By Eric Ikhilae, Joseph Jibueze and Precious Igbonwelundu
The world has just got smaller for government officials who believe they can loot their country’s resources with impunity. By prosecuting Ibori, the UK authorities have struck a blow not only against financial crimes at home, but also against impunity for corruption around the globe
Nights groups yesterday described the conviction and sentencing of former Delta State governor, James Ibori by a London court as a dent on the nation’s anti-corruption efforts.
The United States-base Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Access to Justice (AJ) based in Nigerian are of the view that the development was an indication that the Nigerian criminal justice system aide criminality as against punishing criminal acts.
The groups noted that for Ibori, who until he eloped to the United Arab Emirate (UAE ), was an influential politician in the country, to have been convicted in London, having been acquitted by a Nigerian judge, was an indictment on the country’s judicial system.
According to HRW, the money laundering conviction and 13-year prison term for Ibori “is a landmark in the global fight against corruption. Ibori might have been untouchable in Nigeria, but not in the United Kingdom, where he had laundered some of his stolen money.
“London’s Metropolitan Police Service secured an order from a London court, in 2007, to freeze $35 million worth of his foreign assets, including a private jet.
“The world has just got smaller for government officials who believe they can loot their country’s resources with impunity. By prosecuting Ibori, the UK authorities have struck a blow not only against financial crimes at home, but also against impunity for corruption around the globe.” Daniel Bekele, HRW’s Africa Director said in a statement yesterday.
Bekele noted the case was not just about financial transactions in British banks, but about acknowledging global responsibility for helping to stop the devastating human cost of corruption in Nigeria.”
AJ, in a statement by its Director, Joseph Otteh, noted that “the tenacity and vigour with which the UK’s Crown Service apprehended ex-Governor Ibori who was outside the UK when arrests warrants were issued against him is remarkable.
“The events giving rise to the offences for which James Ibori was sentenced today took place in Nigeria. This is where the money was removed from, where contracts were inflated, where money was concealed, disguised and wired from. This is where most of the witnesses to grand-scale corruption are resident.
“It was Nigeria’s legal system that had far better strategic and logistic advantage to pin ex Governor James Ibori. But it drew blank. Not once, but twice.
“The Nigerian justice system has systematically failed when it came to holding James Ibori accountable, and the contrasts between the outcomes from Nigerian and UK courts on the ex-Governor give serious cause for concern, and for many, dismay.
“First, Nigerian courts could not confirm whether James Onanefe Ibori, the convict, was the same as James Onanefe Ibori the Governor, in spite of the clarification made by the Judge who made the conviction that the Governor was the convict!
“Second, the Nigeria’s justice system could not find that James Ibori had laundered money with impunity, but the UK’s court did not need to have a long trial before Ibori owned up to what he had done. The judiciary’s commitment to extirpating corruption from public life is sagging at this time.
“Where Judges allow corruption trials to be held up interminably by those being tried, they endanger the trials by their lack of effective management of the trial process. They make it harder for the prosecution to locate and bring witnesses and easier for witnesses to be suborned. Our Judiciary is in need of ideological transformation too,” AJ said.
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