Pioneer chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, returned yesterday to the Southwark Crown Court, London where he was crossexamined by lawyers for former governor James Ibori of Delta State.
Ribadu also expressed the belief that Ibori was receiving police undue protection in the era of former Inspector- General, Mike Okiro, as he cited the removal of his (Ribadu’s) car and bodyguards by the police as signs of bias against him.
At his first appearance at the weekend to testify in a confiscation hearing over assets accumulated by Ibori with his loot, Ribadu told the court that the former governor, who is currently serving a 13-year jail sentence in the United Kingdom, had stolen as much as $500 million during his eight years in office.
At yesterday’s proceeding, Ibori’s lawyer, Ivan Krolick, questioned the former EFCC boss on his testimony on Friday regarding $15 million bribe that the jailed governor had offered him.
During cross-examination, Ribadu provided a more detailed account of the bribe which, in his testimony, was delivered to him in cash at the Abuja home of Andy Uba, a former domestic aide to President Olusegun Obasanjo. The former EFCC boss had also stated that he took possession of the cash and immediately deposited it at the Central Bank of Nigeria.
He told the court that he wanted the CBN to count and hold the cash for the “people of Delta State”, adding, “I was very determined to return it.” Krolick told the court that the bribe saga was “a plot hatched by Ribadu”.
He insisted that “Ibori was not at the meeting at Uba’s house, and no bribe was given by him (Ibori); he is in no way connected with this.”
A Nigerian legal analyst who watched the proceedings told SaharaReporters that the defence lawyer’s denial was “extremely weak and unconvincing,” adding that Ribadu’s account was corroborated by other EFCC operatives.
“In addition, how could Ibori deny providing the funds when the physical cash is sitting at the Central Bank of Nigeria? Nuhu Ribadu’s evidence was compelling,” the lawyer observed.
Ribadu told the court that the EFCC under his control was extremely busy with more than 100 investigations on corrupt officials in Nigeria.
He added that Ibori was both clever and determined not to get caught, recalling that as he and his team of investigators closed in on Ibori’s corrupt activities, the former governor made several overtures to befriend him. He testified that the former Delta governor would telephone him “as much as 20 times a day; he was very persistent.”
He further testified that Ibori became desperate as he feared that the investigation would make him “lose the governorship and the money”.
Ribadu recounted that Ibori did not like EFCC investigators visiting his office and asking questions. In a telephone conversation, the ex-governor reportedly told the EFCC boss, “Stop it, stop it. Take the money and stop these investigations. I can give you more.”
Ribadu told the court that he played along with Ibori because he wanted to reclaim the bribe money for the people of Delta State. He added that he would have liked to catch the former governor in the act of handing him the cash, but he enjoyed immunity from prosecution as a result of his office.
The former EFCC chief told the court that he could not even question the ex-governor about the source of the bribe, adding that tracing its origins was an arduous task because of the huge number of banks in Nigeria.
Ribadu stated that the then governor offered to deliver the money at his home, an option he reject because he did not agree to deliver the cash to his office. In the end, according to Ribadu’s account, it was agreed to meet at Uba’s walled and gated “compound”.
He said the eventual meeting took place in the daytime on September 25, 2007, shortly after the former governor had lost his immunity from prosecution. Ribadu narrated how he met Ibori in a private room in Uba’s house, with only the former governor, his associates, and Ribadu sat.
According to him, Ibori handed him the money after about 15 minutesm adding that the cash was contained in dark-coloured cases which Ibori opened to show the then EFCC chairman, before instructing his men to hand it over to Ribadu’s men who were waiting outside.
Ribadu told a riveted court that the money was immediately taken to the CBN and counted. He added that the CBN issued a receipt dated September 26, 2007 for $15 million.
It would be recalled that the $15 million is still the subject of ongoing litigation between the Federal Government and Delta State. A Nigerian high court judge deferred a ruling on the ownership of the funds till a later date.
The Crown prosecutors closed the confiscation hearing yesterday by reading out the contents of an email exchange between Ibori and his UK lawyer the day before the bribe was delivered by the former governor. Ibori’s email read, “Just had a chat with my insider. Should [serve] as restitution…I can walk away, without a trace…”
Ribadu told the court that, shortly after the drama with Ibori, he was relieved of his EFCC post and ordered to attend a course at the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies at Kuru, Jos. He narrated to the court that the “despicable Okiro took over as the head of police as the Inspector General of Police”.
He told the court that Okiro ordered the removal of his car and bodyguard, leaving him exposed. He added that he knew he was being watched and followed all the time. In addition, he told the court that two attempts were made to assassinate him and his briefcase was stolen in “sinister” circumstances.