A fresh twist was on Friday added to the raging controversy over the ownership of a controversial $15 million bribe allegedly given to a former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, by ex-governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, in 2006.
Senator Andy Uba (PDP, Anambra East) on Friday denied ownership of the controversial $15m bribe, saying he merely allowed Ibori to use his house to deliver the money to Ribadu.
Uba had been mentioned by a businessman, Chibuike Achigbu, in an affidavit some days ago as the receiver of the money.
Achigbu had claimed that he raised the money as campaign funds to use in financing some Peoples Democratic Party candidates and then passed it to Uba, who in turn gave it to the EFCC.
But Uba, who was a special assistant to ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo on Domestic Affairs from 1999 – 2006, said in an emailed statement by his aide, Mr. Chike Okeke, in Abuja that he gave the money to the then EFCC Director of Operations, Ibrahim Lamorde.
Lamorde is the current EFCC chairman.
Uba said, “When I was in the Presidency, my house in the Villa was a convenient place for many top people in Nigeria to come.
“Probably, Chief Ibori didn’t want to go to the EFCC office to hand over the money and so decided to use my house.
“All I know about this matter is that Chief James Ibori brought some money to the then EFCC chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu.
“The details of the transaction were undisclosed to me at the time. The money was handed to Mallam Nuhu Ribadu who invited his then Director of Operations, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, to fetch it.
“I was never a party to the transaction between Ibori and Ribadu. That my house was used as the venue for the transaction is not in question as an affidavit to that effect has been sworn to by the current EFCC chairman, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, which is probably the point of confusion.
“I hereby state unequivocally that I have no involvement in this matter beyond that stated above.
“So, I’m not involved and will not be involved in this matter. Nobody should drag me into it please.”
The sum, which Ibori allegedly offered the EFCC as bribe to compromise its investigations by the anti-graft agency, has been kept in the strong room of the Central Bank of Nigeria as an unclaimed property since August 2007.
Following an exparte motion by the EFCC, an Abuja Federal High Court on July 25, 2012, granted an interim order forfeiting the $15m to the Federal Government.
The court, presided by Justice Gabriel Kolawole, ordered that if nobody steps forward to claim the money within 14 days, it would be finally forfeited to the Federal Government when the motion on notice for final forfeiture comes up for hearing on September 17, 2007.
Since the court granted the interim order, some stakeholders in Delta State had been arguing that the money should be handed over to the state, which Ibori governed between 1999 and 2007.
The Delta State Government had claimed that the money rightly belonged to it and that the court should order its return to its treasury.
It made the claim in an application filed by the Attorney-general of Delta State and Commissioner for Justice, Chief Charles Ajuyah (SAN).
In the application dated August 10, Delta State Government averred that the money in dispute was offered by Ibori while he was in office as governor of the state.
In a 35-point affidavit in support of the application, Delta State said that the release of the money would facilitate the current developmental projects in the state.
The affidavit deposed to by one Nikiru Bridget Emakpor, a legal officer in the Ministry of Justice asserted that Ibori was a governor of the state between May 29, 1999 and May 29, 2007, the period the money in dispute was alleged offered by Ibori.
On that basis, the state said that the $15M was the exclusive property of the state and is entitled to collect it as the bona fide owner.
The affidavit averred that any money, asset or property recovered from Ibori rightly belonged to Delta State and that same should be returned to it as it has always maintained its entitlement to any asset recovered from Ibori.
The deponent said that any denial by Ibori in respect of the money cannot affect entitlement of the state to the amount.
The affidavit also indicated that the state did not formally apply for payment of the money in view of the pending appeals to the Supreme Court and the court of Appeal because it did not want to prejudice the appeal cases.
The deponent further claimed that all monies, assets and properties recovered from Mr. Joshua Dariye, former Governor of Plateau State were returned to the Plateau State just like those recovered from Chief Diepreye Alamieyesigha of Bayelsa were returned to Bayelsa State.
It was further contended that there should be no legal basis to treat the case of Delta State any different from others and that it is in the interest of justice that the money should be released to Delta.