By Bala Ibrahim.
It is no longer news that few weeks ago, the media space was filled with the report of a global investigation, that exposed the alleged offshore hideaways of some of the world’s most powerful people. Under the name, The Pandora Papers, and carried out by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, ICIJ, the project was said to have sieved through nearly 12 million confidential files, that revealed how some people, including high profile Nigerians, flout extant laws and legislation.
What may be new is the contradictions in the reports, alongside the perceived purpose of the project, and the motive behind the propaganda, especially where some people were unfairly accused of seeking to conceal their financial dealings, by setting up shell companies to warehouse large assets in illegal jurisdictions.
Through misconceptions, factual mischief, crafty and deceitful methods of putting out reports, the propagandists aim at silently and skillfully smearing the names of some people, living and dead, with the Abacha family evidently amongst the targeted dead. It is sad that even death, and after over 20 years in the grave, some people wouldn’t allow Abacha to sleep in silence.
This article intends to look at the journalistic jiggery-pokery used by some colleagues of the pen profession, to wrongly rope in some people in underhand dealings, by giving insights into some of the facts that have been muted deliberately in the propaganda, especially the lies to smear the name of the Abacha family, using Governor Bagudu of Kebbi state, as a sitting duck.
The report of the mischief in the Pandora papers began thus, “Eleven years ago, Abubakar Bagudu, the current governor of Kebbi State, then a senator, dispatched a delegation to Singapore in search of a new haven to shelter his controversial wealth, which is a target of ongoing forfeiture proceedings by the United States Department of Justice.
The propagandists say the huge funds, warehoused offshore, is part of billions of dollars Mr Bagudu helped the Sani Abacha family to steal from Nigeria in the 1990s. Mr. Bagudu’s choice of secrecy provider in Singapore was Asiaciti Trust, an entity notorious for helping clients hide behind opaque offshore trusts to launder dirty money across borders”.
Investigations have shown that this is untrue, and in addressing the contradictions in the story, and also in order to particularly absolve Governor Bagudu from the framework of these fabrications, I would start by publishing the response of Bagudu’s UK lawyer, to one of the enquiries from Mr. Begley, a foreign media editor, viz:
Dear Mr. Begley.
Thank you for your email of 21st September 2021. Mr. Bagudu has had similar enquiries from Premium Times of Nigeria and the Guardian and it may be convenient for you to liaise, since there seem to be some shared misconceptions and factual errors.
Your questions rest on a premise that there is something illegal or nefarious about the Blue trusts or the monies they hold, and that AsiaCiti were in some sense complicit in underhand financial machinations. This is incorrect and in fact the trusts, the assets they hold, and the interests in both, have been disclosed to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the authorities in the UK, where the monies have been held, for at least 22 years, at least 11 years before any involvement of AsiaCiti.
All monies held by the Blue Family Trust are lawfully held, following settlement of disputes with the Federal Republic of Nigeria (“FRN”) during the Presidency of President Obasanjo. Even before that, the fact of those holdings, their location in the UK and their ownership has been known to the FRN and/or the UK authorities from (at the latest) 1999 to date.
To the extent that the settled disputes concerned allegations of corruption against Mr Bagudu, those are, and have always been, denied. It should be noted that there are no findings of any wrongdoing against Mr Bagudu, either civil or criminal, in any jurisdiction, nor has Governor Bagudu been indicted by the United States.
Between 1999 and 2003, there was extensive civil litigation and investigations, including in Nigeria, the UK, Jersey and Switzerland, concerning allegations of corruption relating to certain transactions from the period when General Sani Abacha was Head of State of Nigeria.
Mr Bagudu reached a compromise with the FRN in 2003 (“the Settlement”) by which all claims against him and his family were ended and the FRN received cash and certain rights with an approximate value of $300m. This was in addition to the more than $750 million that Mr Bagudu assisted the FRN to recover immediately following the death of Gen Abacha.
The Settlement was executed with the express authority of President Obasanjo of Nigeria, who provided a signed confirmation that could be produced to third parties, to confirm that the Settlement resolved and released all claims and liabilities of any kind (civil, criminal, or regulatory) that might exist against Mr Bagudu and his affiliates (defined to include certain individuals and entities associated with Mr Bagudu and his family).
The Settlement was the subject of an Order of the English Court. It was implemented with the consent of the relevant English authorities, being the National Crime Intelligence Service (NCIS, subsequently replaced by the Serious Organized Crime Agency (“SOCA”) and the National Crime Agency (“NCA”). NCIS was informed of the allegations that had been made by the FRN, the settlement reached with the FRN and their permission was sought for the transfers, on behalf of Mr Bagudu and related parties and the legal professionals involved. The Settlement was carried into effect with the cooperation and assistance of the Jersey, English and US authorities.
Further, the existence of the trusts were disclosed to the Code of Conduct Bureau in Nigeria by Governor Bagudu and he has at all times complied with all his obligations under Nigerian law. All the circumstances of the monies held and how they were owned had in any event been known to the FRN since 1999.
Your queries to Mr Bagudu suggest that you believe that there is some revelation or surprise about the Blue trusts and their assets or how they came to exist when in fact they are assets that have not moved in more than 22 years, or are fully disclosed and held with the express agreement of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
From the foregone submission, it can be seen that the paradox of the Pandora papers, as it affects Governor Bagudu, was foregrounded in the paragraph that reads, “The settlement was executed with the express authority of President Obasanjo of Nigeria, who provided a signed confirmation that could be produced to third parties, to confirm that the settlement resolved and released all claims and liabilities of any kind (civil, criminal, or regulatory) that might exist against Mr. Bagudu and his affiliates.”
If indeed there was a settlement, to which the then presiding President of Nigeria, in the person of Olusegun Obasanjo, provided a signed confirmation, it would be mischievous, malicious and malevolent, to change the narratives to contemplate something illegal or nefarious.
The intent of the Pandora papers is undoubtedly similar to that of the Panama papers of 2016, which exposed offshore companies linked to a number of politicians in Nigeria, that sparked outrage across the country, calling for probes and prosecution of the prominent Nigerians mentioned in the shady deals, but none of the alleged violators was found culpable or guilty enough to be sanctioned.
However, unlike the Panama papers, the Pandora papers has come with a peculiar bias of intentional impairment of the truth. And late Abacha and Atiku Bagudu are two of the targets intended for incivility.
There seems to be a grand design to even question the integrity of President Muhammadu Buhari, who has time without number, doubted the allegations levelled against late Abacha, and whose regime has been working assiduously to recover all looted monies within and without.
Two of the major responsibilities of journalists are upholding the truth, through verification and
unbiased reportage. If findings in the Panama papers could not hold waters because of the failure to fulfil such responsibilities, the same fate awaits the Pandora papers, whose revelations are not only contradictory, but condescendingly contemptuous.