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Abacha loot: Reps tackle Buhari over $16.9m payment to lawyers

The House of Representatives on Thursday, asked President Muhammadu Buhari to suspend the planned payment of $16.9 million to two Nigerian lawyers by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mallam Abubakar Malami, pending an investigation by the House.

Also, the House resolved to set up an ad hoc committee to investigate the circumstances surrounding the engagement of the lawyers, namely, Oladipo Okpeseyi (SAN) and Temitope Adebayo for a fee of $16.9 million (about N6 billion), when the actual work had been concluded by Mr. Enrico Monfrini, and was paid by the federal government for the recovery of the sum of $321 million which formed part of the Abacha loot from Luxembourg.

The committee is further expected to establish whether due process was followed in contracting the two lawyers by the minister and to report back within six weeks for further legislative action.

This decision followed the passage of a motion sponsored by Rep. Mark Terseer Gbillah (APC/Benue) on the need to investigate the proposed payment of $17 million to the lawyers by the justice minister for recovery of the famed Abacha Loot.

Leading debate on the motion, Rep. Gbillah said he was aware that Mr. Enrico Monfrini, a Swiss lawyer was engaged by the Nigerian government since 1999 to assist in recovering the Abacha loot for which the sum of $321 million was a part.

The lawmaker stated that the Swiss counsel had finished the Luxembourg leg of the job since 2014 when Mohammed Bello Adoke was the Justice minister.

“Mr. Mofrini had since been paid by the federal government for his legal services for the recovery of the money which was then domiciled with the attorney-general of Switzerland pending the signing of an MoU with Nigeria to avoid the issues of accountability around previous recoveries,” Gbillah said.

He maintained that all that was left was the signing of the MoU which is a government-to- government communication for the money to be repatriated to Nigeria.

According to the lawmaker, the minister of justice had curiously engaged the services of another set of Nigerian lawyers in 2016, namely, Oladipo Okpeseyi and Temitope Adebayo for a fee of $16.9 million (about N6 billion) without due process.

Gbillah recalled that both lawyers had worked for President Muhammadu Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), a legacy party of the All Progressive Congress (APC) when Malami was the legal adviser of the then CPC.

“Also recall that the terms of the agreement reached with Mr. Mofrini for the recovery clearly spelt out that no other lawyer would be engaged for the return of the money to Nigeria,” he stated.

The lawmaker further argued that the recovery of the Abacha loot had been shrouded in secrecy, but revelations have shown that the process is in danger of breaching the contract terms and abuse of due process in recruiting the second set of lawyers to conduct a job already done and completed.

Supporting the motion, Rep. Uzoma Nkem-Abonta (PDP/Abia) stated that if indeed the newly contracted lawyers actually worked with Abubakar Malami in another capacity, it would indeed be a breach of contract.

Also, Rep. Rita Orji (PDP/Lagos), in her submission stated that the House needs to investigate the alleged breach of appropriation process in release of public funds for consulting lawyers with such huge sums of money without having it appropriated for.

Rep. Ehiozuwa Agbonayinma (APC/Edo) said that the motion worries him in the sense that the money paid to the Swiss lawyer was not mentioned.

He asked for a holistic review of the contract, saying the investigation will expose the culprit.

The motion was unanimously passed when Speaker Yakubu Dogara put it to vote.

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Ihesiulo Grace

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