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Tales Around Ibori’s $15 Million By Okey Ndibe

September 3, 2012

As if anybody was still in doubt, there was more proof last week that Nigeria is an organized criminal enterprise. That proof came in the form of some young man’s brazen attempt to use the courts to stow away with $15 million that, clearly, did not belong to him. The man in question is named Chibuike Achigbu.

As if anybody was still in doubt, there was more proof last week that Nigeria is an organized criminal enterprise. That proof came in the form of some young man’s brazen attempt to use the courts to stow away with $15 million that, clearly, did not belong to him. The man in question is named Chibuike Achigbu.

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For those who missed the story, here’s a brief background. In 2007, Nuhu Ribadu, then the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, reported that former Governor James Onanefe Ibori of Delta State had tried to bribe him with $15 million – in cash. At the time, Ribadu’s EFCC was hot on the heels of Mr. Ibori, a man who, like many Nigerian public officials, apparently didn’t respect any demarcation between public funds and his private pockets.

A self-aggrandized personality who gave himself the pompous name of Ogidigbodigbo of Africa, Mr. Ibori had started his criminal career as a petty thief in London. Then, with two convictions in London under his belt, he landed in Nigeria during the reign of Sani Abacha, the bespectacled emperor whose favorite sport was to raid the Central Bank for hard cash. One thing led to another, and Mr. Ibori was installed as a Nigerian stakeholder, which implied that he was certified to eat his people’s steak, drive a stake into the starved hearts of the self-same people, and say to them, I don’t give a damn! By the time the ruling PDP smuggled Ibori into Government House, Asaba, the small-time thief had metamorphosed into a grand looter and embezzler.

Mr. Ribadu once told a foreign TV interviewer that Mr. Ibori perhaps stole as much as 75 percent of the Federal allocation that accrued to his state during his two-term, eight-year rule. The EFCC’s sleuths were snooping into the ex-governor’s mishandling of state funds when, according to Mr. Ribadu, Mr. Ibori sought to tempt him with cash of $15 million.

We know that the offer was made at the Abuja residence of Andy Uba, at the time a senior aide on domestic matters to President Olusegun Obasanjo. Not only did Ribadu rebuff the offer, he also caused the funds to be deposited at the Central Bank of Nigeria. It was important, he decided, to present the cash as evidence both of Mr. Ibori’s corruption and his attempt to subvert justice.

In the end, Mr. Ibori had his day in a Nigerian court. After a sordid affair, an unimpressive outing for all participants in the trial, Justice Marcellus Awokulehin dismissed all charges. Were it up to the judge, Mr. Ibori would have been canonized that day as St. James the Pious of the Delta. Today, the same Ibori is holed up in a maximum security jail in the UK. Rather than face the prospect of a proper, rigorous trial in Britain, the former governor caved, pleading guilty.

His swagger was gone. Back in Nigeria, there was still the unresolved matter of $15 million with which Mr. Ibori had allegedly tried to entice the EFCC to call off its scrutiny of his handling of state funds.

A few weeks ago, it emerged that the Delta State government had filed suit seeking to reclaim the money. The principle seemed sound: cash that was pilfered from a state ought to go back to that same state. Of course, some people worried whether the state’s current governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan, could be trusted to responsibly husband the funds, once recovered. A medical doctor, Mr. Uduaghan is Mr. Ibori’s cousin. He was also a top confidante during the former governor’s tenure.

At any rate, the state’s legal pursuit of the “bribe” funds was proceeding with relatively little drama – until last week.

Suddenly, ten lawyers appeared in an Abuja court armed with an affidavit by Mr. Achigbu. The burden of the affidavit was that the $15 million cash belonged to this virtually faceless Achigbu.

To read the document is to confront the most facile form of fiction masquerading as an assertion. Mr. Achigbu claimed that he had collected the money as a campaign contribution for PDP candidates running in the 2007 elections. However, on learning that such a large transaction donation needed to be made through a bank, he claimed he gave the cash to Andy Uba. Mr. Uba, he asserted, undertook to hand over the cash to the EFCC to enable the agency to authenticate the legitimacy of its source. Thereafter, the money was to be disbursed to party candidates.

It’s easy to recognize the narrative for what it is: an audacious attempt to hijack funds that belong, properly, to the people of Delta State. Why would Mr. Achigbu try a scheme that’s so patently jejune? How could he have hired so many ostensibly senior lawyers, without a single one of them raising alarms about the ludicrousness of the whole thing? Were there, perhaps, other sponsors of the charade, other well-placed “steakholders” who encouraged this possibly criminal undertaking?

One of the affidavit’s claims is that “Dr. Andy Uba has offered to depose to the foregoing facts on oath before this Honorable Court to clear his name and restore himself to the confidence of the Intervener/Applicant.”

Once Mr. Achigbu’s claim received media attention, the man quickly ordered his lawyers to withdraw it. He saved himself the certainty of making a big fool of himself in court. But the fact that he withdrew his preposterous application should by no means be the end of the matter.

The police ought to question Mr. Achigbu about this whole messy affair. How did the idea germinate in his head to go for the $15 million? Did he raise millions of dollars for PDP candidates in 2007? If he did, what were the sources? And what are the contributors’ sources of income? Did he ever hand Mr. Uba millions of dollars in cash? If he did, what was the purpose? Did he consult with Mr. Uba before he decided to stake out a claim on Ibori’s “bribe” funds?

One thing is clear from Mr. Achigbu’s now withdrawn claim. It’s either he handed Mr. Uba some millions of dollars in 2007 that’s not accounted for, or he set out to steal $15 million that doesn’t belong to him. It’s up to the police to find out which it is.

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