By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, Niger Delta
IT is the stuff a good drama is made of: The latest round of confrontation between the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the immediate past governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori.
Take the dramatis personae as an example: Mrs. Farida Waziri, (EFCC chairman); Chief James Ibori; Inspector General of Police Ogbonaya Onovo; Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Udom Ekpeudum; AIG Mohammed Abubakar; CP Yakubu Alkali; a dozen EFCC operatives; lorry loads of policemen and soldiers; and cudgel carrying youths, not to mention the plots, and the numerous plots. It had been triggered off by a letter from the EFCC inviting Ibori to its Abuja office on Saturday, April 17. The letter was allegedly delivered on April 13, and on same day the commission declared Ibori wanted for corruption and money laundering.
Political undertone was read into the EFCC action, but the commission denied the claim and assured Ibori it would treat him with decorum as demanded by law.
Genesis of crisis
To be fair to Waziri and her men, they did not sit down in Abuja to manufacture a new case against Ibori. It was the Delta State Elders, Leaders and Stakeholders Forum (DSELSF), led by a former federal minister of information, Chief Edwin Clark, that sparked off the war with a fresh petition.
The petition, dated March 8, accused the former governor of using government shares as collateral to obtain a N44 billion private loan. It was signed by Clark; Patrick Ideh, a former commissioner in the state; Dr. Richard Tosanwumi, a retired colonel; Godwin Eboma; Hope Erute; Williams Ekpebitere; Eddy Akangbou; chairman of the South-South Peoples Assembly in the state, Dr. B.K Adasen; A. Abugbo and Benson Lelekumo.
The petitioners alleged that Ibori used 528 million shares of Oceanic Bank belonging to the Delta State government as collateral to guarantee the loan given by Intercontinental Bank Plc to his personal company, Ascot Offshore Nigeria Limited.
In the petition, which was also published in some national dailies, the group requested the anti- corruption agency to hold the former governorÂ liable for the disposal of the shares.
About three years ago, precisely 2007, the EFCC had slammed a 170-count charge of corruption on Ibori. On December 17,Â 2009, the trial judge, Justice Marcel Awokulehin, ruled in the case in favour of the former governor in a Federal High Court sitting in Asaba, Delta State capital.
An apparently dissatisfied EFCC, same month, filed a notice of appeal against the judgement which also absolved Ibori of all wrong doings.Â Nevertheless, Ibori still faces money laundering charges brought against him and some of his associates by the Metropolitan Police, London, United Kingdom, UK.
The new petition by the Clark group only gave the commission fresh impetus to revisit the matter, but, Iboriâ€™s counsel, Dauda (SAN), in an April 16 letter to the EFCC boss, said, â€œYou cannot deny that this matter has been investigated and falls under the matters under appeal at the Court of Appeal, Benin.
However, if your position, as you now claim, is that the invitation is associated with other crimes, then, it is our very humble and indeed respectful view that under the Constitution of the FRN 1999 and the extant EFCC Act, you are under a duty to disclose the reasons why you are inviting him to your office, which has a notorious reputation for depriving Nigerians of their liberty beyond the time-frame permitted by law.
â€œThe only exception where you do not have to state a reason is where the individual in question is arrested in the course of committing an offence. The rationale for providing a reason(s) is to enable the invitee to come to your office prepared to defend himself against the allegations against him. Any other step to the contrary is a flagrant breach of the constitutionally protected rights to fair hearing â€“Section 36 CFRB 1999 and overall breach of the rules of fairness and equity, which everyone exercising police powers, such as your organization is expected to scrupulously observe.â€
EFCC intensifies probe EFCC officials have visited several government ministries and departments in the state in the past one week fishing for information. A top official of the state government told Sunday Vanguard, â€œThey have been coming every day asking for one letter or the other and we made photocopies for them, particularly on the Oceanic Bank shares. There is nothing new about this matter, they have come for it before and we availed them of the informationâ€.
It was gathered that the EFCC, in a letter signed by Steven Otitoju, acting director of operations, on behalf of the Executive Director, in September, last year, actually wrote the state government demandingÂ details of the same deal, including the resolution approving the purchase of the shares, the mode of payment for the shares, including the account details where the monies used for the purchase of the said shares were lodged, ownership structure and how the transaction was consummated in the wake of the crisis in the banks.
It also demanded to know the relationship between the government and ASCOT Offshore Nigeria Limited, the company in question, the shareholding structure, including the governmentâ€™s holding and all executed copies of agreements between the government and the company.
In its reply, through a letter by Andy Omokri, Permanent Secretary, on behalf of the Secretary to State Government (SSG), explained that the State Executive Council (EXCO), had given approval on September 15, 2005, for the purchase of 820million shares of the bank at the cost of N6.360billion, which was subsequently carried out with a monthly repayment of N353.341million for a period of 18 months, which commenced on April, 2005 and ended in September 2006.
However, due to a disagreement between the government and BFCL Assets and Securities, which advanced the initial credit, over Put and Call Option Agreement, the government, through another EXCO resolution, decided to sell off 328million units of the shares for N3.890billion.
However, contrary to the allegation that the proceeds from this sale were used to offset another loan obtained by the company from Intercontinental Bank, they were actually paid into the state governmentâ€™s account.
The government also said that its relationship with ASCOT began when it successfully bidded for the acquisition of Wilbros Group Nigeria Holding Limited (WGNHL), a major oil servicing company carrying major operations in the Niger Delta region, with appreciable number of indigenes of the state in its employ and invited the governmentâ€™s participation as a facilitator, a proposal it agreed to after it studied the viability of the venture and weighed the benefits to the state, adding that the deal had actually met its purpose on this score.
The drama has continued to getÂ more intriguing by the day. Clark had accused Ibori of trying to assassinate him as a result of the EFCC hunt for the ex-governor. He forwarded a petition to the National Security Adviser, Lt-Gen Aliu Gusau (rtd), the Inspector General of Police and other security agencies.
Ibori, through his media aide, Mr. Tony Eluemunor, denied the charge, saying Clark was used to raising such alarm and that his principal would not gain anything from the Ijaw leaderâ€™s death. Clark maintained, â€œIboriâ€™s belief is that killing me will silence the voice of opposition in Delta State where he has firmly (built) his illusionary political empire and has been the de facto governor of the state. He also believes my death will weaken his on-going trial by the EFCC through constant adjournment and unwillingness of the state to prosecute the criminal charges against himâ€.
Different interest groups in the state have joined the fray on both sides to the crisis. A group of leaders in the state, spanning the three senatorial districts, including Chief G.N.O Sefia, Chief Paulinus Akpeki, Sir E.K Gbragada, Chief D.A Etaluku, Prof Benjamin Okoba, Chief Chris Agbobu, Chief Benson Iyama and Captain Pius Sinebe (rtd), in a statement, accused Clark of boasting at a meeting of his that the â€œActing President, Goodluck Jonathan is his son and he will do whatever he wants him to doâ€ and that he would direct the acting president intervention to nominate the next governor of Delta State.
Delta elders step inHowever, notable Delta elders, including the deputy premier of defunct Midwest Region, Chief James Otobo; Prof. B.I.C Ijomah; former Minister of Information, Prof Sam Oyovbaire; Gen. O.E Obadan; Chief B.Y. Biakpara and Chief Chuks Ochonogor, under the auspices of Concerned Delta Elders, have called on all the parties to desist from further publications and allowed them to look into the issues of politics and governance with a view to finding lasting solutions that will restore peace and harmony among all Deltans.
According to the group, â€œWe, the Concerned Elders of Delta State have read the series of publications which tend to portray Delta state and citizens in bad light. In fact, no day passed without the publication of a full page advertisement from one person or a group of persons. We believe that misunderstandings or outright quarrels can never be settled on the pages of newspapersâ€.
The story so far is that EFCC was hunting for Ibori over a petition by Clark and his group and the Jonathan has directed that Ibori should be arrested, as nobody is a sacred cow. With so many allegations against the former governor, beginning from the ex-convict saga, controversy has become the second name of Ibori. However, unfolding drama appears to be a smokescreen for the real intention, according to pro-Ibori elements.
The alleged plan
The real plan, according to them, is that the opposition in Delta State, led by Clark, wants to take over the government of the state in 2011 from Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan.
The PDP is the most vibrant political platform in the state and the partyâ€™s structure is firmly in the hands of Ibori. Strategists in the group calculated that it would be a Herculean task to upstage Uduaghan in 2011 the way things stand and it was agreed he belongs to the Ibori political structure; his political mentor should be demystified to weaken the structure.
That was how the idea of EFCC game plan cropped up but those who suggested that the anti-graft agency failed in the past to nail Ibori were assured that it would be a different ball game this time around with Jonathan as acting president.
The divisions In the ongoing battle, the interest groups are divided between those who feel they are benefitting from the Uduaghan government and those who say they are not benefitting or were left out of public appointments, contracts and patronage by the governor.
They are also some self-made men in the Clark group who believe that Ibori is too young to be the political godfather of the state. Clark, who was consulted by some emissaries to support Iboriâ€™s governorship ambition in 1999, was angry that the ex-governor did not consult him before he decided to â€œmake Uduaghan governorâ€.
Though, an aide of the governor, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard did not deny that Ibori supported Uduaghan, he said the ex-governor also supported other governorship candidates like Mr. Ovie Omo-Agege and that Uduaghan won because of his superior political strategy. Clark , however, maintained at that time that Uduaghan is a cousin to Ibori and it was wrong to support his cousin to take over from him.
â€œBut the real anger is not that Clark does not like Dr. Uduaghan as a person, it is that he did not want an Itsekiri man to become the governor of the state when an Ijaw man has not ruled. He supported power shift from the Central senatorial district to the South senatorial district, comprising Ijaw, Itsekiri and Isoko, but, he did not know that Uduaghan will wrestle it from the Ijaw gubernatorial aspirants at that time.
So, as soon as an Itsekiri man got it, he became angry. This is what most people who are following him blindly have failed to decodeâ€, the source said.
He continued, â€œChief Clark had said on various occasions in the past that he is not against Governor Uduaghan as a person and that he is qualified like others to rule Delta State. So, why is he against him now or are you under any illusion that the ongoing war is against Ibori?
No, it is not, the whole thing is to get at Uduaghan and stop the Itsekiri from ruling the state for a second term. With President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua in power, he could not use the EFCC against Ibori because he was strongly linked. However, Ibori is speculated to have worked against Jonathanâ€™s ascendancy as acting president and Clark is using his influence over Dr. Jonathan to fight his war against Uduaghanâ€.
Already, Clark has a trump card, which he is keeping close to his chest. An Ijaw leader from Delta State and the current Minister of Niger-Delta, Elder Godsday Orubebe, is reported being groomed to to become governor next year. His appointment as minister by President Yarâ€™Adua was influenced by ClarkÂ and some people said Orubebe would declare his intention when the time comes, but, for now, he is busy with his job.