Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is facing substantial media backlash following his appointment of Abubakar Atiku Bagudu as a new minister.
Bagudu, a former ally of notorious dictator Sani Abacha, has been accused of involvement in embezzling billions of dollars from Nigeria during Abacha’s regime.
According to a report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, who previously served as a state governor and senator, was recently confirmed as a minister in President Tinubu’s government. This appointment has stirred controversy due to Bagudu’s alleged instrumental role in Abacha’s corruption and plundering of Nigeria between 1993 and 1998, as outlined by the United States Department of Justice.
Despite Tinubu’s forced exile during Abacha’s rule, he assumed the presidency earlier this year after a contentious election campaign in which he promised to combat corruption in Nigeria. Bagudu’s appointment raises questions about Tinubu’s commitment to this pledge, given his political alliance with Bagudu within the All Progressive Congress party since 2013.
In a complaint dating back to that year, the US Department of Justice accused Abacha, Bagudu, and other associates of systematically embezzling billions of dollars in public funds from Nigeria during the 1990s. The money was allegedly funneled out of the country through a network of offshore companies.
Over the past decade, the US Department of Justice has sought to seize offshore assets held in trust for Bagudu and his family through the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, claiming jurisdiction over the illegal transfers that used the US banking system. Nigeria has provided limited assistance to these efforts, citing a 20-year-old agreement reached with Bagudu.
Since Abacha’s death in 1998, the Nigerian government has pursued negotiations with his family and associates in an attempt to recover the stolen funds. In 2003, Nigeria reached a settlement with Bagudu, who returned hundreds of millions of dollars without admitting guilt, leading to the dropping of criminal charges and civil claims against him.
Bagudu’s offshore financial activities were also exposed in the ICIJ’s 2021 Pandora Papers investigation. The report revealed that Bagudu was a client of Farrer & Co., a prestigious London law firm used by the British royal family. The investigation demonstrated how Farrer & Co. assisted Bagudu and his brother, Ibrahim Bagudu, in transferring €98 million (approximately US$120 million at the time) from an offshore trust registered in the British Virgin Islands to a complex trust structure called the Blue Group, registered in Singapore and the Cook Islands.
Despite concerns about Bagudu’s past, Farrer & Co. and Asiaciti Trust Group Ltd., a Singaporean trust company, took him on as a client, allowing Bagudu greater secrecy and control over his hidden assets. Critics argue that the law firm and trust company accepted significant reputational risks by working with Bagudu.
Bagudu’s appointment as a minister has been met with strong criticism, with activists and commentators questioning his suitability for the role. Many view his return to a position of power as problematic given his alleged involvement in corruption during Abacha’s regime.
Tinubu himself has faced allegations of corruption and questions about the sources of his substantial wealth. He has been linked to cases involving the receipt of money from heroin sales in the late 1980s and hidden interests in firms used for corruption purposes.
Nigeria’s economy is grappling with systemic corruption, exemplified by recent charges against former Nigerian oil minister Diezani Alison-Madueke for allegedly accepting bribes related to multimillion-dollar gas and oil contracts. The country loses an estimated 30 percent of the approximately US$50-60 billion that Africa as a whole loses each year to illicit financial flows, according to the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.
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