In concluding his closing arguments today, Mr. Nicholas Purnell, counsel to James Ibori, grasped at straws and floundered so much even the judge was left exasperated.
In the end he was still telling the judge he intended to pass on details of Ibori's accomplishments in Delta State in full, including a short video documenting the former governor’s “accomplishments.”
But the judge made it clear that when he sentences Ibori tomorrow, the crooked former governor will be getting exactly what he has earned. "I am not in a position to assess the positive impacts he has had on the people of Delta State or not,” he told the lawyer. “I won't be sentencing him on the damage he has done to Delta State or not."
In his address, Purnell praised Ibori as a man who had reformed the public procurement system in Delta State, as well as promoted accountability and transparency, but lamented that the former governor fell prey to the corruption that plagues the state.
He said Ibori had made two promises to the people who elected him: to get more of a fair distribution of Nigeria's oil wealth to the states that produce it—which he said Ibori accomplished—and to spend more on infrastructure.
"There is no debate that in his controversial career, it has been publicly recognised that he revolutionised the infrastructure of Delta State," Purnell said.
He described Ibori as a "pioneer in democracy,” but stated, "Everything that he has done is jeopardised by this (guilty) plea.”
The lawyer also credited Mr Ibori with having been instrumental in ending the violence that came out of the Ijaw-Itsekiri “war” of the late 1990s, pointing out that Mr Ibori had been credited by the US as the "only one with a credible plan for peace."
Hitting another stride, Mr. Purnell began to spread the blame for Ibori’s crimes, his principal target being another Ibori London lawyer of the former governor, Bhadresh Gohil. "There is an extent to which [Ibori’s] weaknesses and failings were supported by others and tutored by others, professional people in this jurisdiction set out a plan to people in foreign jurisdictions to steal money... at question is that if this is a James Ibori plan."
He then blamed the government for Ibori’s false passport, for Ibori’s false passport issued to him in the mid-1990s, saying the false date of birth was a mistake and a common occurrence as there was no reliable system of birth certification in place at the time.
Ibori, he said, never intended to use the passport for fraud, but had continued with the wrong date of birth in his passport because he had a visa to travel to the UK in that passport. Soon after, he had married Theresa Ibori and their marriage certificate bore that date of birth. He said that Mr Ibori has admitted that his offence was to refuse to declare the two offences of theft and fraud committed in the UK at the point he was sworn in as governor.
And Ibori, Mr Purnell said, never planned to become governor dishonestly and use that position to enrich himself, as the prosecution had alleged. "There was no question in 1996 that he would be able to be a governor, Sani Abacha was in charge," and there was no indication that [Abacha] would give up power. It was only after Mr Abacha died suddenly in 1998 that democracy could be returned.
Mr. Purnell then blamed anyone looking at Ibori’s corrupt trail for having bad eyes. During the trial, Ibori had admitted that he defrauded the state in respect of inflating contracts, particularly with reference to a running track the prosecution said he had inflated in order to split the difference with his mistress.
Today, Mr Purnell had an explanation for that: "This was one of a dozen such running tracks built in his tenure. They gave many young people the opportunity to participate in sports at a very high level... The issue of the inflated cost is in the eye of the beholder," he said.
That would be the final insult to the children and the poor of Delta State that Ibori looted for eight years to fund his ruthlessly lavish lifestyle. After having been acquitted in Asaba of 170 similar charges in 2010, he will be sentenced tomorrow in London, where his first recorded crimes were committed. Some relatives, associates and a lawyer are already serving various terms of imprisonment.
-Mr. Purnell will conclude his mitigation plea tomorrow while the judge will hand down his sentence afterwards...