By Anita Coulson
Worldwide efforts to bring corrupt Nigerian government officials to justice and seize their ill-gotten gains, are reportedly being frustrated by political feuds inside Nigeria.
The UK aims to repatriate to Nigeria all proceeds of crime seized
A series of recent setbacks has led several commentators to question President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua's commitment to tackling the grand corruption that continues to tarnish his country's reputation.
Amid frenzied speculation in the Nigerian press, the actions and motives of Nigeria's Attorney General Michael Aondoakaa are being called into question, not least because of his personal intervention in a corruption case before the courts in London.
On Monday, Judge Goymer at London's Southwark Crown Court lifted an earlier order from August to freeze former Delta state governor James Ibori's $35m (£17.5m; 4.4bn naira) assets worldwide, including a Bombardier private jet, on suspicion that the assets were the proceeds of crime.
Mr Ibori's $35m assets were "unfrozen" after a letter from Nigeria
Judge Goymer was persuaded by Mr Ibori's team of lawyers that there was insufficient proof the assets were the proceeds of crime thanks to a letter they obtained from Mr Aondoakaa in August stating that the former Delta state governor had been investigated but not charged, tried or convicted in Nigeria "relating to money laundering or any other offences".
London's Metropolitan Police say the setback is only temporary, their investigations are continuing and Mr Ibori is one of several former Nigerian state governors who remain wanted for questioning in London.
Detective Superintendent Trevor Shepherd told the BBC news website, "We would like to see all of them back in London to prove their innocence."
The Met says that thanks to Britain's robust regulatory regime regarding the movement of large amounts of cash, the men in question will not be able to launder or remove large amounts of "dirty" money - but provided they are willing to show that they acquired the assets legitimately, they could be free to reclaim their assets.
The development in the Ibori case came on the same day that former governor of Plateau State Joshua Dariye petitioned President Yar'Adua, accusing Nigeria's anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of appropriating a large amount of the money seized from him in the UK.
Mr Dariye has petitioned President Yar'Adua over his missing millions
In effect Mr Dariye admitted having more than 770m naira ($6m) in London and claimed that only 29.3m naira ($235,000) had been declared to the federal government by the anti-corruption agency.
Dariye's petition accused the EFCC of "underhand dealing", which they reject saying they assisted the Metropolitan Police with information and evidence to help it in the investigation and prosecution of Chief Dariye over his contravention of UK money laundering laws". The Met confirms this.
"Mr Dariye is currently facing charges in Nigeria for looting the coffers of the Plateau State government," EFCC spokesman Osita Nwajah said.
The Met confirms Mr Dariye is also still wanted in London where he is likely to face money-laundering charges. His accomplice Joyce Oyebanjo was convicted of money laundering and is serving a three-year prison sentence in the UK, but Mr Dariye skipped police bail in 2004 and fled back to Nigeria.
Among the assets seized by the Met when they arrested Mr Dariye in October 2004 were $235,000 in cash (repatriated to Nigeria last month), several expensive pens and a solid gold mobile phone.
In May this year the Nigerian government obtained a judgement granting them the $850,000 proceeds from the sale of a London property he owned, and in June they also obtained a judgement in their favour of the $5.7 million (including accumulated interest) seized from Mr Dariye's UK bank accounts.
Given the numbers of corrupt African politicians who divert money to the UK, funding from the Department for International Development (DFID) has been made available to set up a cross-departmental police unit known as the International Corruption Group (ICG).
DFID says the ICG is one of the major components of the government's strategy to reduce corruption in developing countries.
"The UK has a duty to ensure the corruption is stamped out and we are fully committed to helping... through such initiatives as the ICG," Secretary of State Douglas Alexander told the BBC News website.
Under the ICG umbrella there is now close liaison between the Metropolitan Police, the Serious Organised Crimes Agency (Soca), the City of London Police and the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) who between them have the tools to tackle differing types of economic and financial crimes with an international dimension.
Even though no Nigerian official has yet faced trial in the UK, the Met says the operation is already a success.
"We are working with the Nigerian authorities to help break the myth of invincibility they (corrupt officials) enjoyed thanks to immunity while in office," said DS Trevor Shepherd.
And in spite of the desperate measures undertaken by the suspects, who seem to have unlimited funds to deploy in their defence, the Met says there is no escape.
"There is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide," DS Shepherd said. "Our investigations will continue until there is sufficient evidence to bring them to court. Any Nigerian politicians trying to launder money through London should not be sleeping easily in their beds."
The main obstacle to successful prosecutions appears to be the murky but binding ties between the corrupt officials of former regimes and the politicians now in positions of power.
Mr Dariye certainly seems to believe he can count on mercy from President Yar'Adua, as does James Ibori, currently taking refuge in the United States, who reportedly met the president on the fringes of the UN General Assembly in New York last week.
Observers say that Nigeria still has to overcome a culture in which political office is seen as bringing huge rewards and where political allegiances matter more than honour or honesty.
But that culture may be changing as shown by the recent outcry over the $5m expenditure by the speaker of the National Assembly.
A new generation is questioning whether Nigeria can any longer tolerate the seemingly insatiable greed that has bled billions from what should be one of Africa's richest countries.
The question is whether they yet have enough strength to take on the "old guard" and their vested interests.