His Master’s Voice: NEXT’s Attack on Ibori and Journalism

On Sunday 20th December the NEXT newspaper, in an Editorial, showcased it’s stock in trade, evil journalism, by excoriating the Justice of the Federal High Court, Asaba, for quashing the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) case against Chief James Onanefe Ibori and others, just because it did not go the way it had wanted. – Tony Eluemunor

His Master’s Voice: NEXT’s Attack on Ibori and Journalism

On Sunday 20th December the NEXT newspaper, in an Editorial, showcased it’s stock in trade, evil journalism, by excoriating the Justice of the Federal High Court, Asaba, for quashing the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) case against Chief James Onanefe Ibori and others, just because it did not go the way it had wanted.  
Not having a peg to discredit the ruling NEXT burrowed into the past to make a case where none existed.  So it charged: “The signs of this travesty of a judgement had always been there. The case kicked off two years ago at the Federal High Court in Kaduna, but on Mr. Ibori’s insistence that he be tried in a court close to where he was alleged to have committed the crimes (Delta State, which he ruled for eight years), a new High Court was created for him in Asaba.  From this point it wasn’t difficult to tell where the case was headed”.
Yet, what NEXT left unsaid was how and why the case was transferred from the Federal High Court Kaduna to Federal High Court, Asaba.  The EFCC under Ribadu broke the well-known Federal High Court rules by instituting the case against Ibori directly at the feet of Justice Lawal Shuaibu of the Kaduna Federal High Court.  Ibori kicked against this deliberate transgression of the rules of jurisprudence in Nigeria, by going on appeal to the Court of Appeal at the same city of Kaduna, when Justice Shuaibu had rejected Ibori’s plea that the matter was wrongfully filed and that he should return the case to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for re-assignment.  

The Court of Appeal held that it was against the rules of the Federal High Court for a litigant to pick and choose which individual Judge would hear his case. The court condemned the “forum-shopping” and “likelihood of bias” involved in EFCC’s handpicking a particular Judge to take the
case to. Before that, the EFCC under Ribadu, had informed the world that Justice Shuaibu was an EFCC-designated Judge, but the Court of Appeal proved that a lie. The Upper Court also held in its judgement that one of the planks on which the right of every person to fair and free trial rested, was in providing an accused with easy access to court and not to deliberately make his defence a herculean task. The Upper Court actually said that what Ibori was up against in Shuaibu’s court was “persecution and not prosecution.” 
If the above constituted what NEXT newspaper called “Ibori’s insistence that he be tried in a court close to where he was alleged to have committed the crimes”, so be it. 

What is important is that the Court of Appeal agreed with Ibori’s counsel’s submission that it is the provision of Nigerian jurisprudence that an accused be tried nearest to where an alleged crime was committed just as it also ruled that there are accepted ways of assigning a case to any Judge. Ribadu may have been allowed in the past to get away with such travesty of justice, but there must always come a time for a wrong, no matter how long it has endured, to be set aright. The Court of Appeal in Kaduna ended that particular run of Ribadu’s impunity of picking and choosing the particular Judges to send particular cases to. 
Yet, it is obvious that the result of that judgement is that since then, no one has been transported hundreds of kilometres from the scene of an alleged crime, to be tried in a place that has no bearing with the place where a crime was committed. In Ibori’s case, when he was arraigned in Kaduna, the Court of Appeal pointed out that the EFCC dragged him from Asaba, past the Federal High Court Division in Benin, did not consider the one in Enugu, the two nearest to Asaba, but traversed almost 700 kilometres to institute the case. The Judges all agreed in that decision, that an accused would have been hamstrung in such a situation to put up an effective defence of himself – if he were to require documents and witnesses from Delta state. 

That judgement was grounded firmly on points of law, and since then, it has been well-acclaimed by legal minds.  Since then too, it has been quoted by defence counsel in other cases. One example is that Mr. Femi
Falana, who is Ribadu’s counsel in an on-going case at present, quoted the Kaduna Court of Appeal judgement to support his argument that Mr. Henry Okah’s case be transferred from Jos, to the place where the alleged crime was committed. So the benefit is not Ibori’s alone.  
Second, the NEXT newspaper in that same editorial left the high way of journalism and went into the bush of rumour mongering. It wrote:  “a new High Court was created for him (Ibori) in Asaba”, as a result of the Court of Appeal’s decision. 

How? Who by? And for what purpose? The newspaper did not bother to go into such details. Yet, the truth is that the Federal High Court system had been planning to create two additional Federal High Court Divisions, one in the South and the other in the North, in a bid to get justice closer to the people.  So, it created the Courts in Gombe, in Bombe State and Asaba in Delta State, where this case was tried. All the while in Kaduna, Ibori’s counsel talked about his being tried in Benin, the nearest Federal High Court to Delta state and under whose Division Delta had belonged.  
Based alone on the Court’s sitting in Asaba, the rumour-monger NEXT newspaper pronounced magisterially that, that was enough inducement to make any ruling from such a court to favour Ibori.  But pray, was Chief Bode George not tried in his home state of Lagos? Or, if we argue that Chief George was not a state governor, what about the recent case EFCC has just instituted against Sokoto State’s former Governor, Attahiru Bafarawa?  So, is the NEXT newspaper about to begin a campaign that Bafarawa’s case be transferred to say, Next newspaper’s head office in Lagos? Perhaps someone has to teach NEXT newspaper that the equality of all before the law implies that no one should be treated differently but that the law should apply same way to all persons every time. 
Perhaps, if only the NEXT newspaper had attempted to get a detailed report of the ruling, if it could not wait for its Certified True Copy, it would have appreciated Justice Marcel Awokulehin’s decision as it pertains to what the LAW says about proof in money laundering charges.  He stated that “if those who framed the Money Laundering law had wanted to criminalise every transfer of money, they would have done so, but they did not”. Instead, he took pains to explain that the criminal source of the funds in question must first be established for money laundering charges to stick. He dwelt at length on the relevant sections of the EFCC Act.
Yet, if what is involved here is just the inability of the Editors at NEXT newspaper to understand the intricacies of Justice Awokulehin’s decision, they could be helped. But they are beyond redemption as the editorial was a result of the sort of politics NEXT newspaper was set up to engage in. With the, Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, Mr. Nasir El’Rufai and Mr. Akeem Bello Osagie as the financial muscles behind the paper, it is not surprising that NEXT has become a tool of vendetta against those the owners of the paper are opposed to.  Of course, it was Ribadu that first instituted that case against Ibori when he was at the helm of EFCC affairs. 

The empty case file, because of which he was boasting across the globe that he had a water-tight case against Ibori, was just a ploy to make Nigeria safe for his political collaborators and to remove an opponent from his group’s way. Now the baseless case has imploded, and people are asking questions about how a case
without the least documentary foundation could have been instituted. Some, including the NEXT newspaper, are rushing to deflect the pointing of accusing fingers at Nuhu Ribadu and the “149” (advance fee fraud) he pulled off on Nigerians and donor agencies and countries that profusely funded the EFCC in his time. And NEXT in that Editorial, led that campaign, which like the worthless case Ribadu filed, is bound to fail because it is defective from the very start.  Ribadu’s hoodwinking of Nigeria should not have been expected to go on forever.  And it will not, despite NEXT’s exertions in hiding the true Ribadu from Nigerians.

Moreover, Justice Awokulehin’s ruling is now in the public domain. It is there for everybody to see that Ribadu had no case against Ibori, yet he unleashed a dastardly trial by media against him – just as he did against others. In the past, Ribadu would keep an accused in his custody for years until the person be forced
to sign a plea bargain on Ribadu’s terms just so that he would save his life. Then Ribadu and his business associates would descend on the person’s assets. And Nigerians, unaware of the facts of the case as there was no trial, would acclaim Ribadu ever more highly.  
Unfortunately for Ribadu the first time for his corruption allegations against a person were subjected to a real trial. And as the ruling shows, Ribadu had an empty case file against Ibori, but he had gone across the globe claiming pronouncing Ibori guilty. As the trial shows, alas, Ribadu was just a noise maker without a case. All his claims against Ibori were lies. And instead of facing this fact, NEXT newspapers chose to continue the “Ribadu can do no wrong” old game. But that game has gone out of fashion now. Even NEXT newspapers readers understood this much.  
Unlike the dozens of readers’ reactions that NEXT newspaper’s baseless tirades against Ibori used to attract, this editorial could barely get five reactions, showing many have started seeing through NEXT’s campaign of calumny. And is it conceivable that NEXT’s readers are more knowledgeable about news than the paper’s Editorial Board members? Perhaps yes, going by these reactions as published on NEXT online: (Posted by TATA on Dec 20 2009) “blame the prosecution…they went to court with a $15m bribe story and there is no statement or evidence from Uba who allegedly offered the bribe to Ribadu….the EFCC is fooling themselves”. The second one: (Posted by poor man on Dec 20 2009) “yes, the court did not free Ibori, but instead of the EFCC going back home to correct the mistakes in their case, they want to go and appeal…they alleged Ibori offered $15m bribe to Ribadu…did Ibori take the money to Ribadu? NO…how did it get there? Uba
was sent…was any statement from Uba presented to the court? NO. How do you link the money then from Ibori to Ribadu? …the EFCC is playing with our intelligence…and Sun Newspapers goes…”EFCC bombs Ibori”…yea …on the pages of newspapers…EFCC is a crooked institution…and is deliberately throwing cases using fake prosecutors…”
Poor man and Tata missed the fact that the baseless case was instituted under Ribadu’s watch – just to fight a political vendetta, and all the time Ribadu was the opposite of the altruistic hero which he had hoodwinked Nigerians into believing that he was. With that editorial, NEXT was just fighting to stem this growing tide of understanding of the politics Ribadu played; for one of its owners – Ribadu. This is why NEXT has been trying to hoodwink Nigerians that they are engaged in text book journalism and not crass politics. 
Tony Eluemunor
Media Aide to Chief Ibori