Some lawyers who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES are divided about what is to become of a former governor of Delta State, James Ibori, who was released from a United Kingdom jail, Wednesday.
A Royal Court of Justice dismissed a last ditch attempt by British Home Office to keep Mr. Ibori, whose jail term ran concurrently, in jail pending the determination of his asset forfeiture suit.
Mr. Ibori was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2012 after he pleaded guilty to laundering over £50 million.
The trial judge, Juliet May, describing the attempt of the Home Office to keep Mr Ibori in jail as unlawful and a misuse of power, ordered that the ex-governor of the oil rich state be immediately released having completely served his jail term.
Mr. Ibori is required to present himself before the police once a week as the Home office and the Crown Prosecution could not agree whether he needed to be returned to Nigeria.
The chairman of the Civil Society Network Against Corruption, CSNAC, Olanrewaju Suraj, said Mr Ibori, who allegedly laundered billions of naira stolen from the treasury of Delta State when he was governor between 1999 and 2007, should be immediately arrested upon his return to Nigeria and be prosecuted for offences committed here before he fled to United Arab Emirate from where he was extradited to the UK to face trial.
Mr. Suraj argued that the offence for which Mr. Ibori was imprisoned in the UK was committed against the British system and he should be held accountable, upon return, for those he committed against the Nigerian legal system.
“So for all those crimes that were committed here, and time does not run out of criminal matters, there is also the need for him to answer to those crimes. It is very important,” he said.
He said Mr. Ibori’s conviction in the UK is enough proof that he committed offences in Nigeria and should be made to answer to those offences. He said the arrest and prosecution of Mr. Ibori is an opportunity for President Muhammadu Buhari to prove the anti-corruption stance of his government.
“His conviction in the UK is more or less an affirmation that some crimes were equally committed here before they became criminal offences in the UK. So the Nigerian crimes can be answered to and that is the only thing that will reaffirm the anti-corruption stance of this government.
“There is no way the Nigerian system can pretend that everything is normal. Once he gets back into Nigeria he must also answer to those offences that were committed here leading to the prosecution in the UK.”
He said the question of double jeopardy, a legal term that describes the prosecution of a person more than once for the same offence, does not arise as the store worker turned governor was convicted for different crimes committed under a jurisdiction different from Nigeria’s.
“That is not double jeopardy because he has committed two different offences in two different jurisdictions. So the one committed in the UK is to the extent that he committed crimes based on the laws of the United Kingdom,” he said.
Similarly, the Executive Chairman, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) Debo Adeniran, said the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should be dusting Mr. Ibori’s file in preparation for his return home. He said money laundering was not the only offence that the former governor committed saying he should be arrested and made to face trial for other offences.
Mr. Adeniran said Mr. Ibori fled the country before charges could be brought against him. He said upon his return, those charges he was yet to account for should be revisited and he should be prosecuted for them.
“What we should be expecting is that as soon as he gets back to Nigeria, the EFCC should have dusted the processes that they prepare before he escaped. They should dust their files and prepare as he gets back home. Once he gets back home he should be promptly arrested and be arraigned in court,” he said.
He said if upon the realisation that he will be charged at home, Mr. Ibori refuses to return to the Nigeria, the Nigerian government should approach the UK for his extradition.
“If he is reluctant at coming back home to face fresh charges, Nigerian should immediately apply to the United Kingdom under the mutual legal assistant for his extradition to come and face charges at home. It should be noted that he was convicted for money laundering in the UK and if he didn’t steal money at home he wouldn’t launder it in the UK.
“His wife and mistress were convicted because they helped him launder money. So basically his case is a sure as proven already what is left should be just formality for him to go back to jail in Nigeria. Nobody should argue about double jeopardy.”
However, senior lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, told PREMIUM TIMES via messaging app, WhatsApp that there was no need for the Nigerian government to hound the ex-convict and prosecute him in Nigeria as it will amount to double jeopardy.
“The Federal Govt cannot, should not and must not re-arrest and prosecute Ibori again, if the fresh arrest and prosecution are based on the same facts, events and circumstances as those under which he was convicted in the UK and for which he has served his prison sentence,” he wrote.
“In law, that will amount to double jeopardy which is not only antithetical to decency and our criminal justice system, but will also tantamount to a blatant violation of section 36(9) of the 1999 Constitution which unambiguously provides that “no person who shows that he has been tried by any court of competent jurisdiction or Tribunal for a criminal offence and either convicted or acquitted shall again be tried for that offence or for a criminal offence having the ingredients as that offence save upon the order of a superior court”.
“What this means is that for Ibori to be tried again on the same issues for which he was jailed in the UK, a High Court or Federal High Court has to first give the nod. I do not see that happening in this country where Ibori’s matter is quite sensitive. It will undoubtedly be viewed by all and sundry as amounting to blatant persecution, ethnic, religious and political vendetta.
“It will be a very tough and extremely hard sell by the government under whose elephantine weight Nigerians are already reeling under repressive acts. It is legally better and more politically correct to allow Ibori be, upon his return into the warm embrace of his teaming kinsmen and women.”
Jubilation in Delta
Meanwhile, the news of the release of Mr. Ibori has elicited wild jubilation in his home town of Oghara and the Delta State capital, Asaba.
The traditional ruler of Oghara, Ovie Orefe 11, Noble Eshimeton, told the News Agency of Nigeria that the entire people of Oghara were grateful to God for the release of their son.
“I am grateful to God for his release. I was in a traditional council meeting in Asaba when one of my subjects called me that Ibori has been released.
“He has worked for us hard and I am hopeful that his release will open a new chapter in Oghara,”
Ben Igbakpa, a former commissioner in the state, also told NAN that Mr. Ibori’s release had brought joy to the entire Oghara people especially and the entire people of Delta.
“Oghara is agog with celebration that our benefactor, leader, father and visionary had been left off the hook.
“His release is a lesson to all; it shows that no matter how long one’s torture or hard times lasts, it will one day come to an end.
“I want all Deltans to reflect on this and ask ourselves what our individual and collective tasks in the course of his travails. We should ask ourselves where we got it wrong,” Mr. Igbakpa said.
Also, the Delta State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Peter Mrakpor, told journalists in Asaba on Wednesdaythat Mr Ibori’s release was a welcome development and his contribution to nation building cannot be overemphasised.