A Nigerian court dismissed graft and money laundering charges against a former ex-governor of the oil-producing state of Delta yesterday, dealing a blow to anti-corruption efforts in Africa’s top energy producer.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which charged James Ibori with 170 counts of looting more than $85 million during his eight-year tenure, said it would appeal against the ruling by a Federal High Court in Asaba, capital of Delta state.
“This hazy judgment cannot stand based on available evidence we have to prosecute the case. We have instructed our lawyers to immediately file an appeal against Justice (Marcel) Awokulehin’s judgment,” the EFCC said in a statement.
Ibori, a senior member of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and close associate of President Umaru Yar’Adua, is one of several former state governors in the last administration to have been charged with corruption by the EFCC since 2007.
The cases against the ex-governors were seen as a test of Nigeria’s commitment to fighting graft, but they have made little progress, moving from one adjournment to another in the past two years.
Nigeria’s 36 state governors have discretionary powers over millions of dollars of public funds. Critics say they sometimes behaved like feudal monarchs, doling out cash as perks to political supporters and persecuting opponents.
Yar’Adua came to power in 2007 pledging zero tolerance for corruption in one of the world’s most tainted countries, but faces questions from critics over his commitment to he campaign.
Ibori, governor from 1999-2007 in one of the three richest states in the oil-producing but impoverished Niger Delta, was one of Yar’Adua’s main backers during the 2007 presidential election campaign.
Campaigners said they never expected Ibori would face justice after the case against him was transferred from a court in the northern city of Kaduna to his home-state of Delta.
Several of Ibori’s associates are facing money laundering charges in Britain, where a court froze $35 million worth of the former governor’s assets in August 2007 on suspicion they were proceeds of corruption.
Ibori, who has not himself been charged in Britain, told Reuters in an interview in September the case against him in Nigeria was politically motivated.