Disturbed by the waning bilateral relations between Nigeria and the US government over the perceived lack of vigour in the anti-corruption fight, late President Umaru Yar’Adua asked James Ibori, the corrupt former governor of Delta State, to turn himself in to the British Metropolitan Police.
“The president is not in a political position to ban Ibori from some limited access to him. The Ibori situation is a problem for the president and he knows it, and is doing his best to convince Ibori to hand himself over to the British authorities so that the country can move on,” Mr. Saraki told the US ambassador.
Mr. Yar’Adua found himself in a fix. On the one hand, the US and other international partners were mounting pressure on him to strengthen the fight against corruption, demanding action on particularly high profile cases. On the other hand, Mr. Ibori, who had a pending case brought against him by the former leadership of the EFCC, had emerged as Mr. Yar’Adua’s chief financier in the 2007 presidential elections and one of the most powerful figures in the administration.
Mr. Ibori would not be swayed. In response, according to Mr. Saraki, the president enlisted the help of other influential parties. Still, the former Delta State governor, who is currently fighting his extradition to the UK from the United Arab Emirates where he was arrested last year, would not budge.
“We are all trying to convince Ibori that this is the best option for the country, but Ibori is not on board yet to do this,” the governor lamented to the U.S. ambassador.
Mr. Saraki, the chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, did not say whether the late president’s desire that Mr. Ibori surrender to the UK was an indication of his lack of confidence in the ability of Nigeria’s anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), but he did state clearly that the late president was not keen on asking the EFCC to try Mr. Ibori.
Mr. Yar’Adua would never “pick up the phone to try to influence the EFCC or Chairman Waziri,” he said.
“The USG (United States Government) and the rest of the international community need to appreciate that Yar’Adua is not going to do anything to interfere with the EFCC investigation of Ibori, of any of the other ex-governors, or of anyone else brought before the EFCC,” Mr. Saraki added.
Saraki reprimands US
The Kwara State governor went on to rebuke the ambassador over the actions of the US government, which had suspended all ties with the EFCC as a sanction over what the US perceived as a lack of seriousness in the anti-graft fight.
Mr. Saraki complained about the “tone and the style (threats, etc)” of a US diplomatic petition about the new leadership of the EFCC, implying that his boss did not appreciate the bully stance of the US government.
“The main challenge is not so much the USG concerns about the EFCC and its doing better - we get that and appreciate that - but the way we are talked to, as well as closing down any dialogue with the EFCC chairwoman and not giving her a chance, is what bothers us.
“The Brits feel like you on the EFCC and wanting to see results on key cases, but they have gone about it in a much better manner so that we are willing to listen to them,” Mr. Saraki had said.
The US ambassador was not moved by Mr. Saraki’s apparent disapproval of US methods.
“Ambassasdor pushed back, pointing out that without progress on cases such as that of ex-governor Ibori, there is probably not any likelihood that our posture would change,” Ms. Sanders said in her report.
Mr. Saraki could not be reached for comments on Monday. Contacted via telephone, his chief press secretary, Masud Adebimpe, said he was travelling and would return our call on arriving his destination. He did not call back as at press time on Monday.