Report by Tony Eluemunor
The Oghara Development Union, (ODU) Lagos Branch, has called on the Federal Government to insist that every single penny that has been forfeited by Chief James Onanefe Ibori’s associates in the London trial, should be returned to Nigeria. Ibori is from Oghara town in the Ethiope West Local Government Area of Delta State.
The union said in a statement signed by Sunday Agbofodoh, General Secretary: “The Oghara Development Union stands squarely with Chief Ibori in maintaining his innocence, and so without conceding that Ibori was guilty as charged, and specifying that the forfeited houses were not bought with illicit funds, we nevertheless call on Nigeria to insist that the full worth of the three buildings seized through a court order, be repatriated to Nigeria.
Reacting to a story that broke online Tuesday March 9, that Nigeria and Britain signed an “MOU on the £4.2 million” forfeited by the three women associates of the Ibori London case, the union said as the United Kingdom claimed to be acting without ulterior motives on Nigeria’s behalf, that all the monies forfeited should be returned to Nigeria. The union said it has followed the case diligently and knows that the sum the women forfeited was £6.2 million and not £4.2 million. It said Nigeria should oppose UK’s hypocrisy and insist that the entire sum be returned to Nigeria, or UK would have been engaged in witch-hunting Ibori for profit, by withholding Two Million Pounds Sterling. Nigeria should also demand for the interest on the £6.2 million since 2012 because the money would not have sat idly in the bank without attracting interest.
The ODU said that all assets linked to Ibori were purchased using funds lawfully and properly obtained and some were bought before Ibori became Governor. Ibori’s businesses and the monies that accrued to them were not hidden from the London and Nigerian "persecutors". The London Police filed in court a paper which showed that one of Ibori’s companies, Mer Engineering, was earning over $7 million annually.
The forfeited London house linked to the First Lady of Delta state when Ibori was Governor, the Hampstead property, is owned by a family trust. The property was purchased by the company, MER Engineering, which shareholding was held by his family trust. MER had obtained facility loan from NNB, a Nigerian bank. The value of this property at the time of its purchase was £2.1 million, which was covered by the NNB facility of well over £3 million meant for working capital and financing of assets.
The second property belonged to Miss Udoamaka Okoronkwo, and was purchased for £249, 000 through mortgage. Miss Udoamaka is a successful business woman as can be seen from the facility letter dated 19 December 2005 from a bank in favour of her company, Sagicon Nig, Ltd for N121 million (£1.5 million).
The third property, very modest, belonged to Ibori’s sister, a U.K resident, which she purchased for £140, 000. Her husband is a former Federal Permanent Secretary.
The ODU said: “As a court ordered that the buildings be forfeited, however unjustly, all the monies realised MUST return to Nigeria. It is on record that Ibori was a successful businessman before he became a Governor in May 1999, involved in oil logistics (Upstream) and trading (Downstream). One of his companies, MER Engineering (Nig Ltd), was established in 1992, seven years before he became Governor. He was publisher of a national newspaper called “Diet”, now called “Daily Independent”.
Also Ibori had a consultancy job with the Federal Government, with a tripartite agreement between him, the FG and the law firm Washington Christian of USA from which he earned between US$ 3 million to US$ 5 million annually, after successfully reaching the specified goals.
His bank statements with the Bank of Austria, the Citibank, Barclays Bank and the Meryl Lynch for those years will also show that he had substantial wealth of his own before he held public office for the first time in May 1999. For instance, on March 11, 1998, his Bank of Austria account contained $557,100.00. His Citibank account contained even more; over $1.5 million dollars in 1998. In fact, the Nigerian and UK persecutors (instead of prosecutors) knew that Ibori was already a Citibank Gold and Private Bank Member and a Gold Card member of the British Airways before he became Governor. But they chose the rags to riches publicity stunt to justify their persecution of Ibori for political reasons. It is well-known that before Ibori became Governor, he self-funded his entire political campaigns – with all the party candidates in 1999.