Controversy has continued to trail the alleged moves to pay $16.9 million fees to two new lawyers hired by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, for the recovery of the loot traced to a former Nigerian head of state, Sanni Abacha.
The recovery of the loot, worth $321 million, has been a subject of controversy following the decision of Mr. Malami to engage the services of two new lawyers after a Swiss lawyer hired to help in the recovery completed his brief.
Enrico Monfrini, the Swiss lawyer hired by the Nigerian government since 1999 to work on recovering the loot, completed the Luxembourg part of the job in 2014 during the reign of Bello Adoke as Attorney-General of the Federation.
Mr. Monfrini had also been paid his fees by the Nigerian government, in a deal that reportedly saw both parties agree that no other lawyer would be hired to execute the repatriation.
But in 2016, Mr. Malami, under curious circumstances, engaged the services of another set of lawyers for $16.9 million (about N6 billion).
The two new lawyers are Oladipo Okpeseyi and Temitope Adebayo, both of whom worked for the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), then led by President Muhammadu Buhari. The CPC was one of the parties that metamorphosed into the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC).
Mr Malami was also the legal adviser of the defunct CPC.
The Nigerian government had entered into an agreement with the Swiss authorities to ensure smooth transfer and judicious use of the loot. The recovered money was domiciled with the attorney-general of Switzerland before the signing of the MoU with Nigeria.
On Monday, TheCable reported that Mrs. Adeosun rejected request to approve the controversial $16.9 million proposed by Mr Malami as payment to Messrs Okpeseyi and AAdebayo.
Quoting an unnamed source, the newspaper said the request had been sent back to the ministry of justice by the finance ministry.
PREMIUM TIMES efforts to reach the finance minister proved abortive till late Monday evening.
Oluyinka Akintunde, spokesperson to the minister, did not pick repeated calls placed to two of his known telephone numbers. He also did not reply a text message sent to one of the numbers.
On Tuesday, the ministry in a statement denied The Cable's claim that the minister objected to payment of the fee.
Mr Akintunde in the statement said, "the attention of the Honourable Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, has been drawn to false media reports of a "strongly-worded letter to the President" objecting to the payment of $16.9 million fees to two lawyers for the recovery of Abacha funds.
"The Minister wishes to dissociate herself and the Federal Ministry of Finance from recent malicious and misleading media reports on the Abacha refunds. The Minister had at no time written any letter to the President or any member of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) on the payment of lawyers for the Abacha recovery.
"She also refuted the flawed media reports of controversy surrounding the Abacha recovery, disclosing that the sum of US$322,515,931.83 was received into a Special Account in the Central Bank of Nigeria on December 18, 2017 from the Swiss Government."
The spokesperson said there was no controversy concerning the recovery of the Abacha monies from the Swiss Government.
But TheCable in a separate report Tuesday insisted that the minister was pressurised to make the disclaimer.
Again, quoting an unnamed aide to the finance minister, the paper reported that "there have been calls from all over the country putting her under pressure and suggesting that she is fighting the president."
The paper, however, said that it had a private WhatsApp message exchange with Mrs Adeosun before publishing the contentious report, threatening to make the WhatsApp message public if its integrity is questioned by the disclaimer.
"The management of TheCable has decided to make the screenshot of the conversation public 'if it has to come to that'," the paper said.
Mr Malami, who is at the centre of the controversy, is yet to make any public statement on it.