The Guardian (Lagos)

30 August 2014

Nigeria: Abacha Loot - Govt Defends Pact With Family

Abuja — The Federal Government says it withdrew the criminal charges against Mohammed Abacha in the interest of the country, just as it reiterated its determination to ensure that stolen assets stacked away in different parts of the world are recovered.

The government had opted for an out-of-court settlement with the family of the late military dictoator, General Sani Abacha, against which the charges against Mohammed were withdrawn.

The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF)/Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), who made the commitment in a paper titled, the Legal Profession in Nigeria at the 2014 Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), in Owerri, Imo State, said the criticisms that trailed the deal were in bad faith.

He also spoke on other national issues, such as efforts being made by the federal government to combat terrorism, enforcement of the Freedom of Information Act (FoI) and the Extradition Bill.

According to Adoke, the federal government has been active in tracing and recovery of stolen assets around the world, saying the pact reached with the Abachas led to significant recovery of assets in foreign jurisdictions. He described the deal as "a fitting testimony to the strenuous efforts being made to ensure the sufficient disgorgement of the proceeds of crime to serve as deterrence."

However, he decried the negative comments it generated from the "ill-informed" about the details of the settlement and the underlying imperatives in the national interest. He reassured that every aspect of the settlement was transparently conducted while the outcome is in the national interest.

"The settlement has received commendation across the globe and is being used as case study for stolen assets recovery. Let me use this opportunity to call on our colleagues with penchant for making unguarded and baseless statements in the media to seek information from appropriate quarters before commenting on issues."

He also defended recent request by President Goodluck Jonathan for a $1 billion loan.

"The request for the sum of $1 billion recently made to the National Assembly is to enable government to fully equip our Armed Forces for the war against terrorism and insurgency in compliance with the resolutions of the National Assembly while approving a further extension of the Proclamation of the State of Emergency in three North-Eastern states of the country.

"There is the need for Nigerians to appreciate that terrorism is a global phenomenon requiring the concerted efforts of all nations of the world. Government has accordingly sought the assistance of other countries, as well as our development partners, to effectively confront this challenge.

"Equally important is the need to forge a united front to combat the common enemy. Nigerians must remain united in the face of the threat of terrorism.

"Terrorists would rather have us divided along sectional, religious and political lines as the division would not only help their cause, but also, further diminish our efforts to collectively and effectively wage war against them."

On the FoI Act, the minister said his office and others were open to the public for the purpose of obtaining information on government business.

He said: "The Freedom of Information Act remains a potent tool in the hands of those seeking information from public institutions and members of the Bar should take advantage of it. We must discourage the pervading culture of baseless criticism for self-glorification and cheap popularity. We have also made a lot of progress in the implementation of Freedom of Information Act, 2011 (FOIA).

"The initial misgivings that pervaded the public service and the difficulty in coming to terms with the new ethos of open government and transparency which the Act encouraged were overcome by my issuance of a Compliance Advisory to all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) on 29th January 2012 pursuant to the powers vested in me by Section 29 of the FOIA, 2011.

"This was immediately followed by the issuance of comprehensive Guidelines on the Implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011. The guidelines were further revised in 2013 to further elucidate on the provisions of the FOIA.

"My office also makes returns to the National Assembly on April 1 each year on the extent of compliance by the MDAs with the FOIA during the period under review.

He listed legislations being processed at the National Assembly as: A Bill to domesticate the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in order to make the ICC regime applicable in Nigeria, the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Centre (NFIC) Bill to grant autonomy to the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) in line with international best practice and recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the Proceeds of Crimes Bill to provide for the confiscation and forfeiture of proceeds of crime and the management of such assets.

"We have equally taken steps to improve on Nigeria's ability to provide international cooperation consistent with our obligations under the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) as well as a host of other regional and bilateral treaty obligations. To fast track the process, the Central Authority for Nigeria in respect of matters of international cooperation.

"This has enabled us to expeditiously treat and make requests for extradition and mutual legal assistance in criminal matters. To further strengthen the process, the Extradition Bill 2013 and the Mutual Legal Assistance Bill 2013 have been proposed and pending consideration by the National Assembly."

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