The United Kingdom is demanding that former Bayelsa Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha must come to the UK to stand trial for money laundering charges.
British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Andrew Pocock, in an interview with the Daily Sun, said that the former governor who recently got state pardon from his criminal conviction in Nigeria still has an outstanding case of money laundering to answer to in the UK and that the UK government will not give up until Alamieyeseigha is brought to justice.
Alamieyeseigha, then a serving governor, made a dramatic escape from the custody of the British authorities when he fled back to Nigeria from detention in September 2005. He would later be convicted on similar money laundering charges on July 26, 2007 in Nigeria after he was impeached as governor.
Although his recent state pardon by President Goodluck Jonathan hit the UK authorities as a rude shock, Pocock dismissed insinuations that London was planning to sanction Nigeria over the matter. According to him, “that is not the way we do things”.
The High Commissioner also revealed that UK had earlier requested for Alamieyeseigha’s extradition, but did not get any response.
Pocock said the UK had asked the Attorney General and Minister for Justice for Alamieyeseigha’s extradition and was still awaiting his position on the issue when President Goodluck Jonathan all of a sudden announced he has been extricated of all wrong doing via the state clemency.
The move to pardon him even when the application for his extradition to Britain was still pending was like daring the applying nation that feels strongly that Alamieyeseigha has a case to answer in their country.
According to Pocock, “The former governor skipped bail in the UK on a charge of money laundering and returned to Nigeria. So, he has an outstanding charge in the UK, which is there for him to answer.
“We have already discussed it and the Nigerian government knows our views. But we would like to see him return and answer charge in the UK.”
On UK’s past and present efforts to see that Alamieyeseigha is extradited to the UK, Pocock said: “Yes. I think we asked in the past. I am very sure we asked in the past. But I am not sure we got a formal response. So, we are still waiting for a formal response from the Nigerian government.
“We have asked the Attorney General. He will have to tell us what his position is on extradition. I haven’t had a reply yet, but we still wait for it,” the British envoy added.
Pocock who is just three months old in the country as British envoy said more about the relationship between his country and Nigeria in the exclusive interview we had with him.
How long have you been in Nigeria?
I have been here since December 2, last year.
Have you been enjoying your stay here?
Very much. It is a fascinating place. It is my second time in Nigeria. I was here from 1983 to 1986 as a young diplomat. My first posting was in Lagos, which was the capital then.
What aspect of Nigeria do you enjoy most?
Well, I think first of all, the contrast between Abuja and Lagos. I like comparing and contrasting. Abuja is very much the capital city; a planned city, a city of the north, the middle belt. And Lagos is an extraordinary metropolis. You know quite how big it is. It is commercial, organic and a seaport. So, the contrast is striking and it shows the different aspects of Nigeria.
How many states have you visited so far?
On this trip, I have been to Kaduna, I have been to Lagos and hope to be going soon to the east.
By road or by air?
Yes, by air. And probably, other states. I have been to Nasarawa but in four months, I haven’t been able to travel very much. There is enough I still want to see.
So, you have not been to Benin?
Not yet. Not on this trip. I had been there before. In fact, I will show you a bronze, which comes not from Benin City but from Ife. I had been all over the south when I first came here. I have been all over Ogun and Oyo, and I have been to Ibadan and Abeokuta. I have been to Benin City, Warrri and Port Harcourt, but there are many places I haven’t yet seen.
Which areas are your government currently cooperating with Nigeria?
There are a whole range of them. Let’s start with trade. Trade is one of the cooperations.
What is the volume of trade like?
We do about five billion pounds worth of trade on both sides. We do about two and half billion in export and about two and half billion in import. Actually, the trade balance is very close. And we have a target. We want to double bilateral trade from 2011, which was four billion and by 2014, it will bring it up to eight billion. So, we are doing five and half billion already.
What do you export and import?
We export petroleum products to Nigeria and import from Nigeria. We also export machinery equipment, power generation machinery and of course, we do a lot of retail and other things. And a lot of British companies are based here. What we also export, of course, is services: banking, financial, telecoms and other aspects. We have a lot of financial service interest in Nigeria from London.
How about other areas?
Well, we work together on the development agenda. The United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) will have a budget in the new financial year, two hundred and seventy million pounds. We do a lot of development cooperation on health, on education, on services-driven and children; on governance, on stability and reconciliation and a whole range of other things. It is a very broad and very interesting agenda. We cooperate on cultural terms in the British Council. The British Council is here with a lot of artistic collaboration. People study in the UK, but the British Council administers examinations and offers a lot of education services too. And I think it involves political sense too. And Nigeria is not only a major force in Africa, it is becoming more and more a major international player. Nigeria joins the United Nations (UN) Security Council in 2014. They will join in January next year.
Are you supporting us?
Yes. We will very much like to see Nigeria in the Security Council.
Politically, how are you cooperating with Nigeria?
Yes, because we have a lot of political issues.
Well, it depends on what you mean by political issues. If it is internally, that is very much Nigeria’s own agenda. For example, on regional issues like Mali, Nigeria took the early political lead. We support Nigeria’s stand and we have also physically helped Nigeria to transport troops for African Union-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMAL), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Peacekeeping Force. We also cooperate with Nigeria in other areas as well. We are working on ways of tackling terrorism in the north.
How far have you gone in that direction?
We have a long standing relationship with Nigeria security forces in general terms. Without going into too much detail, we work as closely as we can.
Do you have a particular budget to that effect?
We find the funds that we need.
How about the fight against corruption?
Corruption is a worrying thing. It distorts the economy, it damages Nigeria’s reputation and it deters investment at a time when all countries are looking for investment. So, that is an area that we are concerned about. And we make our concerns known, usually privately. That said, there are some evidences of Nigerian government looking to find ways to approach this. For example, pursuing fuel subsidy. That is an interesting area.
Are you supporting the government in that aspect?
Well, I mean, we are not supporting the government in a particular aspect. A lot of them are done by the Nigerian government itself. We have been very strongly supporting efforts to tackle corruption. So, we will be very interested to see an environment in which it is not just foreign companies, but domestic companies that can do clean, transparent and accountable business.
Would you say the Nigerian government is doing well in the fight against corruption?
I think it comes and goes. I think some of the things, you are doing well as I mentioned earlier like trying to improve budget transparency for example, trying to reform the ports, tackling fuel subsidy fraud. These are good and important things. I think there are other areas where it might do more. So, it is a mixed picture. I think the people of the country will like to see a more consistent and forward approach.
There were insinuations that your government would impose sanctions on Nigeria because of the state pardon granted former Bayelsa State governor. How true is that?
There is no question of sanctions. The former governor skipped bail in the UK on a charge of money laundering and returned to Nigeria. So, he has an outstanding charge in the UK, which is there for him to answer. So, our concern is partly with the charge against him in the UK.
Now the president has granted him pardon, how does the UK feel about it?
Well, it is something that we have discussed privately with many in the Nigerian government. It is seriously open to misinterpretation. So, I won’t say much than that at this stage because we have already discussed it and the Nigerian government knows our views. But we would like to see him return and answer to the charge in the UK.
Is there progress in that direction maybe in the form of his extradition to the UK to answer to the charge?
We have asked the Attorney General. He will tell us what his position is on extradition. I haven’t had a reply yet.
You are still waiting for them?
Yes. I think we asked in the past. I am very sure we asked in the past but I am not sure we got a formal response. So, we are still waiting for a formal response from the Nigerian government.
Suppose the government doesn’t give you a favorable response, would there be any action?
No. We are not yet retaliating against the Nigerian government at all. That is not how we do things. We would just like to see if it would be possible to get him back to answer the charge. But we would wait and see. We are pursuing our cause.