Understanding the Myth of James Ibori

For one who has survived impossible political minefields, it is understandable why a former governor of Delta State, Mr. James Ibori remains an iconoclast before his people. Magnus Onyibe writes 

Between 2002 and 2007, so much was the affliction of James Ibori by powerful political foes controlling the levers of power in the presidency, using the EFCC, DSS and police force against him that a former Lagos State governor and APC national leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu once nick-named him Apamaku – a Yoruba term literally translated as the man they have been trying to kill without success.

The appellation is apt because despite being one of the most persecuted and prosecuted politicians in Nigeria, where others have wilted, lbori has been resilient enough not to die politically or physically.

As a human, he might have buckled when he was encircled and entrapped by the UK authorities that launched ferocious attacks on his family by jailing his only sister, Christine, his wife Nkoyo, and the mother of his daughter, Udoamaka, hence he was compelled to plead guilty to the crime of money laundering. 

But he has now done his time and having been unshackled, he is ready and able to fight back by proving his innocence of the crime that he pleaded guilty to simply because he was under duress.

Before going further, it is germane that we first go back to ground zero of Ibori travails and triumphs in politics by presenting them in a dramatic format.

Act 1, Scene 1:

The conspiracy to ‘fix’ Ibori politically dates back to 2002, when he was preparing for his second term as governor and led other governors against former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was also seeking a second term. The decision to stop Obasanjo was hinged on his undemocratic style of leadership rooted in autocracy, which is derived from his military background, and also, according to conspiracy theory, to enforce Obasanjo’s pre-coronation agreement to serve only one term.

Scene 2:

Leading 26 other PDP governors to meet with the chairman of PDP, Audu Ogbeh to register the opposition of the governors to the re-election of Obasanjo, lbori practically belled the cat as was the case of the popular folklore: Who Will Bell the Cat?

What Ibori did was an equivalent of planning a military a coup. And the potential beneficiary of the initiative, then Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar demurred from challenging the president as envisaged, thus Obasanjo was nominated by PDP and subsequently got re-elected.

Scene 3:

In the military, anyone who plots a coup that did not succeed, pays the ultimate price and as an ex-soldier, vengeance was rife as Ibori, who literarily led an equivalent of a political coup d’etat which was not followed through was targeted for destruction. So Ibori’s frame-up as ex-convict was a farce designed to halt his re-election bid and to kill him politically.

Scene 4:

Invariably, Obasanjo’s attempt to get a third term in office as president without allowing other political office holders like governors and legislators enjoy similar privileges was his Achilles heels.

Alas, Obasanjo, who went after Ibori for standing against his re-election for a second term in 2003, almost got the legislature to review the 1999 constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria  to accommodate his third term bid in 2007, but Ken Nnamani, then president of the senate led the legislators,  who felt Obasanjo was being clever by half, to literally pull the plug on him while he was away in Paris, France deliberating on the infamous green tree agreement that sealed the ceding of Bakasi peninsula to Cameron.

To underscore how vicious politicians can be, a reprisal action to ensure that Nnamani never made it back to the senate was taken.

Scene 5:

Recall that Ogbe, then PDP chairman was also sacked by Obasanjo a day after he ate pounded yam with him during a visit to his abode. Apparently, he was sacked for the ‘effrontery’ of delivering the message of the 26 governors against his re-election in 2003.

Act 2, scene 1:

The second time another president betted against Ibori and lost was when the late Umaru Yar’Adua suddenly passed away mid-way through his four years tenure in 2010 and then Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan had no mandate to step up as acting president until the Doctrine of Necessity was enacted by the National Assembly.

Scene 2:

While lbori was of the strong view that in line with the power rotation principle within the PDP, that the presidency should remain in the north, which implies that GEJ should serve out Yar’Adua’s final two years and let the next president come from the north to maintain status quo, GEJ and others had contrary views. The acting president, who was determined to run for the post of president against the grain of thought in the PDP, saw to it that all stumbling blocks on the path to achieving his ambition like lbori were removed by hook or crook.

Scene 3:

Those who wanted to break the PDP unwritten code compelling rotation of power principle, had their way and that culminated in lbori going into exile as corruption allegation leveled against him and already settled in the court was suddenly resurrected in order to incarcerate him.

The Curtain Falls for PDP

Regretfully, the new ruling party APC since taking over some 20 months ago has been bemoaning the calamity that befell our country after six years of what they termed visionless leadership resulting in socio-economic failure. 

Thus, Ibori is vindicated because it is the failure to heed his wise counsel to let power remain in the north as earlier agreed in the PDP that put leadership in the hands of people considered to be grossly incompetent resulting in the pervading religious and ethnic polarisation currently ravaging Nigeria. 

With the Principle of rotation of power, which was the glue holding the PDP together being trampled, the newly energised and rampaging APC rode into town like the legendary knight in shining armour to claim the trophy that had been trifled by the former holders, who did not really appreciate the value of the leadership baton passed on by PDP founding fathers. 

Even the politicians, who dared to bet against lbori by squaring up with him locally in Delta State politics via the attempt to divide his political family, in the run up to the governorship contest in 2015, were given bloody nose as he triumphed over them.

Interestingly, it is not only politicians that betted against lbori and lost; the DFID, the British aid agency also betted against lbori and failed. To put the ignoble role of the British aid agency in perspective, permit me to quote copiously from an article titled: “How The UK Conspired To Convict Ibori, Gohil, Others: Govt’s Role”, published by Tony Eluemunor, lbori’s media aid in vanguard newspaper of 4th January, 2017 and on several online news platforms. 

Being in the forefront of anti-money laundering initiative in the UK which it has been funding with millions of tax payers pounds sterling, DFID had to give the impression that it is throwing good money after lots more to be confiscated, hence at first, the agency alleged that lbori laundered $250m, then reduced it to $200m, $50m and finally $18m claimed by Home Secretary, Amber Rudd in the last case hearing held on 20th December, last year whereby the Home Office attempted to prevent the release of lbori after serving his term.

According to Eluemunor in the article based on findings by British lawyers to Bhadresh Gohil, former lbori lawyer, “Having lost in Nigeria, after the DFID-funded EFCC lost the case against Ibori in 2009, the DFID-funded British Police then dragged the same charges to the UK. Thus, the charge over sale of Delta State’s shares in V-Mobile arose merely to exaggerate the value. Yet, it is remarkable that Delta State lost no money in that entire transaction. 

“Just how Britain steered this prosecution speaks volumes. DFID was effectively, the second-largest shareholder in Celtel BV and was a stringent opponent of Delta State in the V-Mobile Boardroom. All of this was undisclosed during the trials”. 

Continuing, the article revealed that “Clearly, neither the Nigerian nor the British public knew that in the V-Mobile shares sale issue and the Ibori case, DFID acted as aid partner, governance monitor, investigator in Nigeria through its funding of the EFCC, UK investigator, UK prosecutor, and had a senior employee as the jury foreman. Not even the Nigerian government exercised such powers in its own land. DFID was at the same time funding NGOs that it could use as pressure points to affect any government policy or election, even as it was also funding on-line publications to further those ends”

He concluded by pointing out that “Also, DFID, through its commercial arm, CDC Plc, was actively and discreetly using tax havens and acquiring substantial assets linked to Ibori and in particular acquired V-Mobile through Celtel BV.”

The bad news for DFID is that the last time lbori’s confiscation trial got on the way in 2013, a valuation of not more than £300,000 was made. Compared to the $250m that the DFID bandied around initially, the purveyors of the false Ibori money laundering allegation may literally be in hot water by the time lbori’s appeal against his conviction commences.

This is so because the DFID has a lot of explanations to give to British tax payers on why they lied that lbori had $250m laundered in the UK to justify all the funds (£16m) that was being wasted on a wild goose chase just to nail the irrepressible lbori as if they were on personal vendetta. The wisecrack, time will tell, rings true in the current instance because the truth is indeed in the belly of time which is currently being unveiled, no matter how long it takes.

To some naive Nigerians, who were fed with tissues of lies about lbori making away with Delta State money when he was governor, it is now clear that there is no evidence to prove such crime. On the contrary, lbori is a hero to the long suffering people in the Niger Delta for the two following reasons:

(1) He along with other warriors carried on with the environmental and human rights agitation started by the likes of the late major Adaka Boroh, who declared Niger Delta an independent country back in the days to assert the rights of the long suffering Niger Deltans to control how the hydro carbon resources under their earth crust is explored  sustainably. 

The poet/playwright, Ken Saro-Wiwa continued with the resource control struggle through intellectual efforts after Boroh tried through the famous kaiyama declaration and James lbori and others have continued to pursue the Niger Delta cause through party politics. That Ibori is today regarded in the Niger Delta as modern day Adaka Boroh and Ken Saro-Wiwa wrapped together, is not debatable.

(2) Ibori is the one that constructed the first bridge into Ijaw land enabling the first car to ply the roads in izon domain via the bomadi bridge into the creeks. Same Ibori built the omadina bridge into itsekiri land and he is responsible for establishing a state university in Abraka with a campus in Anwai and three polytechnics and three colleges of education in each of the three senatorial zones in Delta State.

Apart from the specialist hospital in Oghara, lbori upgraded general hospitals in the major towns and established health centre’s in all the 25 local Government areas of the state. The foregoing are just his signature projects executed between 1999 and 2007 and they are some of the reasons that Delta State stands still for Ibori and his followers share the pains whenever he is pieced for their sake, as evidenced by the overwhelming crowd that welcomed him home and the steady stream of visitors pouring into Oghara since his homecoming.

In conclusion, lbori weighed against Obasanjo’s re-election bid and a cloak of ex-convict was put on him to scuttle his re-election as governor, but he survived the onslaught by defeating his traducers in court and serving a second term.

Unfortunately, in Nigeria, once a negative toga is put on somebody, it’s difficult, if not impossible to erase the negative impression, which becomes a stigma hence some naive Nigerians still perceive lbori as an ex-convict without evidence to back up such claim and worst still, when the courts of the land had long cleared him of the allegation.

Amazingly, today, lbori has survived the vicious plots against him from two Nigerian presidents and powerful UK business interest. Six years after, the mistake that lbori stood against manifested as a sitting president was ignominiously shooed out of Aso Rock villa, ostensibly for incompetence and corruption that was stinking to high heavens.

For over ten years, the DFID working with CDC with business interests that were competing against Delta State government business interests such as the stake in econet wireless, now Airtel worked surreptitiously towards clamping Ibori in jail in the UK under the guise that he was involved in money laundering, whereas they were pursuing their business interests.

At the end of the trial, both the police prosecutor, and the crown prosecution service, CPS personnel, who handled Ibori’s case, for their ignoble roles have received reprimands instead of medals. With no hard or fast link to alleged laundered funds in UK banks, the DFID is about to confront its greatest nightmare when its conflicting interests as the complainant and the judge would be laid bare in the course of Ibori’s appeal against his conviction.

Obviously, the last has not been heard of the Ibori debacle. Meanwhile, the crowd of well-wishers who stormed Oghara to welcome their hero despite all the strategies adopted so that he could go home without much ado were simply anxious to see Ibori to confirm that indeed their hero is truly back home.

Today, Ibori is laughing last because instead of his profile diminishing, it has been magnified to the extent that his supporters now ascribe metaphysical prowess to him. This is attested to by the fact that most of the massive crowd of supporters surging towards him were principally struggling to touch him and confirm if he is a phantom or indeed human for having survived the ordeal that has killed many.

In the final analysis, one inalienable fact about Ibori is that his supporters are attracted to him because they believe that he is a fighter for the course of the common man and the victim rather than the villain of the powerful figures and organizations whose raw nerves he literally touched resulting in his ordeal and for that reason, Niger Deltans adjudge him a prisoner of conscience, who has just returned home after going through the school of life.

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