James Ibori is a former governor of one of Nigeria's oil rich states, Delta State. In 2007, British authorities froze his British assets in a case that is still ongoing, on suspicion that he "laundered at least 30 million through that country between 2005 and ... 2007."* Ibori also faced a list of 170 charges involving corruption and fraud in Nigeria and reports soon emerged that he bribed former anti-corruption czar, Nuhu Ribadu, to the tune of $15 billion. Despite all this, the Federal High Court in Asaba granted Ibori a wonderful present to end 2009 as the 170 charges against him were dropped.
"There is no witness statement ... from any of the EFCC officers who purportedly investigated. Furthermore, there is no interim or final report of the investigations carried out by the EFCC which is a basic requirement in proof of criminal trials."The EFCC spokesperson, Femi Babafemi, responded to the decision by stating that the Commission was not surprised by the verdict and that it would appeal.
"[W]e have instructed our lawyers to immediately file an appeal against Justice Awokulehin’s judgement at a higher court...This kind of judgement if not challenged is capable of deepening the menace of corruption in our country rather than contributing in any way to the cause of justice which is the basis of sustaining our democratic governance.”REACTIONS
Many have questioned the acquittal, such as the Delta State Elders, Leaders and Stakeholders Forum who announced that the decision was "dangerous" and could encourage further corruption.The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) called the decision a "a travesty of justice and let down of the millions of victims of high level official corruption in the country." The group further criticized the court for failing to at least require Ibori to provide a credible explanation for how he amassed his wealth while a governor, something the group claimed was possible under Nigerian laws, the UN Convention Against Corruption and the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption.
However, some Nigerian lawyers such as Emmanuel Majebi believed that justice prevailed because Ibori was tried and condemned in the court of public opinion, something that will undoubtedly not hold up in a court.
NIGERIA'S PUNISHMENT PROBLEM EXEMPLIFIED?
There is no question that the overwhelming belief is that any Nigerian with enough money and the right connections can escape even the most gruesome offenses. In Ibori's case, he has had the support of the present administration in the form of President Yar'Adua and Attorney general of the Federation, Michael Aondoakaa. From the very beginning, Aondoakaa sabotaged the EFCC's domestic case against Ibori, but he equally traveled on behalf of Ibori to detract from the case against him in the U.K. As such, there is little surprise at the outcome of this case thus far.
On December 18th, 2007, I stated,
"The Ibori case is the perfect opportunity for Nigeria to prove that it is tough on crime. The legal system should be allowed to deal with this case with little to no intervention from Aondoakaa, Yar'Adua or their 'masters'. If that happens, this case will set the example for others who have stolen money or used their positions to enrich themselves and will make them willing to cooperate with authorities."Alas, although it is very possible that the EFCC failed to present a strong enough case, almost 2 years to the date of the above warning, the Ibori case allies has further solidified the fact that Nigeria has a serious Punishment Problem. The only question that remains is whether as a collective, Nigerians will continue to watch as their nation is controlled by unscrupulous men and their peers who take directly from the mouths of the people to fuel their already full bellies and bank accounts.
* - Peel, M., A Swamp Full Of Dollars:Pipelines & Paramilitaries at Nigeria's Oil Frontier, I.B. Tauris, 2009:113-4.
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From The Archives:
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- Crime & Punishment: The Nigerian Edition