- Category: Corruption
- Published on Saturday, 21 April 2012 06:22
- Written by Admin
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The conviction of James Ibori in the United Kingdom is a tragic reversal, and mockery of Nigeria’s judicial system.
While many love to hate the embattled former Peoples Democratic Party power broker, others, especially his ardent loyalists, would have given an arm and a leg to get him out of jail if they could.
Picture: Some of the property acquired by Ibori with the looted funds
Born in August 1958 (even his age has been under serious contention), Ibori was governor of Delta from May 29, 1999 to May 28, 2007 under the umbrella of the PDP.
The ex-governor had his roots in Otefe in Oghara clan, Ethiope West Local Government Area of Delta State. He reportedly attended Baptist High School, Oghareki, before proceeding to the University of Benin, where he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in economics and statistics.
According to reports, Ibori first came to reckoning when his political career began in 1990 as a member of the defunct National Republican Convention. The following year, he lost the House of Representatives seat, which he contested under the umbrella of the same party.
During the late Gen. Sani Abacha’s tyrannical rule, he joined the Grassroots Democratic Movement, but quickly went on to form the Delta National Congress with some splinter groups in the state after the demise of the late maximum ruler, which later metamorphosed into the PDP in the state.
In Nigeria, Ibori threw his weight whenever it was necessary to do so. In fact, there are unconfirmed reports that he determined who saw the late President Umaru Yar’Adua and who did not.
All seemed rosy until Chief Great Ogboru, the then Alliance for Democracy candidate in the 2003 governorship election, took the ex-governor to court on the grounds that Ibori did not qualify at the time he contested the election he was said to have won.
Ogboru told the court that he had found out that Ibori was an ex-convict and unfit to occupy the office of the governor. The Ibori ex-convict saga became a national issue as Ogboru’s petition went from the High Court through Appeal to the Supreme Court and tossed back to the Appeal Court.
Ogboru argued that by virtue of the provisions of Section 182(1)(e) of the 1999 Constitution, Ibori was not qualified to contest the 2003 Delta State governorship election on the grounds of his conviction and sentence for the offence of criminal breach of trust and negligent conduct on Sept 28, 1995 by a competent court in Bwari, Abuja.
But the ex-governor said there were two distinct individuals who shared a common name in ‘James Onanefe Ibori,’ describing the case as that of mistaken identity.
Eventually, the case was referred back to a new panel headed by Justice Adzira Mshelia, which gave its final 3:2 split decision ruling on April 12, 2006.
While the majority judgement comprising Justices Msheila and two others ruled that they were not convinced by the evidence that Ibori was the ex-convict as claimed by Ogboru, a separate minority judgement of Justices Ibrahim Saulawa and Muktar Abimbola maintained that the then governor was the same Ibori that was convicted in 1995.
The case went through to the Supreme Court, which again acquitted the embattled governor of any misdemeanour.
After serving out his two terms as the governor of the state, described as one of Nigeria’s most financially buoyant, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission picked the ex-governor up at the Kwara State Lodge in Asokoro, Abuja, in December 2007.
Ibori, popularly called the Odidigborigbo of Africa by his loyalists, faced charges of theft of public funds, abuse of office and money laundering.
In the heat of the trial, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the then EFCC chairman, accused him of attempting to bribe him with a cash gift of $15m to drop the charges, which Ribadu said he had lodged with the Central Bank of Nigeria.
But in December 2009, a Federal High Court sitting in Asaba, presided over by Justice Marcel Awokulehin, discharged and acquitted Ibori of all the 170 charges of corruption brought against him by the EFCC.
However, in April 2010, about three months after the assumption of office by Goodluck Jonathan, Ibori’s case file was reopened by the EFCC for alleged embezzlement of N40bn, a development which gave some authenticity to the story that he was shielded by the Yar’Adua government.
Indeed, the then Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa, was said to have written several letters to Ibori’s defence team in London claiming that the Nigerian government had found no evidence of corruption against the former governor.
Reports also have it that Aondoakaa sought to prevent United Kingdom prosecutors from using any evidence provided by Ribadu’s EFCC in the prosecution of Ibori’s associates.
The fresh graft case was reportedly induced by a petition forwarded to the EFCC by the Delta Elders’ Forum, a faction within the Delta State chapter of the PDP.
The forum had claimed that Ibori sold 520 million of Delta State Government shares in defunct Oceanic International Bank Plc and used the proceeds to service a N44bn loan obtained by his company, Ascot Offshore Nigeria Ltd.
Then, the melodramatic attempts by the security agencies to arrest him after the death of Yar’Adua began. Ibori, the once powerful ‘Excellency,’ became a fugitive, fleeing from Abuja to Lagos and then to Oghara, his hometown.
Once he was able to hole himself up in Oghara, all manners of pro-Ibori protests began to emerge. Ibori’s loyalists accused Chief Edwin Clark, the leader of PDP faction, of using his closeness to Jonathan to persecute the former governor.
The protests took a different turn when hundreds of women from Oghara marched unclad on the streets of the community against the EFCC, for supposedly harassing their son.
Some ex-militants, who were on guard at the time, also warned the EFCC and all security agencies to keep away from the community or risk the unpalatable.
His Urhobo kinsmen were also not left out in the attempts to exonerate their “son” as they reportedly seized the Benin-Warri Expressway to protest his travails.
Twenty-three presidents-general of the 23 Urhobo kingdoms in Delta condemned what they described as the “heckling, ‘witch-hunting’ and gangster methods used by the EFCC.”
Even the Delta Caucus, House of Representatives in Abuja, added their voice to the efforts to clear the ex-governor of any sleaze.
Sensing that it was becoming an embarrassment to the nation that Ibori had become unreachable, Jonathan ordered the then Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ogbonna Onovo, to fish out the ex-governor.
By then, the heat was getting too much for Ibori, who initially fled to Dubai, but was extradited to the UK on April 15, 2011.
But Ibori’s escape from the long arm of the law, it was believed, was only temporary, as his sister, Christine Ibie-Ibori; his mistress, Udoamaka Okoronkwo; his wife, Theresa Nkoyo; one of his London-based lawyers, Bhadresh Gohil, a financial agent, Daniel Benedict McCann and corporate financier, Lambertus De Boer, had already been convicted by a London court on the same matter.
However, all the legal ups and downs from both prosecution and the defence became history when the former governor finally entered a guilty plea in his money laundering trial at a Southwark Crown Court in London.
But the ex-governor’s admission of guilt only brought to a partial close one of Nigeria’s most dramatic cases involving a Nigerian public official, which made the cases of Diepreye Alamieyeseigha and Joshua Dariye look like a mere child’s play.
“He personally awarded and signed these inflated contracts to his people, and the profits came directly to himself to fund his lavish lifestyle. He siphoned off millions by personally awarding contracts to his people,” prosecutor, Sasha Wass told the court in her final submission.
And finally on Tuesday, Judge Anthony Pitts, who had scheduled Ibori to be sentenced on April 16, gave his final verdict. Not even the brilliant testimony given in his favour by his friend and ex-footballer, John Fashanu, nor the sponsored trips by his loyalists back in Delta could help him.
Pitts said, “The history of dishonesty, corruption and theft in the first indictment would alone attract the maximum or close to the maximum sentence allowed by law, but there is another indictment of serious fraud which you have pleaded guilty to.”
He said if Ibori had fought the case to the end without pleading guilty, he would have served his full 24 years but will get a discount for pleading guilty.
Pitts then sentenced Ibori to 13 years in prison. He deducted 645 days already spent in jail by the ex-governor and said he (Ibori) would serve the rest in a British jail.
However, lawyers close to the workings of the UK legal system say he might spend about four-and-a-half years to seven years in jail.
Though reactions continue to follow the sentencing of Ibori, the Delta State government maintained that it had no official reaction to the jail term handed down to the former state governor.
The government insisted that Ibori remained a private citizen till he was sentenced by the court, noting that it would be unreasonable for the state government to take a position on a “purely private” matter.
But Ijaw National Leader, Chief Edwin Clark, described the conviction of Ibori as well-deserved.
The octogenarian said Ibori’s sentencing vindicated his position that the ex-governor was a thief, who used his position as governor to enrich himself.
However, that would not be the end of the case as the court said it would continue to dig into all the businesses where Ibori had a hand, with the intention of seizing all the proceeds from such businesses.
A prominent human rights activist, Oghenejabor Ikimi, said that his position that the money recovered from Ibori should not be repatriated for now was still in order.
He said, “If the money and property are returned to Delta State now, they will still find their way back to Ibori whenever he leaves the prison.”
That, perhaps, is the same position held by majority of residents of the state, who have been short-changed by various governments in the oil-rich but highly impoverished state. (Emmanuel Addeh/Punch)