Nigeria risks losing N218billion Abacha loot

$550m Abacha loot: FG set to clear legal issues in recovering funds

Abacha loot: One of the issues believed to have been discussed by President Muhammadu Buhari and the visiting U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, during a closed-door meeting last Tuesday was the return of millions of dollars of Nigeria’s money looted by late military dictator, Sani Abacha. PREMIUM TIMES reports.

However, Nigeria stands the risk of forfeiting a hefty N218.3 billion ($550 million) already recovered from Mr Abacha’s estate if a suit filed by an American-based Nigerian lawyer against the Nigerian government in a United States federal court is not quickly resolved.

Texas-based attorney, Godson Nnaka, who was contracted by the Nigerian government in 2004 to help find and recover funds siphoned by Mr Abacha and his associates, has asked the court to appoint him a private attorney general of the fund as well as award him 40 percent of the recovered fund. He claimed he made the request in line with United States law.

Mr. Nnaka has also accused the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, of demanding kickback of as much as 70 percent of his fees and acting in a vindictive manner after he turned down his demand. Mr. Malami strongly denied the allegations.

In 2004, Mr. Nnaka approached the Olusegun Obasanjo administration with a proposal to help find and recover millions of dollars stolen by Mr Abacha. Having convinced the government that he could trace and recover the looted funds, the Attorney-General of the Federation at the time, Akinlolu Olujimi, in a November 25, 2004 letter, instructed Mr Nnaka “to proceed in a professional manner to recover the funds on behalf of the country.”

“Government will only pay for your professional services a percentage as may be agreed for any sum actually recovered,” the letter added.

In a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari in August 2015, Mr Nnaka said he carried out the task. He claimed he hired a group of lawyer, financial consultants, and academics across the world to help identify and trace the funds.

He also said he travelled to France, England, Switzerland, Angola, Turkey, and Austria, to meet with government officials, law enforcement agents and financial experts with the aim of finding and securing the funds.

Mr. Nnaka further claimed in that 2014, after a district court ruling forfeiting the money to the United States government, he singlehandedly filed an appeal when he entered appearance to “protect the interest of Nigeria” when no one did. According to him the court would have awarded the money to the United States if no one hand entered appearance on behalf of Nigeria within 35 days.

He said unfortunately all his efforts to secure the fund for the country were antagonised by the former Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, and his successor Mr Malami.

In April, frustrated for being repeatedly stonewalled by the Nigerian government, the US-based attorney through his lawyer, Benneth Amadi, filed a civil suit against the Nigerian government and Mr Malami at a US district court in Washington DC.

In the complaint and petition accompanying the suit, he requested to be appointed a private attorney general of the recovered funds. Mr Nnaka also claimed that Mr, Malami, just like Mr Adoke before him, is “convincingly” working with the Abacha family with the intention of criminally diverting the funds for his enrichment and those of his unnamed associates.

He said after the 2015 presidential election, he approached Mr. Malami through his representatives with relevant documents and personally appealed to him to undo the wrong perpetrated against him by his predecessor.

He claimed that Mr Malami initially appeared to be working in the interest of the country and seemed genuinely interested in the repatriation of the funds. He said the AGF promised to sign the necessary papers setting aside the letter written by Mr. Adoke as well as promising to sign the mandatory verification letter that would reinstate him as the government’s attorney.

He said trouble started when Mr Malami started making “shocking” demands.

He said trouble started when Mr Malami started making “shocking” demands.

“Mr Malami started making shocking proposals and demands before he would sign the documents. Mr Malami proposed that the plaintiff should agree to part with and to pay a significant portion of his fees in the aforesaid matter to him as a condition for Malami to sign and deliver the necessary documents for the verification and the reactivation of the mandate letters to the plaintiff,” the petition read.

The petitioner further stated that he would prove in court that Mr Malami, who he claimed was a former lawyer to the Abacha family, was working in cohort with the Abachas, Abubakar Bagudu, who was Mr Abacha’s bagman, to divert the fund for himself.

Mr Bagudu is a governor of the Nigeria’s North-West state of Kebbi.

In a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Benneth Amadi, Mr Nnaka’s lawyer, said after it became clear to Mr Malami that his client was not ready to share his fees with him, he started acting in a “vindictive manner.”

“Mr Malami indeed asked my client for 70 percent of his fees. We would prove it in court. Of course I don’t expect him to admit to you that he did but we have evidence to prove it in court,” he said.

After the breakdown of the discussion between Messrs Nnaka and Malami, the AGF then appointed another attorney to represent Nigeria in the case.

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