According to The Guardian, the EFCC is saying Delta State must “prove” ownership of the $15million with which former Governor James Ibori allegedly attempted to bribe former EFCC Chairman Nuhu Ribadu. Delta State, on its part, has petitioned the Federal High Court in Abuja laying claim to the money and praying the court to order its return to the State. According to the report, Attorney General Rotimi Jacob (who admitted not having seen Delta State’s petition) also says that position is that the burden is on Delta State to prove ownership of the money.
Fair disclosure: I am from Delta State. Nevertheless, my argument is based on my sense of what is reasonable and logical with respect to the matter at hand rather than a bias in favor of my state as against the federation. Indeed, this should be a pretty straightforward matter. As I will argue in this article, the money in question belongs to the people of Delta State; therefore, the reasonable and logical thing to do is to give it back to them. Consider the following.
Nuhu Ribadu states that Ibori attempted to bribe him with the sum of US$15million and that he (Ribadu) accepted the money and then deposited it with the Central Bank. There is no dispute that Ribadu actually deposited the money. The money is still physically at the Central Bank and there are people (like EFCC Director of Operation Ibrahim Lamorde and CBN staff James Garba) who have attested to witnessing at least aspects of the movement of the money from Andy Uba’s residence (according to the report; ostensibly a stop-point in the movement of the money from Ibori to Ribadu) to the Central Bank.
There is no reasonable or logical motive for Ribadu, Lamorde, Garba, and potentially many others to make up this story. Such a conspiracy would be just basically impossible to sustain over time. It is more likely that Ibori in fact attempted to bribe Ribadu with the $15million – a pattern which would be consistent with the finding of the Crown Court which eventually convicted Ibori of money laundering and assorted crimes. In short, it is reasonable to conclude, given the evidence, that Ribadu’s testimony in this matter is truthful and that Ibori’s is not – that is, that Ibori indeed attempted to bribe Ribadu with the $15million in question.
Next question: who owns the money? Did Ibori use his personal funds or did he draw (read: steal) the money from the Delta State treasury? The reasonable default position to take is that answer is the latter. Ibori faced numerous corruption allegations from the EFCC (from which he orchestrated a judicial get-away) and was eventually convicted of corruption crimes in the UK. It is altogether reasonable to presume that Ibori stole the $15million from the people of Delta State, and it is reasonable therefore, to move for the return the money to the people of Delta State. Ibori may choose at some point in the future to, through the courts, contest this presumption if he believes that the money is in fact his. However that would be problematic for him because that course of action would require him to first admit that he indeed attempted to bribe Ribadu with the money, opening up a can of worms for himself (not the least of which would be to have added perjury charges to the array of charges already pending against him). Let us just say Ibori is not going to pursue such a course of action – at least not unless he has completely lost his mind.
That Ibori very likely lied about attempting to bribe Ribadu with the $15million should not mean the people of Delta State should have to forfeit funds that are rightwise theirs. In short, let us be unequivocal about this: Ibori embezzled money from the people of Delta state and then lied about his attempt to bribe Ribadu with part of it. The rightful owner of the money remains the impoverished people of Delta State. To deny that the money belong to these people and to attempt to deprive them of the money is to extend the abuse they suffered under Ibori’s regime and which they continue to suffer today. We should not further victimize Deltans by depriving them of funds that should rightfully go towards developing their state.
The very existence of the exhibit (the cash in CBN custody), Ribadu's testimony as to the origin of such exhibit, and the absence of a motive for Ribadu (and many others) to concoct an elaborate conspiracy against Ibori are, taken together, sufficient prima facie evidence in favor of concluding that the money belongs to the people of Delta State, and of returning the money to them. This is, in fact, the only reasonable and logical conclusion available to us.