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IBORI'S CAT AND MOUSE GAME WITH EFCC

By NBF News
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According to Ernest Benn, a great thinker, politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy. Since the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) declared him wanted over fresh allegations of corruption and money laundering to the tune of N44 billion in relation to his tenure as Delta governor, the land is increasingly becoming slippery for Chief James Onanafe Ibori popularly referred to as 'Odidigborigbo' by his political associates and legion of supporters.

For the former governor, these are not the best of times. He is in the eye of the storm and the flambouyant politician seems to be swimming in turbulent waters. Things are gradually falling apart for the man who superintended over the oil-rich Delta for eight uninterrupted years. But the experience by the Oghara born politician shows that even the rich also cry.

In a statement on Tuesday April 13, 2010, the EFCC invited him for interrogation following persistent public enquiries over the status of the case involving him.

For followers of events in the country, Ibori's invitation came to many as a surprise considering that the former governor who had had a running legal battle for almost two years with the anti-graft agency was in December last year cleared of a 170 count charge by an Appeal Court in Asaba, capital of his home state, Delta. However, the judgment was received with mixed feelings as the clean bill of health handed the influential politician continues to raise dust.

Before President Yar'Adua was incapacitated by illness, Ibori was informally a key member of his administration with many having the perception that he was being protected by the powers that be. It will be recalled that Ibori was also tried in London where a case against him was dismissed on grounds that the evidence did not emanate from the Nigerian government and a day after the Court of Appeal in London ruled on the matter, the then Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Michael Aondoakaa (SAN) had said his trial would continue in Nigeria.

Andoakaa had said that the evidence of the London Metropolitan Police and the trial of Ibori were abuse of Nigeria 's bilateral agreement with the UK, stressing that his office would seek the evidence with a view to studying it.

'We have no intention to protect any corrupt person in the country. The case against James Ibori would run its natural course in the court. We protested against what the Met Police did, not because it was Ibori, but it was against the sovereignty of the country. We have to look at the treaty which says that such evidence must have the permission of the government as not doing that could lead to anarchy as several people could just come here and take evidence and use it to prosecute people anyhow', he had said.

Critical observers had argued that Ibori was being shielded from the law by the Benue born former Attorney General and Minister of Justice. But at the moment, the thinking is that his recent travails in the hands of the EFCC are coming because President Yar'Adua is yet to recover and Aondoakaa has been relieved of his seat.

But the question is- should the former governor or anybody lose sleep for a mere invitation by the EFCC? In legal parlance, an accused remains innocent until proved guilty.

However, pessimists reason that anybody in Ibori's shoes ought to be scared for several reasons.

Fear of incarceration
Many believe that EFCC has a good case which could send the former Delta State governor to jail. The former Minister of information and Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark had in a petition signed by 10 leading citizens of Delta State demanded for a probe of Ibori over alleged illegal disposal of 528 million shares belonging to Delta State, in Oceanic Bank. The shares were said to have been disposed in 2007 by government officials.

In the petition, which was also published in some national dailies, the group asked the anti- corruption agency to hold the former governor liable for the disposal of the shares. He was alleged to have unlawfully used the 528.01 million units as a collateral for a loan from Intercontinental Bank for his private company, Ascot Offshore Nigeria Ltd.

In 2007, the EFCC had slammed a 170-count charge of corruption on Ibori but on December 17, 2009 a trial judge, Marcel Awokulehin, ruled the case in favour of the former governor in a Federal High Court in Asaba, Delta State. However, the EFCC immediately filed a notice of appeal against the December 17, 2009 judgment which absolved Mr. Ibori of all wrong doing.

Analysts argue that the fear in the camp of the former governor is that with President Yar'Adua out of the way, his trial may be a different ball game this time hence the desperation to avoid the claws of the EFCC.

The Yar'Adua/Jonathan angle
Not a few argue that the fresh manhunt for the former Delta State governor by the EFCC is the continuation of the power game between the camps of the Acting President, Goodluck Jonathan and President Yar'Adua. The calculation is that Ibori is paying for subtly working against the emergence of Jonathan at the nation's helm of affairs.

It is common knowledge that the former governor was instrumental to the emergence of Yar'Adua in 2007 with unconfirmed reports that he was one of those that bankrolled his presidential election. For political observers, Ibori's effort and gesture were reciprocated by the former Katsina governor who ensured that he remained very close to the corridors of power.

Before Yar'Adua became ill and indispose
d, speculations were rife that Ibori would be his running mate in the 2011 presidential election. Many argue that the influence he enjoyed under Yar'Adua and ambition to be the Vice President in 2011 largely contributed to his efforts to scuttle the emergence of the former Bayelsa governor as the Acting President.

There are those who also add that right from when Jonathan was nominated as running mate to Yar'Adua, the former Delta governor has never recognized him as a major power broker. People in this school of thought believe that Ibori perceives Jonathan as an opportunist who strolled into power, hence does not deserve respect from a politician of his caliber.

So, based on this assumption, many believe that it is pay back time for Ibori. In the estimation of observers, the fresh move by the EFCC against him is a ploy by the Acting President to get back at his political opponent. The calculation is that as the man who calls the shots in the nation today, Jonathan is adopting the strategy popular during the administration of the immediate past President, Olusegun Obasanjo when the anti-graft body was used to haunt perceived political opponents.

In the estimation of many, the Acting President is merely using the EFCC to clip the wings of Ibori who, hitherto walked like a giant in the nation's political landscape.

The Sacrificial Lamb
For some people, especially those he enjoys their sympathy, Ibori is being used as a scapegoat by the EFCC chairman, Mrs Farida Waziri for her inefficiency since she assumed headship of the anti-graft body. Since Jonathan took charge of the ship of state, there had been fears that the retired police officer may be relieved of her seat if she failed to sit up. According to sources, the pressure on the EFCC boss to live up to expectation informed the renewed effort to prosecute Ibori who is perceived as a highbrow politician. So, the calculation is that Waziri was forced by circumstances to prosecute Ibori to save her job and appease the Acting President who reportedly is not excited with how she runs the anti-graft agency.

The EFCC chairman, had held a meeting with Jonathan, during which the Acting President re-emphasised the determination of the federal government to wage a vibrant anti-corruption campaign. Also in his recent trip to the United States, he stressed the resolve of his administration to aggressively tackle the issue of corruption. With all these added, it was not surprising that Ibori was invited for interrogation.