By Tobi Soniyi
A lawyer, Timipa Okponipere Friday filed an application at the Federal High Court Abuja asking that the $15 million (about N150 million) allegedly received from the former Governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori by a former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC), Malam Nuhu Ribadu as bribe be paid to the Government and people of Delta State.
Last Tuesday, the court ordered that the money be temporary forfeited to the Federal Government and would be finally forfeited if within 14 days after the publication of an advertorial, no one showed up to claim ownership of the money.
But in an application filed yesterday, Okponipere said that he filed the application ‘for and on behalf of the Government and people of Delta State.’
It is not clear if he was briefed by the Delta State Government and could also not be ascertained how he came about the mandate to file the suit on behalf of the people of Delta State.
In an affidavit he personally deposed to he said: “In filing this application, I am acting in the public interest.
“I believe as a lawyer, no section of Nigeria should be denied their fundamental rights.”
He is asking the court to declare that as of April 25, 2007 when James Ibori allegedly offered the bribe of $15 million to the EFCC, he was still the governor of Delta State with all rights and privileges attached to the office.
He also asked the court to declare that, “the $15million alleged bribe money which has been in custody of the 3rd Respondent (Central Bank of Nigeria) since April, 2007 is property belonging to Government of Delta State and its people.”
He urged the court to hold that any application or order granting the money to any other entity other than the Government and people of Delta State would be illegal and of no effect.
He asked the court to order the Attorney General of the Federation, the EFCC and the CBN to return the money to the Government and people of Delta State.
He also asked for the following two declarations: “A declaration that the $15 million alleged bribe money became property of Government and people of Delta State when James Ibori was convicted and sentenced to prison in the United Kingdom.
“A declaration that James Ibori’s conviction quashed all previous denials or counter affidavits he may have made to any court or investigating authority including the EFCC regarding the question of whether or not he was the actual giver of the alleged bribe money.”
In a 13-ground filed in support of the application, Okponipere said that he was irked by the decision of the Federal Government to take over the money.
He said that Delta people would be prejudiced if the money was allowed to be taken by the Federal Government.
He said that if the court awarded the money to the Federal Government, it would be paid to the Federation Account and would be shared by the 36 states of the Federation.
A Federal High Court in Abuja yesterday ordered a temporary forfeiture of $15 Million The court also ordered the commission to publish in a national newspaper the interim order forfeiture to allow anyone who is interested in the property to appear before the court to show cause within 14 days why a final order of forfeiture should not be granted in favour of the Federal Government.
The order was made at the instance of Mr Rotimi Jacobs who filed the ex-parte application on behalf of the EFCC.
The Federal Government, the Attorney General of the Federation and the EFCC were listed as the plaintiffs while the Central Bank of Nigeria was listed as the sole defendant.
Government premised the application for forfeiture on five grounds. First, that the cash in the sum of $15 million was received by the officers of the EFCC from an undisclosed agent of James Ibori in 2007 as a bribe to compromise its investigation.
Secondly, the commission said that on 26th of April, 2007 deposited the said cash into the strong room No 1 of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Thirdly, that James Ibori had since denied given the said cash to the commission or any of its officer.
EFCC said that the money had remained unclaimed since April 2007 till date and that the money had remained dormant in the strong room of CBN and unclaimed by anyone.
The application for forfeiture was supported by a 14-paragraph affidavit deposed to by Mr. Bello Yahaya a police officer with the EFCC.
Bello said that he was one of the investigators assigned by EFCC to investigate the case of James Ibori and by virtue of his position he was familiar with the facts of the case.
Paragraph 4 of the affidavit reads: “While the investigation was on going on 25th April, 2007 Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the then Executive Chairman of the EFCC called the investigation team headed by Ibrahim Lamorde the then Director of Operations to pick up cash in the sum of $15 million given to him and the commission through an undisclosed agent of the said James Ibori.”
He averred that while the Ibori trial was going on in Nigeria, he deposed to an affidavit to oppose Ibori’s application for bail on the ground that Ibori had once offered bribe to the EFCC.
According to him, Ibori, in his counter-affidavit dated 10th, January 2008 denied giving the sum of $15million to EFCC or any of its officials.
“That ever since April, 2007 no one has claimed ownership of the said sum and has since remained unclaimed money in the strong room of the CBN.
“That the said sum if left untouched and unspent in the state it was it was kept in the strong room since April 2007 may eventually be destroyed, defaced, mutilated and become useless,” he added.