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$550m Abacha Loot: US Court Clears Way For Repatriation

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A United States District Court, at the weekend, dismissed a case by a Nigerian lawyer seeking to stop the repatriation of over $550 million of stolen funds during the regime of late General Sani Abacha (referred to as the Abacha loot) to Nigeria until the payment of his purported legal fees put at $320 million by the Federal Government.
The thrashing of the case by Justice John D. Bates of the U.S District Court, automatically clears the final legal hurdle for the return of the loot to Nigeria to help it retool its plummeting economy, which has received heavy pummelling from falling oil prices and corruption.
The US-based Nigerian lawyer, Godson Nnaka, had laid claim to the fact that the Federal Government must pay him $320 million as legal fee for the forfeiture of the $550 million of the Abacha loot still trapped in the United States.
But Justice John D. Bates, in dismissing Nnaka’s case, held that the claimant was not entitled to such payment since he was not a party to the forfeiture case filed by the US Department of Justice in conjunction with the Federal Government.
The Federal Government, through the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation, also filed a robust opposition to Nnaka’s motion for the payment of the lien, and also asked the court to bar Nnaka from making subsequent filings in that case.
Ruling on the case, the District Court entered an order denying Nnaka’s Motion for a Charging Lien (fee).
The court also specifically ruled that “Nnaka’s participation in this case must now come to an end.”
Bates said that Nnaka did not meet the basic prerequisites to be considered as a proper party in the case, and to be paid the amount he requested for, having not qualified to represent Nigeria.
The judge also ruled out Nnaka for the payment since he had not won any judgment for Nigeria.
Bates said in his ruling that, “Neither Nnaka nor his purported clients are parties to the forfeiture matter, and neither of them can win judgment through this litigation.
“The conclusion dooms Nnaka’s motion for charging lien. At common law, the charging of lien is applicable to a judgment or decree obtained for a client by an attorney. Until a judgment or decree has been obtained, the right to impose a lien does not arise.
“Even the most basic prerequisites for charging lien are missing here: Nnaka has not won a judgment for Nigeria; indeed, he had not successfully entered appearance on Nigeria’s behalf. A charging lien in the amount of $320 million is not called for. Nnaka’s claim against Nigeria must be pursued in another case: 16cv-1400.
“Unless and until Nnaka’s claim to the defendant’s assets are reinstated by the DC Circuit, Nnaka’s participation in this case must now come to an end,” the US judge ruled, paving the way for Nigeria to draw down its huge cash.
It will be recalled that Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, who was in the US for the judgment, had recently raised the alarm that Nnaka was merely trying to delay the return of the Abacha loot by the US, by making a frivolous claim that Nigeria must pay him 40 per cent of the Abacha loot.
Nnaka had also claimed that Malami was working against him after he had refused to relinquish “70 per cent” of his 40 per cent to the minister.
While responding to the allegation, Malami described Nnaka as a strange person to the case, who had not recovered a dime for Nigeria since he was allegedly given a mandate by the former Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Olujimi, to recover the Abacha loot in 2004.
Malami, in a 44-page document made available to newsmen earlier, described Nnaka as a man trying to reap from where he did not sow.
The minister said the Federal Government would not pay Nnaka the huge amount he is asking for since he is not qualified to practise law in the Maryland area where the case is taking place, and did not recover any money for the country 14 years after he was given a provisional letter to help locate and recover the Abacha loot.
The court had also held that since the temporary letter given to Nnaka by Olujimi was not revalidated by Mohammed Adoke when the forfeiture case resumed in 2013, the lawyer could, therefore, not claim to be representing Nigeria.
But Nnaka immediately rejected the court verdict and appealed against the ruling and threatened to sue Malami for saying that he was not qualified to represent Nigeria and was not entitled to 40 per cent of the Abacha loot.
The litany of cases filed by Nnaka and the appeal by the US Department of Justice, in conjunction with Nigeria, directly delayed the repatriation of the huge cash from the US to Nigeria.
Upon persistent inquiry, Malami told newsmen at the venue of the hearing in the US that he was hopeful that with the dismissal of the frivolous case by Nnaka, efforts would be intensified to bring back the Abacha loot.
“We trust that this Order denying Nnaka’s frivolous claim to the Abacha assets, will help to allay the fear of the Nigerian general public arising from an online medium’s article which stated that Nigeria stands to lose $320 million on account of Nnaka’s Motion.
“We also hope that this Order will help to correct the many falsehoods and half-truths published in the past against the Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation regarding this matter.
“This is a positive development for Nigeria,” the AGF said.

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Nigerian Law School, PH Campus’ll Be Ready In Six Months, Wike Vows

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The Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike has received a formal letter of approval from the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, for the establishment of a Nigerian Law School campus in Port Harcourt.
The letter was presented to the governor by the Director General of the Nigerian Law School, Prof Isa Huyatu Chiroma, at the Government House, Port Harcourt, yesterday.
Wike said it was gratifying that the Council of Legal Education and the Attorney General of the Federation have graciously given approval to the Rivers State Government to assist in the establishment of a Law School in Port Harcourt, an offer which was initially rejected by the immediate past administration in the state.
The governor commended the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, for his statesmanship and commitment to the growth of legal education in Nigeria.
“This is devoid of any political affiliation. I must commend him for this show of sportsmanship, for this show of leadership, that at the end of the day, it is Nigerians and Rivers people that will benefit from the establishment of this campus in Port Harcourt.”
Wike explained that construction work had already commenced at the site approved by the state government for the Port Harcourt campus of the Nigerian Law School.
According to him, the campus will be ready in the next six months and the Certificate of Occupancy for the school is ready.
“The six months that we have given is not six years. Six months is six months. Even if any other project will be suspended, let it be suspended. This project must be finished within six months. And I also urged you to appoint a deputy DG who should move down to Port Harcourt immediately.”
The Rivers State governor explained that some corporate organisations, including banks, have expressed their readiness to build hostels and library in the campus, pending the approval of the authority of the Nigerian Law School.
The governor urged the Nigerian Law School management to graciously immortalise the former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice for the Federation, Justice Nabo Bekinbo Graham-Douglas, SAN, by naming the Port Harcourt campus after him.
The Director General of the Nigerian Law School, Prof Isa Huyatu Chiroma, said the process for the establishment of a Law School campus in Port Harcourt started on the June 4, in Yenagoa when Governor Wike threw a challenge that if given an opportunity, Rivers State Government was ready to construct and deliver a new campus of the Nigerian Law School in Port Harcourt within six months.
He explained that afterwards, the Council of Legal Education met and unanimously agreed to accede to the request of the Rivers State Government and this was also endorsed by the Attorney General of the Federation.
The Attorney General of the Federation in this letter to Governor Wike which was read by Chiroma, said immediately he received the letter from the Rivers State Government to assist in the establishment of a new campus in Port Harcourt, his office forwarded same, via Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary for consideration by the Council of Legal Education.
“I am delighted to convey to you the acceptance of your offer by the Council of Legal Education at its meeting held on June 18, 2021. A copy of the approval letter and a draft Memorandum of Understanding to guide or govern the conduct of the partnership project is hereby forwarded to you for your kind consideration and further action.
“While appreciating the kind gestures of the Rivers State Government in the promotion of legal education in Nigeria, please accept the assurances of my best regards and high esteem as always.”
In his remarks, the Rivers State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof Zacchaeus Adangor, said the Law School campus in Port Harcourt will stand out as one of the most iconic achievement of the Governor Wike’s administration.
The Chief Judge of Rivers State, Justice Simeon Amadi, commended the Attorney General of the federation and the Council of Legal Education for the approval and assured that the state will construct a befitting campus in Port Harcourt.
Former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Onueze C.J. Okocha, SAN, said though the new campus is in Port Harcourt, it will be for the benefit of all Nigerians and the legal profession.
The chairman, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Port Harcourt branch, Prince Nyekwere applauded the approval, and urged the Federal Government to devolve some of its obligation in the Executive List to the federating States.

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Buhari Off To London For Medical Check-Up, Today

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President Muhammadu Buhari will on Friday travel to London, for a scheduled medical follow-up.
The Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Buhari, Femi Adesina, confirmed this in a statement, yesterday.
Adesina said the President is expected return to the country in the second week of next month.
“He is due back in the country during the second week of July, 2021,” the statement said.
It would be recalled that on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, Buhari had visited London to receive medical attention from his physician.

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PIB Set For Passage, Tuesday, Lawan Assures

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President of the Senate, Dr Ahmad Lawan, yesterday, said that the National Assembly will always follow due diligence in approving loan requests of the Executive arm of government.
The Senate President also said that the long awaited Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) will be laid before the two chambers of the National Assembly during plenary next Tuesday.
He made the disclosure while speaking with State House correspondents after meeting behind closed doors with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Lawan said that the Electoral Act Amendment Bill will be passed before the National Assembly goes on annual vacation next month.
It is expected that the National Assembly may proceed on annual vacation about July 15.
The Senate President emphasised that the National Assembly will not frivolously approve loan requests from the Executive, adding that the Legislature will always ask for details of the before any loan is approved.
According to him, “What I want to assure Nigerians is that we are not going to be frivolously supporting or approving loans for the Executive arm of government. Whenever we have to approve any loan, we have to insist on the details of what projects will be funded by those loans.
“We’ll have to look at the conditions that are attached to the loans, they must be favourable conditions before we approve and we will be up to date with our oversight to ensure that what we have approved is directly deployed and on those projects that we have also approved for implementation. So, we will not be frivolous and will not take it lightly to just approve any loan.”
He, however, expressed his support for government sourcing for loan to execute projects, saying the revenues are not readily available while Nigerians cannot be taxed further.
He said, “Our options are really very limited as a country. First, we don’t have the necessary revenues, Nigeria is poor, we shouldn’t deceive ourselves. Nigeria is not rich, given the circumstances we live in, given the challenges we have; our resources are so low, our revenues are so low, and, therefore, the option of not doing anything, just to sit because we have no money, and we shouldn’t go for infrastructural development is not even an option worthy of consideration. You cannot keep the economy stagnant.
“Two, you cannot, in my view and judgement, tax Nigerians further for you to raise the money for infrastructure development. Other countries do that, but we have serious situation across the country, so you cannot put taxes on people.”
Speaking on the much-awaited PIB, Lawan said the National Assembly will next Tuesday receive the report of its joint committee on the Bill which will be laid at the plenary.
He said, “At the moment, we are dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s on the PIB; the Petrol Industry Bill, and by the grace of God, our committees, the joint committees, will finish their work on it by the end of the week, hopefully. The reports would be laid on Tuesday in both chambers. This is what we have planned and this is what we’re working towards.”
He further said much work had been done on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill by the Assembly and that it will be passed before the legislative arm proceeds on its annual vacation next month.
He said, “We also have some work to do on the Electoral Act (amendment) Bill. Our committee in the Senate and indeed, in the house, have worked jointly and we have very little to do really, to get the reports and considered in the two chambers.
“We expect that we’ll do that before we go on our annual summer recess, which comes up on the 15th of July, by the grace of God. So, before we go on summer recess, we should be able to pass the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill.”
The Senate President assured that the National Assembly will also work on the confirmation of nominees for INEC Commissionership as well as passing the 2021 Supplementary Appropriation Bill sent to it last week by the Executive.
He said, “We also have outstanding confirmation requests for National Commissioners of INEC, we’ll do that, we’ll consider those confirmation requests from Mr President before we go. We’ll also have the loan request from Mr President.
“The loan request is to fund the 2021 Appropriation Act and of course, this is not a new request it’s something that we had passed in the MTEF and it’s something that when we pass the budget 2021 we also passed that, so it’s only to give the necessary legislative approval for the administration to go further and collect the funds.
“The Executive arm of government, had submitted a Supplementary Budget request. In the Senate, we have had the second reading yesterday and we have given the Appropriations Committee, particularly to deal with it.
“We expect a report on this by Tuesday, by the grace of God and we may consider that report on Wednesday next week so that we’re able to pass the request because of the urgency and the need for us to hit the ground running, we need to give so much attention to our security agencies because of the situation across the country and of course, the Covid-19 vaccines, procurement is also an essential thing that we need to do.”

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