Ibori: Nigeria’s Judiciary On Trial



By now many Nigerians would have come to the conclusion that the ongoing trial of the former governor of Delta state, James Ibori, in a London court, is not just the trial of the man alone but that of the Nigerian judiciary. Ibori, who had been facing trial before a Southwark Crown Court in London, had on Monday, 27 February, pleaded guilty to a 10-count charge of money laundering and conspiracy and will be sentenced on 16 April. He was accused of stealing close to N38 billion from the Delta state coffers when he was governor between 1999 and 2007.

He was acquitted of the same offence for which he is standing trial in the United Kingdom by the Nigerian judiciary. In the light of the development in the UK court, the issue of corruption in the Nigerian judiciary has again been brought to the fore, particularly as it concerns the questionable manner in which Justice Marcel Awokulehin of the Federal High Court, Asaba, capital of Ibori’s state of Delta, in 2009 discharged and acquitted Ibori of all the 170-count charge of corruption and money laundering slammed on him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.

The integrity of the Nigerian judiciary was also seriously called to question when the London court discovered in the course of Ibori’s trial that he is an ex-convict. Apart from being jailed in the UK for theft and credit card fraud, he was also convicted in Nigeria long before he became governor in 1999. But in 2004, when two members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, took Ibori to court that he had once been convicted by an Abuja Upper Area Court for stealing iron rods from a construction site, Justice Hussein Mukhtar dismissed the charge.

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Was it for pecuniary gains or mere incompetence that the two judges in these instances ruled in the manner they did, by failing to nail Ibori for the crimes he allegedly committed? We may never know. But we have the UK judiciary to thank for trying Ibori and for all the convictions brought against all of his partners in crime. These include his wife Theresa, sister Christine Ibori-Ibie, his mistress Udoamaka Onuigbo and Mayfair lawyer, Bhadresh Gohil.

Given the endemic corruption in the Nigerian judiciary, none of these Ibori accomplices would have been in jail. The palms of judges would have been greased and it would have been a mere slap in the wrist for all of them.

Ibori’s trial and impending conviction is a wake up call for the Nigerian judiciary to preen itself of the corrupt tendencies that have tainted its image in recent years. The questionable judgments delivered by some judges in our country must stop. The National Judicial Council, NJC, must beam its searchlight on corrupt judges and show them the way out.

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