Ibori Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc

The month of December, to many the world over, is the season of Christmas, when many celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and some display their wanton materialistic instincts, while others throw caution to the wind to consume all the consumables available.

However, in our very own Nigeria, in Asaba, at the recently established Federal High Court, it is a very different kind of season. For Mr James Ibori and his fellow travellers, Christmas has come early while to many others it has soured their season.

The judgement quashing all the 170 charges against Mr Ibori has spun a new industry, in the words of one of two, those of ‘arm chair lawyers and experts’. Some have interpreted the judgment in the terms of Post hoc ergo propter hoc, the Latin for “after this, therefore because (on account) of this“, in other words James O. Ibori is an innocent man because the 170 charges against him have been quashed. In other words, vindication all around for the person of the ex-Governor.

However, the fallacy here lies in coming to a conclusion based solely on the order of events, rather than taking into account other factors that might rule out the connection. Most familiarly, many superstitious beliefs and magical thinking arise from this fallacy.

In paying attention to the Ibori case and reading some of the commentaries that abound, we may get the impression that the man has been tried and subjected to the full rigours of cross-examination and re-examination and acquitted. We may even be convinced that the erstwhile Governor of Delta State is an ‘innocent’, whiter than white, purer that purity itself.

However, as the days go by, many of the commentators are now getting some understanding that this was a case concluded on the ‘technicals’ of a ‘no case’ submission rather on the veracity or otherwise of corruption of the obscene levels.

Quoting the EFCC’s spokesman in the Tribune newspapers of 19th December 2009 we are provided with a clearer picture:

We also wish to state that the proceedings in Asaba originated from Kaduna where the charges were first filed in December 2007. The same charges were only referred to Asaba for trial.

Unfortunately, the accused refused to take plea and instead raised objections to the charges. It is important to note that the matter was not tried; no evidence was led or taken by the court. The ruling was based merely on charges and proof of evidence.

The accused have only been discharged and not acquitted. As such, we are convinced that the case is not over yet as we are determined to take it to a logical conclusion, not withstanding the obstacles being brought our way.”

In other words Ibori cannot be deemed vindicated or innocent on the basis of this case, nor does this bode anything for his future chances in a full trial or in England should the law catch up with him.

The use of the tool of preliminary objections to prevent a trial based on the facts and evidence is a tried and tested one deployed with great success by many in the Nigeria ruling class. Some have even obtained perpetual injunctions to allow them to avoid trials. It does grants some victory of some sorts, Pyrrhic victory, since sometime in the future similar charges could be resuscitated against them. It leaves a sword hanging over their heads, since the charges are squashed or vacated rather than acquitted based on the merits.

It has been suggested that the test in a ‘no case submission’ is not ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ as some may think but on the ‘balance of probabilities’, the standard of proof used in civil cases. On that basis at this stage the prosecution does not have to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, it simply needs to present evidence so that on the basis of all evidence presented and cross examined so far, there is a case to answer. The question therefore for those in possession of the full certified court judgement is was the decision reached on the ‘balance of probabilities’ or on the basis of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’? If it was on the latter basis then any superior appellate court would naturally reverse the decision of the learned Judge, remitting the case to another for a full trial.

On this basis, it is not yet Uhuru for Ibori and certainly Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc does not apply.

In the meantime one wonders whether it does not serve the interest of justice to establish the source of the $15 million referred to in this case, lodged with the Central Bank of Nigeria, when many in the Delta State are ravaged with poverty with no Christmas celebration to look forward to? If the law cannot be used as an instrument of liberation then what is it for, but for the preservation of the wealthy, the few and the powerful? On this I speak truth to Power.

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