The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC received with happiness, the news yesterday, February 27, 2012 to the effect that the former governor of Delta State, Chief James Onanefe Ibori had pleaded guilty to fraud, stealing and money laundering charges before a Southwark Crown Court in London. This, indeed, is a welcome development which vindicates the Commission’s position ab initio that Ibori had a case to answer.
The interesting aspect of the development in London is the fact that Ibori chickened out of a full blown fraud and money laundering trial by changing his plea. This was purely a gambit to run away with a lighter sentence, rather than the product of a plea bargain as erroneously reported earlier in sections of the media. For the avoidance doubt, plea bargain is not recognized in UK criminal justice system.
Sadly, it has taken five years of legal rigmarole and high drama for the former governor to own up to having committed some of the crimes for which Justice Marcel Awokulehin of the Federal High Court, Asaba, sensationally acquitted him in December 2009. The Commission challenged the ruling. That appeal is still pending before the Court of Appeal, Benin City, Edo State.
While the EFCC looks forward to the sentencing of Ibori on April 16, it is however, a matter of concern that it took the intervention of the UK criminal justice system for justice to be served in the Ibori case. While all who worry over the effect of corruption on our nation may celebrate the Ibori guilt plea, we must all spare a thought for our judiciary, which needs urgent reform to ensure that those who loot our treasury do not get away with their loot. In deed, Nigerians must rally in support of the dogged efforts of the incumbent Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Dahiru Musdapher to reform the judiciary for greater efficiency.
Now that Ibori has owned up to his crime, the Commission is mindful of the concern in some quarters as to what becomes of his case with the EFCC. Will he be arrested and tried again on the completion of his jail term in London? Or, will the EFCC close the Ibori case?
For the benefit of stakeholders and lovers of justice, it is interesting to note that the offences for which Ibori faces imminent jail term in London is only a minute aspect of the bouquet of offences committed by the former governor during his eight year rule of Delta State. The bulk of the criminal charges against the former governor are still before courts in Nigeria and there are no plans to vacate those charges. Moreover, the former governor didn’t steal alone. There were accomplices and as recent as two weeks ago, some persons who allegedly assisted him to launder stolen funds were questioned by the Commission. EFCC is determined to bring all Ibori accomplices to book, no matter how long it takes.
For now, the Commission awaits the sentencing of Ibori and, more importantly, the repatriation of the funds stolen from the treasury of Delta State government. That will be some just reward to Nigerians for the efforts and resources that have been committed to the corruption and money laundering investigation and trial of Chief James Ibori.