Where are the other Iboris in government?

“The world has just got smaller for government officials who believe they can loot their country’s resources with impunity,” Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday after learning of the sentence passed on James Ibori by a London Court.
Mr. Bekele said Ibori’s 13-year imprisonment for stealing public funds is a landmark verdict in the global fight against corruption.
“By prosecuting Ibori, the UK authorities have struck a blow not only against financial crimes at home, but also against impunity for corruption around the globe,” Mr Bekele said.
Ibori, one of Nigeria’s enduring symbols of criminality and impunity, described as a serial thief by London prosecutors, pleaded guilty to charges concerning official theft involving at least $250million belonging to oil-rich Delta state where he served as governor for eight years from 1999 to 2007.
During his tenure, the rights group said financial records published by the Finance Ministry of Finance showed that the state government received several billion dollars in oil revenue, with very little to show for it.
“The state’s public schools crumbled, while primary health clinics remained dilapidated and lacked basic supplies and medicines,” Human Rights Watch said.
Chief in Nigeria, thief in London
Before his capture in the United Arab Emirate (UAE) in 2010, Mr. Ibori was one of Nigeria’s most influential and wealthy politicians. He was untouchable in Nigeria, apparently because he was a critical ally of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. It was widely believed that Ibori singlehandedly bank-rolled the president’s election campaign. But, his influence could not extend to the United Kingdom, where he had laundered some of his stolen money.
He was more like. Ibori’s latest conviction for theft is his third in a London court in two decades.
In 1991 and 1992, he was convicted twice for stealing from his employers at the time and for credit card fraud. The road to his latest conviction for theft began in 2007, shortly after he left office as governor in Nigeria. That year, London’s Metropolitan Police Service secured an order from a London court to freeze his foreign assets, valued at about $35million, which included a private jet.
Over the next two years, the Metropolitan Police arrested several of his associates who lived or traveled within the United Kingdom’s jurisdiction, including his wife, Nkoyo, and sister, as well as his British lawyer and two financial consultants.
In 2008, French authorities also arrested one of his personal assistants, believed to be his mistress, and extradited her to the United Kingdom.
Ibori’s six accomplices were charged for their roles in laundering the stolen funds. Each was convicted by the London court and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 30 months to 10 years.
Untouchables in Nigeria
Since 2005, the EFCC has arraigned 19 former state governors on various corruption charges. But not a single senior politician or government official in Nigeria is currently serving any prison term for these crimes.
The two who had served brief prison sentences, Bode George, a member of the ruling People Democratic Party (PDP)’s board of trustees and Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, former governor of Bayelsa state, were celebrated on completion of their prison terms.  They have since been reintegrated into the political system as celebrity.
Today, they are the most powerful members of the ruling party, hobnobbing with President Goodluck Jonathan and other party chieftains. Alamieyeseigha is not only a revered political leader in his home state, he is also a permanent fixture on the protocol list of regular invitees to the Presidential Villa for consultation on political issues.
George was even leading the PDP campaign train for the governorship and presidential elections in the last elections in Lagos State. But Mr. Ibori was a classical model of an infamy and impunity by corrupt government officials in Nigeria.
Before fleeing Nigeria after the death of his ally, late Yar’Adua, Mr. Ibori was a lord in Nigeria’s manor. Nuhu Ribadu, who headed the anti-graft agency, the EFCC, at the time tried to bring him to justice in 2007, but was frustrated because he was up against a man who not only knew the system like the back of his hand, but how to manipulate it to his advantage.
Mr. Ibori allegedly tried to bribe Ribadu to drop the investigation. When Ribadu rejected the offer and insisted on pursuing the case to its logical conclusion, he was unceremoniously removed from office.
Mr. Ibori’s corruption case was transferred to a special purpose court built in his home state, Delta for the singular purpose of handling Ibori’s trial. In December 2009, a new judge, Marcel Awokulehin, dismissed all 170 counts against Ibori, including the $15million bribery charge leveled against him by the EFCC, without hearing any evidence at trial.
Senior Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) officials later confirmed to Human Rights Watch that Ribadu had given them the $15million and that the money, which has remained in their possession.
In April 2010, after Yar’Adua fell ill and Ibori’s political influence began to wane, the EFCC issued a warrant for Ibori’s arrest, based on fresh corruption allegations. Ibori managed to avoid arrest and fled to Dubai.
In May 2010, Ibori was arrested in the United Arab Emirates based on an international warrant obtained by the Metropolitan Police. He was extradited to the United Kingdom in April 2011, and arraigned on 25 counts charge, including money laundering, forgery and fraud.
On February 27, 2012, as his trial was set to begin, Ibori pleaded guilty to seven count-charge for money laundering; one count charge for conspiracy to commit forgery; one count charge for obtaining property by deception, and one count charge for conspiracy to defraud.
“This case was not just about financial transactions in British banks,” Mr. Bekele said. “It was about acknowledging global responsibility for helping to stop the devastating human cost of corruption in Nigeria.”
Squandered country
It is almost impossible to quantify how much Nigeria has lost to corruption in the past two decades. But economists estimate that at least $450billion of Nigeria’s wealth have been siphoned by the ruling elite. The trend is on the rise, despite the outcry.
Across Nigeria, ordinary citizens have seen little benefit from the country’s tremendous oil wealth, Human Rights Watch said. Public funds that could have been used to improve schools and health facilities have instead been squandered and siphoned abroad by the country’s ruling elite.
Maternal mortality rates are among the world’s highest, while poverty rates continue to climb. National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) says in its annual socio-economic survey that more than 71.5 per cent of the country’s 164.38million population or about 112.52 million Nigerians are living below the World Bank poverty line.
Human Rights Watch has documented how in some cases powerful politicians have used the vast wealth at their disposal to arm criminal gangs that fuel political violence.
The funds keep coming
Nigeria, by its numerous treaties, is a beneficiary of several aid funds from developed countries, including the UK. These funds, in addition to the oil revenue, end up being siphoned, squandered and unaccounted for.
Mr. Ibori used much of such funds, most coming from the UK, to fund his illicit-billionaire lifestyle for which he has been jailed.
Despite Nigerian government officials’ penchant for stealing public funds and the governments condoning attitude, the United Kingdom continues to provide substantial foreign aid to Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer and the world’s sixth largest exporter of crude oil.
The Department for International Development (DFID) announced in 2011 that it would allocate $1.6billion in aid to Nigeria over the next four years, more than doubling the amount of annual aid over this period.
Beyond Mr. Ibori, there are many more government officials looting public funds, enough to overwhelm any responsible government. Most of these executive looters are parading the corridors of power as free men. They are men of power, who preside over the fate of millions of Nigerians that are struggling every day to eke an honest living.

Mr Bekele, however, said the Ibori’s case “…demonstrates the urgency of doing more to ensure that Nigeria’s oil wealth goes to help its citizens and not to line the pockets of corrupt politicians.”


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