AN unnecessary controversy has been making the rounds between the Delta State Government and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over the rightful owners of the $15 million (N2.4 million) which the commission alleged former Governor of the state, Chief James Ibori, gave as a bribe to it in 2007.
The dispute arose when a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on July 25, 2012 ordered the amount forfeited to the Federal Government. The Delta State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Charles Ajuyah, promptly applied to the Court to direct that the fund be restored to the Delta State Government, its original and rightful owners.
The state’s argument was that since Chief Ibori was the Governor of Delta State at the time the bribe was allegedly offered in 2007, the money belongs to Delta State taxpayers and should be returned to the state’s coffers.
However, the EFCC has indicated its decision to contest the Delta State claim when the motion on notice comes up in court on September 17, 2012. We find the EFCC decision inexplicable and unwarranted because it has not proffered any cogent reason to enter into this tussle.
Is the commission implying that after blowing a whistle that Chief Ibori bribed it with that sum it is now determined to keep the bribe to itself rather than return it to the coffers of the state government from where it was taken in the first place? What then is the value of its whistle-blowing?
Nigeria should borrow a leaf from precedents set in more functional legal jurisdictions. For instance, in April this year, the Southwark Crown Court in London, the United Kingdom, convicted Ibori of fraud and stealing of amounts totalling $77 million or about N12.17 billion and promptly ordered that the money be returned to the Delta State Government, the original owners.
It was the same UK court that was able to convict Chief Ibori, which the EFCC was unable to successfully prosecute in a Nigerian court. Nigeria and the UK share the same legal tradition and the UK case should act as a natural precedent.
Delta is one of the states in the Niger Delta still reeling from the post-militancy syndrome in the creeks, where a lot of crimes, especially armed robbery and kidnapping, are being battled daily by the state government and the citizens. It requires all the funds it can lay hands on to hasten development, increase youth capacity, accelerate job creation and reduce crime.
The EFCC should kindly direct its attention to exhaustive investigation and diligent prosecution of cases it is pursuing, rather than busy itself chasing after money that does not belong to it.