The Banana Skins Called Ibori, Etteh And Odili

by Akintokunbo A Adejumo

This author has always said it and will continue to say it: The Rule of Law cannot work yet in Nigeria for the simple reason that our half-hearted anti-corruption war cannot be sustained by the rule of law when there is no “obeisance of the law in the first place. This fear seems to be confirmed by recent events that are increasingly indicating that the Yar’Adua government is not exactly forthright about its anti-graft campaign. This is further compounded by the actions, or inactions of the relevant authorities who are expected to carry out this fight. Externally, the UK Director of Public Prosecution publicly saying that the Federal government of Nigeria is deliberately frustrating the efforts of the UK Government to investigate Ibori’s alleged £35 million assets in the UK and elsewhere. Now the chicken are coming home to roost, but is it too early to say or pass judgement? The problem is not so much that the government is winning the war against corruption, but the impression that the war itself is not being fought with especially sincerity of purpose, the right tools and resources or seriousness. Certain people in and out of government seem determined to maintain the status quo and are actively subverting the course of justice.

And what do we have now? After being allowed to breathe some fresh air and given time to consolidate under the guise of “the Rule of Law”, now comes former Governor of Taraba State, Reverend Jolly Nyame who told the Federal Government that the money he allegedly stole does not belong to the Federal Government but to Taraba State Government. He stated that the Federal Government has no right to accuse him of stealing any money since the state government has not declared any money missing. According to him, “since the entire money alleged to have been misappropriated belongs to the Taraba State Government, the Federal Government of Nigeria (the complainant) has no locus standi to prosecute me and this fact has thus deprived this FCT High court of trying me.” Please remember that he had earlier admitted embezzling state funds. Somebody please tell me how much Taraba State contributes to the Federal coffers? As far as I know, all state allocations come from the Federal Government, hence all monies belong to the people of Nigeria. It is wonderful how these corrupt people come up with all these defences.

Then comes the mother of all confirmation, albeit by a state government: the news recently that the Government of Delta State had filed, and been granted an ex-parte Injunction in a Federal High Court in Benin, shielding former Delta State governor, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, from arrest and investigation by the Federal Government and all its agents -The Attorney General, the EFCC, etc

This curious ruling is to frustrate efforts of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice to obtain documents relating to Ibori’s operations and activities while in office as governor.

More curious, interesting and intriguing is that it was the Government of Delta State who initiated this application on behalf of its ex-Governor and some others who were in his government and prohibits the Federal Government and its agents from arresting or detaining any current or erstwhile public or political office holders in Delta State government from May 1999 to June 2007 including but not limited to the following: Chief James Ibori, Chief Benjamin Elue, Mr. Ede Oghoro and Mr. Charles Israyel in consequence of the alleged investigation touching on the accounts, contracts, etc of the State Government. This is a wide ranging order, in that it not only protects the ex-governor and his people while in government, it also protects current office holders. The reason why the current Delta State government should stick their neck out so far for Ibori is something we all know, of course, but this is a blatant and arrogant display of nepotism, attempted suppression and frustration of justice, law and order and outright display of corruption.

Of course, this is not the first time ex-Governors (whether or not they are under investigation for corruption) will take out such injunctions. Plateau’s Dariye tried it, Abia’s Kalu tried it and more recently, Odili of Rivers State was granted an order preventing him from arrest by the anti-graft agency to face prosecution over alleged misconduct while in office. And they were somewhat successful because they were clever enough to apply for such injunctions in their home states, where they had lots of influence in everything. Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFFC), Nuhu Ribadu, confirmed this by alleging that some judges in the country collude with looters in the sharing of proceeds of financial crimes and thereby resort to granting indiscriminate ex-parte injunctions against the anti- graft agency.

All these left and right injunctions, under the much misused and maligned Rule of Law came about following growing insinuations that President Musa Yar’Adua was part of the ploy to shield Ibori from trial by a London court, although the President denied the allegation saying: “As far as I am concerned, nobody, no matter how highly placed, and no institution, no matter what it considers the rightness of its cause, will be considered a sacred cow or above the law in the bid to rid Nigeria of corrupt practices.” The President has of course made certain pronouncements on this case, even directing the AGF to “fully cooperate with the UK authorities, but this is after the fact, and our President seems to be always reacting after the damage has been done. This does not instil confidence in Nigerians or the world about the government’s stated determination to continue the fight against graft and corruption in every form. It seems to us they are speaking from the sides of their mouths.

We will see, Mr President, we will see. Let us see the action; we have heard enough of words. Without necessarily being too harsh on the President, all the steps his government had taken so far in ensuring justice for Nigerians and ensuring that all these ex-governors and their cohorts do not escape justice, had all fallen flat and not measured up to the expectations of the people. It just does not look good. The war against corruption is simply not being fought the right and efficient way. Every day, as thing move from bad to worse, a lot of us are beginning to doubt the sincerity of purpose, the modus operandi and tactics of the Federal Government. What else can we believe? The EFCC is being muzzled, or at best, lost its tempo; the nation’s Attorney General’s actions so far are sending out the wrong signals; an ex-Governor who has accumulated $35 (or is it £35) million during 8 years of ruling his state is said not to be under investigation (courtesy, AGF’s letter to Ibori’s London solicitors); injunctions not to arrest or investigate are flying left, right and centre; most of these corrupt ex-governors have the ear of the President; the Honourable Speaker of the House of Representatives is embroiled in a massive scandal; and other corruption scandals surfacing everyday.

One undeniable fact is that Yar ‘Adua’s government is burdened enough with credibility problems as a result of the underhand way it came in via a very flawed election. It should do nothing to compound them. From all indications so far, with its seemingly errant officials, it is doing its best to self-destruct and implode. President Yar’Adua had ‘chance meetings’ with Ibori in New York. This is most unfortunate. The President should not be seen to be having “chance meetings” with Ibori, despite the fact that Ibori played a prominent role in his (s)election and spent billions of Naira in this exercise. The President should not touch such people with a long pole. Ibori should be a pariah, not only to Aso Rock, but also to the people of Nigeria. Under the present circumstance, it is indeed a big deal and the timing was inapt.

Is this government up to the Herculean task of tackling this Aegean stable called corruption? You tell me. Why are we relying on the British Government, for example, to establish money laundering charges against Ibori? Should not the Nigerian Government first initiate an investigation into misuse and mismanagement of public funds, embezzlement, stealing and financial misconduct, etc against these people in Nigeria and then come up with the results of their investigation which could then be used to prosecute them on Nigerian soil and then passed to the British authorities to help them with their own investigations? Then, Ibori will have 2 separate cases to defend, one in Nigeria, where he is a national, and the second in the UK.

Funny enough, Ibori has not denied amassing such massive wealth, neither has he explained how he came about it. All he has been saying is that the UK authorities do not have any case and cannot freeze his assets. Yar Adua’s Government is sitting on a keg of gunpowder, because when the Ibori shit hits the fan, it is going to spread. And God knows, I won’t be there. And this seems precisely what our current Government and PDP (and even former President Obasanjo’s administration) are trying desperately to avoid. You see, the man Ibori is becoming one helluva headache for all of them. He is becoming a real problem for Yar ‘Adua and his government. All the atrocities he has committed are not without the knowledge and even the blessing of the party and government. They know, we know, and only a fool does not know it in Nigeria. And this is why I proffer that the “Honourable” ex-Governor is a real banana skin, and a lot of people are going to slip on it, assuming ours is a normal country, or if the government itself is sincere about its commitment to fighting corruption.

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