A foremost civil right lawyer and activist, Dr. Kayode Ajulo, has frowned at the Government of Delta State and some of its associates who have insistently been clamouring for release of the repatriated loots of the erstwhile Governor of Delta State, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, to the State, citing legal history of the case and role played by the Government of Delta State during the court trial process of the embattled former Governor.
Recall that the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, between the British Government and the Federal Executive Council alongside the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami SAN, on the repatriation of the looted fund totalling £4.2million allegedly laundered by Chief Ibori, which subsequently led to his conviction on a 10 count charges bordering on fraud and money-laundering by the United Kingdom in February, 2012, and the subsequent decision of the Federal Government to utilize the fund for the completion of the second Niger Bridge, Abuja – Kano expressway and the Lagos – Ibadan expressway had greeted torrents of reactions and diatribes from political pundits across party lines and constitutional legal minds.
Some political experts and legal practitioners including concerned citizens, particularly some indigenes of Delta State have been clamouring for the return of the looted funds to the coffers of Delta State Government, as was done in Plateau and Bayelsa State, but the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Malami, had argued that the offences for which James Ibori were charged were Federal offences and hence, the Federal Government is the victim of the crime.
Ajulo said he is compelled as a Counsel and a front row participant who was privy to the trajectory and sequence of the Ibori’s case to make is stand known on the case to set the records straight and enlighten the general public.
The Abuja based lawyer said that his clients who were the Patriotic Delta State Elders, Leaders and Stakeholder forum under the leadership of an elder Statesman, Ch. Edwin Clark, OFR, had at a time during Ibori’s administration petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on several illegal activities of former Governor and his cohorts among which was his allegedly use of Appropriation Bill to siphon State funds of about 1Billion Dollars (159Billion Naira), equivalent to 500 Billion at present day, and other underhand dealings of some Shares by the former Delta State Governor. He alleged that the then EFCC Chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, had intentionally refused to investigate James Ibori, claiming his “hands were tied”.
“Being resolute on the conviction to ensure that justice was meted out against James Ibori who had illicitly enriched himself with the commonwealth of the people of Delta State, we proceeded to the Federal High Court for an Order of Mandamus to compel the EFCC to prosecute James Ibori and others.
“It is interesting to recall that the case went through several courts in Abuja, Kaduna and Asaba before it was finally resolved in the United Kingdom. I was present throughout the proceeding till he was convicted and the proceeds of crime were recovered from him, and It was even in the course of this I started my Doctoral research in the UK.
Some emminent Nigerians like Chief Ogbetuor, Chief Sunday Iwaya, Chief Brume, Chief Godwin Oberabor, Albert Okumagba, Elder Orubebe among many others I cannot recall also committed themselves to this course while only Elder Godsday Orubebe dramatically withdrew when he was nominated as a Federal Minister. Also, other patriotic Nigerian like Allen Agbaka among others, inspired by Femi Falana, SAN and some Civil Society groups approached the Court to ensure that the end of justice was done in the case.” Ajulo said.
The former National Secretary of the Labour party said that what is more crucial and fundamental about the case are the facts which culminated in the recovery of the looted funds and the nagging ironies attendant upon many of them. He noted that the disposition of the Delta State Government and some of its people during the trial of the former Governor did not support the energy at which the State is claiming ownership of the funds at the moment.
Ajulo said “While I agree that the form of Government being practiced in Nigeria is federalism, however, what many of the agitators have failed to understand and which has made the scenery appears like a flying object of unidentifiable origin and a burgeoning folklore of marginalization of the Delta people by the Federal Government was the belligerent attitudinal disposition of the Delta State Government at the time of the trial of James Ibori.
As at the time of the trial of James Ibori, the Delta State Government with an unslackened enthusiasm had outrightly denied the looting of its purse by the ex-Governor and even questioned the “cooked up” charges against him. In fact, they had believed that lbori was a victim of political machination and regarded the period he spent in the penitentiary as a learning experience in the University of Life.”
Ajulo, who stated that the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja headed by Honourable Justice Kolawole, in 2016, had ordered that the Delta State Government should not benefit from a sister recovered funds consequent upon its failure to cooperate with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, during Ibori’s trial, thereby permanently forfeiting the Ibori’s loot to the Federal Government, also said that history will not forget how the ex-Governor was greeted with funfair upon his release from prison. He said flock of supporters that visited his Oghara, Delta State residence to accord him a heroic welcome was a clear confirmation of the fact that the people of Delta State strongly believed his innocence.
Ajulo, who also said there is no moral justification for Prof. Itse Sagay, SAN, Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption (PACAC), who has been advocating that the repartirared funds be released to the Delta State Government to still keep his present appointment, said Prof Sagay need to first resign his present appointment before expressing such political sentiments as if he’s taking another job from the Delta State Government.
“Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN) cannot be approbrating and reprobrating at the same time. He cannot be against corruption and still be defending this. The same Prof. Sagay who has been clamouring for the release of the looted funds to Delta State Government had strongly condemned the sentencing of James Ibori in the past as being inhumane, savage and malicious. If they had the wit to invent their own song, it should be that which would not put them in such an abject plight.
“The chicken has come home to roost for Delta State and they must bear the consequences of their actions. The people of Delta State and their allies who had said they were not looking for money cannot suddenly claim ownership of the same. If the truth must be told, the people of Delta State need to purge themselves of their irremediable patent lies and hypocrisy.” Ajulo said.
Ajulo, who quoted the legal perspective and implications to the case said that the UK Proceed of Crime Act makes provisions for the confiscation of proceeds of crime to the crown and it is regarded as funds belonging to her Majesty’s Government but the latest Memo between the United Kingdom and Federal Republic of Nigeria has altered that and awarded ownership to the Federal Government.
He said “it suffices to draw attention to the provisions of the United Nation Convention Against Corruption which are very pungent in this discourse. Article 53 (c) of the Convention requires that a State Party contemplating confiscation enable their appropriate authorities to recognize the claim of another State Party to be a legitimate owner of property acquired through the commission of a Convention offence.
“It therefore provides that State Parties to the convention must; take such measures as may be necessary to permit its courts or competent authorities, when having to decide on confiscation, to recognize another State Party’s claim as a legitimate owner of property acquired through the commission of an offence established in accordance with the Convention”
Ajulo stated further that ” Article 57(1) provides that “Property confiscated by a State Party shall be disposed of, including by return to its prior legitimate owners by that State Party in accordance with the provisions of this convention and its domestic law.
“Article 57(5) provides that “Where appropriate, States Parties may also give special consideration to concluding agreements or mutually acceptable arrangements, on a case-by case basis, for the final disposal of confiscated property”
“From the foregoing, it implies that the procedure to be followed in the final disposal of confiscated property to a beneficiary state would be dependent on the peculiarity of each case.”
The legal expert said that former Gov James Ibori’s assets that were confiscated in June 2013 include a house in Hampstead, North London, worth £2.2million Pounds; a property in Shaftesbury, Dorset, for £311,000 Pounds; a £3.2million mansion in Sandton, near Johannesburg, South Africa; a fleet of armoured Range Rover SUVs valued at £600,000 Pounds; a Bentley luxury Car costing £120,000 and a Mercedes Maybach purchased for €407,000 Euro that was shipped direct to his mansion in South Africa.
He said that the pursuant to the provisions of the United Nation Convention Against Corruption, the United Kingdom, UK, had entered into a Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, with the Nigerian Government to ensure that the funds were not re-looted and the Federal Government was made to undertake that a Civil Society Organization will monitor the refund of the looted funds.
“It is important to recall that at the time of Ibori’s sentencing, the U.K. International Development Secretary issued a statement that: “We are committed to rooting out corruption wherever it is undermining development and will help bring perpetrators like Ibori to justice and return stolen funds to help the world’s poorest”
“It suffices to also state that The Federal Government which represents all the constituent States of the Federation holds in trust and exercises the powers of the Federation for and on behalf of all the States. Moreso, it is well accepted that only Nation States are subjects of international law and the component States of a country are integral parts of the country. See the holding of Uwais JSC (as he then was) in the case of AG FEDERATION V. AG OF ABIA STATE & ORS (2001) LPELR-24862(SC).” Ajulo Stated.
The civil right lawyer, however, urges the Federal Government to utilize the repatriated funds, if any, for the benefits of the people of Delta State and Nigeria at large with projects that benefit the entire citizenry without preferences.
He opined that since Delta State Government is a continuum and an ally of past Governments in the State, the Federal Government should appoint true Delta State patriots led by Chief E. K. Clark, OFR. CON who had fought against corruption in the State as trustees of the utilization funds in Delta State if any to ensure proper accountability and transparency and to prevent the funds from being re-looted.