By Emma Amaize, Emma Ujah & Emma Ovuakporie
ABUJAâ€”THE Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, yesterday said it was mapping out a fresh strategy to arrest former Delta State governor, Chief James Ibori, even as it said the impression that Ibori was above the law was unacceptable.
Chairman of the anti-graft agency, Mrs. Farida Waziri told journalists at the EFCC headquarters in Abuja where she also addressed a group of protesters, called True Face of Lagos, who came to find out about the status of their petition against the Lagos State government, that Ibori could not get away with the impression.
Mrs. Farida admitted that militants chased a combined team of EFCC operatives and policemen who were in Chief Iboriâ€™s country home in Oghara, Delta State to arrest him on Tuesday and challenged the embattled ex-governor to answer the invitation by security agency if his hands are clean.
She said: â€œWe went there with the assistance of the police, the militants chased us out. Nobody should be above the laws of the land. And if you feel your hands are clean, you should come out and go to the court and clear your name.
But when you make it impossible and you say you are above the law and you canâ€™t answer to a call by a law enforcement agency to come and clear some issues, it is a pity.â€
On the next line of action, Mrs. Farida said: â€œWe are going back to the drawing board with the IGP, then weâ€™ll decide what next to do.â€
The leader of the True Face of Lagos, Comrade Adesina Adebayo commended the matured approach of the Commission to all cases of corruption handled by it and the unprecedented success recorded since Waziri assumed the leadership of the agency.
Adebayo said: â€œWe take special note of your massive clampdown on corrupt individuals and officials of the government in Bayelsa, Kogi, Benue, Gombe and other states of the federation.â€
He said, however, that the group felt disappointed that Lagos State had been excluded from the anti-graft war in recent times despite the widespread and comprehensive petition that the group wrote to the EFCC on the allegations of corrupt practices allegedly being committed in the state.
In her response, Waziri said the commission received the said petition and was still working on it. She said: â€œWe are working on it. We do what is called discreet investigation first, we check banks, check companies and this involves the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, to see the actual shareholders of the companies alleged to have executed the contracts.
â€œWe also check telephone numbers; and this we donâ€™t do to the knowledge of everybody. When we get to a comfortable stage, we open up on our investigation. I can assure you that we are already working on the petition.â€
She told them that they would only know about the extent of work done in respect to the petition when it got to the stage where the Commission needed to invite people.
Mrs. Farida noted: â€œWe donâ€™t just arrest because we have a petition. Lagos is not the only state we are working on. My men are overworked. We work 24/7, Saturday, Sunday; we donâ€™t have any break at all. I can assure you that nothing is going to be swept under the carpet; nothing, not when I am here.â€
Asked to comment on the statement credited to the National Security Adviser, Lt. Gen Aliyu Gusau that she was being selective in her investigations, arrest and prosecution, the EFCC chairman said: â€œWell, I donâ€™t think he said quite that. I was there at the meeting where he was quoted to have said all that. But on the issue of selectivity, I donâ€™t think crime is committed on the basis of federal character.
â€œI canâ€™t say that if a Yoruba man commits a crime, I should wait for an Igbo man or an Hausa man to commit a crime before I arrest or go to court. There is no issue of selectivity, definitely, we are not being selective. If we have no case against you, we wonâ€™t even arrest you in the first place. We get our facts before we invite the suspect. The suspect comes last in tandem with international best practices.â€
Ibori: Weâ€™re ready to die, Oghara youths vow
Controversy over the whereabouts of the former Governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, who is being hunted by the EFCC, continued, yesterday, just as top security officials have allegedly advised him to surrender than allow security agents to arrest and handcuff him like a common criminal.
At Oghara, his country home in Delta State, there was palpable tension, as over 2,000 youths of the community that had taken over security of his residence, waited with cutlasses and sticks for the police and any other security agency that would come to arrest Ibori.
They vowed to defend Ibori with the last drop of their blood.
Meanwhile, a clearer picture of what happened between the youths guarding his residence and a police team, headed by Deputy Inspector General of Police, DIG, Udom Ekpoudom, last Tuesday, emerged yesterday.
While some media reports claimed the former governor was hiding in the creeks, a reliable source told Vanguard in Oghara: â€œOur son, Ibori is in his house resting. This is his hometown, the youths, over 2,000 of them are guarding his house, and they are not militants as some of the media houses have reported. You can see the youths over there, are they carrying guns?
â€œIbori came out Tuesday morning and drove in his car to buy fuel even after his police guards were withdrawn at about 10.22 am. He has only said that the rule of law should be followed.â€
A youth leader, Prince Latonia Olusoji, who corroborated the information said: â€œWe the youths have been here for about five days. Vanguard is the only newspaper that had come to this place to talk to us, others report hear-say. We told you we will not leave here when you came on Monday, and we are repeating that we are not going to leave. Even if the police reinforce and come back, they would have to commit genocide by killing all of us here before they will arrest Iboriâ€.
We are not afraid of death, says Olusoji
Another youth retorted: â€œWhy did you say Ibori is here, he is not here.â€ Prince Olusoji countered: â€œWe are not afraid of death, let them come but none of them will leave here alive, we will tell them we are from Oghara. We are peaceful but we can be violent if pushed to the wall. The latest ruling of the court is that the status quo ante should be maintained.
That is that Ibori should be left alone while the case is going on at Asaba, so why are they still seeking to arrest him without following the due process of law.
â€œAnd that is why we are saying we will resist them with the last drop of our blood, he is not a criminal, he is not the only ex-governor, they should let him be.â€
On the Tuesday incident between the youths and the police, Olusoji said: â€œThe police came at about 3.30 pm in a convoy of seven cars and two outriders, all of them with full lights on and they came in a commando style, banging at the gate, as they disembarked.
â€œOur boys came out from their locations to ask them what they came for because their mood did not signify that they came for peace. By putting their full lights on and the way they came, we suspected they came for violence and because we have vowed that nobody would take our son away from here, we told them to leave.
â€œSome of the policemen fired canisters of tear gas into the air. To be fair to them, they did not fire a single gun shot, so to say that there was a gun battle between the youths and the police was a lie. Nothing like that happened, we only told them that the manner they came, they could not see Ibori.
I am sure they knew that Ibori was here because they were the ones that withdrew his police guards at about 10.22 am on Tuesday, but, we insisted they would not enter the house.
â€œSome of the mobile policemen actually corked their guns but when the youths pulled their shirts and dared them to shoot and started breaking and throwing bottles at them, they began to retreat.â€
When Vanguard contacted DIG Ekpoudom on phone, yesterday, he said he was on his way to Rivers State after visiting Bayelsa, stressing that he was on tour of state police commands. He directed our reporter to the Inspector General of Police for any inquiry on the Ibori matter.
A source, however, said: â€œAs a former Commissioner of Police in the state under the regime of ex-Governor Ibori, the DIG who is on tour felt it would be unfair for him to pass through the state without seeing the embattled former governor.
He actually wanted to tell him that it was better for him to surrender than to allow himself to be picked up like a common criminal and even handcuffed, but, the youths misconstrued his visit to mean that he came to arrest Ibori.
â€œEkpoudom did not come to arrest Ibori. The Inspector General of Police did not give him any orders to arrest Ibori. He wanted to see him on his own and advise him as a friend. It is the AIG, Zone 5 and the Commissioner of Police, Delta State that were given such directive.â€
An Oghara youth who confirmed that he was the one that led the Commissioner of Police to his car when his driver sped off on Tuesday, as the youths threw broken bottles at the police team said: â€œItâ€™s true that the DIG did not ask his boys to shoot and nobody shot atÂ us, but we told them they could not enter Iboriâ€™s house.â€
At about 10.00 am when Vanguard arrived Oghara till about 3.00 pm, the road leading to Iboriâ€™s home was practically a no-go area, as the youths stopped and search motorists, particularly those suspected to be strangers to the area.
Vanguard crew was turned back by some of the youths, but, the reporter and photographer parked their vehicle some distance away and insisted on seeing their leader before two of them took them to him.
The crew was immediately surrounded by scores of machete-clutching youths, who said they were not militants and asked Vanguard to tell the government that they were ready to die than allow security agents come to Oghara and pick up Ibori as a common criminal.
It was gathered that some of the youths have neither taken their bath nor eaten as at 10 am when Vanguard got to Oghara and their leaders rejected overtures by some Ijaw leaders, loyal to Ibori to deploy some Ijaw youths to assist Oghara youths.
Besides the gathering of youths outside, Iboriâ€™s mansion was very quiet and it was not easy for a visitor to know whether he was inside or otherwise.
No vehicle entered house through the main gate throughout Vanguardâ€™s stay in Oghara and only movement inside was at a corner of the house; near the backside where only known faces were allowed entrance.
Most Oghara villagers, nevertheless, went about their normal duties, yesterday. The attitude of most of the villagers was that despite whatever Ibori might have done or not done, the former governor did a lot for the town and the people would protect him.
Militants not guarding me â€” Ibori
Meantime, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, has denied reports that he was being guarded by armed militants who reportedly prevented the police and operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, from arresting him in his home town, Oghara, Delta State, on Tuesday.
A press statement by his Media Assistant, Mr. Tony Eluemunor, said: â€œWe categorically refute the unfounded allegation that militants disturbed the policemen who stormed Oghara on Tuesday 20th April, 2010.â€
Chief Ibori said he was neither a sponsor of militants nor being protected by same and that yesterdayâ€™s media reports to that effect were a fabrication against him.
He said: â€œNo militants or any group at all engaged security agents in any fight as the Oghara people are peace-loving and law abidingâ€ adding that he feared â€œthe falsehood may be an excuse for the security agencies to visit more mayhem on defenceless civilians, especially the children and women of Oghara town.â€
Ibori said the allegation was the second as it was spread when the earlier case between him and EFCC opened in Kaduna in December of 2007.
The statement added: â€œWe also let the world know that the Police, the State security Service and the EFCC have all been served with the ruling of the Asaba Federal High Court, which asked that the status quo be maintained, even as it accepted the undertaking of EFCCâ€™s counsel, Mr. C. Okoromah that the EFCC would not attempt to arrest Ibori.â€