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Nigeria’s Attorney General, Michael Aondoaka destroys cases against corrupt former governors

March 12, 2008
Saharareporters, New York

Dateline: Abuja, Friday March 7, 2008

A day ago, Judge Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State issued a “perpetual injunction” restraining the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from arresting, detaining or prosecuting former Governor Peter Odili on any acts of corruption during the eight years he presided as Rivers helmsman.

The judgment is a test-run of a strategy that Attorney General Michael Aondoakaa sold to corrupt former governors and other government officials facing serious prospects of prosecution for graft and money laundering.

Earlier in the life of the Umar Musa Yar'adua regime, Saharareporters had reported on elaborate plans spearheaded by Aondoakaa and several high-profile former governors to frustrate the EFCC’s prosecution of corruption cases. While Aondoakaa is the arrowhead of the plot, Saharareporters gathered from reliable sources that the plan has Yar’adua’s full blessing.

The plan calls for ex-governors to fish for corrupt judges who are willing to issue injunctions barring the arrest of the former governors. Yar’adua and Aondoakaa pledged to pursue a policy of not challenging the rulings. It was also agreed that, where the EFCC decided to appeal the injunction orders, the attorney general’s office, which would be joined in the suit, would put up only a tepid argument in court.

Yar’adua, Aondoakaa and the former governors who designed the plan and are the beneficiaries, agreed that the regime would use its vaunted policy of “the rule of law” to justify its decision to respect the illogical perpetual injunctions.

One source who was privy to the plan but who has since left the regime, told our correspondent that “The idea is that, once a former governor finds a judge to issue an injunction against his arrest, the Yar’adua government can say that it is law abiding and will direct the EFCC to sheathe its sword,” said the source. He added, “Since the Nigerian judiciary is filled with corrupt judges, it is hardly difficult to find judges to issue such reckless injunctions.”

The full effect of the planned sabotage of corruption cases against former governors even played out before a UK judge at the Southwark Crown Court in London last October. A letter written by Aondoakaa to the effect that former Governor James Onanefe Ibori of Delta State was not the subject of any corruption investigation in Nigeria helped win Ibori temporary relief from an asset freeze order placed on his $35 million assets based in the UK and elsewhere. Aondoakaa’s letter, which he secretly sent to Ibori’s high-priced lawyers, came to light when Saharareporters not only reported its existence but also published it after the attorney general lied to The Punch of Nigeria that he had written no letter to help Ibori.

Aondoakaa’s letter was also deceptive, since he was aware that the EFCC had compiled a rap sheet of more than 100 counts of money laundering and corruption against Ibori.

Our expose forced the Yar’adua regime into a tactical but reluctant retreat when British prosecutors appealed the verdict that ordered the unfreezing of Ibori’s assets. An appeal court subsequently ordered the assets refrozen.

In the wake of our revelation of Aondoakaa’s role in Ibori’s temporary victory, many Nigerians called on Yar’adua to sack Aondoakaa. But sources within the Yar’adua government told us that Aondoakaa’s moves had Yar’adua’s blessing all along.

With their gambit in Britain forestalled, Aondoakaa and Yar’adua privately assured jittery ex-governors that the regime would use its “rule of law” rhetoric to ensure that most corruption cases in Nigeria are either killed or bogged down.

Yesterday's ruling in favor of Peter Odili is a test case of the government’s determination to scuttle anti-corruption efforts and prosecution. The office of the Attorney General of the Federation, which refused to present a strong case urging Judge Buba to vacate his initial temporary injunction, carefully orchestrated the judgment. Late last year, the judge had publicly scolded the AG’s office for not filing its submission on the matter.

Even so, a source told us that the ruling was not without a whiff of corruption by Judge Buba. Several sources confirmed to us that Judge Buba is a well-known friend of the Odilis, with one source saying “the judge was a regular visitor to Odili’s Governor’s Mansion during the years the former governor played Father Christmas with Rivers State funds. I can tell you that Buba enjoyed tremendous financial assistance from Peter Odili running into millions of naira.”

A Port Harcourt-based legal practitioner who asked for anonymity told Saharareporters that the appeal promised by the EFCC against the ruling does not stand a good chance at the Court of Appeal where Odili wife, Mary Odili, wields immense influence. The attorney told us that Mrs. Odili, who also serves as a Justice of the Court of Appeal, is known to have helped her husband and Celestine Omehia fix several judgments at the court in the recent past.

Beyond yesterday’s controversial ruling for Odili, Saharareporters has learned that the Yar’adua regime was working behind the scenes to ensure the stymieing of other cases of corruption. “As a matter of fact, several cases brought against corrupt former governors are at different levels of collapse due to the collaboration between Yar’adua, Aondoakaa and corrupt former governors,” one connected source told us. “The patronage of these ex-governors has made Aondoakaa into Yar'adua regime's richest minister.”

One of the cases collapsing under the weight of Aondoakaa's unscrupulous and fraudulent activities is the trial of Orji Kalu, the former governor of Abia State. The former governor’s recently got a judge to renew an injunction prohibiting his arrest. The order has boosted Kalu’s confidence of escaping trial. Our source disclosed that the Aondoakaa’s filing of nolle prosequi to end Kalu’s trial is now a matter of formality. Orji Kalu is accused of stealing 2.9 billion ($20 million) from Abia State treasury.

Also crumbling is the trial of James Ibori, believed to be one of the top looters of the last nine years. Ibori, who was once a cab driver in London, stole so extensively from the state treasury that he had enough money to buy a private jet worth $20 million, a 400,000 pounds armored Mercedes Benz car (Maybach 62), several choice properties in the UK that are currently frozen on the orders of a UK High Court in London. Ibori could also afford to offer EFCC chairman, Nuhu Ribadu, a bribe of $15 million in cash. In addition, he bankrolled Yar'adua elections to the tune of N10 billion ($100 million).

New reports also indicate that Ibori paid the legal fees for lawyers handling Yar'adua's cases at the Presidential Elections Petitions Tribunal, which recently gave a favorable judgment to Yar'adua.

Buoyed by new assurances by Yar'adua to assist him to beat his rap at the EFCC, Ibori recently filed a motion at the Federal High Court in Kaduna asking that his case be transferred to the Federal High Court, Benin Division. Ibori’s bizarre request was boosted by the favorable injunction he received from a judge in the Benin Division who had granted an injunction barring the EFCC from arresting or prosecuting him. Following huge public outcry that greeted the injunction, the overwhelmed judge was forced to discharge the order. Ibori was arrested shortly after and charged with corruption, stealing and abuse of office. He spent 60 days in prison custody before he was granted bail a few weeks ago.

Contrary to the impression given by Aondoakaa that his office fought against the injunction at the Federal High Court in Benin, Saharareporters has learned that Barrister Bamidele Aturu, who represented the AGF, was hired by the EFCC because Aondoakaa was reluctant to pursue the case.

The case has now gone on appeal, with several of our sources predicting that some of the notoriously corrupt justices at the Court of Appeal are already waiting eagerly to reinstate the injunction earlier granted to Ibori by the Federal High Court judge. One of the justices involved in the recently concluded and highly controversial Presidential Election Petition Tribunal ruling, Justice Uwanni Abba Aji may be presiding over the panel to hear the Delta State government appeal. The Delta State, run by Emmanuel Uduaghan, Ibori’s cousin whom the former governor handpicked for the job, is aggressively a legal appeal to grant Ibori a way out of his legal troubles in Nigeria. Governor Uduaghan’s strategy also seeks to improve Ibori’s odds of having his assets unfrozen in the UK.

Meanwhile, EFCC operatives are walking on eggshells due to recurrent threats by the Inspector General of Police Mike Okiro to transfer the agency’s more professionally sound agents and replace them with pliable police officers.

In addition, the troika of Aondoakaa, Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara, and Ibori continue to pitch the resume of a retired policewoman named Farida as the replacement for Nuhu Ribadu, the agency's head who was recently sent on study leave to the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) at Kuru Jos.

An officer of the agency who spoke anonymously to Saharareporters said they feel an air of uncertainty about the future as the agency tethers under the threat of extinction. The source disclosed that the agency has concluded cases of more than five former governors as well as such figures as Mr. Bode George and Mr. Andy Uba, but has not been able to get presidential approval to arrest the culprits and charge them to court.

Yar’adua’s efforts to frustrate graft prosecutions may owe to the fact that, like former President Olusegun Obasanjo, he condones corruption among his cronies. Even though Yar'adua continues to mouth his commitment to a crusade against corruption, several sources knowledgeable about his government told us that the level of corruption going on at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the Presidency is mind-boggling.

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