Published On: Thu, Jan 3rd, 2013

Matters Arising in Ibori’s Pension Issue

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James Ibori


The government of Delta State recently rose in a stout defence of its payment of pension and other benefits to former Governor James Ibori who is currently serving a jail term in the United Kingdom for looting the state’s treasury during his tenure. In a statement by the commissioner for Information, Mr Chike Ogeah, the government said that the tenure of Ibori as governor of the state was not annulled by any court of law and maintained that the payment of pension and other benefits to an elected former governor and his deputy was within the ambits of an extant law in the state. The state government contended that “there is no iota of illegality in the payments made to both Ibori and his deputy” as due process was followed in so doing.
Ibori was jailed in the United Kingdom for the criminal offences he committed while he held sway as the political chief executive of Delta State. He was involved in illegal transfer of state funds. He diverted to personal use the resources entrusted to him for the development of the state. He escaped justice in Nigeria before the long arms of the law caught up with him in a foreign land. He was whitewashed by the Nigerian legal system only to be convicted and sentenced for the same offences in a British court. Before a London court, he pleaded guilty to wrongdoings of which he had been absolved by an appellate court in Nigeria.
That a man like Ibori is being paid pension and sundry benefits which the law approves for elected former governors cannot but be repugnant to anybody’s sense of fairness and justice. While in office, he had taken much more than he was lawfully entitled to by helping himself to the public till. His conduct as governor was a complete betrayal of the trust the people reposed in him by voting him into office. With his incarceration, he got his just deserts for the crimes he committed against his people. The use of state funds to pay such a man any form of benefit is rank injustice to the people whose development he had brutally retarded.
While the payment made to Ibori is manifestly repulsive on moral grounds, the fact remains that the state government has the full backing of the law in doing so because there is nothing in the statute book against it. Since ibori’s tenure was not annulled by any court of law, as argued by the commissioner, he is entitled to every benefit that is due to any elected former governor. He served two terms of four years each and wielded considerable influence in the corridors of power at the federal level before he got his comeuppance in a London court. Although the Delta State Government has not broken any letter of the law, the payment to Ibori has made utter nonsense of Nigeria’s anti-corruption campaign. It has portrayed the entire crusade as a media event and mere charade.
The Ibori case is a graphic illustration of the multiplicity of standards that exists in Nigeria’s criminal justice system. When a public officer is found guilty of any criminal offence and sentenced to a term of imprisonment, he is not only dismissed from service, he also loses all entitlements. Ibori could not be brought to justice while in office because he was shielded from prosecution and punishment by the immunity clause in the Nigerian constitution. He is currently serving a jail term for stealing state funds and he is at the same time being paid pension and sundry allowances from the coffers of the same state. This clearly defies logic.
There are some other former governors who also pleaded guilty to theft of public funds but escaped deserved punishment through the dubious concept of plea bargain. Have they also been enjoying mouth–watering retirement benefits after looting their states’ treasuries? When a public officer is put on trial for a criminal offence, he is promptly suspended from office without any payment whatsoever. What is the situation with all those governors whose cases have not been concluded since 2007. Have they been drawing pensions and other benefits when the law court has not cleared them of charges preferred against them? There is an urgent need for far-reaching changes in Nigeria’s criminal justice system because there are too many loopholes in it. A legal system that allows Ibori and others of his ilk to draw pension and other benefits from states they have ruthlessly plundered is an incentive to brigandage in public office. It provides a strong proof that the anti-corruption crusade in Nigeria is nothing but a farce.
(Tribune)

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