Ibori: The Ogidigboigbo Goes to Jail

THISDAY Newspaper- Agha Ibiam

Not many are surprised that Chief James Onanefe Ibori, former colourful governor of Delta State would bag years of imprisonment at the London courts.

The signs that he will do several years in jail have been there. That his wife, Theresa (better known as Nkoyo), only sister, Christine Ibori-Ibie, mistress, Udoamaka Okoronkwo and his lawyer and fiduciary agent, Bhadresh Gohil, have all been previously jailed on account of their various illegal deals with Ibori, it would take only a metaphysical miracle to free Ibori from the web of crime that sent all his allies into the cold prison rooms.

Tuesday, his day came. A day of ignominy. A day that blurs all the glitz and charm that trailed him while he served as governor of the oil-rich Delta State for eight years. After an animated suspence of how long or short his jail term will be, Judge Anthony Pitts of the Southwark Crown Court 9, London, slammed him with 13 years imprisonment. Given the special arithmetic of prison calendars, Ibori will remain locked up behind bars, between four and five years. And all of that is because of the negotiation that preceded the guilt plea by Ibori last February. He admitted that he was guilty of seven of the 10-count charge slammed on him. The Judge said his jail term had to be discounted for his “courage” in admitting his guilt.

In a way, the sentence Tuesday, draws a tattered curtain on the political career of the former governor. The previous scandals of having been an ex-convict were hardly proven with finite finishing. Not anymore. This guilt and conviction has been celebrated on a global dias. His career has thus come to a terminal ruin.

The detailed revelations from the trial and eagle-eyed investigations have shown that Ibori’s name and image will almost collocate with crime. He had walked through crimes in the past. By his admittance of guilt, the claims of the prosecutor, Sasha Wass, have all been confirmed. He was probably right to have described Ibori as “a thief in Government House”.

Ibori along with his wife, Theresa, have been convicted and fined twice in the UK for stealing and such fraud-related offences. They were once convicted at Isleworth Crown Court. The details of the rougish nature and conduct of Ibori are ignoble and embarrassing. That perhaps explains why Ibori had to change his date of birth, so as to blurt off the records of his odious past. And his wife, stepped down her baptismal name and played up her alliterative native name—Nkoyo, all to screed a paste on the imperfect past.

In Nigeria, in 2002/3, the saga of Ibori and the stolen roofing sheets broke. As expected of a decrepit judicial system, the prosecution was rather bungled as nothing could be established against Ibori, even as a judge had confirmed a certain James Onanefe Ibori for the said offence in 1995. All that rolled off.

Perhaps but for his political foray Ibori could have remained unheard of and unexposed, for the rest of his life. But he wanted power, influence and all the appurtenances of such power.

The little known Ibori had happened on the political scene in the hey days of the late Gen Sani Abacha’s regime, where he exerted some good influence, albeit with foggy functions.

First, he had aligned with defunct Grassroot Democratic Movement (GDM). And later the PDP. Ibori had stunned political bookmakers in his Delta State when he walked in with a swagger and picked the PDP gubernatorial ticket.

His pocket was as deep as his self confidence. He beat political giants including his former teacher at University of Benin, Professor Sam Oyovbaire, to pick the ticket.

Ever since then, he rode on high waves, establishing a strong political kingdom, where he, as Ogidigboigbo, reigned as an unchallenged human deity.

In fact, at the end of his governorship term in 1997, Ibori would probably have remained in peace, but for his quest to be a political godfather. That drew him into the public square and beamed the klieg light on him. His activities were scanned with forensic lens and his hands were found full of filth.

As a governor, Ibori on a balance of fair assessment, performed. He rebuilt almost all the schools in the state, his zeal on infrastructure development was remarkable. His empowerment scheme was legendary. Little wonder that his loyalists have remained fanatical about their “leader”, even in the face of the odious testimonial.

Ibori was reckless in government. The details of his wealth are only a slice of the proof. He thought he could control tomorrow, even out of office. With his cousin as his successor, and the president as his sponsored candidate, Ibori was sure to have a peaceful and protected life out of office. But fate had a different plan. Presiddent Umaru Musa Yar’Adua took ill and died. And the plan scattered. A new Pharoah who knew no Joseph mounted the saddle.

And Ibori’s travails began. He was arrested and charged to court by the EFCC. He was detained in Kaduna prison, where he spent the Christmas and New Year of 2007. He soon wriggled out of that when a certain Justice Marcel Awokulehin, in an Asaba High Court, in a wonky judgment, discharged and acquitted him on all 170-count charge. That was in December 2009.

But in 2010, the case was re-opened under President Jonathan. Ibori evaded arrest several times. His Oghara brethren shielded him zealously. And Ibori re-appeared in Dubai, where he was eventually arrested and repatriated to the UK to answer charges of corruption. The sentencing Tuesday becomes the culmination of the process.

But many believe Ibori couldn’t have succeeded in his roguery without the active connivance of the banks, even the British banks. A lot of funds were wired through HSBC, Barclays, Citibank and Abbey National (now owned by Santander).

Global Witness is worried about the connivance of the banks, noting that, “by doing business with Ibori and his associates, these banks facilitated his corrupt behaviour and allowed him to spend diverted state assets on a luxury lifestyle, including a private jet and expensive London houses, while many Nigerians continue to live in poverty,” said Robert Palmer, a campaigner with Global Witness.

This case raises serious questions about the due diligence that Barclays and the other banks carried out on Ibori and his associates. What checks did these banks do to ensure that the funds they were handling were not the proceeds of corruption?

But more importantly, the conviction of Ibori should serve as a wake-up call for the Nigerian judiciary. Not only was Ibori declared innocent in Nigeria, some other 19 former governors who have been standing trial since 2007, are not only free, many of them are the distinguished lawmakers of Nigeria. The UK courts have been able to achieve conviction within just a year of the trial. Where is the will power in Nigeria? How many Iboris are on the streets?


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