The house of representatives has set up an ad-hoc panel to probe the attempt to pay dubious fees amounting to $17 million to two lawyers for the recovery of $321 million, stolen by Sani Abacha, former military ruler.
They also asked President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene in the matter.
TheNigerialawyer had reported that Abubakar Malami, attorney-general of the federation and minister of justice, engaged the two Nigerian lawyers to secure the release of the loot, after the job had been completed.
Recall that Kemi Adeosun, minister of finance, had refused to approve the payment of the money to the lawyers – although she later came under pressure to deny stopping it.
Enrico Monfrini, a Swiss lawyer hired by the Nigerian government since 1999 to work on recovering Abacha loot, had finished the Luxemborg leg of the job since 2014 and had also been paid his fees by the federal government.
While the money has been recovered and domiciled with the attorney-general of Switzerland pending the signing of an MoU with Nigeria, Malami went ahead to engage the two Nigerian lawyers to duplicate the job of the Swiss lawyer and get their own cut from the already done deal – a fee of about $17 million.
The Nigerian lawyers, Oladipo Okpeseyi, a senior advocate, and Temitope Adebayo, happened to have worked for the Congress for the Progressives Change (CPC), the legacy party of President Muhammadu Buhari and which had Malami as its legal adviser.
At plenary on Thursday, some of the lawmakers who spoke on the matter described Malami’s engagement of the lawyers as “height of injustice”.
The deliberations followed a motion raised by Mark Gbillah, from Benue state, asked the house to carry out a “forensic investigation” on the issue to unravel the circumstances surrounding the controversial deal.
“It will be a conflict of interest if proven that the minister has initial relationship with the Nigerian lawyers,” he said.
Nkem Abonta, from Delta state, wondered why Malami would want to allegedly pay the new lawyers services “for service they did not render”.
“Somebody wants to creat $16 million free money for no job done, at this era? Why is the AGF engaging another lawyer? What kind of change are we talking about? It is the height of injustice coming from the minister,” he said.
Most of the other lawmakers who spoke also talked about the “extra-budgetary expenses usually arising from the ministry of justice”.
Eugene Agbonayinma, from Edo state, however, cautioned his colleagues against “taking sides” on the matter.
“I am not saying the matter should not be investigated but we cannot stand here to call names… we should not take sides,” he said.
Thereafter, the lawyers asked Buhari to suspend the payment of the money to the Nigerian lawyers.
The an ad-hoc committee to investigate the matter is to report back within six weeks.
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