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Nigeria Risks Losing N218billion Abacha Loot as Justice Minister Malami, US-Based Attorney, battle

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Abacha

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.

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.

The Letter of Instruction

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.

Mr. Adoke’s cold shoulder

Mr. Nnaka explained that he approached Mr Adoke and explained the need for the Nigerian government to act quickly or stand the risk of forfeiting the funds to the United States. He said he needed Mr. Adoke to sign a mandatory verification required by law for him to perfect the claim filed in court to secure the recovered loot.

But on May 26, 2014, Mr Adoke wrote the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), saying the Nigerian government did not authorise Mr Nnaka and three other persons to represent it in the asset forfeiture case.

Mr. Nnaka said Mr. Adoke wrote the DOJ despite receiving a letter from Mr. Olujimi on May 15, 2014 confirming that he was indeed hired by the Nigerian government to help find and recover the loot.

Subsequent to the refusal of Mr. Adoke to sign the mandatory verification and his letter to the DOJ, the court ruled that the fund should be forfeited to the United States government.

Mr. Nnaka said he immediately filed an appeal to preserve the interest of Nigeria in the case and to stop the money from being forfeited to the US government.

Mr. Nnaka alleged that Mr. Adoke, and later Mr Malami, wanted him out of the case because he refused to accede to their fraudulent demands. He claimed they planned to enrich themselves from the recovered fund.

“Mr Adoke intended to corruptly chase plaintiff away from the recovery of the looted funds so that Mr. Adoke would recover and re-loot the funds for himself by himself or through proxies and for his self-enrichment and/or for his associates in crime,” he wrote in a petition to a federal court in the U.S.

“Malami asked me for 70 percent of my fee”

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.

“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, 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.

Documents shows that in May, a Los Angeles based lawyer, Anthony Egbase, notified the U.S. District Court that the Nigerian government had authorised him to appear in court as its attorney in the case.

Mr. Amadi said by the appointment of Mr Egbase, Mr. Malami may have gotten what he was not able to get from his client, Mr Nnaka. He claimed the new attorney was yet to file anything in relation to the case since he was appointed by Mr. Malami.

On why his client was asking for a fee as steep as 40 percent of the recovered fund, Mr Amadi said it was the standard practice in the United States. He however added that Mr. Nnaka was ready to negotiate for a lower fee if the federal government was ready to play ball.

“Here in the US there is what is called the contingency fee arrangement that an attorney and his client may enter into. That was the agreement he entered into with Nigeria at the time and the contingency fee is is normally 40 percent though they may negotiate and reach an agreement which may be less than the 40 percent.

“When you are negotiating someone does not negotiate against themselves. Here you are required to make your offer but how much has Nigeria offered? They have offered zero as if the whole thing is a joke.”

When contacted, Mr Malami said Mr Nnaka was “incompetent” and a “fraudster” who couldn’t recover a kobo of the stolen wealth for 14 years. He said Mr Nnaka was not licensed to practice law in the United States like he claimed.

“If he claimed he has recovered the money let him show you where the money is? Which federal government account was it designated to. As far as I am concerned I know he is not licenced as a lawyer to practice in the US. So there was a problem of misrepresentation on his part when he approached me. He didn’t disclose that,” Mr Malami said in a telephone interview.

“He claimed to have been retained by AGF Olujimi over 14 years ago and as of this moment he has not succeeded in recovering a kobo for the federal government. For 14 years because he doesn’t have the competence and capacity to make any recovery he could not recover a kobo.”

He said that the letter of instruction given to Mr. Nnaka by Mr Olujimi required him to give the government feedback on his progress after which he would be given further directives on how to proceed but Mr Nnaka failed to do so because he had nothing to report.

“And in fact, even the letter of instruction he claimed to have as claimed to have emanated from Olujimi, it was provisional letter given to him to go and trace the fund and report back to the office of the Attorney general for proper instruction.

“Because of his incompetence he could not trace any fund much more come back with a formal letter. So if truly he has been engaged by the office of the attorney general and he has recovered the funds why is he now seeking further instruction.”

He added that Mr Nnaka threatened to embarrass President Buhari during one of his official visits to the United States. Mr Malami said that was the point he decided to cut further discussions with the US-based attorney.

“So when I was appointed into office he approached me for such instruction. But then what annoyed me most was that he now used threat. He threatened me that if I do not give him the letter of instruction, when Mr President’s flight arrives in New York, he would embarrass the federal government. I then became annoyed because I do not naturally stand to threat. Nobody can intimidate me like a baby for procuring a letter of instruction. And on that basis I said he should do his worst. That was the genesis of the problem.”

Interestingly, just like Mr. Naka accused him of working with the Abachas to divert the fund, Mr. Malami too accused him of working for those who does not want the funds repatriated to Nigeria.

“My logical conclusion arising from the way he behaved in court by filing series of applications so as to stop and frustrate that repatriation of the money to Nigeria is that he was not working for national interest,” the justice minister said.

“Perhaps he was working with the people from whom Nigeria is trying to recover the looted money from. Because no lawyer can pursue a case for 14 years without making any meaning progress. The position of things now is he is a clear criminal. He is clearly incompetent. We are not negotiating anything with him at all if he has a case let him go to court,” he said.
Mr Amadi, however, said Mr Malami was like a drowning man who is clutching to a straw. He said it was not true that Mr Nnaka was not licensed to practice law in the United States.

“He is just talking nonsense,” Mr. Amadi said. “He is like a sinking man trying to gather some straw, which would not help him at all. The money has been frozen in different banks in different countries. The only thing stopping the money from being repatriated is this lawsuit. If the Nigeria government agree to reach a settlement with Mr Nnaka, the court will order that the funds should be unblocked and returned to Nigeria,” he said.

“The retainer he got was go and look for the money. Take the necessary step to get where the monies are. If you see them, recovere them. To recover the money, you don’t go into a bank and start collecting the money. Necessary steps have to be taken as they are being taken now.”

On Mr Malami’s claim that Mr. Nnaka is not licensed to practice law in the United States, Mr Amadi said the AGF was merely peddling falsehood. He said Mr. Nnaka’s licence to practice in the state of Maryland was revoked, but that he still has a licence to practise in Washington DC.

“In US you have different states giving lawyers licences to practice. It is not like in Nigeria where a body of benchers give licenses to lawyers to practice throughout Nigeria. Here each state gives licenses to lawyers to practice in that state and if one needs to practice in another state you will have to get license from the state. Nnaka has license to practice in some state. He has license practice in Maryland. But there was a time he had some problem.

“He gave his cases for some lawyers to handle his cases for him so the lawyers he gave the cases to could not meet up with one case and then the matter was reported and they wrote letters, then he was not around because he was looking for this money and working on this Nigerian case before he could come back they had taken decision and withdrawn his license in Maryland. Only Maryland. But he has a license to practice in Washington DC. He has an office.

“At the time he was given the retainer to look for these funds, he was fully in licence. His license was not touched. None of them. Even if he does not have license he retained lawyers to do the work, he hired investigators to be looking for where this money was. So what the attorney general said doesn’t make sense at all,” he said. (premiumtimesng)

CEO/Founder Investors King Ltd, a foreign exchange research analyst, contributing author on New York-based Talk Markets and Investing.com, with over a decade experience in the global financial markets.

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Fiscal Federalism: Lagos Demands One Percent in Revenue Allocation Formula

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Lagos State Government on Monday demanded a one percent share in the revenue allocation formula, maintaining that the special status of the State and its prosperity directly or indirectly have multiplying effects on the South-West region and the entire country.

Lagos State Government also proposed that the revenue sharing formula should be 34 percent for Federal Government including one percent for FCT – Abuja, 42 percent for State Governments, 23 percent for Local Governments and one percent for Lagos State (Special Status) as against the current revenue allocation formula, which are 52.68 percent, 26.72 percent and 20.60 percent for Federal Government, 36 state governments and 774 local governments respectively.

The demands were made by Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu at the opening of a two-day South-West Zonal Public hearing on the review of revenue allocation formula by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) held on Monday at Lagos Continental Hotel, Victoria Island.

Governor Sanwo-Olu in a memorandum on review of Revenue Allocation Formula he submitted to the RMAFC declared that allocating one percent for Lagos State (Special Status) and allowing the three tiers of government to share 99 percent in a new revenue sharing formula is very straightforward, self-justifying and in no way controversial.

He said the review of the current revenue allocation formula is long overdue, noting that the best way to guarantee national progress and development is by paying attention to sub-national development because the national is a summation and a reflection of the sub-national.

He also reiterated the call for Lagos State to be accorded special status in recognition of its huge financial commitments to infrastructure and provision of basic amenities for the increasing population of its residents, as well as its preeminent contribution to the national coffers.

He said the call, which has been re-echoed at different fora and at various levels and tiers of government, cannot be overemphasized, especially against the backdrop of the current economic situation of the country, the aftermath of the EndSARS protests a year ago, and the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, for which Lagos has been the national epicenter.

“Our demand is a sharing formula that is just, fair and equitable; reflecting the contribution of stakeholders to the common purse, and also one that enhances the capacity of state and local governments to deliver high-quality services and the full dividends of democracy to the greatest number of our people.

“Lagos State is no doubt the nation’s commercial capital, and population center. The level of funding required to service the State’s social and public infrastructure is so significant that it will be difficult for the State to bear the burden for much longer under the present arrangement.

“I should say that it will actually be unfair to expect the State to bear this heavy burden on its own. It is, therefore, necessary to give due consideration to all the variables that support our advocacy for a Special Status.

“The call for a special status for Lagos is not a selfish proposition; it is in the best interest of the country and all Nigerians, for Lagos which accounts for about 20 percent of the national GDP and about 10 percent of the nation’s population to continue to prosper,” the Governor said.

Justifying the need for Lagos State to be accorded special status, Governor Sanwo-Olu said Lagos is more than just another state in the Nigerian federation, noting that there is no tribe in the country that has no significant stake in Lagos State.

He said: “As the former capital of the country for 77 years (compared to the 30 years that Abuja has been the Federal Capital Territory), Nigeria’s largest metropolis still bears the heavy brunt of being home to all Nigerians; irrespective of age, class, gender, religious affiliation or tribe.

“There are several statistics that show the number of people that comes into Lagos every day, however, there are clear indications that most of these people migrate with the intention to make Lagos their new home and in pursuit of personal dreams due to the opportunities the city-state seemingly possesses, and this portends additional responsibilities on the government.

“Additionally, Lagos still harbors a huge number of federal establishments which could not be moved to Abuja. These include military cantonments and barracks, Police, Customs, Immigration, Civil Defence, Prisons, Road Safety and security/intelligence establishments.

“There are several reasons to justify the call for a special status for Lagos apart from the aforementioned factors and by extension, a review of the Revenue Allocation Sharing Formula.”

Governor Sanwo-Olu also said that it would be unfair for Lagos State to be left alone to bear the burden of the massive destruction experienced by the State during the EndSARS protests hijacked by hoodlums and the COVID-19 pandemic without assistance from the Centre.

“This month marks one year after the massive destruction experienced by the State in the violence that accompanied the hijacking of the EndSARS protests. Public buildings were burnt down, and historical infrastructure was destroyed.

“Although we have put that experience behind us and forged ahead, the reality of this unfortunate incident remains with us; resources that should be committed to other areas of need are now being used for the restoration of these public facilities. It will be totally unfair for Lagos State to be left alone to bear these huge expenses without assistance from the Centre.

“COVID-19 pandemic is another issue that has once again, supported the justification for Lagos to be accorded the privilege of special status. As much as this affects the entire country, it is a fact that the degree of the havoc caused by this virus differs from State to State.

“Lagos was the epicenter for this virus, the same way it was for the Ebola virus some years ago. The management of these unforeseen occurrences comes with huge responsibilities and financial commitments on the part of the State Government,” he said.

Governor Sanwo-Olu commended the Chairman and members of RMAFC for taking a bold step, which he believed will “result in a fundamental alteration of the current revenue sharing formula, in favour of one that is truly fair and equitable, and that takes into full consideration the specific and more pragmatic fiscal contexts of the sub-national governments of the Federation.”

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FG Places 3,964 Nigerians on Watch List, Suspends Passports

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No fewer than 3,964 Nigerians are currently on the watch list of the Nigeria Immigration Service.

The names of the affected individuals, it was gathered, have been placed with security agencies at the nation’s international airports where they will be arrested on sight.

According to the 2020 NIS annual report suspect index, 308 persons were placed on the watch list in 2019, 166 in 2020, while 51 persons were stop-listed in two years.

No fewer than 3, 438 passports are also being watch, while 23 are on the exemption list.

The report states, “Suspect index reviews and maintains the list of persons whose entry into Nigeria is prohibited or on whom special instructions are in place with respect to entry and departure from Nigeria. The travel documents are the instruments used to achieve this objective through synergy with other law enforcement agencies and court of competent jurisdiction.”

In a related development, the NIS has revoked 149, 875 stolen or lost passports and uploaded them to Interpol’s Stolen and Lost Travel Documents database via the Web Services for Data Management platform.

Meanwhile, there are indications that the FG may not meet its 2021 revenue projection from NIS services.

Findings show that there might be revenue shortfall from visa; e-PASS, ECOWAS Residence Card, the Combined Expatriate Residence Permit and Aliens Card and other documents issued by the NIS due to the reduced number of foreign visitors and expatriates in the country following COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Immigration sources said the number of Italians, Britons, South Africans, Chinese, Indians, and other Asians, who constitute a large percentage of expatriates in the country, had reduced on account of travel restrictions imposed by their respective countries.

The erstwhile Comptroller-General of Immigration, Muhammad Babandede had said the service recorded a 40 per cent revenue shortfall in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Figures from the NIS showed that in 2018, the immigration service generated N20.3bn from CERPAC; N40.7bn in 2019, and N16.7bn in 2020.

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Envoy Considers Establishment Of Chinese Banks In Nigeria To Boost Economy

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Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria- Investors king

Mr Cui Jianchun, the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, says he is in talks with Chinese owned Banks to establish operations in Nigeria.

This, the envoy said, is to boost Nigeria’s economy and expand trade relations between the two nations.

Cui made this known on Tuesday in Abuja while addressing Journalists during the commemoration of the 2021 Chinese Moon Festival and China-Nigeria Cultural week.

According to Cui, the establishment of Chinese Banks in Nigeria will also be one of the key areas of discussion during the China-Nigeria Binational Committee meeting, which he is also pushing for the establishment.

He said that an efficient financial institution was a key driver to achieving a strong economy, one Nigeria can learn from China’s experience.

“Before my departure from Beijing to Abuja, I talked to several banks in China. When you list the World’s 10 big banks, six are in China.

“The Banking sector is very important, because, without money, we cannot build our industries.

“What I am thinking here is best to talk to the governor of Central Bank and how we can allow the Chinese Banks to run office here and now, they are doing the feasibility studies on that.

“I am working hard that in the Bi-national meeting, I hope we can make a big decision and give a big push to let the banking industry and insurance industry because financial integration and institutions are key.

“If you go to China, you will find our banking industry is very powerful, not only for business but the change in the way of life.

“Because of the COVID-19, the Banking Industry is a little hesitant, but I told them Nigeria has a lot of human resources and as long as we work together, we can do big things.

“And that is why it is important to invest in the banking industry, to solve this problem,” Cui said.

Extolling the extant China-Nigeria trade relations, Cui noted that the volume of trade between China and Nigeria is nearly 20 billion US Dollars, with an increase from 2020’s 19.2 billion dollars.

Cui said the Chinese economy is restoring to the normal post-COVID-19 pandemic and both governments are working hard on how to expand imports and exports.

Speaking on the event, Cui said the China’s moon festival is a very important and significant one for China as it symbolises family reunion, national peace and social harmony.

The envoy said the 2021 celebration is also a special one as it coincides with the 50th Anniversary of China-Nigeria’s bilateral relations.

He said that both countries also share Oct. 1 as their National Days.

He said it is also on that note that the Chinese Embassy is honouring 50 Nigerian employees of Chinese Companies in Nigeria for their outstanding performance and contribution to strengthening diplomatic ties.

Dr Ifeoma Anyanwutaku, the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, also lauded the Nigeria-China relations.

She said the relations had recorded great successes over the past five decades.

“The five decades of co-operation had since witnessed several cultural activities and exchanges in the spheres of arts, music, dance, exhibition, cultural administration, training and capacity building of cultural officers.

“And recently, the development of Cultural Industries centres in Nigeria, among others.

“I must add that China, through the youth-oriented programmes such as the photos competition and similar activities in the past is surely a dependable ally.

“In redirecting the energy and mind of our youth to creative ventures, thereby furthering the Nigerian government’s policy of lifting a hundred million Nigerians out of poverty in the next 10 years”, Anyanwukatu said. (NAN)

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