By Sunny Igboanugo and Tunde Opeseitan:

Why would the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) declare former Delta State Governor, James Ibori, wanted before delivering to him a letter of invitation on the investigation it claims it is carrying out?

Why would it also go to town with the information that it is mounting a manhunt for him, four clear days to the date he is supposed to honour the invitation?

These are some of the questions begging for answers in the renewed onslaught of the EFCC against him.

The EFCC declared Ibori wanted on Tuesday over  alleged official corruption and money laundering.

“Following persistent public enquiries over the status of the case involving (him), we will like the public to know that (he) is wanted by the Commission for interrogation.

“In this regard, letters of invitation have been sent to his known addresses in Lagos and Abuja while a court warrant has equally been obtained for his arrest,” said a statement issued by EFCC Spokesman, Femi Babafemi.

However, Ibori has decried the “Gestapo tactics” being employed by the EFCC and called this a “political harassment that demands a vigorous legal challenge so that Nigeria is not ruled like a fiefdom  – and that is what I will give.”

A statement issued by his Media Assistant, Tony Eluemunor,  quoted him as describing the claim by the EFCC that “letters of invitation have been sent to his known addresses in Lagos and Abuja”  as a wicked lie, because no such letter was ever received before the declaration.

Ibori asked his supporters not to panic because up till April 13,  2010 no letter inviting him for questioning from either the EFCC or any other security agency had been received in any of his houses both in Abuja or Lagos.

“EFCC knows this to be the truth, that is why it did not mention the dates of those alleged invitations  – because no such letters of invitation were ever sent to him.

“Instead, it is on record that Ibori’s counsel, J. B. Dauda, wrote a petition to both the Attorney General of the Federation and the Chairman of EFCC, dated April 12, 2010, (and this was reported in some national and Internet publications of April 13, 2010) over the unsubstantiated media reports of the past two weeks that Ibori had been on the run from the EFCC.

“Also, it is on record that Ibori has instituted a suit against the EFCC over this same issue.”

The statement said surprisingly, immediately after the EFCC received Ibori’s petition and learnt that he had filed a suit against it in court, “it applied its Gestapo tactics and rushed to the news media with the malicious falsehood that the agency had invited Ibori for questioning.”

It maintained that the EFCC’s action is political, not criminal, and shows that the arm-twisting that defaced the final years of the last administration has been allowed back into Nigeria as the country enters an election year.

It said Ibori’s lawyer made it clear in the petition to both the Attorney General and the EFCC  that this matter had been thoroughly investigated  in the past and the case rested.

The petition had stated that, “It is a matter of public record and judicial decisions that you (the EFCC) have on behalf of the Attorney General vigourously investigated every aspect of our client’s tenure as Governor of Delta State and failed to find any crime committed, inclusive of allegations of conspiracy, official corruption, diversion and misappropriation of public funds, stealing and money laundering for the period May 29, 1999 to May 29, 2007.

“The said investigation covered, among other issues, the purchase of Wilbros by Ascot and the role of the Applicant in respect thereof.

“It is also a matter of record that the head of the investigators, Yahaya Bello, and contained in his counter affidavit filed in suit number FHC/B/CS/862/2007 AG Delta v. EFCC & Ors, admitted that all these facts have been investigated and the matter charged to court.

“In very simple elementary terms, what your organisation is doing is seeking to re-investigate a matter you have already investigated and discharged (which in this instance amounts to an acquittal) which amounts to not only a complete infraction of the Constitution but a breach of our client’s fundamental human rights.

“Nowhere in the world, except of course in some notorious Banana Republics, is the rule of law and constitutionalism trampled upon so aggressively as you are doing in this i nstance.

“It is neither fair nor decent to criminalise our client on the pages of the newspapers without any formal invitation to clear his name, which the courts have already done for him.

“Take notice, therefore, that if there is any attempt to interfere with our client’s liberty merely because you control the coercive forces we shall have no option but to have recourse to judicial redress before the courts, which is the last hope for the defenceless man such as our client.”

The EFCC, which had arrested and prosecuted Ibori in 2007, again declared him wanted on Tuesday for allegedly failing to honour its invitation.

But Ibori insisted that he had not been invited by the EFCC for anything until about 4.20 p.m. on the same day, several hours after it had gone out with the news that a manhunt was already mounted for him.

A letter dated March 22, signed by Zubairu Muazu on behalf of the EFCC Chairman (Farida Waziri) and delivered by Mike Anigbogu – with delivery acknowledgement dated April 13, which he personally signed at 16.20 hours (4.20 p.m.) – had notified him of the investigation and requested him to appear at the EFCC Abuja headquarters on Saturday.

The invitation said the Commission “is investigating a case in which your name featured prominently. In view of the above, your presence is kindly requested at my office for interview through Francis A. Idu of Economic Governance Unit, Date 17th April (Saturday), Time 1030 hours prompt … Your co-operation in this is highly anticipated, please.”

News that Ibori had been declared wanted had surfaced  in the media even before now, with NEXT (March 29) and Saturday Punch (April 3),  making it their lead stories.

Associates of Ibori had equally cried out against the renewed onslaught against him, allegedly ordered by Aso Rock to pay him back for remaining in the camp of President Umaru Yar’Adua instead of Acting President Goodluck Jonathan.

They claimed that Waziri has been told that the only way she would retain her job is to hunt down and imprison Ibori, in a scheme said to be geared towards getting him out of the way ahead of the 2011 elections.

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