The 1995 Ibori Ex-convict Case Revisited
By Simon Ochuko
For all intents and purposes, and according to the ex-governor of Delta State, it would appear that there are two distinct individuals who share a common name in “James Onanefe Ibori”. It would seem that the ex-governor, the “real” James Onanefe Ibori (“the Odidigborigbo of Africa”) who is but an upright and decent citizen of Nigeria, has an alter ego or a “evil twin” who is nothing but a wayward common thief who goes around stealing building materials in both London and Abuja and has a penchant for fraudulent use of stolen credit cards.
Indeed, recent revelations emanating from the ongoing trial of the “real” Ibori’s wife, Mrs Thersa Nkoyo Ibori, has thrown another dimension to this mystery of the two James Iboris. As it stands today, one James Onanefe Ibori was born on 4th August 1958 and the other James Onanefe Ibori was born on 4th August 1962! That is on exactly the same day of the same month but four years apart! An amazing coincidence!alt
With the repeated assertion by the EFCC and the subsequent detailed disclosure of London’s Metropolitan Police that ex-Governor James Ibori was twice convicted in London firstly together with his wife Nkoyo Theresa Ibori nee Nakanda in January 1991 for theft of home/building materials from a hardware store (Wickes) and on a later occasion in February 1992 for fraudulent use of a stolen American Express credit card, we have been consistently served a dish with a familiar aroma, as Ibori puts it: “
It was this same “identity” dish that the ex-Governor served that Nigeria’s judicial system lapped up with relish and which resulted in him retaining his seat as Governor of Delta State in 2003 despite overwhelming evidence linking him to a 1995 case involving theft of building materials from the Usman Dam building project and a conviction for Criminal Breach of Trust and Negligent Conduct. As we know, the ex-Governor went on to famously sponsor the presidential and Delta State pogrom of April 2007 using the coffers of his state as the “petty cash” pot for his grand scheming.
In Kaduna 2007, when he repeated the “mistaken identity” claim, it was his liberty that was at stake and Justice Mohammed Lawal Shuaibu of the Federal High Court subsequently granted him bail. Ibori then went on to accuse the same Justice Shuaibu of bias and (with assistance from higher powers) successfully had the trial transferred from Kaduna to his “fiefdom” and “stomping ground” where he controls immense of power and influence, Asaba, the Delta State capital. Incredibly, the Asaba High Court court did not exist at the time!
Nonetheless, in response to James Ibori’s demand for a fair trial, a division of the the Federal High Court was established in Asaba and duly staffed in record time. The State Government headed by his cousin Emmanuel Uduaghan obliged and facilitated the speedy setup by donating the land and building structures to the Federal authority.
What happened subsequently under the endless and inexplicable adjournments of Mr Justice Marcel Awokulehin who presided over the eventual dismissal (without any trial) of the 170 charges against Mr Ibori is testament to the proposition that only the truly “guilty” are ever convicted in Nigeria. This is more so given the way well known and famous cases in Nigeria against Ibori have gone in the past!
To fully explore this point, it will be useful to review the ex-convict case against Ibori as was brought against him whilst he was the incumbent (if not illegitimate) Governor of Delta State in 2003. This will also help to determine whether or not the ex-governor does indeed have “form” and will assist in judging how far the endemic corruption in the wider Nigerian space has eaten into the justice delivery service in Nigeria.
For the purposes of this, we will embark on a review of the last real and indepth fact-finding proceedings as ensued at The Governorship Election Tribunal in Asaba following the 2003 general (s)elections. The case was brought by the AD gubernatorial candidate in that election Great Ogboru.
After much prevarication and illogical decisions by the first Tribunal (empanelled in 2003) which were consistently overturned by the Court of Appeal, a new panel was instituted in late 2005 to replace the obviously compromised panel. The new panel eventually gave its final controversial 3:2 split decision ruling on 12th April 2006. The case was heard by five judges viz.
* Justice Adzira G. Mshelia (Chairman),
* Justice Josephine Tuktur (Member),
* Justice Ibrahim M. M. Saulawa (Member),
* Justice Muktar L. Abimbola (Member), and
* Justice Haruna M. Tsammani (Member).
The controversial 3:2 split decision went in favour of Ibori. The majority judgement comprising Justices Msheila, Tuktur, and Tsammani ruled that they were NOT convinced by the evidence that the then Governor was the ex-convict as claimed by Ogboru, and the separate minority judgements of both Justices Saulawa and Abimbola emphatically ruled that the then Governor was one and the same James Onanefe Ibori that was duly convicted in 1995.
In an early but separate incarnation of this case (Agbi vs Ogbeh 2003) an Abuja High Court Judge by the name of Justice H. Mukhtar ruled that the Certified True Copy of the 1995 case merely showed that there was a “sentencing” of the said James Ibori but no “conviction” and therefore ruled in favour of ex-Governor Ibori!
Eventually this absurdity was put to bed on appeal, and the conviction and sentencing of a person named James Onanefe Ibori of Delta State on 28th September 1995 for the offence of Criminal Breach of Trust and Negligent Conduct was firmly established in fact and confirmed by law by virtue of the judgement of the Supreme Court in Agbi vs Ogbeh 2003. In that same ruling, the Supreme Court directed that the case be started afresh from the High Court to determine the single issue of the true identity of the ex-convict as the then governor of Delta State flatly denied that it was him i.e. “mistaken identity”!
Following the fresh trial, the Supreme Court confirmed both the High Court and Court of Appeal’s ruling that Agbi and Goodnews did not “sufficiently identify” the then Governor as the ex-convict and so it ended. However, in a separate parallel process to the Agbi case, Great Ogboru brought a case to the Delta State Election Tribunal on this same issue.
Great Ogboru argued that by virtue of the Provisions of S.182(1)(e) of the Nigeria’s 1999 constitution, Ibori was not qualified to contest the 2003 Delta State gubernatorial elections on the grounds of his (Ibori’s) conviction and sentence for the offence of Criminal Breach of Trust and Negligent Conduct on 28th September 1995 by a competent court in Bwari, FCT Abuja.
The main issue of dispute was whether or not James Onanefe Ibori, the then Governor of Delta State, was one and the same person that was convicted in 1995. Great Ogboru asserted that the two persons were one and the same. Ibori flatly denied being the person concerned in the said conviction.
The material and key evidence adduced at the Tribunal was deposed by sworn testimony with the aid of documentary evidence which were variously admitted as exhibits. Key witnesses were also cross-examined. We will review the individual testimony from both Ibori and Ogboru. Extensive quotes from the witnesses as recorded in the Tribunal’s record will be referenced in italicised quotation marks.
Sgt Mambo Odumu
The first witness, Sgt Mambo Odumu, was an Investigating Police Officer (IPO) attached to the Bwari Divisional Police Headquarters at the material time in question in 1995. As at April 2006 he was still with the Divisional Headquarters.
Sgt Odumu testified that he first knew Ibori as “Oga James” as, according to him, Ibori was then popularly known because he was “good to everyone”, “generous” and showed “appreciation” to “policemen on duty” and took time out to “discuss” i.e chat with the police officers. He later got to know his full names as James Onanefe Ibori and that he worked as a contractor involved in the Lower Usman Dam building project. His familiarity was borne by the fact he frequently met Ibori in the course of his (day or night time) patrolling duties with other police officers to their outpost attached to the Dam building project.
“Sometimes in the month of September 1995, I got to know the 1st respondent [Ibori]. By that time he was popularly known as Oga James as we got closer I know him as James Onanefe Ibori that was at lower Usman Dam at Abuja FCT where building construction was going on. James Onanefe lbori was a contractor at that time and we police men from Bwari police division we usually patrol to the lower Usman Dam and to also visit our police personnel at the lower Usman Dam. Since then [i.e. 1995] at any time we went for patrol we see him [ibori] we called him Oga James simply because he was so generous to every body, he was so good to every body. We used to talk to one another any time we went to lower Usman Dam or he comes to town.”
He further detailed his knowledge of, and familiarity with Ibori by describing personal and physical attributes of Ibori thus:
“James Onanefe Ibori is a man of about 6 feet tall, dark in complexion and whenever he opens his mouth you will see his lower mouth red” (i.e. inside bottom lip).
Sgt. Odumu’s crucial testimony came when he shed some light on surrounding situations and circumstances involved in the 1995 conviction of Ibori. Sgt. Odumu testified that following Ibori’s arrest and release on bail for the said offence he met Ibori in Bwari town and enquired of him about his case. According to Sgt. Odumu Ibori confirmed to him that he had indeed been arrested but that he had since been released on bail (pending investigation) with a condition to report back to Bwari police station at a later date.
“Some time in the month of September 1995, Mr. James Onanefe lbori the present governor of Delta state was arrested and taken to Bwari divisional police HQ FCT Abuja for offences of criminal breach of trust and negligent conduct. When the investigation was going on for his case he was released on bail.
I was still serving at Bwari police divisional HQ but as at the time he was released on bail I was not at the station, but I got to know that he was released because I saw him in Bwari town in September 1995. As somebody I know and I felt concerned I asked and he [ibori] told me that he was released on bail.”
Sgt Odumu stated that following the above encounter he did not see Ibori until the morning of the 28th of September 1995 in the Bwari Police station. On seeing Ibori Sgt Odumu said he enquired of Ibori whether he was attending the police station in compliance with his bail condition to which Ibori responded “yes”.
Following this encounter and in the course of his duties Sgt Odumu again met Ibori later that same day at about 2:00pm in the said Bwari court whilst he (Sgt Odumu) was prosecuting the case involving Shuaibu Anyebe as the Investigating Police Officer (IPO). Again he approached Ibori (before the commencement of the court proceedings) who replied “your people did not agree to settlement” and that that was why his case was being prosecuted to court.
“ASP Dauda asked me to take one Shualbu Anyebe to court because I investigated his case. When I took him to court on that same 28th September 1995. I took him along with his first information report (FIR). On reaching the court it was at about 2pm in the afternoon, I met James Onanefe lbori at the same Bwari court in Abuja. I still asked him so you are brought to court? And he said ‘yes your people did not agree settlement’. ‘my people’ mean my Superior officers.”
Sgt. Odumu further testified that following this encounter whilst in the said Bwari court he heard the case of Commissioner of Police vs James Onanefe being called and that he observed the subsequent proceedings (which were prosecuted by a Sunday Musa who applied for a summary trial) in which Ibori appeared, pleaded guilty to the charge as read to him and was subsequently convicted and sentenced by the presiding judge Alhaji Awal Yusuf. He further testified that Ibori paid the optional fine in lieu of a custodial sentence immediately.
Sgt. Odumu went on to testify that following the 1999 General elections and the ensuing reports and coverage in different media he recognised Ibori (who was announced as being elected Governor of Delta State in 1999) as being the same person that he knew previously and who was convicted in the 1995 Bwari court proceedings.
In the course of his testimony Sgt. Odumu corroborated his evidence as to the identity of the convicted James Onanefe of Delta State by identifying Ibori as being the person in a picture that had been validly admitted as a court exhibit (ExhP1).
Alhaji Suleiman Belgore
The second witness was Alhaji Suleiman Belgore, Deputy Chief Registrar in charge of Personnel at the High Court FCT Abuja through whom “The Investigation Report by Hon Justice Lawal Hassan Gumni the Chief judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja” was tendered as an Exhibit (P3). The substance of the report by the Abuja Chief Judge was to render the finding that the then Delta State Governor is the same James Onanefe Ibori of Delta State that was convicted in 1995 by the Bwari court.
The third witness was Boniface Onuoha who testified that between 1994 and 1996 he was an employee crane driver with a company he called “Spiebat Nigeria Ltd” during the period that the company was contracted to work on the Lower Usman Dam project in Abuja. He stated that in 1995 Ibori worked for a haulage sub-contractor company he called “Mack Plant” and that he regularly loaded building materials like jumbo bags of cement, roofing zinc, and iron e.t.c on to the back of Mack Plant-owned trailers on the orders of Ibori at the building site. Mr Onuoha further stated that, along with others, he knew and addressed Ibori as “Oga James”. He described Ibori as “black, tall” and has a “round face” and stated that he could recognise Ibori “any where” because he was in close quarters contact with Ibori “steadily” (i.e. regularly).
Specifically, Mr Onuoha testified that on a particular day in 1995 he loaded some materials on the request of Ibori and that the following day a security guard came to the site with a policeman to question him about the goods that he had loaded the day before. He stated that he confirmed that he had indeed loaded the materials in question at the behest of “Oga James” (Ibori) and recalled that it happened after his “breaktime”.
He was then invited to accompany them to the Bwari police station where he identified the trailer that he had loaded and made a formal written statement to an officer he named as “Patrick Ode”. After he had given his statement he was cleared to leave the station and was informed by the police that Ibori was being held in a cell within the police station.
“They asked me to who? And I said Oga James. The police man said that they need me at the police station Bwari. Then I go to the police at Bwari Abuja. So when I go there they showed (me) the trailer said is this the trailer I load and I said yes. They started to write my statement…”
In the course of his testimony Mr Onuoha corroborated his evidence as to the identity of the person who worked for Mack Plant at the material time and ordered him to load the goods in question on to the back of the trailer by identifying Ibori as being the person in a picture that had been validly admitted as a court exhibit (ExhP1) thus: “I see exhibit P1 it’s the picture of Oga James. I first saw him in 1994”.
Under robust cross-examination Mr Onuoha insisted that James Ibori worked for “Mack plant” and that the goods in question were the property of “Spiebat”.
In his own words:
“Oga James de work for Mackplant. I don’t know if speibat has way bill. I am only crane operator. I worked for 3 years there. Yes speibat has gate. But I did not walk around to see whether there is fence. Yes it is true every vehicle must pass through that gate. I don’t know if all materials coming into the company are accurately accounted for by an officer. The white man, Mr Wizzey, is the person whom I take orders to load any time he comes around because we respect him. Oga James anytime he comes he told us the number to load when he is around and he will stand there up to the time we finished.”
In response to a question as to whether James Ibori got in to the lorry that took the goods in question away he stated: “Only Oga James followed it.”
Alhaji Awal Yusuf
The fourth witness was Alhaji Awal Yusuf who was the judge that convicted and sentenced a James Onanefe Ibori of Delta state in the Bwari court in September 1995. Alhaji Yusuf testified that on 28th of September 1995 he was scheduled to preside over 16 civil matters and two criminal trials. But that at 3:00pm when he was about to close and leave for the day the police brought six new First Information Reports (FIRs) one of which included Commissioner of Police vs James Onanefe Ibori which was prosecuted by a Cpl. Sunday Musa, and the Investigating Police Officer (IPO) was one Haruna Damaye who is now late. He said that the FIRs were read to the respective accused persons and that five of them including Ibori pleaded guilty and following Sunday Musa’s application for a summary trial he convicted and sentenced Ibori for Criminal Breach of Trust and Negligent Conduct.
He also confirmed that a Ibrahim Yau was the court clerk at the time. He recalled that Ibori paid the optional fine immediately. He also recalled the case involving Shuaibu Anyebe and that the IPO of that case was a Mambo Odumu and that a woman police officer “Helen” was the IPO in the Monica Innocent case. He also stated that he remembered the Ibori he convicted in 1995 as “young and handsome”.
He further testified that an (ASP) Dauda (who is also now late) tried to withdraw the case soon after he had retired to his chambers. He said he told ASP Dauda that as judge he was “functus officio” i.e that his powers as judge in a case ceased once conviction had taken place.
In his own words:
“Not quite 20 minutes after those convictions one ASP Dauda who was then the DCO of police station Bwari came to meet me in my chambers requesting to withdraw the FIR against James Onanefe Ibori, I told him that a judge is functus officio after conviction. There is nothing I can do. The option is for him to appeal to the High court of Justice.”
Alhaji Yusuf stated that he did not see Ibori again until 23rd January 2003 at the instance of Barrister Bala Ngilari. Barrister Ngilari had been to see him in his chambers on the 21st of January 2003 and claimed to have been sent by Major General Sambo (rtd) who was Director of Military Intelligence under the regime of the late General Abacha. Barrister Ngilari showed him records of the proceedings in which James Onanefe Ibori was convicted in 1995. Alhaji confirmed that he could recall the case and remembers presiding over it. Barrister Ngilari then told Alhaji Yusuf that the James Onanefe Ibori in the said proceedings was the present Governor of Delta State (i.e Ibori) and that Ibori was “desperate” to meet with Alhaji Yusuf. An appointment was agreed for 23rd January 2003.
Alhaji Yusuf continued that on the appointed day he accompanied Barrister Ngilari to Delta State Government house in Asokoro, in Abuja where they met the Attorney-General (AG) of Delta State Professor Utuama (the current Delta State Deputy Governor) and discussed the said conviction of Ibori. Alhaji Yusuf said he confirmed to the AG that he could recognise Ibori if he saw him again and that five minutes later Ibori entered the room and was introduced to him. All four of them then discussed at length on whether or not the 1995 conviction of Ibori could be reversed. Alhaji Yusuf was then asked to go to an adjoining room whilst the remaining three continued discussing. After their discussion Ibori came into the adjoining room and told the judge:
“Judge the issue of conviction is trying to stop me from contesting, please assist me and I would pay you back in cash of N10 million in any denomination”.
Alhaji Yusuf said he responded to this entreaty by telling Ibori to direct the AG and Barrister Ngilari to see him. When they met he advised them to file a suit in the Bwari court to seek an identification parade to determine who the real James Onanefe Ibori is that was convicted in 1995. Accordingly this suit was filed by Ibori but was later aborted!
Alhaji Yusuf corroborated his evidence as to the identity of the person who he convicted and sentenced in 1995 and subsequently met in Delta State Government house in Asokoro, Abuja by identifying Ibori as being the person in a picture that had been validly admitted as a court exhibit (ExhP1), saying:
“The governor of Delta State is the one on the left hand side, this is the man I convicted on 28th of September 1995. I saw him and met him and I convicted him. This is also the man I had a meeting with on 23rd January 2003 at the Delta State House. By my right is Professor Utuama who was also present on this day at the meeting I had with the governor in January 2003 together with Bala Ngilari”.
Alhaji Yusuf was rigourously cross-examined on the discrepancies of case record numbers involving Shuaibu Anyebe and James Onanefe Ibori having the same case number of CR81/95 he explained that the record number had been tampered with and altered from “81” to “87” and also reported that pages “884 -885” of the Criminal Record Book of 1995 had been torn out and removed. He also stated that the duplicate copy issued for fines for Set 1995 was also missing. He stated that the illegal removal and alteration of the court’s records “must be the work of hidden crooks in the registry”.
James Ibori and then Chef Justice of Nigeria, Alfa Belgore