When I read the comments made by some of the readers of the Sahara Reporters article on Ibori’s £1 award from the UK court, I noted with interest that most of the commentators were jubilant about Ibori’s perceived ill-treatment by the UK court. However, while it is understandable that many Nigerians took pleasure from the fact that the court found that Ibori had not suffered any compensatory loss, it should be noted that in this particular instance the UK court was also mocking Nigerians, by turning a blind eye to the fact that the Home Secretary should have been punished for abusing her powers to unlawfully detain Ibori for financial gain. As I will set out below, the judge’s failure to punish the Home Secretary is evidence that the UK will condone any unlawful action taken so that the UK can share in any assets looted from Nigeria.

UK civil law provides for two types of damages namely compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages as the name suggests, are awarded to compensate the plaintiff, while punitive damages are awarded specifically to punish the defendant, in clearly defined instances, such as abuse of power by public servants and wrongdoing which is calculatedly profit seeking. The Ibori case met the strict criteria for awarding punitive damages because Mrs. Justice Cheema-Grubb found that the Home Secretary had abused her powers by seeking to unlawfully detain Ibori until he gave up the assets that the UK helped him to launder. It is therefore astonishing that she did not go on to punish the Home Secretary by awarding punitive damages.

Mrs. Justice Cheema-Grubb’s failure to punish the Home Secretary is all the more astounding given that, in December last year when Mrs. Justice May had ruled that Ibori should be freed, she had described the Home Secretary’s attempts to detain him as “quite extraordinary”. Mrs. Justice May’s strong condemnation of the Home Secretary was also reflected in her stinging criticism that, “You don't hold someone just because it is convenient to do so and without plans to deport them". Given that Mrs. Justice Cheema-Grub found that the Home Secretary had abused her powers to detain Ibori until he handed over money, then I would contend that her failure to punish the Home Secretary in this instance is the thin end of a predatory culture that immunises any Western government or their agent from any unlawful conduct engaged in for the purpose of benefitting from wealth stolen from countries like Nigeria. 

This naked Western greed for Nigeria’s stolen wealth should be a matter of concern to every Nigerian. The unlawful action of the Home Secretary is clear evidence that the UK’s primary motivation for prosecuting Ibori was to recover his assets for the benefit of the UK and not for the purpose of returning such assets back to Nigeria. The UK’s record on returning assets to Nigeria fluctuates between poor and symbolic as she continues to pay lip service to its UNCAC treaty obligations to prevent its financial system from being used to launder wealth stolen from Nigeria. Failures in prevention are matched only by failures to apply effective sanctions against any person or institution found culpable.  To date, no UK bank or financial intermediary has been sanctioned for allowing Ibori to operate bank accounts in the UK, in contravention of Nigerian laws. Emerging Capital Partners (ECP), a US private equity firm, making investments in Nigeria on behalf of the UK government has not been sanctioned for helping Ibori launder the proceeds of his corruption. Neither the UK Department for International Development (DFID) nor its wholly owned investment arm CDC have been sanctioned for receiving and retaining their share of the proceeds of ECP’s Ibori related corruption and, now the Home Secretary has not been sanctioned for abusing her powers in order to recover from Ibori, assets that DFID is claiming are not linked to Ibori. 

By way of an illustration, as part of the Ibori asset recovery, the UK government is seeking to recover assets that they claim he has hidden in the Nigerian fertilizer company, Notore. However, the UK government which is also invested in Notore, through ECP, has resisted our demands for them to sanction ECP and, return any dividend from ECP’s investment on the grounds that ECP has assured them that Ibori is not linked to Notore. Ironically, it is this determination to shield ECP from prosecution and retain their share of the proceeds of ECP’s corruption that has made it difficult for the UK to successfully prosecute the recovery of Ibori’s assets. The DFID funded prosecution failed to include Notore related corruption in the charges that Ibori pleaded guilty to in the UK in order to protect DFID’s investment in Notore. Consequently, when post-conviction, the DFID funded prosecution attempted to recover assets they claimed Ibori had hidden in Notore, Ibori was able to go to court to challenge this sneaky attempt by the UK to recover assets that they had excluded from the prosecution. In effect the client resisted the attempt by the fence to keep the whole loot. This challenge caused the recovery process to extend beyond the period of Ibori’s incarceration and prompted the Home Secretary to seek extrajudicial means to complete a badly compromised and ill-motivated recovery. 

The ease with which financial intermediaries and institutions acting with impunity, are able to launder stolen Nigerian wealth through the international financial system anchored in places like London, is the biggest threat to Nigeria’s development. To illustrate this point, on a discovery, the EFCC was able to immediately confiscate before conviction: $9.8m from Andrew Yakubu; $31.4m from Patience Jonathan; $44m from Ayodele Oke and $151m from an anonymous bank account to name but a few, because the cash and accounts were domiciled in Nigeria. However, some 4 years after conviction, the UK has been unable to confiscate £57 million from Ibori not to talk of returning the money to Nigeria.  

Western financial intermediaries and institutions engage in the highly lucrative laundering of Nigeria’s stolen wealth because they do not fear any meaningful sanctions. The failure of Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb to sanction the Home Secretary for her efforts to engage in this odious practice only reinforces this sense of impunity. Nigerians should, therefore, be careful not to celebrate this bitter-sweet ruling which flatters to deceive but in actuality is openly prejudicial and deeply inimical to Nigeria’s interests. Nigerians may also wish to consider why the Ibori that they hold in such low esteem is being provided with DSS security detail at a cost to the Nigerian public purse. James Ibori

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