AN uncommon wave of excitement ran through the entire Delta State when news broke last month that the former Governor of the state, Chief James Onanefe Ibori would not face any corruption charges as such charges have been dropped from the allegations against him in a London court.
Even some of his worst critics suddenly became sympathetic towards him; here was a man who for some six years has been demonised in the news media as the face of corruption in Nigeria, and then after all those years during which he had been excoriated in the public domain as terribly corrupt, the London police have used their own hands to remove those charges – for nothing but want of evidence.
For days after a national newspaper had that piece of news in its front page, it was the most consistent topic of discussion in the entire state. If the London Police now say they have no evidence to support the allegations of corruption that had been consistently levied against Ibori both in the United Kingdom and Nigeria, then why did anti-corruption agencies personnel rush to make damming public statements about such corruption charges, many ask.
Such charges were widely made when two years ago the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, declared Ibori wanted. Even when the former EFCC chairman, Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, was already out of office, he was still declaiming that Ibori was as corrupt as he had charged. He also said severally that the late President Umaru Yar’Adua moved against him and removed him from office, just so that Ibori could be shielded from being tried on corruption charges.
Most of all, when a Federal High Court sitting in Asaba, the Delta State capital pronounced Ibori not guilty on the corruption charges levied against him, many lamented that the judgement was a kangaroo one, and Justice Awokulehin, who delivered that judgement, was accused of having been bought by Ibori.
So when The Sun newspapers ran the story that the London Metropolitan Police, on their own decision and choice, asked the court for the permission to drop the Count One, it caused a stir in Delta State; is the man corrupt or not? This is because when the almighty Count One is removed what remains is chaff.
This is because the dropped Count One reads: “Conspiracy to Defraud, Contrary to Common Law: PARTICULARS OF OFFENCE “. James Onanefe Ibori between the 1st day of June 1999 and the 29th day of May 2007 conspired together with Christine Omatie Ibori-Ibie, Udoamaka Onuigbo (also known as Okoronkwo) and others to defraud the Delta State Government, Nigeria, by dishonestly, among other matters:
(i) being a party to an inflated price fraud in respect of the contract for the building of a sports track for the Delta State Government at the Oghara Stadium;
(ii) being a party to the provision of an inflated invoice fraud in respect of the supply of vehicles to the Delta State Government;
(iii) diverting cash from the Delta State Treasury to his personal benefit; and
(iv) continuing to run and profit from, undeclared, businesses known as MER Engineering Ltd and Koln Ltd.”
Beyond that, as an on-line news publication wrote: “At the last pre-trial hearing before new Judge Geoffrey Rivlin, THEWILL was told prosecution also removed all money laundering indictments against Ibori in the Vee Networks (Nigeria) Limited (V-Mobile)”.
This last item also caused a lot of controversy two years ago over the question whether the former EFCC Chairman, Mrs. Farida Waziri, cleared Ibori after investigation on that item or not.
Although many Deltans publicly rejoiced that with the dropping of the corruption charge Ibori was no longer to face trial in London, they missed the point that not all the charges were dropped; now the London trial will be based on nothing but money laundering charges.
But the import of this development has not been lost on people of Delta State: No matter whatever trial on money laundering their former governor faces in the London court, Ibori will no longer be tried on corruption, the main allegation that has been levied against him for years.
Moreover, the fact that Ibori’s lawyers returned to court to ask it to compel the London Police to continue with trying Ibori on the corruption charges but failed, added an uncommon twist to the whole matter. This made it appear as though Ibori was not only confident that he would be proved innocent of the corruption charges, but that he had been correct in his assertion all along that he did not defraud Delta State at all.
As the long-awaited trial commences this February, the matter is now the cause of great expectations in Delta State as many long to see how the game will play out.
But without the corruption charges being looked into, the end will be nothing but an anti-climax – whether or not Ibori is found guilty or innocent of the money laundering charges. This is because the source of the money claimed to have been laundered will forever remain murky.
And then this question will always hang in the air: Is Ibori truly corrupt as his political enemies have hung that scarlet letter around his neck or is he just a victim of international political conspiracy?
Mr. AMECHI UWANDI, a commentator on national issues,wrote from Asaba, Delta State.