By Austin Ogwuda & Emma Ovuakporie
ASABAâ€”A Federal High Court sitting in Asaba, yesterday, discharged the former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, from all the 170-count charges filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on the grounds that the prosecution failed in proving that a prima facie case has been established.
Trial judge in the matter is Justice Marcel Awokulehin.
Meanwhile, EFCC has vowed to appeal the judgment, saying, â€œthis kind of judgment, if not challenged, is capable of deepening the menace of corruption in our country, rather than contributing in any way to the cause of justice which is the basis of sustaining our democratic governance.â€
According to the commission, â€œin view of our determination to prosecute this case to a logical conclusion, and, our strong belief that this hazy judgment cannot stand based on available evidence, we have to prosecute the case, we have instructed our lawyers to immediately file an appeal against Justice Awokulehinâ€™s judgment at a higher court.
â€œWe are convinced that this judgment cannot stand, especially at this critical time in our nationâ€™s history when the judiciary is being hailed for rising to the challenge of delivering fearless judgments against the corrupt in our society.
â€˜â€™This explains why the leadership of the commission will leave no stone unturned to ensure that the case is taken to a logical conclusion given the enormity of evidence available to prosecution,â€ it added.
Justice Awokulehin, who adjourned ruling on the matter four times, said:Â â€œgoing strictly on the evidence before this court, I hold that the application for quash has merit and accordingly the charges be and, are hereby quashed and the accused persons are hereby discharged.â€
He noted that EFCC, in prosecuting the case, did not assembly reasonable evidence to support their charge.
As soon as the ruling was delivered, Iboriâ€™s supporters went into wild jubilation. The former governor was smuggled out of the courtâ€™s premises as the supporters mobbed him in ecstasy.
Ibori hails verdict
In a reaction to the courtâ€™s decision, Ibori, through his Media Assistant, Mr. Tony Eluemunor, said, â€œI am indeed, very pleased that justice has been done, and, that justice, that very foundation of our democracy, is there for everyone and not only for the poor.â€
He expressed his happiness that democracy and the rule of law were alive and thriving in the country.
Ibori also thanked his legal team and his supporters, who stood by him since the case was filed against him before the Federal High Court, Kaduna, in December 2007.
He also thanked his adversaries, opponents and others, saying that he recognises the fact that not everyone will like him. â€œThis December has made it two years of frequent court appearances and the uncommon support I have received from my numerous friends and supporters strengthened me all through the struggle to get justice,â€ he said.
Meantime, the Delta State Deputy Governor, Professor Amos Utuama, SAN, fielding questions from newsmen, after the ruling, said, â€œI feel vindicated because, though I was Attorney-General of Delta State, as a lawyer whose chambers is registered, the chambers can practise law for financial reward.â€
Iboriâ€™s trial, which began in January 2008 in Kaduna State was transferred to Asaba, Delta State, at his request, citing security concerns.
He was later granted bail after meeting some stringent terms, including payment of a N50 million bond and depositing his travelling documents to the court.
Case still in British court
The British Police have also been investigating Ibori following the discovery of assets in the country suspected to have been acquired illegally.
His trial at Southwark Crown Court in London, with his alleged accomplice, Ms. Udoamaka Okonkwo, was suspended to allow the Nigerian case to run its course, on the grounds that its outcome would have bearing on the British case.
In his eight years as governor, Iboriâ€™s annual salary was less than $25,000.
A British court had frozen $35m worth of his assets, according to the British media.