Ademola Oni, Eniola Akinkuotu, Bayo Akinloye, Toluwani Eniola, Ovie Okpare and Godwin Udoh
The Federal Government has commenced the process of extraditing a former governor of Delta State, Mr. James Ibori, from the United Kingdom, The PUNCH can confirm.
The Southwark Crown Court had, on April 17, 2012, sentenced Ibori to 13 years in prison after the ex-governor pleaded guilty to 10 counts of money laundering and stealing $250m from the Delta State treasury.
Ibori, a Peoples Democratic Party chieftain, was the governor of the state between 1999 and 2007.
He was, however, released on Wednesday following a court order that declined the UK government’s request for an extension of his sentence.
The UK Home Office had opposed Ibori’s release on the grounds that the process of the permanent forfeiture of his assets had yet to be completed.
According to the BBC, the UK Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, did not intend to deport Ibori to Nigeria until he handed over £18m of the “proceeds of crime” he alleged the ex-governor held.
The convicted former governor, was, however, allowed to go home on the condition that he would not travel out of the UK.
He is currently residing at his residence on Abbey Road, London, where he is under strict surveillance from where he will report to the UK Police weekly.
Impeccable sources within the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission told The PUNCH on Wednesday that the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), had directed the EFCC to forward the file containing the 170 charges earlier brought against Ibori in Nigeria.
The EFCC operative told one of our correspondents that the Federal Government would liaise with the British government to ensure that Ibori was extradited to Nigeria.
A source in the EFCC said, “We have started the process of extradition in conjunction with the Office of the AGF. We had started extradition process years ago but stopped it since he was in prison.
“We have now reactivated the process. It is the AGF that will communicate with the British Government, which will then extradite Ibori to Nigeria. The court process will be sent to the UK Government for extradition.”
When asked why all Ibori’s London properties had not yet been forfeited to the Federal Government despite the ample time, the EFCC source explained that the British system was such that asset recovery was done post-conviction.
He added, “So, they are just starting the process and that is why he has been asked not to leave the UK but should be reporting every week.
“The British Government wanted him to remain in custody but the court said he could keep coming from home; so, he will remain in the UK for now. If he does not show up in the police station, then it will be assumed that he has absconded.”
Speaking with one of our correspondents on Thursday, the spokesman for the British High Commission in Nigeria, Mr. Joe Abuku, said the UK government would continue to assist Nigeria with the recovery of properties.
He, however, said he could not comment on the legal proceedings against Ibori.
In a terse text message to one of our correspondents, the spokesman for the EFCC, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, said, “His (Ibori’s) fate will be determined by the provisions of the law.”
A Federal High Court sitting in Asaba, Delta State, had, on December 17, 2009, discharged and acquitted Ibori of all 170 charges of corruption brought against him by the EFCC.
In 2010, his case was reopened by the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
However, all attempts to arrest the ex-governor proved abortive as the 40 policemen guarding him at his country home in Oghara, Delta State, refused to allow the EFCC to arrest him.
Hundreds of youths in Delta State also confronted the EFCC operatives and prevented them from arresting the ex-governor by blocking the roads leading to his home with logs of wood.
Ibori fled Oghara in controversial circumstances and subsequently fled the country to Dubai, compelling the anti-graft agency to declare the fleeing ex-governor wanted.
The Federal Government could not apply for Ibori’s extradition as there was no extradition treaty between the United Arab Emirates and Nigeria at the time.
However, the British Government sought Ibori’s extradition and he was deported to the UK, where he was convicted and jailed for money laundering and fraud.
However, the EFCC took the matter to the Benin Division of the Appeal Court, where a three-man panel of justices on May 15, 2014, ruled that the ex-governor, who was serving a 13-year jail term in a London prison at the time, had a case to answer.
The EFCC subsequently said in a statement in 2014 that the ex-governor would be re-arrested upon the completion of his prison sentence in the UK.
The EFCC statement read, “With this judgment, the coast is clear for Ibori to face trial in Nigeria upon the completion of his jail term in London.”
Some of the properties traced to the ex-governor include a house in Hampstead, North London, worth £2.2m; a property in Shaftesbury, Dorset, worth £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 Continental GT; and a Mercedes-Benz Maybach 62 bought for €407,000 cash.
Ex-Delta governor released after four years
Ibori was released from the UK prison, where he had spent four years and eight months.
A London court ruled that the Home Office had no more powers to hold the ex-governor, who had served six-and-a-half-years of his 13-year jail term.
Ibori was jailed on Tuesday, April 17, 2012, for 13 years by the Southwark Crown Court, London.
He had earlier spent 645 days in detention facilities in Dubai and the UK which were deducted from his total jail term.
The British Broadcasting Corporation reported on Wednesday that the application made by the Britain Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, that Ibori remained in the UK until he handed over £18m of “proceeds of crime”, failed.
According to the BBC, the presiding judge, Mrs. Justice May, said, “The Secretary of State appears to have taken it upon herself that Mr. Ibori does remain in this country, in apparent contradiction of the order served earlier this year to deport him.
“The position of the Secretary of State, as very candidly set out by Mr. Birdling (representing the home secretary), is that she accepts that there is an argument that she has no power to detain him.
“I have decided that the balance of convenience falls heavily in favour of his immediate release. I am not prepared to impose conditions involving tagging or curfews. You don’t hold someone just because it is convenient to do so and without plans to deport them.”
The judge, however, said the matter of Ibori’s deportation should be heard before the end of January.
Ibori is expected to face a fresh trial in the UK meant to forfeit his assets in the country to the British government.
Mixed reactions greet former governor’s release
Meanwhile, the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders called on the Federal Government to initiate the process to extradite the convicted ex-governor.
The Executive Chairman of CACOL, Mr. Debo Adeniran, urged the government to ensure that Ibori did not escape justice in Nigeria.
He said, “As far as we know, Mr. Ibori has not answered the allegations against him here in Nigeria. In fact, we demand that the Federal Government should immediately make an official request to the UK for the extradition of the ex-convict to Nigeria to face trial over the corruption cases against him.
“It is really shameful that it was outside this country that Ibori was convicted in the UK, having wriggled through the labyrinths of our judicial system to escape justice. We believe, Ibori’s case is one of those that informed the statement credited to the former UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, that Nigeria is fantastically corrupt.”
Ogor, Amori, others hail ex-gov’s release
Meanwhile, Ibori’s release has sparked wild celebrations across Delta State as members of his political family returned to their various towns to celebrate the man many described as their ‘‘political mentor.”
As early as 9am on Wednesday when Ibori’s release became public knowledge, there was wild jubilation by youth groups, market women and political loyalists, who had long waited for his return to the state, where he still wields substantial political power.
From Oghara to Mosogar, Asaba to Agbor, Ughelli to Otu-Jeremi, Gbaramatu to Patani and Warri to Effurun and Sapele, Ibori’s release was widely celebrated while many followers of the former governor also took to social media platforms –Facebook and Twitter – on Wednesday, to celebrate his possible homecoming.
A commissioner under Ibori and Special Adviser to Mr. Ahmed Makarfi-led faction of the PDP, Chief Ighoyota Amori, said the jubilation that greeted Ibori’s release was not surprising.
Amori, who spoke with one of our correspondents on the telephone, said, “It’s celebration everywhere in Mosogar, Oghara, Jesse, the whole Urhobo land and Nigeria.
“Our joy knows no bounds as Deltans and Nigerians and in fact, the entire Urhobo nation, await his triumphal return to his fatherland. Ibori remains our hero. He remains our political leader and mentor irrespective of what his haters think.”
He added that the ex-governor’s political family was waiting for his return.
Amori added, “We are preparing for his (Ibori) return. His coming will be made known to everyone and will be greatly celebrated by all those who love him, especially we, who he had mentored and tutored in the game of politics. Ibori is our mentor and political father.”
The Delta State Chairman of the PDP, Olorogun Kingsley Esiso, declined comment, saying he would speak on Ibori’s release on a later date.
The Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Mr. Leo Ogor, said he and other political associates of the ex-governor were in a mood of celebration, noting that Ibori remained a political leader, whose release should be celebrated.
Ogor, who is the member, representing Isoko Federal Constituency, said, ‘‘Ibori’s release calls for celebration. He’s our great leader whose political prowess knows no bounds. Let’s just keep politics from his release. But I know for sure Ibori will not just jump parties, but if he said we should jump, we will jump because he is our leader.”
Efforts to reach Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr Charles Aniagwu, for reaction were unsuccessful as his telephone lines indicated they were not available at the time of filing this report.
Also, activities in Asaba and its environs were paralysed on Wednesday over Ibori’s release.
Joyous youths sang in Ibo along Nnebisi Road, Summit Junction, Okpanam Road and Anwai Road, where they danced to Asaba drum beats, thereby causing serious gridlock.
Security agents and the popular Ogbeogonogo Market Women were not left out in the jubilation.
One of the market women, Mrs. Esther Nnamdi, who spoke to one of our correspondents, said, “We are grateful to God for his mercies. Ibori is a man and a great man; we are very happy for him.”
In some government offices in Asaba, civil servants spoke glowingly about Ibori, commending him on how he had developed the state.
Palmer Osakwe, a civil servant told The PUNCH, “Ibori is a great man. He developed the state. We want him to be pardoned by the Federal Government. He is a man.”
A lawyer in Asaba, Mr. Lawrence Egodike, appealed to the Federal Government to grant the former governor, (James Ibori) a state pardon, adding that he contributed immensely to the development of the state.
The state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Peter Mrakpor, who spoke to journalists in Asaba, described Ibori’s release as a welcome development, adding that he had contributed to the development of the nation.
“I’m particularly grateful and hope that the Federal Government would grant him a state pardon,” he said.
A statement by Ibori’s media assistant, Mr. Tony Eluemunor, confirmed the release of the former governor, but added that the convict was ordered to be released immediately.
Eluemunor added, “So, in court, Ibori’s lawyers exposed the injustice in the indefinite detention the Home Office had planned for Ibori. They told the judge that there were no grounds in law under which Ibori could be detained and that his detention for one day by the Home office was unlawful .” (Punchng.com)