Six years after Justice Marcel Awokulehin of the Federal High Court in Asaba, Delta State, sensationally struck out the 170-count charge of money laundering preferred against the former State Governor, Chief James Ibori, and the rigorous pursuit of justice by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), a three-man panel of justices at the Benin-City Division of the Court of Appeal yesterday ruled that the ex- governor has a case to answer.
Ibori is currently serving a 13-year jail term in a London prison, having been convicted by a British court in 2012.
In the unanimous decision, the court did not only set aside the infamous ruling of Justice Awokulehin, but said the appeal was meritorious.
The judgment was delivered by Justice Ibrahim Saulawa and was supported by Justices P. M Ekpe and H. A Barka respectively.
Justice Salauwa resolved all the four issues for determination in favour of the EFCC and directed that the matter be re-assigned to another judge of the Federal High Court for continuation of trial.
Dissatisfied with Justice Awokulehin’s ruing, the EFCC had approached the appellate court to set aside the judgment on the grounds that the court erred in law.
According to EFCC Head of Media and Publicity, Wilson Uwujaren the appeal was predicated on four grounds.
The commission further stated that "with this judgment, the coast is clear for Ibori to face trial in Nigeria upon the completion of his jail term in London.
Meanwhile, the ex-governor has said he would appeal the ruling.
Speaking through his Media Assistant,
Tony Eluemunor, Ibori said he had already instructed his lawyers to file an appeal at the Supreme Court.
He said despite his travails, he “remained an unfailing believer in the rule of law, especially the courts.”
According to him, “The decision of the Federal High Court in Asaba, which the Court of Appeal sitting in Benin City has just struck down, was perhaps the most politicised in Nigerian history, with crass politicians not hiding their interests and sundry commentators opining on otherwise purely matters of law – yet refusing to refer to the judgment while pouring out their sectarian creeds.
“Yet, Ibori, a believer in the rule of law and freedom of the courts, will not stoop as low as those who do flagellate judges whose decisions they not like, openly or through innuendos, impute any misdeeds on the part of the panel of justices who decided the case. In pursuit of this undying belief, he has instructed his lawyers to, without delay, take the next legal step by referring the matter to the apex court in the land.”
He called on his supporters to remain calm as they had always done since his political persecution began.