Having been through the thick and thin of life, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, as a man of the people has got the resolve and poise which is why he is not looking back as he turned 64 on 4th August, 2022.
Henry Kissinger, the 99 years old, former United States of America, USA National Security Adviser and Secretary of State,1969 to 1976 considered to be one of the most consequential political figures of our time and a colossus in the world of foreign affairs has just written and published a book titled :”Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy.”
Kissinger’s book is a case study in a personal way,of the following leaders of significant countries around the world, whose leadership in their respective countries were epochal.
They are Konrad Adenauer of Germany,Charles de Gaulle of France,Richard Nixon of USA,Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Margaret Thatcher of Uk as well as Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore.
To set the agenda for the diagnostic study of lbori persona that l have set out to put on the dais in commemoration of his 64th birthday,a brief review of Kissinger’s book as captured below is apropos.
Henry Kissinger in his compelling book, makes the case that “leaders think and act at the intersection of two axes: the first,between the past and the future; the second between the abiding values and aspirations of those they lead.”
He argued further that “They must balance what they know,which is necessarily drawn from the past, with what they intuit about the future, which is inherently conjectural and uncertain.”
Kissinger concluded that “It is this intuitive grasp of direction that enables leaders to set objectives and lay down a strategy.”
From what l personally know about the man,James Onanefe Ibori since he got into the political space in 1990 when he joined National Republican Convention (NRC),readers would agree with me that he embodies most,if not all the virtues of the leaders profiled above. More so as he has adroitly applied the skills that qualified the leaders extolled by Kissinger as transformational in the management of affairs in their respective countries,as lbori has done in Delta state at a time that it was in turmoil.
Let us dig deeper into the book.
According to a reviewer:
“In Leadership,Kissinger analyses the lives of six extraordinary leaders through the distinctive strategies of statecraft which he believes they embodied. After the Second World War, Konrad Adenauer brought defeated and morally bankrupt Germany back into the community of nations by what Kissinger calls ‘the strategy of humility’. Charles de Gaulle set France beside the victorious Allies and renewed its historic grandeur by ‘the strategy of will’. During the Cold War, Richard Nixon gave geostrategic advantage to the United States by ‘the strategy of equilibrium’. After twenty-five years of conflict,Anwar Sadat brought a vision of peace to the Middle East by a ‘strategy of transcendence’. Against the odds, Lee Kwan Yew created a powerhouse city-state,Singapore,by ‘the strategy of excellence’. Although when she came to power Britain was known as ‘the sick man of Europe’, Margaret Thatcher renewed her country’s morale and international position by ‘the strategy of conviction”
Again,although,lbori has not led a country,Delta state where he served as governor from 1999-2007, is a mini Nigeria.That is simply because it shares with our country a multi culture,multi ethnic and multi religion characteristics.
As such,it is one of the most difficult states in Nigeria to govern.
It is worthy to emphasize that at the time that lbori took over the reigns of power,the state was practically in ruins arising from intractable ethnic conflicts.But at the end of eight (8) years of lbori’s stewardship,the state which is our country’s treasure trove owing to its position as number two natural oil producing state,had become vibrant and transformed into a model for socioeconomic development in Nigeria’s democracy which was nascent at that stage.
For the reasons above,like the iconic leaders arrayed in Kissinger’s book,lbori’s leadership of Delta state stands out.
And that puts him in good stead to be celebrated on the auspicious occasion of his 64th birthday.
Returning to the tome which is a treatise in leadership,Kissinger makes a distinction between leaders.
According to him some are “not visionary but managerial” and noted that “ordinary leaders seek to manage the immediate; great ones attempt to raise their society to their vision“
Then he made the case that without leadership “institutions drift and nations court growing irrelevance and ultimately, disaster.”
Finally,Kissinger who is mercurial in his book that is full of nuggets of leadership wisdom,distinguished between statesmen and visionary leaders.
While statesmen are known for their “analytical ability and political skills,visionary leaders envision the future. But leaders can transform from form one to the other.” he added.
Convinced that lbori is a statesman and patriot who to some extent is like the leaders profiled in the unique and fascinating book by the globally renowned leadership icon,Henry Kissinger: Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategies”, from which l drew and shared snippets of its very rich content in the preceding paragraphs of this piece; it is from that prism that l would like to celebrate chief James Onanefe Ibori, former governor of Delta (1999-2007) who turned sixty four (64) years on 4th day of August,2022.
And l am also feting him simply because despite the political challenges that he had to contend with,he has remained a significant factor in the politics of Delta state and Nigeria as a whole.
That is aligned with the fact that the somewhat enigmatic lbori is an ebullient and engaging personality whom his traducers have learnt the hard way,is indefatigable.
At 64,which ideally is the equivalent of the summer of a man’s life,lbori is so spritely, one would think his life is in spring season.
And by May of 2007, which is approximately fifteen (15) years ago,he had completed his run as a two term governor of Delta state, from 1999 to 2007.
That is quite an accomplishment.
But, one of James Onanefe Ibori’s most cherished attainment is his ability and capacity to stabilize and put on the path of progress, Delta state which was in disarray before he took over the reins of governance in 1999.
Adjunct to that is the fact that he has positively affected lives lives stretching from Delta state to Lagos state in south-west Nigeria, all the way to katsina, Kano and Sokoto states in the far north as well as in the eastern flanks of Nigeria, including Enugu and Port Harcourt where he has forged formidable networks of friendships that cut across religion, political and private sector spectrums.
Back to Delta state where he enjoyed the privilege of governing from 1999-2007,it is by sheer dint of leadership prowess that he was able to pull the good people of the state together for a forward march towards building robust human and physical bridges across the entire state.
Evidently,that building block that lbori built from 1999 when he mounted the saddle to 2007 when he concluded his tour of duty, has become the superstructure upon which his predecessors have been building.
Be it the Bomadi bridge which offered the first ever vehicular access into ijaw land and Omadina bridge into ltsekiri land as well as Ase bridge into Ndokwa land,lbori made sure that every ethnic group in Delta state had a sense of belonging by trying to meet them at their point of need via location of major infrastructure in their domain.
What he did with road and transport infrastructure,he also replicated in the educational sector.
Thus,Delta state university,Abraka which he inherited upon assumption of office,became a multi campus institution with the former college of Agriculture,in Anwai,near Asaba,the state capital, becoming a second campus of the university.
To further consolidate his quest for qualitative education for the good people of Delta state known for their high lntelligence Quotient, IQ and in fulfillment of the mission to ensure that all the three senatorial zones have a sense of belonging, one polytechnic each was planted in each of the three zones under lbori’s watch.
These are the polytechnics cited in Ozoro, Delta south, in Ogwashi-Uku, Delta north and the one In Oghara-Eki,in Delta central zone.
Not done with providing infrastructure to facilitate education for all in Delta state, and to underscore the premium effort that the government placed on education under lbori’s watch, two colleges of education and one sports academy were also cited in Warri in the central zone, the second one was located in Agbor, in Delta north zone ,and a third tertiary institution was planted in Mosogar, also in Delta central zone.
There is not enough space to chronicle lbori’s lofty achievements in the health sector wherein he upgraded general hospitals in all the three (3) senatorial zones, in addition to establishing a brand new teaching hospital in Oghara aimed aimed at facilitating learning for doctors in the new Delta state university.
Again,since we do not have the luxury of time,l am unable to dwell much on the fact that lbori also made a significant impact in the area of sports.That is a sector that he boosted with the construction of a mini-stadia in each of the headquarters of the twenty five (25) local government areas in the state,before capping it with the upgrade of Warri stadium,which was in decrepit condition when he assumed office.
Suffice it to say that from the foregoing,it is to the credit of James lbori that Delta state which was hitherto on the path to perdition due to the persistent and devastating ethnic strifes leading to the underdevelopment of the area,got healed and returned to the path of rapid development and progress during and after his tour of duty from 1999 – 2007.
It may be recalled that before 1999 when lbori was elected the executive governor of Delta state,the port city of Warri and adjoining riverine communities were in the throes of inter-ethnic conflicts,particularly with the ijaw and itsekiri ethnic nationalities embroiled in nihilistic mission to eliminate one another.But lbori brought his statesmanly leadership style to bear and by so doing,he doused the inferno by bringing the warring parties to a round table for the settlement of somewhat several decades old feuds mainly between the ljaws and ltsekiris
Lest l forget.
I am not alone in the assessment of James lbori as an outstanding leader.
Professor ltse Sagay,a legal luminary and prominent ltsekiri indigene in his autobiography titled :”All Will Be Well” noted in chapter 32,where he dwelt on his involvement in some aspects of the governance of Delta state made the following observations about lbori as a leader.
“I came to realize that the governor was a man who craved for excellence and he did not succumb to political,”man of the people” compromise when considering people for political positions “
Commenting specifically on lbori as a person,the professor of law and chairman of Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption,PACAC wrote in his very profound book: “All l know about this man are gathered from the appointments he gave me,his response to the recommendations of bodies he appointed me into and his attitude to us as a group and individually l believe he was a governor who firmly believed in merit and excellence”
Born of Urhobo father and ltsekiri mother,which is a simply mixed blessing,lbori as the governor could have been caught between and betwixt the ethnic conflicts between people from his paternal and maternal parentage.
But with astute and charismatic leadership skills that he deployed,he was able to dexterously navigate the ship of state through the very treacherous waters in the ljaw/ltsekiri crisis that was literally rigged with explosive tribal mines that had been sustaining the combustion in the region that started several decades before lbori assumed the office of governor of Delta state in 1999.
Looking at Delta state today compared to pre-Ibori era,it is difficult to believe that Warri and the outlying riverine towns were like a boiling cauldron owing to the brutish internecine wars that claimed many lives and wrecked several towns and villages.
Although,he is an Urhobo by birth,which is the tribe with the largest population in the state,and in consonance with the democracy ethos and dictum- majority carries the vote-being a statesman,lbori put the need for preservation of peace in the state over selfish and tribal interests by promoting the concept of power shift.
He did so as a patriot that has been striving to entrench the concept of rotation of governorship between the peoples of the three senatorial zones,instead of entrenching it in Urhobo land with a population advantage.
Basically,what he did was to replicate what obtains at the federal level,because Delta state with it’s multifarious ethnic composition is more or less a mini Nigeria.
But,most good things in life often face resistance.
Since 2007 when the initiative was activated,the strive to give all ethnic groups in Delta state a sense of inclusivity by making sure that one of their own occupied and called the shots from governor’s mansion,Asaba via rotation after every eight(8) years,has become a strife of monumental proportion.
That is owed to the fact that each transition of governorship of the state from an incumbent from one senatorial zone to another has been fraught with acrimony.
Therein lies the burden of leadership as a statesman that lbori has been bearing with equanimity .
By and large,Ibori’s first leadership burden was experienced when his Urhobo kit and kins were cross with him for denying them the opportunity to monopolize the governorship of the state by virtue of the fact that as they are the majority ethnic group,they can self perpetuate by producing the governor continuously.
That is a situation which obtains in other states,but it has been a trigger and driver of ethnic conflicts. Hence as a gesture of lbori’s statesmanly disposition as a leader that is committed to inclusiveness,he pursued the policy of rotating the governorship between the three senatorial zones.
And he attracted the ire of the ljaws whose anger was kindled against him when their arch rival,the ltsekiris produced the next governor of Delta state in the person of Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan ahead of the ljaw nation.
The animosity is evidenced by the alignment of some members of ljaw leadership with lbori’s enemies in the federal government who detested his spearheading the struggle for the Niger Delta region to have a measure of control of the oil/gas resources embedded underneath the earth crust in their region.
Remarkably,the Ijaws have now aligned with him.
As the beginning of another election circle is currently in motion from Delta Central and urhobo land where the rotation commenced,sooner than later it would be the turn of the ljaws.
Typical of the viciousness often inherent in the political arena,lbori had been marked down for destruction politically by those that he he robbed-off on the wrong sides in the course of the resource control struggle which he championed.
Although lbori who is a veteran of numerous political battles has been serially betrayed by those that he reposed confidence in,yet he has not lost his humanity which is why he is still very trusting and magnanimous in his dealings with his political allies.
Being marked down as scape goat by the powers that be at the federal government level for his presumed effrontery of challenging the status quo through his determined effort to rescue the long suffering Niger Delta people from the misfortune of bearing the calamities of the exploitation of oil/gas in their region without commensurate rewards to them,lbori was made to pay a huge price by being persecuted politically,until he became a prisoner of conscience in faraway United Kingdom,UK ostensibly for a money laundering offense that has no grounding in facts.
Remarkably,the ploy of incarcerating lbori to clip his wings and break him physically and psychologically,did nothing of that sort to him,basically owing to the man’s indomitable spirit and never-say-die attitude to life.
Even while in the penitentiary,lbori’s influence politically was boundless as his support or lack of it marred or made political office seeking candidates to win or lose. I am personally aware of how while in incarceration in the Uk,lbori offered help to a very distraught fellow detainee who is a white man that was psychologically falling apart. That is an indication of how compassionate and magnanimous lbori can be.
And his philanthropy was extended to indigent members of his circle of friends and families as their bills continued to be settled by him even in the course of his physical absence in Nigeria.
Hence he is tagged by his admirers nationwide with the moniker-Odidigborigbo,and referred to by his folks in his homestead as Omovudu,translated from Urhobo dialect as someone with Lion Heart,very courageous and large hearted.
As a proof of his tremendous grass roots connections,upon regaining his freedom,he returned to an unprecedented welcome party with a mixture of massive motorcade and carnival like array of humans stretching all the way from Warri airport to Oghara and from Benin city to Oghara for those who thought he would return home via Benin city airport.
lt was so tumultuous that the crowd management skills of the organizers of the welcome party,were severely tasked.
Since then,lbori’s politics and disposition of no bitterness,have combined to boost his public profile which has been on the ascendancy as opposed to being dimmed as his traducers had envisaged.
Arising from the above,the former Delta state governor’s horizon,both in the political and business spheres have become quite extensive and elaborate.
The assertion above is derived from the the reality that his vast network of friends stretches from the Niger Delta to Yoruba land and all the way to the hinterland of northern most parts of our country and lgbo land where he has associates like the presidential candidate of the APC ,Asiwaju Bola Tinubu in lagos,and in Abuja he has PDP presidential flag bearer,Turaki Atiku Abubakar from Adamawa state,as well as Mr Peter Obi of Labor Party,LP with origin in Anambra state ,not forgetting Dr Rabiu Musa Kwakwanso of New Nigeria Peoples Party,NNPP from Kano state.
Before,now Odidigborigbo as he is fondly referred to by his admirers that cut across cultures,religions,and party affiliations was in 2007 instrumental to the emergence of katsina state born former President, Umaru Yar’dua of blessed memory as the president of the federal republic of Nigeria(2007-2020)
It is trite to state that Ibori is at home with the masses at the grass roots levels in the same way that he is with the movers and shakers of both political and corporate Nigeria.
The testimonies to that are always reflected by the burgeoning number of enthusiastic admirers chanting ululations and hailing him by his nickname: Odidigborigbo whenever he attends public events in and outside Delta state.
And that makes him a composite man and the go-to person as he is always willing to assist in making society better, be it in politics or the private sector. He is always willing, ready and able to lend a helping hand in whatever capacity that he is called upon to help; even as he has consistently been extending his kindness to his legion of friends and associates who are consistently benefiting from his large heartedness.
Having been through the thick and thin of life, chief James Onanefe Ibori, as a man of the people has got the resolve and poise which is why he is not looking back as he turned 64 on 4th August,2022.
And l join his numerous family members-both of the biological and political hues- in wishing my boss(l served as a commissioner under his watch as governor),friend and brother from another mother, a very happy birthday.