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RIGHTSView: The Good News on Abacha Loot

By Emmanuel Onwubiko on 05/07/2014

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A friend who hails from the South-western segment of Nigeria by name, Mr. Babatunde Adeniji Abimbola, called me from California, the United States to break the news that the Federal Government through the office of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke [SAN], has successfully negotiated an out of court settlement with the authorities of Liechtenstein necessitating a landmark agreement for the  return of a whopping sum of 167 million euros ($227 mil­lion) to Nigeria, ending what is considered in legal circle as a drawn-out battle by the Federal Government to recover cash looted by for­mer military dictator, late General Sani Abacha.

For the younger generation and older ones who may have forgotten, General Sani Abacha, who died in 1998 in suspicious circumstances, is suspected of having looted the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to the tune of about $2.2 billion, when he ruled from November 1993 to June 1998. His military regime faced international sanctions because of persistent cases of brutal human rights violations and disappearances of patriotic Nigerians opposed to military dictatorship. 

Shockingly, even with the sanctions slammed on his junta by the international community, some rogue nations, even in Western Europe, facilitated the looting and concealment in their own national banking institutions of these humongous amounts of money stolen from the public till of Nigeria.

Global reporters could vividly recall that Nigeria first requested help from Liechtenstein in 2000, to recover the cash stashed there, but the tiny principality of some 37,000 people grudgingly returned a paltry sum of 7.5 million euros to Nigeria in late 2013. But the restitu­tion of the bulk of the cash has long been blocked by lawsuits brought by companies linked to Abacha’s family. These law suits which predated the current Federal Government have indeed cost the Nigerian government huge legal fees.

It would also be recalled that many of the companies with suspected links to the Abacha family were sentenced in 2008 to repay monies proven to have been taken from Nigeria’s na­tional budget, but four of the firms filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

But with the benefit of hindsight, that negotiated settlement and/or what is called plea bargaining in legal parlance, could hasten the recovery of these huge sums, the Nigerian Government accepted negotiations between it and the government of Liechtenstein. Legal observers stated that because of this rapprochement, the four litigants bent on frustrating the recovery, back to Nigeria, of the stolen money ended up withdraw­ing their complaints in May, “Clearing the path for repatria­tion of the assets once and for all,” Vaduz, a spokesperson said in a statement circulated to the media.

The World Bank had agreed “to monitor the use of the repatriated assets,” the statement said.  It is reported in global media circles that the current Nigerian Coordinating Minister of the Economy Mrs. [Dr] Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was instrumental to the setting up of a unit within the World Bank which played role of a mediator in making this agreement possible with the patriotic zeal of the Attorney-General of the Federation on behalf of the Nigerian state. By and large, this agreement is a pan-Nigerian and globally acclaimed legal landmark achievement which should deservedly be praised.

The agreement has ended the seemingly unending litigation that has spanned 15 years. It  bears the hallmark of a professionally well-articulated and well-thought-out mechanism, which in the longer terms will be tremendously beneficial to Nigeria since the World Bank has graciously accepted to play the role of an unbiased umpire to monitor the use to which these huge amounts of money belonging to the Nigerian people,  but stolen by the late military tyrant and his family members, and now successfully recovered through the expert and tireless efforts of the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke, who has the confidence of  President Goodluck Jonathan.

Obviously, this landmark legal achievement made by the current Federal administration has understandably brought to the front burner the larger controversial issue of the merits and demerits of plea bargain as a tool for adjudication, especially in corruption- related cases. Those who support it always make reference to most developed societies like the United States which has used this legal method to achieve fruitful conclusion of thorny cases that would have cost the American taxpayers huge revenue in pay-outs for legal proceedings.  

What then is plea bargain? Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, defines bargain as an agreement in a criminal case between the prosecutor and defendant whereby the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a particular charge in return for some concession from the prosecutor.

On the other hand, a plea bargain is simply an agreement between the defendant - the person accused of a crime - and the prosecution, where both parties agree to do something for some type of benefit.

Prosecution simply means the act or process of holding a trial against a person who is accused of a crime to see if that person is guilty, as is notoriously known around legal circles.

In plea bargains, prosecutors usually agree to reduce defendants' punishment.  Legal writers say prosecutors often accomplish this by reducing the number or severity of the charges against defendants. The person [accused] is given the opportunity to negotiate.  

In some plea agreements, the prosecution agrees to drop some criminal charges or reduce the level or severity of a crime in exchange for a defendant's guilty plea. Negotiating a plea bargain can be complicated. Because, you can be forced to say what is not, so say observers.

In most cases, prosecution is better. Though it takes longer time, it helps save finance, it also makes the person serve his jail terms in other to reprimand him and avoid occurrence of his crime, so say observers. Those who support plea bargain believe the merits far outweigh the demerits. By and large, plea bargain has its pros and cons, but whereby the public interest would be better served by plea bargaining, observers say it is better to make hay while the sun shines since justice delayed is justice denied.

This good news on the Abacha loots, which will now be successfully retrieved and returned to Nigeria, is a big plus for the current administration, because there is really no benefit allowing the matter to drag on ad infinitum, while the financial resources belonging to the Nigerian people are allowed to be deployed by the receiving jurisdiction to develop their own economy at the disadvantage of Nigeria and Nigerians.

Objective observers will understand that posterity will reserve a place of pride for the current Federal Attorney General and Minister of Justice for this remarkable feat that has added financial benefits for Nigerian government to transparently deploy these huge resources for the service of public good and the promotion of better infrastructure for the Nigerian people, equitably in the full view of independent observers from home and abroad. What else is transparency?

All those who jumped into hasty conclusion to criticise the Federal Attorney General and Minister of Justice for withdrawing the matter it filed locally to recover N446 billion did not give the government the benefit of the doubt that it is inconceivable that the same government that has recovered so much will now play politics with the legal proceedings for the benefit of one of the key suspects in the Abacha’s loot matter.

When on June 18th the matter was withdrawn from the Justice Mamman Kolo-led Abuja High Court by the office of the Federal Attorney General and Minister of Justice, the court was told clearly that the Nigerian Government had further and better material not unrelated to the whole issue of the huge public fund stolen and hidden away in foreign jurisdiction by the late General Sani Abacha and his family.  Some Persons who derive joy in carrying out smear campaign against the person of the current minister of justice have indeed kicked off their rumour peddling job even without waiting to hear from the Federal Government if the settlement that has now allowed Nigeria to recover the said huge foreign denominated amount of money from five companies associated with General Abacha's family has anything to do with the Nigerian side of the case that has now been withdrawn.

RIGHTSVIEW appears twice a week on Wednesday and Saturdays. The Columnist, popular activist Emmanuel Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).

Source News Express

Posted 06/07/2014 01:50:04 AM





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