SaharaReporters has learnt from several authoritative sources that Nigeria's ruler, Goodluck Jonathan, is seeking a deal with the UK and United Arab Emirates (UAE) to allow former Governor James Ibori of Delta State to return to Nigeria.
A source within the Jonathan administration familiar with the details of the deal said that Mr. Jonathan is “trying to persuade Britain and Dubai that to let Chief Ibori come back to Nigeria for a trial that would be a soft landing.”
Mr. Ibori, who is currently being held in Dubai, has lost his legal battles to avoid extradition to the UK where prosecutors have prepared a case file detailing his extensive money laundering activities during the eight years he ran Delta State. Several of Mr. Ibori’s associates, including his wife, Theresa Nkoyo Ibori, mistress Udoamaka Okoronkwo (nee Onuigbo), sister, Christine Ibori-Ebie, and his London-based lawyer, Bhadresh Gohil, have been convicted by a Southwark Crown Court on money laundering charges. Most of them are serving five-year jail terms.
A high level diplomatic source told Saharareporters that the delay in repatriating Mr. Ibori to London was as a result of the highly secretive negotiations that Mr. Jonathan initiated with the government of Britain to facilitate the embattled former governor’s return to Nigeria.
“President Jonathan is assuring Britain that James Ibori will be tried by a Nigerian court, but the deal is to offer Chief Ibori the same kind of trial given to Mrs. Cecilia Ibru,” said a source, a member of Mr. Jonathan’s inner circles.
SaharaReporters sources said Jonathan not only bought the plan to have Ibori face trial in Nigeria but is also using all kinds of inducements to secure British cooperation. “He’s offering more concessions to UK oil interests in Nigeria to ensure that his proposal on Ibori is endorsed,” said a source.
Once the UK gives its assent, the proposal would then be sent to the monarchy in the UAE who will send Ibori back to Nigeria – to face another kangaroo trial.
A source in the UK told Saharareporters earlier today: “We are appalled that the Nigerian government is pursuing a course of action calculated to enable Mr. Ibori to evade proper prosecution,” adding that “the current move calls into grave question the Nigerian government’s commitment to fighting financial crimes.”
A legal expert in the UK said the chances were “extremely good that Ibori would be found guilty in the UK, but I can’t say the same would be true if he’s tried in Nigeria.”
Several sources familiar with Jonathan’s effort to broker a highly secretive deal in Ibori’s favor disclosed that the current governor of Delta state, Emmanuel Uduaghan, was responsible for forcing Jonathan to embrace the proposal. Mr. Uduaghan, who is Ibori’s maternal first cousin, was handpicked by Ibori to succeed him.
One source said that Governor Uduaghan insisted that his total support for Jonathan's presidential campaign would be predicated on Mr. Jonathan using his executive muscle to ensure Ibori’s return to Nigeria instead of his extradition to the UK.
Mr. Uduaghan, a medical doctor, is also indicted in EFCC reports. His name also featured in testimony at the Southwark Crown Court as a principal facilitator of many of Mr. Ibori’s money laundering schemes. As reported earlier by Saharareporters, Mr. Uduaghan, who served as secretary to the government during Ibori’s tenure, played a key role in Ibori’s widespread looting of Delta State funds.
Two sources told Saharareporters that Mr. Uduaghan warned Jonathan that Niger Delta governors would neither forgive him nor campaign wholeheartedly for him unless he midwifes a deal to bring Mr. Ibori back to Nigeria. “President Jonathan is so desperate to carry the south-south that he was willing to do anything in order to avoid the risk of losing the region,” said a source.
Two years ago, Mr. Ibori was tried on 170 counts of money laundering, but was discharged and acquitted by Justice Marcellus Awokulehin, a corrupt judge handpicked by Ibori to preside over the case at the Federal High Court in Asaba, capital of Delta State. Saharareporters reported that Mr. Awokulehin received $5 million to clear the former governor of the corruption charges.