5th March, 2012
The travails of the self-styled Ogidigbodigbo of Africa, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, 53, reportedly began when he “tricked” his way into becoming Delta State governor by giving a false date of birth and claiming he had no criminal record.
For eight years, Chief James Ibori held sway as governor of the oil-rich Delta State. Addressed as sheik by his colleagues because of the stupendous oil wealth he controlled, Ibori’s influence extended far beyond his state.
He was one of the few vocal people in the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, NGF, and was reputed to be instrumental to the election of the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as President of Nigeria in 2007. But today, the once powerful figure in Nigerian politics is fighting the battle of his life.
After about five years of playing cat and mouse with Nigerian and British authorities, the former governor of Delta State capitulated on Monday, pleading guilty in a London court to 10 counts of money laundering and conspiracy to defraud.
Before Judge Anthony Pitts, Mr. Ibori admitted stealing $250 million as alleged by the prosecution, he is due to be sentenced on April 16 and faces up to 10 years in UK prison.
The former governor’s guilty plea has drawn him closer to jail and capped years of high-wired legal and political intrigues surrounding his monumental theft of public funds and the scheme to evade justice.
Ibori had fled to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, after the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) tried to put him on trial here for stealing funds belonging to Delta State, where he was governor for eight years.
The Metropolitan Police, which had also hunted him for years, was able to get him extradited to London in spite of his prolonged antics. On arrival in the city where he had lived and worked, but has battled hard to avoid in the past five years, Ibori was taken to a West London police station where he had been in custody.
During his long trial, both the Metropolitan Police and the EFCC had launched their separate bids to prosecute the former governor, believed to have stolen N40 billion of Delta State funds, shortly after he left office as governor in 2007.
Although he had become one of the most powerful figures in Nigeria at the time, after bankrolling the election of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, the EFCC, then headed by Nuhu Ribadu, arrested and charged him to court.
His arrest without presidential approval reportedly irked Yar’Adua, who tactically removed Ribadu from his post by asking him to proceed on course at the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies.
With Ribadu out of the way, Ibori bounced back to reckoning after a federal high court, fraudulently and specifically set up in Asaba to try him, ruled that he had no case to answer.
He called the shot in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, had unhindered access to the President and is believed to be largely instrumental, along with other former and incumbent governors, to the appointment of Mrs.. Farida Waziri as chairperson of the EFCC.
While the former governor walked free in Nigeria and loomed large in the polity, the Metropolitan police remained focused, exploring every possible avenue to get him to face justice for the monumental corruption he is believed to have committed.
But one man was a clog in the wheel, Michael Aondoakaa, who was Nigeria’s Justice Minister and through whom the Met Police must route their request for documentary evidence of Mr. Ibori’s corruption.
The former minister refused to cooperate with investigators, preferring instead to package a letter for the former governor’s lawyer indicating that the former governor “has not been tried and/or convicted by any court of law in Nigeria for any offence relating to money laundering or any other offences in connection with his acts and activities while in office as Governor of Delta State between 29 May, 1999 and 29 May, 2007.”
Because of Aondoakaa’s antagonism of the Met officers and lack of critical evidence, it was difficult to prosecute Ibori in the UK.
While Nigeria prevaricated over Ibori, treating him as a hero of a kind, the United States, the United Kingdom and other western countries seethed with anger over the matter.
With his capitulation on Monday, the trial of what has come to be known as the Ibori clan has come full circle.
On June 8, 2010, Christine Ibori-Ibie, the only surviving sister of the former governor and Udoamaka Okoronkwo-Onuigbo, an associate, were each sentenced to five years imprisonment by Judge Christopher Hardy of a Southwark London Crown Court.
The sentence followed the June 1 and 2, 2010 court rulings that found Ms. Ibori-Ibie and Ms. Okoronkwo-Onuigbo guilty of charges of money laundering and mortgage fraud.
On November 23, same year, his wife, Theresa, got a five-year jail term from a London jury after she was also found guilty on a two-count charge of money laundering.
Also slammed with a seven-year jail sentence on a similar charge of money laundering was Ibori’s attorney, Bhadresh Gohil, who was on trial with the former governor’s wife.
— Yisa Jamiu