By Godwin Oritse and Ikechukwu Nnochiri
SOME of Nigeria’s leading lawyers, yesterday, differed on proposals to retry the former Delta State governor on the same issues he was tried for in the United Kingdom
Whereas some of them insisted that such action would amount to “double jeopardy”, others disagreed, saying he was convicted under a foreign law.
Among those who spoke were Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, Mr. Babatunde Fashanu, SAN, Mr. Dayo Akinlaja, SAN and Mr. Oghenovo Otemu.
Ozekhome in flaying the proposals for a retrial, told Vanguard that “The federal government cannot, should not and must not extradite, re-arrest and prosecute Ibori again, if the extradition, fresh arrest and prosecution are based on the same facts,events and circumstances as those under which he was earlier convicted in the UK and for which he has served his prison sentence.
“In law, that will amount to ‘double jeopardy’ which is not only antithetical to decency and our criminal justice system, but also tantamount to a blatant violation of section 36(9) of the 1999 Constitution which unambiguously provides that “no person who shows that he has been tried by any court of competent jurisdiction or Tribunal for a criminal offence and either convicted or acquitted shall again be tried for that offence or for a criminal offence having the ingredients as that offence save upon the order of a superior court”.
“What this means is that for Ibori to be tried again on the same issues for which he was jailed in the UK, a High Court or Federal High Court has to first give a prior nod.I do not see that happening in this country where Ibori’s matter is of monumental significance and very sensitive.
“It will undoubtedly be viewed by all and sundry as amounting to nothing but needless blatant and bare-faced persecution,ethnic,religious and political vendetta.
“Quote me, it will be a very tough and extremely hard sell by the Govt under whose elephantine weight Nigerians are already reeling under repressive and atrocious acts of human rights violations, decapitation of the rule of law executive lawlessness.
“It is legally better, constitutionally sound and more politically correct, to allow Ibori be upon his return into the warm embrace of his teaming kinsmen and women.
“I have heard some people argue that the Nigerian judiciary was less than proactive in freeing Ibori when the case came up in Nigeria.
“What some people don’t know is that each case is dependent on it’s peculiar facts and circumstances. A Judge works with facts presented before him. What the EFCC could not prove in Nigeria was proven by the London Metropolitan Police, hence the conviction. It had nothing to do with timidity,corruption or judicial recklessness.
“As I have always insisted, the government must, in fighting its anti-corruption “war” act within our constitutional organogram and Democratic tenets.
“Let Ibori be. Even God himself does not always punish twice for the same offence.Let us not cause further divisiveness, schism and polarisation”.
However, another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Dayo Akinlaja, maintained that dragging Ibori to court upon his return to Nigeria would not amount to jeopardy.
He said: “I want to believe it may not amount to double jeopardy if the federal government decides to charge him to court again.
“This is based on th fact that he was convicted and sentenced for offences he committed against the laws of another land which is not Nigeria.
“There is nothing stopping FG from initiating fresh criminal charges against him upon his return from the UK”, he added.
On his part, Mr. Oghenovo Otemu, another human rights lawyer, said there was nothing prohibiting the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, from entering fresh charges against Ibori.
According to him, “James Ibori ruled Delta State for eight years and still allegedly controlled the state even from the prison. Certainly, he was not charged for all the offences that he committed while in office.
“He was only convicted for specific offences he committed in the UK. If there are aspect of the alleged crime that occurred in Nigeria, FG has the powers to try him over such offences.
“Even though the initial charge by the EFCC was struck out, it can be re-filed. However, he cannot be charged for offences for which he has already been convicted”, he added.
Speaking in the same vein, Fashanu said: “Arraigning him again in Nigeria will be very wrong if the fact of the case is same. However, that does not mean that he cannot be charged to court for another offence.”
Meanwhile, most SANs declined to express their opinion on the matter yesterday, saying they would rather reserve their comments and watch things unfold.