11th June, 2010
Account 1 â€“ Inside the courtroom:
I woke up morning of Monday 7th June 2010 to my alarm clock. I literarily flew out of bed. I really wanted the day to start.
I was going to be at the Southwark Crown Court. I was going to witness the sentencing of James Iboriâ€™s sister, Christine Ibori-Ibie and mistress, Udoamaka Okoronkwo Onuigbo. I had together with a few of my friends been following the progression of the case and had joined other Nigerians in fighting James Iboriâ€™s well-oiled propaganda machine. Not just that, Nigerians in the United Kingdom had countered Iboriâ€™s â€˜rent a crowdâ€™ method by taking time off work on several occasions to attend court sessions, report on and analyse the case. Some had even been bullied in court by thugs.
In the early stages of the trial, I had overheard two Nigerians discussing an incident in an elevator. They had shared an elevator with some other people who they were asking impatiently when the trial would end as they were looking forward to their next shopping spree. They were obviously relatives of one of the accused persons.
I also remembered on another occasion the mistress strutting like a peacock outside court premises like she was on a fashion parade showing off expensive jewellery in her own words â€˜this is Gucciâ€™ and that one, â€˜that is Versace, customisedâ€™. They had come in a customised Mercedes Benz jeep. I feel certain they felt they were â€˜untouchableâ€™ back then, but I knew better, this was England â€“ not Nigeria.
Deep inside of me I thought of the power these elements held in Nigeria. I thought of the colossal amount of wealth at their disposal and thought of their influence on the international scene. I remembered Tony Baldry lobbying top UK govt officials on their behalf and for a moment I feared justice would not be served, but then I remembered the spirited efforts of Nigerian organisations to get the letter into the public domain, the state of the nation and Delta State in itself and banished the thought quickly. The arrogance of the women enraged me and I made up my mind, I would join other Nigerians in the UK and elsewhere who were also in the quest for justice to ensure they did go scot-free.
This case had already revealed the amazing spirit of Nigerians, especially the influence of social networking sites. A large portion of the work that had gone into this case was as a result of the contribution of ordinary Nigerians – busy, in the working class. The most impressive aspect was their simplicity and reluctance for recognition or take any credit for work done. One particular gentleman readily came to mind. He had made it a point of duty to attend court intermittently and sent independent reports as needed. There were others – a lady who is a student in London, another lady whose short-hand skill became invaluable in getting the transcripts in court out and others too numerous to mention.
To fight James Iboriâ€™s money machine, we needed the spirited efforts of Nigerians and although some fell on the way side, these Nigerians remained focussed and stood with extra strength against attempts to thwart their efforts with the use of divisive tactics.
Sitting in the public gallery, the now convicted persons looked a lot less self-assured than at the beginning of the trial. Now they could not even meet my gaze! All through earlier sessions, all they had were dirty looks for anyone they perceived was the enemy.
During the defence pleas for leniency, by the time the mistressâ€™ counsel finished, I had started to believe the woman would get off with a lighter sentence. A sorry picture was painted of her helplessness in the matter because she had given her heart to the wrong man.
I also could not believe the change in demeanour of the convicts. I nearly felt sorry for them. You had to be there to understand. However, my compassion for them was quickly overshadowed by thoughts of sorry state Nigeria is in and the deprivation of the people of Delta State of the basic needs of life. My feelings were replaced by subdued triumph.
I marvelled at the turnout by Nigerians. I recognised a lot of them and it was amazing how most had met and had been friends on social networking sites and Sahara Reporters news updates.
I was really impressed with the judge, Christopher Hardy. The sentencing was meant to have taken place at Court Room 8, but had got filled up in minutes. He then graciously moved us to the larger Courtroom 9, which also got filled up equally quickly. He finally moved us to the largest courtroom complex – Room 1. We all dashed two floors down and in a twinkle of an eye the room was filled to the brim with people standing outside. They crowded round the door trying to catch a glimpse of proceedings. The courtroom was indeed packed. It was interesting to note court personnel that worked in the same building standing outside with other Nigerians wanting to catch a glimpse as well.
Then the words of the defence lawyer Andrew Trollope QC: â€œYou should ask why such a woman with a good family background should be in this crime. The answer is James Ibori and it is he that must bear fullresponsibility.”
Those words hit me, so even the Ibori girls now admit Ibori is a common criminal? And as if that was not enough Udoamakaâ€™s defence counsel added his own twist. â€œMy client did it for loveâ€
Over 40 million pounds?
I could not wait for Judge Hardy to have his say and when he did had his say, it came in sweet lyrics. On Nigeria? He implied:
â€œCountries who are signatories to fighting corruption and money laundering must live to the full letter of their commitments.â€ And then
â€œI would therefore apply the full weight of the British law to serve as punishment and deterrent. The jury was satisfied that you were connected to the assets that were spread all over the world including safe havens. Each of you benefited massively. You are not simply agents. Who knows how much you are still hiding?” And he passed a reward of 5 years jail term to the Ibori girls, I just witnessed history, the Ibori girls going to jail and away from the mafia country, no more Asaba Judge to obstruct the course of justice and no EFCC to file dim-wit charges and no King Ibori to put a phone call to the President. It was victory for the people of the Delta and for Nigerians in a United Kingdom court. I won’t forget Court 8,9 and 1.
Finally, people started streaming out of the courtroom. The court session had to be over. I noticed one of my compatriots dash past me and screaming â€˜5years eachâ€™. The jubilation amongst Nigerians was apparent â€“ it was like the Super Eagles had brought home the world cup! No more Gucci stunts or Vivendi designer blings, Nigerian justice had been served in a British Court. We are not complaining – Half justice is better than No justice!