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Ibori in EFCC net: The untold

Posted by By Kenny Ashaka, Kaduna on 2007/12/16 | Views: 958 |

Ibori in EFCC net: The untold


The name - James Onanefe Ibori - to old students of Government Collage, Ughelli, Delta State, in the early seventies, scarcely rings a bell. The closest to what they are familiar with is Onanefe Ibori. Roughly translated, Onanefe means “This is richness.” That was the name he answered throughout his years in school.

The name - James Onanefe Ibori - to old students of Government Collage, Ughelli, Delta State, in the early seventies, scarcely rings a bell. The closest to what they are familiar with is Onanefe Ibori. Roughly translated, Onanefe means “This is richness.” That was the name he answered throughout his years in school.

This name probably propelled the ex-governor into the world of riches and subsequently made him live like a noveau riche. But last Thursday, 13th December 2007, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) punctured all that and appears to be telling Nigerians that Ibori’s status as a rich man is borrowed.

After months of battle with the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mike Aondoakaa, the anti-graft body finally arraigned Chief James Onanefe Ibori. For the EFCC, Ibori’s arraignment was a watershed, a promise and a hope.

But to the Oghara-born ex-governor, behind all the hoopla were the dark and difficult days of the past four years as a second term executive governor of oil-rich Delta State.
In the newly commissioned Federal High Court complex over-looking the entrance to the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Kaduna, where the Ibori was arraigned, the atmosphere was not festive. It was not meant to be. It was not somber either.

For Ibori, shielded from the hoopla generated by his arraignment, it was another turning point in a public career spanning eight years as executive governor of one of the wealthiest states in Nigeria. From the beginning to the end of Thursday’s proceeding, it was clear that the EFCC lawyer, Rotimi Jacob, is prosecutor ready to shock the world with evidence of how Chief Ibori allegedly “milked” his State. Every inch of the way, the presiding judge, Justice Mohammed Lawal Shuaibu, ensured that no knotty legal matter mixed with irrelevant legal points formed a hindrance to the case.

The fresh air of probity taking place in Kaduna, the north’s hob was particularly exhilarating and intoxicating to some of the people who formed the crowd that thronged the Federal High Court.
Charged along with the former governor is his mistress of several years, Miss Udoamaka Okoronkwo. Three companies MER Engineering Nigeria Limited, Baunenox Limited and Sagicon Nigeria Limited were also accused in the charge sheet.

They were all charged for allegedly transferring N10.08 billion belonging to the Delta State Government. The latest revelation were the string of scandals now generally known as money laundry.
It is an unbelievable tale of how Chief James Ibori allegedly colluded with some fronts, including his mistress and a sitting deputy governor to siphon billions of Naira belonging to Delta State Government.
But all these were not the issue inside the courtroom after the changes had been read to the two suspects.
By 8.03am on that day, the courtroom accommodated about 200 people, mostly lawyers, loyalist and relations of the accused persons, officials of Delta State Government and reporters.

The relations and officials of Delta State Government were immediately noticeable in their “resource control” cap and starched outfits for men. Quite a few of them, especially Chief Ibori’s sympathizers, came in continental suits. Representative Alumona-Isei, a party stalwart from Delta State in the lower chamber of the National Assembly, who is a loyalist of ex-governor Ibori, since his first term also came in. Ibori’s personal aides were not left out.

Joseph B. Daudu and Chief Alex Izinyon (SANs) were at their eloquent best. They came with two other senior advocates to defend the ex-governor. With Rotimi Jacobs on the side of the EFCC as the prosecutor, everybody could smell depth of legal fireworks in the air.
By 9.15am, Justice Mohammed Lawal Shuaibu walked into the courtroom. All present stood up as tradition demands. Shortly, the EFCC lawyer stood up and introduced members of his team - the prosecutors.
Joseph Dandu also introduced his colleagues on the side of the accused persons - Chief James Onanefe Ibori, Udoamaka Okoronkwo, and three companies MER Engineering Nigeria Limited, Bainenox Limited and Sagicon Nigeria Limited.

The judge had barely finished taking notes when the prosecuting counsel, confronted him with a request. Rotimi requested the judge to stand down the matter as some of his colleagues were on their way. “The accused was just arrested yesterday (Wednesday) and I am praying the court to stand down the matter for just 30 minutes.”
Justice Shuaibu stood down the matter, but not before J.B. Daudu remarked that “the time spent going to NTA and other media houses was enough to bring the accused to court.”

Identity drama
The matter was stood down till 10.am. But Chief Ibori and Udoamaka Okoronkwo were brought into the courtroom at exactly 9.50am. Then the drama began: Who really is Udoamaka Okoronkwo?
“My Lord, I want it placed on record that the person accused as the second person is not the one in court. Some wrong person has been brought. The person that has been purporting to be the second accused person is not Odoamaka Okoronkwo. The wrong person has been brought to court. Udoamaka Onuigbo, a wrong innocent person has been brought to court.”
Daudu thought a prima facie case had been established until Rotimi Jacobs drew the attention of the court to section147 of the Criminal Procedure Act and said the argument of Counsel to the accused would not make any difference. “If she wants to be known as Onuigbo, your Lordship should amend it like that. But there are documentary evidence to show that the Udoamaka brought to court is also bearing Okoronkwo.”

The alleged sins
It started innocently, and then the judges resolved the issue. It was at the stage that the judges asked that Chief Ibori and Udoamaka be docked. Ibori and Udoamaka stood stoically in the dock. Ibori appeared overawed by the presence of people in the courtroom. Like Carrion birds, each took a peep at the man who once bestrode Delta state like a colossus.
As Ibori stood in the dock, sounds of siren, much to familiar to Ibori, were being heard outside. For eight years, Ibori and sounds of siren were almost inseparable. But this day, it was a different ball game entirely. This day, however, Ibori and Udoamaka were clutching copies of the 103 charges. According to EFCC, Ibori allegedly transferred N26 million to his personal account at the Guarantee Trust Bank (G T B) at various times between March 1, 2004 and March, 2006; procured Agbe Ufama to retain in it’s account N 383,539,000 between June 2003 and May 2005; transferred N41, 733,340 to Silhouette Travels and Tours Limited; collaborated with Charter House Project and Investment Limited and Adebimpe Pogoson to conceal the genuine origin of N20 million.
In all, Bainenox Limited, MER Engineering limited, and Udoamaka Okoronkwo were Ibori’s greatest collaborators in his quest to allegedly “MILK” Delta state according to the 40-page charge sheet produce by the EFCC.
All 103 charges were carefully read to Ibori as he stood in the dock with Udoamaka Okoronkwo.
He looked unruffled, although occasionally stole a glance at those outside the courtroom through the window behind him.

Not guilty plea
Before Ibori rose to take his plea, his counsel raised a point bothering on his ill health. “The first accused has been very ill. They bundled him out of the National Hospital. Your Lordship will do well to allow him to sit down”. Justice Shuaibu in his usual humorous way ordered the court clerk to provide seats for Ibori and Udoamaka, saying: “We are gender sensitive,” a remark that elicited prolonged laughter in the courtroom.
Ibori and Udoamaka pleaded not guilty to all the charges against them.

Protests outside courtroom
As proceedings were going on inside the courtroom, the Coalition of Nigerians Against Corruption led by Mallam Umar Farouk was staging a drama within the precincts of the court urging it to prosecute the case against Ibori to it’s logical conclusion. According to Farouk, “It is high time these former governors were made to account for their stewardship” and that “Ibori as Governor is suddenly said to own properties all over the world. We know Ibori is not Ibru, Dafinone or Dantata.
Some of the inscriptions on their placards read: ”Let Ibori face the music”, ”With leaders like Ibori, Niger Delta don’t need an enemy”, “Corruption is the genesis of the Niger Delta crisis”, “It is leaders like Ibori that impoverished their people”, “Nobody is above the Law”.
As Ibori and others were oblivious of what was going on outside,
Rotimi brought an application for the judge to remand the two accused in prison or in the custody of the EFCC. He based his application on the fact that they were unable to avail the court of Ibori’s written statement since it was obtained the previous night. He promised to avail the accused person of all the evidence against them.

Bail sought for Ibori
But Dauda countered, saying it was unfair for the prosecution to ask for custody after the charges. “He has no duty to wish the accused to be taken to custody. He is not a persecutor. He is a prosecutor. So it is not fair to ask for a remand.
He cited section 118 of the CPA to buttress his point and immediately canvassed for the bail of the accused persons. Rotimi objected, at least not on the basis of an oral application by counsel.

Ex-convict
The prosecuting counsel regaled the court of how Ibori was arrested. According to the EFCC counsel, Chief James Ibori is an ex-convict who was jailed twice in London, the United Kingdom.
Jacobs submitted that the commission has facts to prove that Chief Ibori was not a man to be granted bail.
For instance, he alleged, “we invited the accused (Chief Ibori) to come and make a statement and he refused until we arrested him yesterday,” adding “he (Ibori) has a criminal record.
“We trailed him and he ran into Kwara State Government Lodge. We have been looking for the accused person. If an accused has a previous criminal record, you don’t grant him bail. Based on the factual situation, your lordship can order that he brings the request for bail through a written affidavit.
“Application of this nature ought not to be made orally. There is no way they can do it without deposing to an affidavit,” he said.
Daudu, in his argument for bail prayed the court to invoke the principles upon which courts grant bail, saying it must take note of the nature of the offence and the severity of the punishment.

Assurances
He submitted that since all the 103 count charges were brought under the Money Laundering Act 2003 and 2004 and none of them carries death sentence, but imprisonment, the offences are bail able. He went on and on, citing relevant legal authorities.
“The prosecution says they have closed investigations. If that is the case, the granting of bail to the accused will not jeopardize anything. For instance, Dokubo was refused bail because he was a greater security risk. In this case, there is no risk.
“The accused persons will not fail to present themselves in court. They will not jump bail. Even EFCC will attest to that. He has been on their bail and has not jumped bail,” he said.
But Rotimi fired back, submitting that the story of how Ibori was trailed and how he ran into the Kwara Government Lodge was yet to be told, adding that the submission of the counsel was not enough to justify his client’s bail.
“The onus is first of all on the accused persons to put something before the court. The section quoted by my learned SAN is not absolute. The Supreme Court interpreted it in the Dokubo’s case. Proof of evidence is not automatic,” he submitted.
He cited Alamieseigha vs FGN and section 74 of the Evidence Act and argued that when a charge is being filed before the court, there is no need for proof of evidence.
“The accused made his final statement last night. We should therefore not be punished for obeying the law, which says prosecute offenders within 48 hours. We can supply the proof within two days…”

Innocent person in the dock
Justice Mohammed Lawal Shuibu then adjourned the case to December 17, to enable him study the cases cited before ruling on the bail application.
Before the adjournment, however, a drama ensued in which the defence counsel told the court that the EFCC had arraigned an innocent person before the court.
Ibori’s mistress had complained to Daudu that she was not the accused person mentioned in the charge sheet and that whereas her name is Udoamaka Ounigbo, the person accused of money laundering offences by the EFCC is Udoamaka Okoronkwo.
Daudu quickly drew the attention of the Judge, saying, “a wrong innocent person has been brought to court.”
But Rotimi submitted that section 147 of the Criminal Procedure Acts does not alter anything even if the name was wrongly brought against someone whom the commission has evidence against.
Justice Shuaibu however discountenanced their arguments and ordered a continuation of the case.

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Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.