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19 March 2012
Since the 1999 Constitution came into effect, few people have been convicted on charges of political corruption or financial misconduct in Nigeria. This is not because Nigeria has no white collar crime, but rather because the level and efficacy of enforcement leave a great deal to be desired. Only one person has been convicted of a crime following a trial, while a few convictions have followed upon guilty pleas (as the product of plea arrangements). These convictions have resulted in extremely light sentences. One former state governor received the option of a six-month prison sentence or a fine of approximately $25,000 (he opted for the fine and paid it on the spot); a former bank chief executive, convicted (on a plea arrangement) of defrauding the bank of several million dollars, served a six-month prison sentence in a private hospital and was ordered to forfeit assets valued in excess of $1.3 billion. The trials of other bank officials charged at the same time continue to plod through the Nigerian judicial system some four years later.
The most recent such conviction is that of James Ibori, former governor of Delta State, by an English court in February. His conviction was the culmination of a series of fraud and money-laundering charges brought against him in the United Kingdom. Ibori's wife, mistress, sister and UK solicitor were all convicted in 2010 and 2011 and are presently serving prison terms ranging from five to seven years for their involvement in his crimes.
While the UK authorities were prosecuting Ibori and his accomplices, the Nigerian authorities appeared to have been doing very little. The little that was attempted ended in failure. After Ibori was charged with fraud and money laundering by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), its then-chairman was dismissed by the late President Umaru Yar'Adua and replaced by a retired police officer who was herself dismissed by current President Jonathan Goodluck and replaced by the EFCC's first director of operations (who had been forced out of the EFCC when its first chairman was dismissed).
The charges brought against Ibori, which were the catalyst for the removal of the EFCC's first chairman, were eventually dismissed on a technical objection. The EFCC, under new leadership, appeared to have been content with the decision and made no great effort to have it overturned on appeal (a position that has since changed with the appointment of its third chairman). For reasons that are still unclear, the EFCC's stance towards Ibori changed and an effort was later made to take him into custody. How serious this attempt was is open to question. Ibori knew in advance of the impending arrest and the officers sent to arrest him were thwarted by what was, in effect, his private army. He then disappeared from Nigeria, re-emerging in Dubai. There he was arrested on a UK warrant and later extradited to the United Kingdom, where he has now been convicted on the money-laundering and fraud charges. His sentencing is scheduled to take place on April 16 2012.
Ibori's case is just one of a number of instances in which fraud committed in Africa has resulted in convictions outside Africa. These instances add justification to the perception that in Nigeria (as in a number of other African countries), the authorities are – for whatever reason – content to leave fraud and corruption prosecution to other jurisdictions. However, the failure of some African authorities to take action is not always a result of negative motives. The authorities may simply lack the resources needed to proceed against the perpetrators of fraud.
For further information on this topic please contact Babajide Oladipo Ogundipe at Sofunde Osakwe Ogundipe & Belgore by telephone (+234 1 462 2502), fax (+234 1 462 2501 ) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org ).
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