AFTER years of intrigues that dogged attempts at prosecuting him both at home in Nigeria and abroad, James Onanaefe Ibori, former two-term governor of the oil-rich state of Delta, was on
Tuesday sentenced to 13 years in jail by a British court.
Ibori’s sentencing came after Monday’s commencement of the process at London’s Southwick Crown Court headed by Judge Anthony Pitts. The former governor had previously admitted to 10 counts of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering.
James Ibori however did not go down without fighting as he mounted a vigorous last-minute defense of himself on Tuesday, led by his counsel, Mr. Nicholas Purnell, QC. In defending Ibori, Mr. Purnell said that his client was driven to vie for public office in Nigeria by altruistic intentions. Purnell showed documented commendation from Mr. Ibori’s constituency in Delta as proof of his argument, alongside a written letter of appreciation to Ibori from the British Airways for his role in making the London to Lagos route possible.
A shocking angle to Ibori’s defense was introduced when popular former British-Nigerian football star, Mr. John Fashanu, mounted the witness stand to defend Ibori’s integrity as a man with the interest of his people at heart, noting among other points that Mr. Ibori, as governor, constructed several stadia for the youths of Delta State.
Mr. Fashanu’s glowing testimony on behalf of the former governor as someone who has done so much for his constituency is particularly eyebrow-raising, given that Mr. Fashanu himself has rarely offered himself in service of his native country, Nigeria. Mr. Fashanu has never offered himself up to defend any of Nigeria’s international soccer contests, preferring over the years to follow paths that benefit him personally.
Judge Pitts accepted Fashanu’s testimony as ‘new evidence’ in the sentencing and thereafter adjourned for two hours to review the process. Sentencing Ibori later, the judge said that Ibori enriched himself through corrupt means, saying “You turned yourself in short order into a multimillionaire through corruption and theft in your powerful position as Delta state governor."
Former Governor Ibori’s conviction today ends his long dalliance with the long arm of the law, most notable being his acquittal in December 2009 of the 170-count charge of corruption proffered against him by Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, otherwise known as the EFCC – an outcome that shocked and embarrassed Nigerians at home and abroad. Some online news outfits (not sharpedgenews.com) had alleged that a federal judge, Justice Marcel Awokulehin, was personally approved for appointment to lead the newly created Federal High Court in Asaba by Ibori, who had struck a deal with him to quash the charges for a princely sum of $5 million. The same report, citing heavy security at the venue, disclosed that the Director-General of the State Security Services, personally coordinated security from Abuja, the FCT.
Mr. Ibori, who was governor of Delta State between May 1999 and May 2007, was accused by British prosecutor of “deliberately and systematically” defrauding the people of Delta over the years, describing him as a common thief who had run-ins with the law as far back as when he was a British resident in the 1980s. Court documents revealed that he was convicted theft during this time while he was an employee of Wickes DIY store in Neasden, northwest London, in 1991.
On his return to Nigeria later in the 1990s, Mr. Ibori joined the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, where he later ran for governor of his home state of Delta, falsifying his date of birth in the process by claiming to be at least five years younger than his true age.
Among other excesses by Ibori, the British prosecution cited that Ibori bought:
- A house in Hampstead, north London, for £2.2m
- A property in Shaftesbury, Dorset, for £311,000
- A £3.2m mansion in Sandton, near Johannesburg, South Africa
- A fleet of armoured Range Rovers valued at £600,000
- A £120,000 Bentley
- A Mercedes Maybach for 407,000 euros that was shipped direct to his mansion in South Africa
Prosecution described the amount of looting done by Mr. Ibori as “unquantified”.
Three police vans, five cars and a helicopter were deployed to Southwark Crown Court on the first day of a two-day sentencing hearing, after reports of a disturbance inside.
Ibori’s successful conviction and sentencing by a British court caps Ibori’s cat-and-mouse chase with the law since 2005. It stands in stark contrast to what played-out in Nigeria during the same attempt at holding him accountable for his deeps as governor. Many Nigerians consider the latest news as an indictment of the entire apparatus of the Nigerian law enforcement and justice system.