Barring a last minute change of plans, the former Governor James Ibori of Delta State—a target of a money laundering case in England—is scheduled to arrive in Nigeria tomorrow. Ibori, who has spent the last few weeks in his Florida estate in the U.S., is expected to depart from New York City. Our source said the ex-governor planned to travel on a Luftansa flight with a stopover in Frankfurt, Germany. He warned, however, that Ibori may decide, at short notice, to make different flight plans since he can afford a wide range of such plans.
One source disclosed to Saharareporters that Ibori has been in talks with the current governor of Delta State to arrange a stage-managed tumultuous welcome. To that end, Saharareporters learnt that the Delta State government has started mobilizing people to troop to Lagos to give Ibori a stage-managed rousing welcome. An official of the state government denied any plans to welcome the former governor.
Ibori’s planned return is bound to deepen the controversy generated by a federal judge’s blanket order prohibiting the ex-governor’s arrest as well as any investigation into the finances of the state during his tenure.
In a development that promises to raise a lot of ethical dust, Saharareporters has discovered that the federal judge who gave that broad order is related to Mrs. Udo Amaka Okoronkwo, Ibori’s well known mistress who was recently arrested in London in connection with Ibori’s money laundering case there. Mrs. Okoronkwo, who is on bail, is being investigated by the London Metropolitan Police as one of the former governor’s accomplices in the laundering of millions of dollars believed stolen from Delta State.
Justice Okeke and Mrs. Udo Amaka Okoronkwo are sisters, with both bearing the maiden surname of Onuigbo.
Interviewed yesterday, a source close to Ibori in London claimed the two women are related but insisting the court order was a complete coincidence.
But several legal experts said the irresponsible nature of the judge’s order suggests there was something shady that smacks of outright corruption or nepotism.
Justice Gloria Okeke of the Federal High Court in Benin City had granted an elaborate ex-parte order specifically prohibiting anti-corruption investigators from arresting Ibori and any state officials involved in running the state between 1999 and 2007 when Ibori held sway in Government House, Asaba. Justice Okeke further ordered that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the office of Attorney General (AGF) must not probe the accounts of Delta State during the same period.
The judge’s order which also prohibits the EFCC from freezing Delta State accounts has come under severe criticism from legal experts, lawyers, and human rights activists who describe it as ridiculous. In a press statement he sent to Saharareporters, human rights lawyer, Bamidele Aturu, carpeted the judge for issuing such a preposterous order.According to Aturu, “The order constitutes a great affront and disrespect to the Supreme Court which has held in the case of IGP v Fawehinmi that no court of law can prohibit law enforcement agencies from investigating a suspect. Such an order ex parte borders on judicial rascality.”
Meanwhile, sources told Saharareporters that the Attorney General, Michael Aondoankaa, was yet to receive the report of investigation so far conducted on James Ibori by the EFCC. Saharareporters could not confirm if the EFCC has sent any evidence to the AG that could be presented to the Metropolitan Police delegation who are currently visiting Nigeria.