Published On: Sat, Apr 26th, 2014

James Ibori: A Cry for Justice

Chief James Ibori

By Francis Onoiribholo
LAGOS APRIL 26TH (URHOBOTODAY)-It is a commonly held belief that justice delayed is justice denied. Perhaps, the simple fact of the axiom is lost on the British in whose language these words are written. In every sense of the word, jurisprudence the world over basically derived from the British legal system that had taken root before most countries attained independence. Even with independence, most Commonwealth countries still pander to the cases delivered in Britain and frequently make references of precedents to cases determined in the United Kingdom.
Consequently, it behooves the same British judicial system to lead the way of the ‘law courts’ retaining the trust of all because it is generally held that the last hope of the common man rests with the courts. However, if the British courts now demonstrate strains of partiality then the hope of everyone without the right connection ‘to purchase’ justice is dashed.
As for the Nigerian government and the homestead judiciary, the after effect of the accusation and counter-accusation that ensued between the former Chief Justice of the Federation, Katsina-Alu, and the former President Court of Appeal, Ayo Salami, the two highest judicial officers at the time, had completely eroded what little integrity and respect that arm of the Nigerian democratic polity enjoyed among the populace.
‘Equal rights’ remain the stanchion of the United Nations basis for personal, group, community and federations’ propagation of equal existence, interaction and transactions, therefore, when recently a human rights group felt sufficiently displeased by the seeming injustice being meted out to the former Delta State governor standing trial in a British court, they called the press to express their thoughts.
Comrade Nowinta Igbotako spoke on behalf of the group that included Barr. Bernard O. Oyabevwe, Director, Legal Matters and Human Rights, Jude Isiaye, Director, Advocacy and Mobilisation and Erhuvwuvotu Makelemi, Coordinator, Public Education and Media at a press conference in Benin City, the Edo State capital declared thus:
“We, the members of Niger Delta Alliance for Human Rights, Nigeria, have watched with keen interest the startling revelations from the Southwark Crown Court sitting in London, which fixed April 9 -11, for the preliminary hearing on the confiscation of assets case regarding the former Governor of Delta State, Nigeria, Chief James Onanefe Ibori as the court is starved of evidence by both the prosecuting counsel and the Metropolitan Police which carried out investigations alongside the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) .
“We are particularly piqued that the Crown prosecution’s confiscation request is ignorantly anchored on Nuhu Ribadu’s EFCC and British Metropolitan Police’s claim that Ibori defrauded Delta State, whereas there is no single evidence from Delta State, the so-called victim, either in the Crown’s trial bundle or the recent hearing that there were withdrawals and funds diversion.
“It is equally shocking to note that despite the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and British Metropolitan Police’s arrest, and detention of the officials of Delta State Government, including its Accountant-General between 2005 and October 2007, an incontestable fact remains that the EFCC and the British Police did not have any evidence that the state was defrauded by Ibori or that the state funds could be traced to accounts of the former governor except for his salary.”
The group, added, ”We are further alarmed that the Metropolitan Police instead of toeing a path of honour, attempts some face saving with a claim that it did not generate any evidence because it did not get the cooperation of the Delta State Government, a claim which the state government through the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Charles Ajuyah (SAN), has stoutly denied.”
Ajuyah, expressed shock that “the London Met police could make such allegations against the state government when in fact it never made any request for any document relating to Ibori’s trial whether formal or informal.” The Delta State Government also said, “the EFCC made specific requests and the state government gave full and maximum cooperation.” According to the Attorney-General, the “EFCC has boxes and boxes of documents from the state and I am aware that the documents were in possession of the Metro police and Crown Prosecution; if the state did not cooperate with EFCC, how come the Crown had materials from the Delta State during their investigations.
“It is, therefore, incontrovertible that the Metropolitan Police claim only further reinforces the fact that they did not obtain any evidence against Chief Ibori in their investigations. If the investigators did not obtain any evidence, what was the basis of going to court in the first place? Do you make arrest, keep a suspect in detention and begin to shop for evidence in a criminal case? It means therefore that the Metropolitan Police merely blew the over £7million British tax payers money from Department for International Development (DFID) in their merry-go-round investigation.
“We therefore wish to commend the trial Judge for being apolitical in handling the case and must be thorough and professional in the discharge of his duties because he is on the threshold of making history.
“Flowing from the current scenario, it has become obvious that the British Government can no longer continue to advertise the hounding of James Onanefe Ibori as a success story against money laundering and corruption as it really isn’t for want of evidence.
While we encourage the British Government and the European Union to continue the fight against corruption and money laundering, we are seriously disturbed that the Ibori case has exposed the politicisation of the war on corruption and money laundering. Cronies of governments and business interests of Britain and some European countries get covered while perceived enemies are the only ones portrayed as corrupt.
“We make this point against the backdrop of the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair dropping of the corruption inquiry into a BAE arms deal with Saudi Arabia on highly suspected political grounds.
We note with similar disturbing trend the French government’s recent pardon to the former Minister of Petroleum Resources under the Sani Abacha administration, Chief Dan Etete. He was cleared of the conviction slammed on him by a French court. Chief Dan Etete was in 2007, sentenced by a French court to three years in prison in absentia and a fine of 300,000 euros ($440,000) for money laundering but because he is today President Goodluck Jonathan’s foot soldier, and in a surprising twist, a Bulletin No. 3 dated Friday, March 7 2014 and issued by the Ministry of Justice, Criminal Cases and Pardon Division, the French government said Etete had been pardoned and cleared of the conviction.
The Nigerian Federal Government that had followed the Ibori’s case with its EFCC that has been highly criticized for being a pawn in the hands of Nigeria’s presidency pursuing only government’s enemies has surprisingly accepted a perpetual injunction which former Governor of Rivers State Peter Odili, (1999-2007) initiated restraining his arrest and prosecution till date.
Former Governor of Bayelsa State, Diepriye Alamieyeseigha who jumped bail in the same Britain is the political mentor of President Goodluck Jonathan. Alamieyeseigha who was tried and convicted for money laundering and corruption in Nigeria was cleared of his sins and pardoned by the same President who has provided all the Federal might in support of Ibori’s prosecution. Why should Britain be over zealously tightening the screws on James Ibori over allegations of money laundering while it is patronizing a Nigerian Federal Government that has pardoned Diepriye Alamieyeseigha who jumped bail over the same offence of money laundering in the same Britain? What has become of the average British man or woman’s sense of morality and equity?
Also, we have on record the Nigerian Government’s dossier on over twenty past and present governors in Nigeria who have been fully investigated and found culpable of corruption but nothing has happened to them, instead they are hanging around the corridors of power. This, to say the least is detestable, completely unacceptable and totally condemnable. What with the case of Bode George who was accused of corruption and sentenced to jail. He completed his jail sentence and received a red carpet reception as he emerged from prison; an occasion attended by the Nigerian Presidency representative. We followed up how he secured the Supreme Court verdict, which freed him of corruption charges. Today he is a chieftain of the ruling party in South West Nigeria working to have Mr. President retain his grip on power.
In all of these, we are concerned about the seeming silence of the Western media in the face of obvious double standards of the British and Western world.
It is against this backdrop that we make the following demands to the British Government, European Union and indeed the international community, which includes Nigeria:
1. Urge the Prime Minister of Britain, David Cameron to take more interest in the hearing of Ibori’s case, as it is capable of damaging British government’s reputation.
2. Call on the House of Commons to investigate the use of the British citizens’ taxpayer’s resources which was apparently wasted by the Metropolitan Police in the controversial investigation.
3. Encourage the trial Judge Anthony Pitts not to succumb to the lure of using inference to give his judgment but must stick to evidence as required by the British and International criminal law.
4. Call on Transparency International, Amnesty International, the International Human Rights Community, and the international media to keep an eye on Chief Ibori’s case given the latest revelations. If evidences genuinely link his assets to Delta State Government, they should be confiscated and repatriated but if not, there is no basis keeping Chief Ibori a day longer in British prisons.
5. Call on the British Government to look beyond Chief James Onanefe Ibori in its war against money laundering and spread its arm to host of other Nigerian elites who have stashed millions of pounds sterling in UK banks, and should repatriate all Nigerian stolen assets.
6. Call on the Nigerian Federal Government and its international allies to stop forthwith this selective and vindictive fight against corruption.
The Courts in Britain with specific reference to trial judge, Anthony Pitts can do humanity a lot of good by sticking to the tenets of law and never allow the involvement of the Nigerian government in deliberately constituting an impediment to justice while shielding their cronies who have and are consistently plundering the resources of Nigeria.

Francis Onoiribholo is Bureau Chief of Daily Independent in Benin

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