Doubts and anger among Nigerians have trailed the disclosure that the Federal Government spent a whopping 14 million pounds (N4.4 billion) to secure the conviction of former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Drugs, Narcotics, Financial Crimes and Anti-Corruption, Senator Victor Lar, had on Friday, stated this during the 2015 budget defence of N542,199,776 for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Lar, however, expressed regrets that the N4.4 billion “is more than 10 years recurrent and capital budgets of all the anti-corruption agencies put together”.
Reacting to the claim, Ibori’s spokeman, Tony Eluemunor, said the figure, though irrelevant to the perceived injustice being meted on his principal, could only be explained by the anti-graft agency.
Speaking on phone, Eluemunor told Sunday Independent on Saturday that the anti-graft agency lacks transparency in its financial dealings, saying, “EFCC could come out to say they spent whatever amount of money on the case, even if they had used it to enjoy themselves.”
Continuing, he said: “This is particularly so because, the EFCC has never publicly published any of its audited accounts.”
“Even the former Chairman, Nuhu Ribadu, did not hand over the commission’s financial records appropriately to his successor.
“Based on this, anyone can come out to claim whatever amount in the name of money for prosecuting Ibori.
“Now, imagine, a Ribadu that could not even account for the funds used in running the EFCC under him now wants to be a governor in a state.”
He said Nigerians were particularly unfair on Ibori, saying they were selectively in a hurry to have been prosecuted, even when the court in Asaba had cleared him of any charges.
“I have said this many times and would continue to say it; that Ibori is a victim of political persecution in Nigeria. The case to determine the hearing on Dariye’s case was decided by the Supreme Court seven years after. Nigerians were patient to allow the law take its full course in this case, but were in so much hurry to see Ibori prosecuted. That was most unfair.
“So, no matter the amount they claim they spent on his persecution, it does not take away the fact that he is a victim of political persecution,” Eluemunor said.
He said EFCC is run like a cult, adding also that the commission lacks the requisite stand to effectively prosecute any anti-graft war in Nigeria at the moment.
On his own, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Olisa Agbakoba, described the amount as ridiculous and unbelievable.
“I don’t believe that the Federal Government could spend such amount of money to prosecute a single person,” he said.
He further stated that himself and other prominent Nigerian lawyers are prepared to do the job of prosecuting corruption people provided the government is ready to pay operational and other costs involved, adding that this could be far lesser than the outrageous amount stated.
According to Agbakoba, the office of Public Prosecution is also in a better position to do the job instead of going that far.
“Our government has no respect for public fund; this amount you are talking about can be used for better things that would benefit common people in the country,” he said.
On his part, former President, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja, Lagos, branch, Onyekachi Ubani, said the Attorney General of the Federation should explain to Nigerians how that amount of money was spent because it was not Nigeria but UK that prosecuted the man.
“I think the whole thing has to do with corruption that is associated with this government because it is unimaginable for a country to spend N4.3 billion to prosecute a single person,” he said.
Ubani further stated that the amount is enough to fix roads and provide health care facilities to many people in the country.
In a similar vein, Chairman of Labour Party (LP) in Delta State, Tony Ezeagwu, said it is alarming for the government to have spent a whopping N4.4 billion to secure the conviction of Ibori, wondering how much Ibori will pay back if such amount is spent on prosecution.
He posited that there was a foul play if it is true that the government spent such an amount to put somebody in prison, stressing that it does not make any sense.
He equally wondered what was the gravity of Ibori’s offence and how much Nigerians were expected to gain from the process.
Ezeagwu maintained that something was wrong somewhere, noting that such huge amount allegedly spent in Ibori’s prosecution should have been diverted to job creation or payment of pensioners, even as he called for the probe of the persons, or group of persons involved in the issue.
Also reacting, presidential candidate of United Progressive Party (UPP), Chekwas Okorie, the government should explain to Nigerians how such amount was spent on Ibosi’s presecution.
According to him, “We require proper clarification on the matter, because, most of our lawmakers and other political office holders push out figures as if they are in the market place or Motor Park.
“If you ask them the source of the figure they are parading about, they will not be able to tell you and for somebody at my level, I cannot begin to make reaction on unsubstantiated figure that is built on mere speculation.
“So, Senator Lar should tell us where he got his facts. Be that as it may, you know, this is an election period and there is so much propaganda, so much malicious reports, so much unsubstantiated claims.
“So, it would be quite revealing for President Jonathan to have spent that amount to secure Ibori’s conviction; but, the onus is on Senator Lar to come out and explain to Nigerians where he got those figures so that people like us can react appropriately.
Another presidential candidate, Martin Onovo, of National Conscience Party (NCP), said he did not believe that the Federal Government spent such amount to secure Ibori’s conviction in UK.
He said: “There are so many issues in the report, and if that is verified to be true, it shows that is it unconstitutional because such money could not have been done without appropriation.
“Therefore if government spent that amount without appropriation which we know it may not have been appropriated for, that is an impeachable offence, because it a clear violation of Nigeria’s constitution.
“Secondly, it shows very, very high level of impunity and lack of judgement, because, it is inappropriate to spend that kind of amount in a weak economy such as ours.
“In the circumstances, going by the level of poverty in Nigeria, that matter must be investigated to know what happened, so that Nigerian people can have the right information on the matter.
“There should be proper investigation on the allegation to ascertain the actual amount that was expended on the matter by the Jonathan’s administration.
“We cannot keep quite over this kind of very, very serious allegation. We have to verify them, confirm the facts and if proven to be correct, then it is the highest level of abuse.
“It would have even been better that that huge sum of money was saved, while Ibori was in Nigeria to clear his name, than spending such a whopping sum of money on the UK government.”
Also reacting, Executive Director, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Adetokunbo Mumini, said he refused to believe that such amount was spent to secure Ibori’s conviction.
Though Mumini admitted that such prosecution would require the services of experts in various fields, but he maintained that a whopping sum of about N4.4 billion was too much for the prosecution and conviction of the former governor.
As he put it, “I think they should come out with detailed account of how the funds were expended before arriving at such whopping amount.
“But in any case, I refuse to believe that such amount was spent on the prosecution and conviction of Ibori,” Mumini stated in a telephone interview with Sunday Independent.
It would be recalled that Ibori was convicted on April 17, 2012, and sentenced to 13 years imprisonment by Southwark Crown Court for perceived financial crimes.
At that time, many admirers of the former of Delta State politics had accused the Jonathan’s government of underhand dealing in the conviction, alleging that Ibori’s conviction was traded for British interest in Nigerian oil.