Only days after the sentencing of former Delta state governor, James Ibori, to 13 years in prison on charges of fraud and money laundering, Nigerians at home and abroad, once elated by the news, are now angrily opposing the planned repatriation of the $250 million in stolen funds to the Nigeria.
According to reports, Nigerians are wary of having the funds return to Delta state where Emmanuel Uduaghan, Mr. Ibori’s cousin, is governor of the state.
In a statement, the UK-based Anioma Diaspora, a Nigerian socio-cultural and good governance campaign group said returning Ibori’s loot to Delta state would prove “senseless and counter-productive” as the current leader of the state is related to the man convicted of defrauding it of millions.
“The money would be re-stolen from the poor people of Delta State by the same corrupt officials that Ibori brought in to succeed him or it will be in safe-keeping to be handed over to Ibori by his cousin the moment he walks out of the UK prison”.
Spokesman for Anioma Diaspora, Mr. Clement Ofodu, expressed distrust in the current government, claiming the funds will not be used for the benefit of the people of Delta state.
During his eight-year term as governor of the oil-rich region, James Ibori, aided by some close family members, had siphoned millions of dollars in public funds to foreign accounts.
In 2009, Ibori proved elusive when an Asaba court cleared and acquitted him of the 170 charges filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
However, he was later slammed with charges of fraud and money laundering by the London court and was convicted and sentenced earlier this week.
Delivering the judgement, Judge Pitts described Ibori’s crimes as “unquantifiable” and one of the most severe cases of fraud to have come across his courtroom.
International body, the Human Rights Watch, celebrated the ruling as a “landmark” in global justice and called it a warning to other corrupt leaders.
According to the organisation, funds that should have been put toward the improvement of the oil-rich, but impoverished town were squandered.
The Delta State government, which during Ibori’s 2009 trial in Nigeria had shocked the nation by issuing a statement saying that no money was missing from its treasury, has so far refused to comment on Ibori’s guilty plea, conviction and sentencing at the Southwark Crown Court in London.
Delta State Commissioner for Information, Mr Chike Ogeah, argued that “Ibori is a private citizen; Delta State Government cannot have an official position on a purely private matter”.
British judicial officials have said confiscation proceedings are underway and further promised to ensure the stolen assets are returned to Delta State.
One of the investigators, Detective Inspector Paul Whitmore, said it was estimated that Ibori stole around $250 million from Delta State.
“The sum can only be described as huge; vast sums of money which were used to fund his lavish lifestyle; the real harm in this case is the potential loss to people in some of the poorest regions in the world,” he said.
Ibori is expected to serve out his sentence in Wandsworth Prison, a correction facility that is home to 1,665 prisoners.