The Punch

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ibori's conviction, lesson to Nigerian judiciary - Babalola, Akanbi, others

by Akinwale Aboluwade, Mike Odiegwu and Success Nwogu

Two legal luminaries, Chief Afe Babalola and Rotimi Akeredolu have described the conviction and sentencing of former Governor James Ibori of Delta State to 13 years in prison by the Southwark Crown Court in London on Tuesday as a great lesson as well as food for thought to Nigerians in positions of authority.

former Delta State Governor, Chief James Ibori


The lawyers, who noted that there were many 'Iboris' in and out of government, said the conviction of the ex-governor should teach those entrusted with state funds to refrain from diverting it to private pockets.

Babalola, in an interview with THE PUNCH, said, “The lesson which I feel that his conviction holds for Nigerians is that those who are entrusted with public funds should refrain from diverting it to private use. Furthermore, it should now be clear to all that no matter how long it takes, the law will always catch up with those who act contrary to it.

“The wheels of justice may turn slowly but they always catch up with the offender.”

He added, “The sentencing of former Governor James Ibori demonstrates that plea bargaining through which his guilty plea was agreed and obtained can, if properly annexed, be of benefit in Nigeria's criminal administration. Consequent upon his guilty plea and imminent sentencing, much of the funds which were looted from the treasury of Delta State will be returned to the state. Without plea bargaining, the process would have taken much longer.”

Akeredolu, in a statement on Wednesday, said Ibori's case exposed the weakness in the country's judicial system and confirmed the level of criminal compromise.

It said, “It is shameful indeed that while a foreign country feels appalled by this expression of bovine predilection for the acquisition of ill gotten wealth, Nigeria keeps celebrating the worst species of the human race. There are many Iboris in and out of government. We will only be taken seriously when we display sufficient courage to send them to where they belong.”

Founding Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, retired Justice Mustapha Akanbi, on Wednesday said the convicting and sentencing of Ibori was a challenge to Nigerian judiciary and a signal to the public.

Akanbi in a telephone interview with our correspondent, said it was puzzling that Ibori, who was acquitted of all the corruption and money laundering charges by a Nigerian judge, pleaded guilty and was sentenced by a British Court.

Akanbi said, “The conviction of Ibori is a challenge to Nigerian judiciary.

“We must be able to make sure that we really fight against corruption and corrupt practices so that once we solve the problem of corruption, a lot of problems would have fizzled out. I am happy that at least, Ibori has been convicted and hope that other corrupt people will also be dealt with and accordingly.”

The Vice Chancellor, Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State, Prof. Aize Obayan, called on public office holders to imbibe the values of integrity and accountability.

In a telephone interview with News Agency of Nigeria on Wednesday, she said, “No one person is above the law and it is a lesson for our leaders and even the younger ones, because these rules are international.

President, Academic Staff Union of Universities, Prof. Ukachukwu Awuzie, in his reactions, said the conviction of the former governor should ignite the much needed reform in Nigeria's legal system.

Awuzie said, “What has just happened shows that people no longer have confidence in our legal system and this remains a major challenge in our quest for national advancement and transformation.

“I also wish to task the EFCC to intensify efforts in the manner at which they intend to check corruption, especially among public office holders, otherwise, people's confidence in their ability to fight this social ills will also continue to wither.”

A Niger Delta human rights group, Justice and Human Rights Defence on Wednesday described Ibori's the convictionas a warning to corrupt leaders in Nigeria.

The group in a statement by its National Coordinator, Mr. Oghenejabor Ikimi, said Ibori deserved his 13-year jail sentence after pleading guilty to financial fraud.

The group said Ibori's conviction had brought relief to the people of the state whose funds he looted.