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The shame of Ibori’s trials, incarceration (1)


james-iboriIN April, 2012, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, former Governor of Nigeria’s Delta State, was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment by a Southwark Crown Court in London. While the trial lasted, two disparate groups of Nigerians besieged the Court to cheer, or jeer at, the man in his travails. In Nigeria, a sizeable crop of the people luxuriates in gloating over the misfortunes of others, particularly when those others are from the outer-group. The judiciary in Nigeria is a mere outward manifestation of a legal system in which the real judges are the men and women on the streets, in their offices or in their beer-parlour rendezvous. They rapturously and facilely pronounce judgment on accused persons before the normal courts do so.

In Nigeria, every woman is a lawyer and every man, a judge in his own right, trained, as they are, in the Faculty of Law, Amebo’s Advanced Law School, Lagos. Having no nodding acquaintance with the elementary law of libel, they are doctrinaire journalists without a doctrine. Whenever anybody is accused of corruption, a systemic social cancer and bane of Nigeria’s socio-economic development, Nigerian men and women, including those that are hardly able to read a B from a bull’s foot, will rise up in insurrection, as it were, to pronounce such a person guilty as charged, and openly bedaub him “a thief”, with no thought about the legal consequences if that person is subsequently discharged and acquitted!

As Governor of Delta State, and, therefore, former Chief Executive Officer of a federating unit of the Nigerian Federation from 1999 to 2007, Chief James Ibori was easily the best Governor that State, indeed, Nigeria, ever produced: he catered for individual needs and structurally transformed Delta State to look like one of those beautiful States in America. Today, about eight years after he left office, Delta State has become like a huge refugee camp, in terms of putrefied and putrefying infrastructure, not fit for the internally-displaced persons of the beleaguered northeast of Nigeria! That is why I feel a vicarious soreness of heart each time people mention Ibori’s name as a byword for corruption in Nigeria, in spite of all the glaring evidence to the contrary.

Ibori scaled through the over 100-count charge against him in Nigeria, because the standard of proof in a criminal offence is “beyond reasonable doubt”; not on the “balance of probabilities” as in civil matters. So the man was discharged and acquitted by Nigeria’s formal Court of Appeal. But the formal “judiciary in Nigeria is irredeemably corrupt”, they claim, and the informal judiciary, manned by the ordinary men and women on the street, came to the rescue. The latter judiciary has enough pieces of evidence to pillory the man. And it did!

In law, there is the equitable doctrine of autre fois acquit, meaning that you cannot try any person for an offence for which he has been discharged and acquitted. So a brazen cluster of Nigerian saints, including the commanders-in-chief of corruption in Nigeria and some garrulous octogenarians in Delta State, hounded him into exile until a vengeful Jonathan’s Government, in cahoots with neocolonial Britain, put him in jail for 13 years in London, for money laundering charges!
But what are the facts? The lead prosecutor, Sasha Wass, read out 14 charges, and Ibori was advised by his counsel, Mr. Nicholas Purnell, QC, to plead guilty to 10 thereof, even if the prosecution could not show “the irresistible inference of criminality” needed to prove the bare minimum of a charge of conspiracy to launder money. The Judge, Anthony Pitts, was, however, satisfied that the original, the predicate offences of fraud in Nigeria, where our courts are said to be too corrupt to try such cases, had been proved beyond reasonable doubt.

The charge sheet read:

“That in Ibori’s first term, he took money from inflated contracts (in Nigeria, note) for a sports stadium and a fleet of cars for the State Government (again in Nigeria);

“That he funelled the cash through Shell companies in the name of his sister, Christine Ibori Ibie, and his mistress Udoamaka Okonkwo, and bought property in London.”

The main offence, taking money from inflated contracts, shorn of the money laundering aspect, was committed in Nigeria, but both were tried in one of the de facto postcolonial capitals of Nigeria, London, in arrant disregard of the concept of jurisdiction, which, like possession, is nine-tenths of the Law! There are two main types of Jurisdiction: geographic and subject-matter. The one warns that you cannot try an accused person outside the geographic area where he allegedly committed the offence, such as when Ibori’s alleged offence was illegally transferred from Asaba/Benin judicial area to Kaduna for trial, or when election tribunals were transferred, for whatever reason(s), from Port Harcourt, Uyo and Jalingo (the loci inquo), to Abuja, the political headquarters of Nigeria; whilst the other type of jurisdiction precludes a trial beyond the competence of a court, such as when a Magistrate’s Court tries a constitutional dispute between two States in Nigeria!

It is trite law, from a long line of Supreme Court and other cases, that to move the trial of a case from a court with competent jurisdiction, the “sub stratum” of a court, to outside that jurisdiction is taboo (See, for example, AG of Lagos State vs. Dosunmu, 1989 3 NWLR (Part 111) 552@ 609 and Louisiana vs. Texas, 1900, 176, US, page 1.

Another allegation against Chief James Ibori in London was an attempt by him and his counsel, Bhadresh Gohil, allegedly introduced to him by the former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah, to buy a private jet from a Canadian firm, Bombadier. That was only an attempt. Today, countless State Governors in Nigeria, outside the oil-producing areas, invidiously shuttle in private jets like gallivanting gadabouts. And all that is taken for granted!

This brings me to a crucial question. From 1999 to 2007, during Ibori’s tenure of office, there were 36 Governors. Does any of those who gloat over Ibori’s travails ever consider why it was only those Governors from the oil-producing areas – DSP Alamieyeseigha (now forced across the Styx by the Nigerian State, in collusion with Britain, in breach of the provisions of section 175 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which empower the President to grant a pardon to any person), James Onanefe Ibori, Lucky Igbinedion and Peter Odili (all Niger Deltans!) that stole money from their State treasuries? Consider the Governors of that period (1999-2007), one by one, and you would stop harping upon Ibori as the epicentre of corruption in Nigeria.

• To be continued tomorrow.

• Chris Akiri is an Attorney-at-Law in Lagos.

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