By Tony Eluemunor.
The former Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Chairman, Nuhu Ribadu, has travelled the world just to dress himself in borrowed and sanctimonious plumes; that he rejected a $15m bribe from Chief James Onanefe Ibori. Yet, former President Olusegun Obasanjo has demolished Ribadu’s allegation by offering a new vista of looking at Ribadu’s claims. Obasanjo said in his own book, “My Watch” (volume two) that he harassed Ibori to refund some money to Delta State and that even before the money came, he had opened an account at the CBN to warehouse the funds. Then, when the money was given to Ribadu, he asked Ribadu to treat it either as bribe or restitution – “any way” he liked. So, Obasanjo even claimed to have been aware of the money before it went to Ribadu.
Who would have bribed Ribadu by first telling Obasanjo about it? And which Governor would have incriminated himself by making restitution to his state by returning stolen funds to Obasanjo? When did Obasanjo become a restitution agent for Nigeria? Which law backed the actions he claimed to have taken? All these questions scream that Aso Rock cooked up the story and Ribadu played along; and the funds came from the Third Term slush fund - to blackmail Ibori!
What is obvious here is that the $15m bribe allegation is a result of high stakes treachery if Obasanjo’s story is interposed against statements from EFCC operatives. It was a plot from hell. Or why should there be several versions of one single event? That would only happen if some or all the parties involved are lying. Now, may we look at some of the statements from Ribadu himself, Ibrahim Lamorde, James Garba, a central Bank of Nigeria staff seconded to EFCC, Senator Andy Uba and EFCC’s lawyer, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN). Everyone contradicted every other person’s claims.
Ribadu said: “Before the end of (Ibori’s) term, we met at one of his friend’s house in Abuja (notice that Uba was now more of a friend to Ibori than Ribadu!). I had brought several of my colleagues from the EFCC. They witnessed Ibori handing over to me a bag containing $15m in cash, as a pay-off which I pretended to treat as restitution for the monies he stole from his state. (Ribadu’s book: “My Story”, page 124)” Yes, restitution and NOT BRIBE; this vindicates Obasanjo’s claim and points to his role in the allegation which looks like a scam) But from Wale Adebanwi's “A Paradise of Maggots” comes this: “Ribadu claimed that Ibori brought along a bribe of $15m in cash, ‘in two bags’, “Ribadu then called Lamorde, Ibrahim Magu and five other officers through the mobile phone to come to Uba’s house to pick up the bribe. Lamorde and his team took the two bags containing the money and drove straight to the CBN.” Two books, two versions of the EFCC operatives present when the alleged bribery was given, and two versions of the number of bags, and as we shall see when we consider other police statements, two versions of the date the alleged bribe (or restitution) was given and when it left Uba’s house for the CBN.
Ribadu’s Abuja statement of 12th December 2007: “Sometime within the month of April 2007 Mr. James Ibori informed me that he had $15m for us (the EFCC) to collect. He said that it can be collected at Dr. Andy Uba’s residence , Aso Villa, Abuja. I therefore requested the Director of Operations of EFCC Mr. Lamorde to first arrange in the CBN for safe keeping of the money and proceed inform (sic) his officer to receive the money.
The money was collected in my presence at Dr. Andy Uba’s house on the 26/4/07 by Lamorde and his officers and deposited in the CBN Abuja branch on the same day”.
Yet, in the London statement of August 26, 2009, Ribadu claimed: “On that day...my staff on that occasion would have included EFCC Head of Operations, Ibrahim Lamorde and EFCC Officer James Garba, (now it is no longer the seven officers mentioned in the book as quoted above but just two operatives) James (Ibori) was there and his servant or driver brought out the money from the house, in two (2) massive sacks containing U.S. $100 dollar bills. The bribe was made on 26th April 2007”. In his first statement, he had said that the money was for EFCC and not himself.
First on date, Ribadu’s 2007 Police statement claimed the date was 25/4/07 but this changed by a day in the London version.
Yet on who handed out the alleged bribe money to the EFCC, and those present at the occasion, it was contradictions galore as Lamorde further contradicted Ribadu saying that on “25th April” Ribadu told him that “there was the sum of $15 million (USD) in cash given to him and the Commission by James Ibori” (so the money was for EFCC and not Ribadu). Garba supported this version, saying that the money was there in Uba’s house on the 25th April 2007, and he was directed by Lamorde to collect the sum and deposit at the CBN, so he wrote an authorising letter which Lamorde signed - for Garba to deposit the money that same 25th April 2007. Garba said: “but I could not make the deposit that day because it was already late to do so”. Ibrahim Lamorde also contradicting Ribadu, maintained that the money was already in Uba’s residence on 25/4/07 and Ribadu “directed that I should make arrangement to collect it. So on 26 -04-07, myself and Mr. James Garba, (just two operatives, not seven as Ribadu claimed, and obviously excluding Ibrahim Magu) accompanied by Police escort proceeded to Mr. Uba’s residence. We collected the money”. So, from Lamorde’s statement, Ribadu and Ibori were not there. They just collected the money from Andy Uba!
About Ibori’s presence in Uba’s house when EFCC collected the alleged bribery, Garba contradicted Ribadu; “In the compound, I saw Mr. Andy Uba and he directed some men, to carry a brownish long bag, very heavy, into the booth of the Director’s (Lamorde) car. This happened after the Director and Uba had exchanged greetings on our arrival to Uba’s house”. So Andy Uba directed the operations, said Garba!
According to Garba, the Ibori who was allegedly present in Ribadu’s London statement was absent, and Ibori’s driver or servant who allegedly brought out the money from Ibori’s car curiously turned into “some men (not one) to carry the long heavy bag” into Lamorde’s car. Lamorde and Garba agreed that neither Ibori nor Ribadu was there.
Ribadu claimed in his London statement that he never questioned Ibori over the alleged bribery, because he enjoyed immunity until he left office on May 29, 2007. If so, why didn’t EFCC raise that question when an investigation team questioned Ibori on 4th July 2007 or even at Ibori’s arrest? Till this very moment, EFCC never questioned Ibori about any alleged bribe.
EFCC’s lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) even contradicted himself: years after he had charged Ibori in Federal High Court, Kaduna, that EFCC collected the alleged bribe from Andy Uba’s house, he changed the story in the Abuja suit in an Abuja High Court that determined that the money should be permanently deposited at the CBN; he said the money came from unknown agents of Ibori. And if the EFCC was so sure that it collected the money from Ibori, why did it institute the suit to determine who should keep the money? So, EFCC’s deviousness started all the controversy. If EFCC had said that the money came from Delta state’s former Governor, should there be any controversy before the money should rightly revert to the state?
Who can explain why a Ribadu would have been given an advanced notice of a bribe and he would not use any devise, even if ordinary mobile phone, to record it. Yet, on page 103 of his “My Story; My Vision”, Ribadu claimed a woman attempted to bribe him “during a meeting in a private house and the conversation was recorded without her knowledge”. That was in 2003, so why did he not repeat the procedure in 2007? Why is Ribadu now claiming that Ibori was present at Uba’s house that day? It is because he not only failed to obtain Uba’s statement on the bribe allegation but any right-thinking person knows that in law it is mere hear-say for a Ribadu to claim that an Uba gave him (Ribadu) an alleged bribe which he told him came from an Ibori and he would rush to court- where hear-say is never a credible testimony. So he was now struggling to drag Ibori into the scene.
Lastly, at Protea Hotel, Ikeja Lagos, Ribadu, as Action Congress of Nigeria’s presidential candidate for the 2011 election, was asked about the bribe allegation. Mr. Ikechukwu Amaechi reported in a national newspaper that Ribadu said there was no bribery, and challenged Ribadu to react if he had been lied against. The challenge still stands. For once, the loquacious Ribadu and his army of defenders lost their voices. Several other journalists, including Steve Nwosu of the SUN and Tunde Abdulrahman then of THISDAY were there.
The mantra that the money was deposited at the CBN is fallacious if it was intended as proof of bribery! It is “irrelevant appeal”. My dictionary says that “Irrelevant appeals attempt to sway the listener with information that, though persuasive, is irrelevant to the matter at hand”. The money involved could be deposited at the CBN twenty times over but such would not advance our knowledge about the fund’s sources.
Luckily, a lawyer, Mr. Festus Keyamo could not stomach the imponderables contained in Ribadu’s tall devilish tales and he went to court to make certain demands; one of which was that the man who was mentioned in several statements as the actual person who handed out the alleged bribe (Uba) must be asked to state on record (police statement) who gave him the money and what the money was meant for. That, simply put, is called “investigation”. Uba himself would later issue a press statement saying Ibori handed out the money in his presence and house but he remains ignorant of the reason for that transaction. Another contradiction please, if we remember that Lamorde and Garba had said Ibori was not there.
Specifically on the bribe allegation at the Asaba Court, comes this from Justice Awokulehin’s ruling: “Count 66 Charges the 1st Accused/Applicant with making a cash payment of S15,000,000 (Fifteen million Dollars) to the officials of the EFCC in order to influence their investigations and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 15(2)(b) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004.
The evidence in respect of this charge are the witness statements of NUHU RIBADU, IBRAHIM LAMORDE and JAMES GARUBA. Their statements are to the effect that the money was collected from one DR. ANDY UBA in his residence and not from the Accused/Applicant. It is shocking that there is no witness statement from the said DR. ANDY UBA who can say whether or not the 1st Accused gave him money and the purpose for which the money was given and to whom he delivered the money.
Section 15 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004 under which the charge is brought provides as follows:
“15(1) without prejudice to the penalties provided for illicit traffic in narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances, the laundering of drug money or the proceeds of a crime or an illicit act, a person who;
(d) makes or accepts cash payments exceeding the amount authorized under this Act,
(e) fails to report an intentional transfer of funds or securities required to be reported under
this Act, or
(f) being a director or employee of a financial institution contravenes the provision of
Sections 2,3,4,5,6,7,8 or 10 of this Act, Commits an offence under this Act. (So, sections d, e and f concerns the banks only and not bribery).
2. A person who commits an offence under paragraph (d)-(f) where the offender
(1) is an individual, a fine of not less than N250, 000.00 or more than one million Naira or a term of imprisonment of not less than 2 years or more than three years or to both imprisonment and fine.
(ii) is a financial institution or anybody corporate to a fine of not less that N250,000,00. (The two paragraphs above also concern the banks and banks alone, not bribery)
So, in Kaduna and Asaba courts, section 15 of the EFCC Act that Ibori was said to have contravened did not deal with an accused attempting to bribe an EFCC official. Please read that section 15 again. Ignorant journalist, who never read the ruling or could not understand it, did not know this. From the Asaba court came this ruling: “There is no correlation between the evidence in the proof in respect of this Count and the essential ingredient of the offence charged (because the section of the EFCC Act applied to the banks and not bribery) that the Proof of Evidence has failed to disclose any prima facie case against the 1st Accused/Applicant to justify his being put on trial in respect of this charge. Accordingly, I hereby quash Count 66 of the Further Amended Charges”.
Nobody has faulted that judgment on points of law. Nobody has even discussed it!
On where the money could have come from, Nasir-el Rufai wrote in “Accidental Public Servant” (page 335 “President (Obasanjo’s) third term team spent a lot of time raising huge amounts of money – more than $300m by Nuhu Ribadu’s informed estimate. And on page339, El-Rufai, Ribadu’s close friend added: “ Nuhu directed the financial intelligence of EFCC to track cash movements, mostly from the state’s into Abuja, which accounts, most of the money ended up in and so forth. Most of the money was allegedly going to companies and bank accounts controlled by Andy Uba”. El-Rufai continued on the next page: “Most of the money came from Governors friendly to Obasanjo but some also came from Lagos-based businessmen”. On page 349 El-Rufai hit the nail on the head: “it was from Andy Uba’s house that payments emanated from” when the bribery proper started. A well-known Abuja Minister once said he personally ferried N75 million apiece to national legislators representing Abuja.
Was there really such a slush fund so vast that money from it could have bribed most members of the national legislature? Former Senate President, Adolphus Wabara said in November 2014 “The Congress Watch”, page 13: I know that on Thursday the 16th May 2006, by 1.30am the sum of N250m was brought and I refused the money. So mine was not even N50m. In fact, it was N250m with a promise, if everything worked out, they would bring more to me”.
So it is no surprise that the money came from Uba’s house, the Third Term purser, according to El-Rufai’s book. This same Uba’s house was where the $15m that went to EFCC emanated from. Obasanjo said he had already opened a CBN account for the money that would be claimed to have come from Ibori. Now, it should be obvious that this allegation was a cooked up story from the very top; a dirty top and Ribadu himself told Lagos journalists that Ibori did not bribe him.
(Eluemunor is Ibori’s Media Assistant)