James Ibori’s brand is notorious. He is well known across the UK as a Nigerian with years of records of criminal activities on its soil along with his wife, who after over a decade of being convicted of theft and related offences in the UK would become a governor in Delta State, Nigeria. He stole billions of naira from the government he presided over, but the loot is now an object of controversies in Nigeria.
Earlier in the week, the British government announced its readiness to return the loot stolen by the former governor of Delta State, James Onanefe Ibori and the 4.2m pounds is already generating heats over the Federal Government’s plan to utilise the money for infrastructure across defined locations in Nigeria.
The Nigeria’s central government through the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami had announced that the recovered loot would be used for projects outside Delta State such as: Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, 2nd Niger Bridge, and Abuja-Kano Road.
This decision sparked an outrage among Deltans, Nigerians, and even the House of Representatives who think the money ultimately belongs to the people of Delta State, and rightly so.
Without mincing words, the money belongs to the people of Delta State having been the first victims of the atrocities committed by Mr Ibori and his ilk when he was governor.
Mr Malami argues that Ibori contravened a federal law and the federal government should decide how the money should be spent.
However, some quotas believe should the money be handed over to the Delta State Government, it may end up in the pocket of Mr Ibori who is still politically relevant in the State. The recovered loot from the former Bayelsa State governor, Late Diepriye Alamieyeseigha was returned to the State but there were outcries that the administration of Governor Timipre Silva misapplied the fund.
Whether the money is returned to Delta State or the Federal Government uses it for the stated projects, it will be misappropriated if not well managed. The concern that the money may return to the original looters is genuine, but I believe the money should be used for social infrastructure for the real owners of the money – the people of Delta State.
Mr Ibori was first arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2007 in Abuja on 170 charges that bordered on theft of public fund, corruption, and money laundering under the administration of Mallam Nuhu Ribadu as the EFCC chief. While in office between 1999-2007, there was no Federal Court in the State but as soon as one was created in 2009, he filed and won a case for transfer to the Asaba court. On December 17, 2009, he was be discharged and acquitted of all the 100-count charges by the presiding judge, Justice Marcel Awokuleyin of the Federal Hight Court, Asaba, Delta State.
Mr Ibori’s case was reopened in 2010 after President Goodluck Jonathan assumed office. A new allegation of embezzling 40 billion naira of Delta State Government shares was levelled against him. When his attempt to get a court injunction to stop his arrest failed, he refused to surrender himself and was subsequently declared wanted by the EFCC.
He fled to Dubai but was unlucky as he was picked up by the Interpol on May 13, 2010 and extradited to the United Kingdom on April 15, 2011 where he was properly charged and convicted – thanks to the active UK Anti-Money Laundering Law.
The UK prosecutors estimated that James Ibori stole over 250 million pounds from the coffers of Delta State.
It would be recalled that he escaped conviction on money laundering charges in Nigeria majorly due to the weak Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act in place at that time. The Act, now amended in 2011, only provided that it was an offence of Money Laundering if an individual uses money to push drug-related substances, and this was not what James Ibori used the stolen money for.
If you asked me, it is an insult to use money stolen from Delta State to develop infrastructure in other states when there are federal government roads in deplorable conditions in Delta State and there are many Deltans living below the poverty line.
The Federal Government should bury the idea of using the money for the stated projects and rather set up plans to ensure it gets to the downtrodden in Delta State or opt to use it to fix the federal government roads in deplorable conditions within the State.