By Tony Eluemunor
Professor Bolaji Owasonoye’s legal views should deserve healthy respect. The ICPC Chairman got an LL.B Upper Division degree from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile-Ife in 1984 at the age of 20 and was called to the Bar in 1985.
He bagged an LL.M in 1987, at 24 and became Assistant Lecturer there immediately. Later he left to the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, NIALS, where he became a Professor of Law in 2001, at the age of 38. Owasanoye was in August 2015 appointed the Executive Secretary of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, PACAC.
Most of all, Prof Owasonoye served as two-time Director of Research and became the first to be conferred with the Teslim Elias Distinguished Professor of Law. He has won so many awards and attended so many fellowships and worked for so many international organisations —including the World Bank, Ford Foundation and the DFID—that space will not allow me to name here.
Yet, Thursday last week, 21 November 2019, Prof Owasonoye got it wrong considerably at the NTA early morning programme, hosted by Kingsley Osadolor and one Kirian; the topic was anti-corruption and the need for special courts. Prof Owasonoye, claimed that Chief James Ibori could not be convicted in Nigeria because of the delay in our court process, but was convicted in the UK because of the speedy delivery of justice there…as the process is less tedious there. And I shook my head in pity.
Truly, The role of “the man” in the Ibori case would be to shun the urban legend, dig deep beyond the sloppy stories dished out by the political anti-corruption pretenders to get the facts. Why would Owasonoye fail to note the real issues involved in the Ibori London trial? Why could he not see clearly the matters that coloured the trial, the real statements made in court and documented in court papers, the real evidence or lack of it, proffered or not proffered in that pseudo-trial? Well, he chose to embrace the urban legend, the less sense and more nonsense that were being published in the newspapers. And that Thursday he did not get it right.
Dear Prof Owosonoye, here are the facts of the Ibori case and how the Nigerian trial differed from the Nigerian one. I know you are credibly smart in legal matters, and even though you don’t profess your knowledge in criminal jurisprudence, you are in every way better in this matter than this ignoramus in legal matters. So, please, in God’s name, prove me wrong. If not, please, be man enough to apologise for misleading Nigerians, at least on the Ibori London trial issue.
Ibori’s trial in London differs from what he faced in Nigeria. The London Police and Prosecution provided no evidence of any crime and no predicate crime was pleaded or proved. In fact, no iota of proof of corruption was advanced but the London Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution relied on inference alone—in a criminal and not narcotics or terrorism case.
The difference between the cases Ibori faced in London and Nigeria is as stark as day and night. And it appeared even before Ibori got to London to face any charges, when on Thursday, February 4, 2010, Justice Hardy’s Southwark Crown Court convicted some of Chief Ibori’s associates on mere inference. That would not have been the case in any Nigerian court as the properties in question must first be proved beyond reasonable doubt that they represent the proceeds of criminal conduct.
This is actually not different from what should obtain in Britain; section 340 of the UK Proceeds of Crime Act provides that each money laundering offence requires proof that property alleged to be evidence of corruption in court is criminal property i.e., it must be proved that the property is criminal property purchased with proceeds of crime for there to be any bases of its owner being charged with money laundering.
Curiously, though Ibori and associates were charged with allegedly laundering money belonging to Delta State, between 2001 and 2006, the London Police Units that visited Nigeria on the Ibori case did not even bother to get to the very Delta State that Ibori governed, and where all the accusations of corruption against him would ordinarily be expected to be documented.
Whereas the defence teams led by Tim Owen QC gave detailed and concise legal authorities setting out the precise and factual position in law, on his arguments for the defence suggesting that it would be wholly unjust and immoral to continue the trial when the principal alleged offender had been acquitted by direct admissible evidence, within the alleged jurisdiction in which the evidence tendered did not even disclose a prima facie case.
What was at stake for Britain was more than the case itself; it had invested almost £10 million into what was being primed to be the United Kingdom’s trophy case to show the world it was seriously fighting corruption in Africa.
Since the outcry arising from BAE Systems in relation to several cases of alleged corruption abroad, the Attorney-General, Baroness Scotland had been under pressure to up the ante in her prosecution of overseas corruption. The reputation of the UK Government for cracking down on overseas corruption was badly damaged. This is especially so as anti-corruption groups were alarmed at the 2006 decision to abandon the investigation of BAE in relation to the Al Yamamah affair (where it was alleged that large payments went to Saudi ministers in exchange for contracts). Many felt that decision was the result of political pressure from the Saudis and that it showed that Britain was not serious about tackling corruption abroad.
It’s first major outing against corruption in Africa, the arrest and arraignment of Nigeria’s former Governor of Bayelsa State, Depriye Simon Peter Alamieyesiegha, at the instigation of Nigeria’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the then anti-corruption Tsar Mr. Nuhu Ribadu had ended abruptly in a fiasco.
Subsequently the businessman Mr. Terry Waya, was pounced upon by both the EFCC and the London Metropolitan Police (Met). Mr. Waya was slammed with well-publicised money laundering charges. But in the end was found guilty of only false declaration in his mortgage application forms; another fiasco!
With those two cases not having gone the way the London authorities planned, the one against Ibori and associates were seen as the last chance to show their effectiveness and justify the millions of British tax-payer’s pounds spent on the cases.
Yet, the question has to be asked here and now: what were actually the issues being litigated?
Nigerians should note that the question before His Honour Justice Hardy of the Southwark Crown Court was not whether James Ibori was corrupt or not; but could the prosecution rely on inference evidence alone? Should the matter not depend on the age-old and globally recognized guilt of an accused in a criminal case being proved beyond all reasonable doubt?
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The counsel to the accused, Trollope QC said: “The prosecution’s case is an ‘artificial case’ and the evidence does not meet the evidential burden. There was never a case in London. This case is a misleading case based on untruths to such an extent that it is improper to continue, the evidence does not meet the evidential standards”.
But the prosecution counsel QC Shasha Wass maintained that there were enough inferences and circumstantial evidence to show that the accused have a case to answer. Please note; this meant that from day one, the prosecution had no evidence of corruption against Ibori and had no plans to prove any. In Nigeria, where Nigerian laws would require such a case to be proved beyond reasonable doubt, that case would have collapsed.
Ruling, Judge Hardy admitted that “inference arguments are permissible in the UK” and it was clear Ibori and associates would never get justice, in London. And they did not. The Anwoir and Others, Regina v: CACD 27 Jun 2008, was the plank on which the prosecution rested its case, not EVIDENCE.