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Governor James Onanefe Ibori, Delta State governor triumphs over his accusers in the celebrated "ex-convict" identification case determined by an Abuja High Court last week.
Governor James Onanefe Ibori, Delta State governor triumphs over his accusers in the celebrated "ex-convict" identification case determined by an Abuja High Court last week
Monday, November 8, will remain indelible in the heart of Governor James Onanefe Ibori of Delta State. It was a day the embattled Delta State chief executive secured victory in an epic legal battle which nearly destabilised his political career.
Last Monday, Justice Husseini Muktar of the Abuja High Court gave Ibori a clean bill of health over the ex-convict allegation levelled against him by Goodnews Agbi and Anthony Alabi, both members of his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. In the landmark judgement, Muktar dismissed the charges against Ibori for want of convincing evidence by the plaintiffs. He cited the "apparent material contradictions" in the evidence-in-chief rendered by Awwal Mohammed Yusuf, the prosecution witness as one of the basis for his judgement. Yusuf had, as a magistrate at the Bwari Upper Area Court presided over a matter involving a man who bears the same name with Ibori and convicted him of criminal negligence and breach of trust on September 28, 1995.
But Muktar said the plaintiffs had not established beyond any shadow of doubt that it was the present governor of Delta State that was convicted by the Bwari Upper Area Court in 1995 under CR/81/95. He said: The material contradictions and inconsistencies of the prosecution witness, Alhaji Awwal Yusuf has cast doubt on the credibility of the evidence that it was the current governor of Delta State that was so convicted. Section 308 of the 1999 constitution immunes the fourth defendant (Ibori) from appearing in court but if it has been proven that he was the one convicted by the lower court, he would have lost that immunity." The judge faulted Yusuf's inability to recognise Ibori during a meeting at the Delta State Governor's lodge in January 2003 as one of the material contradictions found in his evidence.
Muktar dismissed the investigation conducted into the ex-convict allegation by Lawal Gumi, chief judge of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, and Tafa Balogun, inspector-general of police. This, he said, was because the investigations were not judicial but purely administrative. He discountenanced both reports which identified the Delta state chief executive as the James Onanefe Ibori who was convicted in 1995 by the lower court.
Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, and lead prosecution counsel has, however, said that his clients would appeal against the judgement.
The verdict was a reprieve for the embattled governor, who said that it has vindicated him. He restated his claim that he was a victim of forgery of court documents by some of his political detractors who were bent on damaging his reputation and political career. It is believed that Great Ogboru, governorship candidate of the Alliance for Democracy, AD, who was Ibori's closest rival in the 2003 governorship election is the brain behind the ex-convict saga.
Ibori is very happy that by this judgement, his political opponents who embarked on the high-wire conspiracy against him have finally been put to shame. "This political misadventure by those over-ambitious people in their attempt to subvert the political will of majority of Deltans has finally collapsed," he said.
The governor noted that the judgement has strengthened his confidence in the nation's judiciary. According to him, the verdict would send a signal to members of the international community who have been monitoring the epic legal tussle that there is indeed hope in the Nigerian judicial system. He explained that throughout the period the case lasted, he never doubted the competence of the judiciary to be fair and to dispense justice without fear or favour.
Sheddy Ozoeme, special assistant on media relations to the governor, said that the Delta chief executive has dedicated his victory to God, the impartial judge and is grateful to all those who stood by him in his period of tribulation. "The governor thanks especially Deltans and indeed all well- meaning Nigerians who saw through the conspiracy from the beginning and expressed their belief in his innocence through their unflinching support," he said.
Vernatius Ikem, national publicity secretary of the PDP, described the judgement as a victory for democracy and a vindication of the party's choice of Ibori as its Delta governorship candidate in the 2003 polls. He advised the governor to settle down and face the challenges of delivering the dividends of democracy to the people as the case must have seriously distracted him.
For Governor Chris Ngige of Anambra State, Ibori's triumph is a victory for justice and democracy. He said the allegations against Ibori smacked of blackmail by his adversaries who thought they could pervert the course of justice. "The adversaries will continue to run after their opponents but they will fail," Ngige said.
Last Tuesday, the PDP, Delta State chapter suspended three principal actors in the ex-convict saga from the party for one month. Those suspended are Agbi, Alabi and Moses Odiri. John Nani, PDP state publicity secretary said they were suspended for anti-party activities. They would be tried by the state disciplinary committee within two weeks.
The victory of Governor Ibori at the Abuja high court was widely celebrated in Delta State throughout last week. Immediately the governor Ibori got the news of his victory in Oghara, his village, he left for Asaba with his teaming supporters. When he rode joyfully to the Governor's lodge, Asaba, he was accorded a warm reception by thousand of Deltans who were already waiting for him. Accompanied by Benjamin Elue, his deputy, Ibori popped champagne to celebrate his victory.
Last Tuesday, the celebration continued through an inter-denominational service held at the Indoor Sports Hall of the Asaba township stadium. The service was to thank God for the victory. "We give honour and glory to God for his deliverance," Ibori said while speaking at the church service.
It was indeed a grandiose celebration of a hard-won battle. It has been a long and contentious legal battle for the Delta state governor. There was a twist in the identification trial on July 5, 2003. It was the second day of the trial. Yusuf stunned the court when he said that the original proceedings of the trial in which he convicted the said James Onanefe Ibori at the Bwari Upper Area Court had been doctored. He was answering questions under cross-examination from Paul Milton Ohwovoriola, SAN, Ibori's counsel. Yusuf specifically said that the charge No. CR 81/95 which was brought against the said James Onanefe Ibori in 1995 as contained in the First Information Report was doctored to read charge No. CR81/95 and that Ibori's name was replaced with that of Shaaibu Anyebe.
On June 30, Yusuf told the Abuja High Court that he actually convicted James Onanefe Ibori in 1995 as the identification trial started. This rattled many people in Ibori's camp, hence there was so much tension last Monday before the judgement was delivered.
This is the second time Governor Ibori will be winning a case since the ex-convict saga began about 20 months ago. An Abuja High Court had on March 24, 2003 decided this same case in his favour. The court presided over by Justice Husseini Baba Yusuf had declared Ibori eligible to re-contest the April 2003, governorship polls. According to him, there was a sentence in the 1995 judgement of the Bwari Upper Area Court but there was no conviction.
But on April 16, 2003, Justice George Oguntade of the Court of Appeal ordered a fresh trial of the ex-convict case by a lower court. He said the lower court erred when it said there was no conviction.
On November 6, 2003, the Supreme Court began hearing on Ibori's suit against the April 16, 2003, decision of the Court of Appeal which declared that the lower court erred when it ruled that there was no conviction on the ruling of the Bwari Upper Area Court.
On February 6, 2004, the Supreme Court agreed with the Appeal Court that the case should be tried afresh to determine the identify of the actual James Onanefe Ibori convicted in 1995. This was why the case went back to the Abuja High Court that commenced fresh trial of the case on July 6, and declared judgement last Monday.
Unless Fawehinmi and his clients appeal against the ruling, last week's judgement would mark the end of this celebrated court case.