it that they recovered the money from the former Governor of Delta State and gave the money back to Nigeria. In theory, that money belongs to somebody. Then again, we come back to where the source of the money is. If the former governor took it from the treasury of the state, then of course, the money will then belong to the state in the hands of the Federal Government of Nigeria.

The Federal Government must have incurred expenses in retrieving the money; the police investigation that led to the arrest was funded by somebody; the various litigations that were presented in the UK were funded by somebody. I am sure the British Government will first deduct its expenses for prosecuting Ibori from whatever money they recovered from him. Then when money gets to Nigeria here, the money belongs to Delta State or the source from which Ibori got it.

What is the implication of the Delta State Government denying that its money was looted while the former governor was being prosecuted years ago?

The whole trouble is this; I don’t know whether the state government has now come to put forward any claim to that money. So, we are just talking in the air. The state has not come to say ‘the money belongs to us’. If it comes forward to say so, it will then be met by a previous statement saying the state government does not own any such money. In which case, the money no longer belongs to the state. You can’t deny ownership and come back to claim ownership because the money has come.

It could possibly be that Ibori had made that money through some legitimate means. For instance, if he did a brokerage, if he assisted any company to secure an oil bloc or to set foot in Nigeria and they paid him such money, that’s his money. But unfortunately, because of the circumstance in which the money was recovered, it will not be fair to Nigerians to give him back the money. In which case, that will be in breach of his code of conduct as a public officer. That is the complication of the case. Some people are just talking here and there; they have not investigated or cared to find out the circumstance surrounding the money.

Ibori, for whatever reason, is still regarded as the number one governor that this state has produced. It is not because I am an Urhobo man, no, that’s not the issue. But let us examine ourselves; there are still quite a number of people who still consider Ibori’s governorship tenure as the best that this state has had. I am not afraid to say it. I will not shy away from the truth even if it is bitter.

What are the chances of Delta State Government winning should there be an eventual court case between the Federal Government of Nigeria and Delta State Government?

That is a matter for the Attorney-General of the state. It is for him to consider, whether on the facts available to the government, those facts are sufficient to make a successful case. Until a successful case is made, nobody can predict what the outcome will be. To win a case, you must prove the fact as you alleged them. So I cannot tell whether there is a good chance or no chance of winning, if the Delta State Government goes to court.

Some persons have argued that if the money is returned to the state government, it may not be judiciously utilised. What is your position on this, sir?

Again, that is speculation. The money has not come to the state government; the state government has not indicated what it will do with it. So, to say that the money will not be judiciously used, is to speculate. And, an old man like me, I cannot do speculations. It is not right to speculate. We speculate too much in this country, that is why we are having a lot of trouble. Why don’t we look to the facts? The state government has not said anything, so it is premature to talk about whether or not they will use it for the right purpose.

What is your advice to the Delta State and the Federal Government on the issue?

Well, my advice is that the state government should establish official contact with the Federal Government and have a roundtable discussion on the money that is expected to come from Great Britain. At such roundtable conferences, they will be able to agree as to how the money should be disbursed. And they would even go a step further, if there is goodwill, to discuss the type of historical things that will be created for future generations.

Source: Latest Nigeria News, Nigerian Newspapers, Politics

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