The United Kingdom will return to Nigeria $5.8 million which was stolen by a governor from the oil-rich Delta state. The money was stolen by James Ibori, who was governor of the oil-producing state from 1999 to 2019, and his associates.
Ibori, once a powerful figure in Nigeria, pleaded guilty at London’s Southwark Crown Court in 2012 to 10 counts of fraud and money-laundering and was sentenced to 13 years in prison. He, however, spent 4 years behind bars for using public funds to buy luxury homes, top-of-the-range cars, and a private jet.
This is the first time that money recovered from criminals will be returned to Nigeria since an agreement was signed in 2016, said UK authorities. It also comes on the heels of mounting criticism against the UK that it has become a safe haven for stolen cash from Africa.
“The UK and Nigerian governments have signed an agreement today (Tuesday 9 March) to send £4.2 million (2.2 billion Naira) of stolen funds recovered by UK agencies back to Nigeria, where it will be spent on key infrastructure and building works for the Nigerian people,” the UK Home Office said in a statement.
The UK Minister for Africa, James Duddridge, praised the move saying the recovery will support vital infrastructure and building works in Nigeria.
“When money is stolen from public funds it hits the poorest communities the hardest and means money can’t be spent where it’s most needed,” he said. “The UK and Nigeria will continue to work together to tackle crime and corruption across our nations.”
The Home Office Minister, Baroness Williams, said the move was a significant moment in the fight against illicit finance wherever it is found.
“Recovering the proceeds of crime is a critical part of our fight against serious crime and this sends a clear message to criminals that we will relentlessly pursue them, their assets and their money,” he said.
On his part, Nigeria’s attorney general, Abubakar Malami said the funds will be invested in infrastructure projects. “I am confident that both the Nigerian and British governments remain committed to all affirmative actions to combat corruption … [and] illicit financial flows,” Malami said at a ceremony at which officials from the two countries signed an agreement on the return of the funds, according to Aljazeera.
Nigeria is one of the countries in the world consistently ranking low on the global corruption perception index. It ranks 149th out of 180 countries. Various moves to improve the country’s corruption image have not been successful.
Ibori, according to the BBC, has a long history of thievery. He was first convicted in 1991 for stealing from a DYI store he worked for as a cashier. Upon his return to Nigeria, he altered his birth certificate to hide his UK conviction; this enabled him to run for Delta State governor.
The British authorities took interest in him after he purchased a private jet through his solicitors in London, according to the BBC. He was arrested in 2010 in Dubai and extradited to the UK where he was jailed on 10 counts of fraud worth a total of nearly £50m (about 69 million dollars now) in 2012.
He served for four years and when was released, he sued the UK Home Office in Nigeria for unlawful detention. He won the case but was awarded nearly $1.5 million compensation.