It is a needless debate but the federal government is doing everything to turn the proprietary of a £4.2 million (N2.4 billion at the official exchange rate) to be repatriated to the country by the UK government, into one.
The money was realized from parts of assets recovered from a former Delta state governor, Chief James Ibori, by the British government.
On Monday, Nigeria and British governments signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on returning the money to Nigeria, and controversy set in when the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of Federation, Abubakar Malami, hinted that the money would go to the federation account and not the Delta state treasury. Things got even messy when Malami noted that the money will be deployed to completing the Second Niger Bridge and the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, among other projects.
“In consonance with existing framework engaged in the management of previous recoveries, the Federal Executive Council has directed that the instant repatriated funds should be deployed towards the completion of the Second Niger Bridge, the Abuja-Kano expressway, and the Lagos-Ibadan expressway under the coordination of the Nigeria Social Investment Authority (NSIA),” Malami was quoted to have said during the signing of the memorandum of understanding.
That decision is outlandish, to say the least, and expectedly, sparked a fierce debate among Nigerians. Whether on the media space or public gatherings, Nigerians have expressed divergent views on the controversy. For some, the federal government was right to claim ownership and determine usage but that argument didn’t go well with some others who pointed out that since the money was from the Delta state treasury in the first instance, the state should get back the money.
In law, and even morally, recovered assets should be returned to the treasury it originally belonged to, no matter how difficult it took to get it, or who helped in facilitating the recovery. In the past, a lot of assets that were unlawfully frittered from different states were returned to the rightful owners. Those recovered assets were sent to the state’s treasuries where they were unlawfully taken and for the benefits of the people who are entitled to them in the first place.
This is what a renowned human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, tried to point out in his argument that the £4.2 million should be returned to the Delta state government. Falana, who went through memory lane to point out instances of similar recoveries returned to state governments, wondered why the federal government will be taking a different approach on that of Delta state.
“The £4.2m does not belong to the Federal Government,” Falana declared in a statement, recalling that “The money confiscated from Governor Joshua Dariye in the UK was recovered by the Federal Government, repatriated to Nigeria and returned to the Plateau State Government.” Continuing, Falana noted that “The money confiscated from Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha in the UK was recovered by the Federal Government, repatriated to Nigeria and remitted to the account of Bayelsa State Government.” So, why should the case of Delta state be different?
If assets are confiscated from Ibori, who at no time was a federal minister or served at the federal level, then how could Malami or anyone at the central government justify the glaring attempt to deny the Delta people what rightly belongs to them? The excuses of the Delta state government not owning up to any money been lost is at best, flimsy and a calculated move to divert what obviously belongs to the people of Delta.
Just as the Commissioner for Information in Delta state, Charles Aniagwu, alarmed, the plan by the federal government to appropriate the money is the height of wickedness because the people of the state lose on both ends. “Why should Delta State money be used in building Lagos-Ibadan Expressway or Abuja-Kano rail?” Aniagwu queried. As with most arguments against the federal government move, Aniagwu maintained that the money belonged to Delta state and that the state “would have understood if the Federal Government had said it wants to receive 20 percent, but to take all the money is wrong.”
Indeed, it will be wrong and a dangerous scheming to shortchange millions of Deltans who are the original owner of the money. The arguments advanced that by returning the money to Delta state, the bad conduct of state government would be rewarded, are at best specious and runs against the principle of fairness and justice, because it intends to deprive people of Delta state what rightfully belongs to them for the benefit of others without their consents and inputs.
With this context, the right thing to do is to return the money to the Delta state government treasury. That will not just be impactful on the people who originally own it, but show that they will not be shortchanged under any guise. That is fairness and justice, and the federal government should not act differently.
By Oke Umurhohwo, a Political Analyst and Strategist. He tweets via @OkeStalyf and can be reached on email@example.com
Source:- Leaders Ng