The issue of a certain $15million bribe money allegedly given by former Delta State Governor, Chief James Ibori, to former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, to compromise Ribadu and his team, has recently generated a lot of controversies.
The matter first came to public knowledge when Ibori was charged to court in 2007 by the EFCC for various offences. One of the counts in the charge was in relation to offering that money as bribe to Ribadu. But in an affidavit in support of his application for bail, Ibori denied any knowledge of the money. However, according to the EFCC, after taking custody of the money through Ibrahim Lamorde, who was then the Director of Operations of the Commission, the money was taken to the Central Bank of Nigeria and kept there.
QUESTIONS: WHY DEPOSIT THE PROCEEDS OF A CRIME, WHICH IS ALREADY AN EXHIBIT TO BE TENDERED IN COURT, IN THE CENTRAL BANK OF NIGERIA? IS THE CBN A STORE FOR EXHIBITS? DOES THE EFCC NOT HAVE FACILITIES TO KEEP EXHIBITS?
In any case, the 170-count charge against Ibori, which included a count of giving the $15 million bribe, was struck out by the Federal High Court sitting in Asaba. The EFCC appealed against that decision and various parts of that appeal are presently before the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.
In the meantime, James Ibori, has been extradited to the United Kingdom, tried and convicted of some other offences, which do not include giving the $15million bribe or laundering that sum. In other words, if the appeal of the EFCC against Ibori succeeds at the Supreme Court, Ibori can still be tried in Nigeria for laundering the sum of $15million and giving it as bribe, since he was never tried for those offences in United Kingdom. For instance, if a person kills Mr. Peter and Paul and he is tried only for killing Mr. Peter and convicted, he can later be tried for killing Mr. Paul also. It will not amount to double jeopardy.
It is with this state of affairs that the Federal Government, through the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, sparked off controversy recently when it applied to court that the said money be forfeited to the Federal Government. The Delta State Government has also come forward to lay claim to the money. And a certain businessman named Chibuike Achigbu and Dr. Andy Uba, the former Special Assistant on Special Duties and Domestic Affairs to President Olusegun Obasanjo, have also claimed in court that they were the proxies through whom the money was given to Ribadu, but that it was for a different purpose other than bribe.
QUESTIONS: WHY WERE THE DUO OF ANDY UBA AND CHIBUIKE ACHIGBU NOT ARRESTED AT THAT TIME (SINCE THEY ENJOYED NO IMMUNITY LIKE CHIEF JAMES IBORI) AND CHARGED TO COURT FOR CONSPIRACY AND BRIBERY? WHY HAVE THEY NOT BEEN ARRESTED UP TILL THIS MINUTE AND CHARGED TO COURT? OR IS THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TELLING NIGERIANS THAT NUHU RIBADU WAS LYING ABOUT THE BRIBE MONEY?
WHAT KIND OF COUNTRY WILL WANT TO RECOVER EXHIBITS THAT ARE THE PROCEEDS OF CRIME, WITHOUT FIRST ARRESTING THE CULPRITS, INVESTIGATING THEM, TRACING THE ORIGIN OF THE MONEY, CHARGING THEM TO COURT AND SECURING CONVICTION?
It is in the light of the above that the attempt by the Federal Government to recover the alleged $15miilion bribe money deposited in the CBN surreptitiously through the court is nothing but a shameful and disgraceful attempt at covering up a crime, abdicating its statutory responsibility to prosecute criminals, and reneging on its pledge to the people to fight the cancer of corruption to its roots, no matter whose ox is gored.
The Federal Government should immediately withdraw that case from court and the Delta State Government and all other parties should back off from this national embarrassment we are witnessing. Consequently, the Federal Government should do the following:
(1) Await the decision of the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court over the appeal against the discharge of Ibori on the 170-Count charge. If the Supreme Court rules that Ibori was wrongly discharged and orders a retrial (just as happened recently in the case of Kenny Martins when a retrial was ordered by the Court of Appeal over stealing of police funds), the $15 million is one of the exhibits that will be tendered when the case is retried.
(2) Await the verdict of that retrial, (if it is ordered) which retrial will determine once and for all whether the money was actually given by Ibori or not as bribe to Ribadu.
(3) Arrest immediately the duo of Andy Uba and Chibuike Achigbu, interrogate them, trace the origin of the $15million, and if it has no origin, charge them with money laundering and/or conspiracy and bribery.
(4) Arrest Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, interrogate him and charge him to court, if necessary, for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and perjury as regards the proceedings in Asaba when he swore on oath or procured another to swear that he was given a bribe. This is because, it is either Ribadu on the one hand is lying that he was offered $15million as bribe or Andy Uba, Ibori and Chibuike Achigbu on the other hand are all lying that it was not bribe. Both versions cannot be correct and any version that is false amounts to a crime under our laws.
Either way, we cannot fold our arms and watch helplessly and hopelessly as some persons with dubious intentions regarding that money which is public funds play on our collective intelligence in this matter.
This is a very serious matter that is turning into a comedy of sort. It is the embarrassing failure of the Federal Government to follow due process and the rule of law to the letter regarding that bribe money that is the foundation for the present absurdity we are witnessing where those who should actually be in jail and institutions that failed in performing their duties are fighting themselves publicly to claim money that is purely the proceeds of crime.
It is important to mention that apart for my well-known commitment to the campaign against corruption in public office, my particular motivation in this case is the fact that the funds in question have some kind of connection to my State (Delta State) which has suffered from series of maladministration. I am an Urhobo man, born, bred and raised in Ughelli, while I hail from Effurun in Uvwie Local Government Area of Delta State, near Warri. I am pained to see that whilst social amenities and infrastructure are lacking in most parts of Delta State, a hefty sum of $15million WHICH MAY HAVE come from the State was allegedly given in one fell swoop as bribe to cover up crimes committed, perhaps, against the people of Delta State.
Consequently, if in the next few days, the Federal Government fails, refuses and/or neglects to take appropriate steps to terminate the case in court and properly investigate all the suspects in this matter, whether the principals or proxies who participated in laundering and offering this money as bribe or otherwise, I will be left with no other option than to proceed to court to bring the suspects to justice.
FESTUS KEYAMO, ESQ.