Former Governor James Ibori of Delta State who last weekend cancelled his trip to Nigeria met secretly with top Nigerian police officers in a move to thwart his ongoing trial in London and pave the way for a hassle-free return to Nigeria.
The meeting, which involved Ibori and three Deputy Inspectors-General of Police (DIGs), took place in Los Angeles, California.
The three officers were in the U.S. to attend the 114th Annual International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference and Exposition taking place in New Orleans, Louisiana. Ibori arranged for them to fly out to Los Angeles for the secret meeting with him. Saharareporters learns that James Ibori may have become desperate and deadly in view of his current travails, which he believes is due to power tussle between himself and remnants of Obasanjo loyalists in Abuja.
Ibori’s influence on the top echelon of the current police leadership is considerable. Saharareporters had reported that the former governor played a decisive role in the appointment of the current Inspector General, Mike Okiro. Umar Yar’Adua’s first choice was Tony Onovo, but he was dropped after Ibori pressed the case for Mike Okiro.
Saharareporters sources indicated that DIGs who met with Ibori in Los Angeles flew out of New Orleans in the evening, and returned to the conference the next day to avoid detection.
It is unclear what matters were covered at the meeting, but a source told Saharareporters that Ibori still wields enormous power within the Yar'adua government and should not be written off yet—despite spirited denials by the government that it did not intended to shield the ex-governor from prosecution.
Last weekend, Yar'adua’s official spokesperson told the Guardian newspaper on Sunday that the president met with Ibori twice during the UN General Assembly. In effect, the administration openly admitted what was long reported by Saharareporters—that the president met with Ibori twice in New York and also had meetings with his cousin and current governor of Delta State, Emmanuel Uduaghan. Uduaghan in turn met with Ibori at New York’s Mandarin Hotel under the codename "Lion."
Ibori was inexplicably issued a UN pass by the foreign affairs ministry, thus designating him as a member of the Nigerian delegation to the UN General Assembly. The pass as well as a letter written by Attorney General Michael Aondoakaa was later used to convince the Southwark Crown Court in London to lift a restraining order issued against James Ibori's assets worldwide. A week later, an appeal by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) persuaded a London High Court of Appeal to reinstate the restraint order.
Ibori’s meeting with the DIGs is seen as the latest in the series of efforts to thwart his impending arrest by officials of the EFCC in Nigeria. Just last Monday, a Federal High Court in Benin presided over by Justice Gloria Okeke granted a bizarre ex-parte order which prohibits the EFCC from having access to Delta State books for the eight-year period that Ibori was governor. The judge also issued a blanket order protecting Ibori and several of his former aides and state officials from arrest.
Saharareporters was the first to report that the judge who issued the order is a sister to James Ibori's mistress, Udo Amaka. Both women share the same maiden name of Onuigbo.
Even though the EFCC has challenged the ex-parte order, the hearing does not come up until October 30th 2007.
Meanwhile officers of the London Metropolitan Police finally arrived Nigeria yesterday to commence comprehensive gathering of new evidence to be used in Ibori’s prosecution when the appeal hearing comes up on November 13th 2007 before three Appeal Court judges in London.
Saharareporters could not confirm last night if the order of the Federal High Court in Benin would affect the investigations by the London police officials.
Attorney General Aondoakaa had openly promised to cooperate with the London Metropolitan Police investigators, but he has tactically avoided meeting the delegation by traveling to Singapore. Aondoakaa apparently decided that attending an International Bar Association conference in Singapore was a greater priority than assisting the investigators from London.
A source from Britain told Saharareporters that, despite the AGF’s pledge to help, Aondoakaa has refused to invoke the crucial "Article 3" of the Mutual Assistance Agreement on Corruption in Ibori’s case. The article would have nullified the contents of Aondoakaa's letter to Ibori's lawyers that helped to secure the former governor’s temporary victory at the Southwark Crown Court on October 1.
“Some of us here are beginning to wonder why the Nigerian authorities seem rather lukewarm about this process to recover money reportedly stolen from their country,” said the source. “It’s sometimes quite astonishing—the nonchalance.”