Former Delta State Governor, James Ibori has returned home after a 13-year jail term in the United Kingdom. His return has already set in motion a chain of events. Assistant Editor LEKE SALAUDEEN examines the implication of his return for the Delta State politics.
The return of former Governor James Ibori of Delta State to the warm embrace of his kinsmen has shown that he is still loved by his people. Ibori returned to Nigeria penultimate Saturday, after serving a 13-year jail term in the United Kingdom. He was jailed by a London court on April 17, 2012, after pleading guilty to 10-count charge of money laundering and conspiracy to defraud. Despite the stigma that is usually attached to being an ex-convict, Ibori’s prison service did not deter his people from giving him a hero’s welcome.
To celebrate his homecoming, the oil-rich state came to a standstill last week, as the people shut markets, shops and offices in his hometown of Oghara, the commercial hub of Warri and the state capital, Asaba, as a mark of respect for the former governor. Irrespective of the travails of Ibori, the people of Delta State, especially politicians, still hold him in high esteem. Eminent personalities, including Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and his predecessor, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, visited Ibori to rejoice with him. Ibori governed the state from 1999 to 2007.
A large turnout of people besieged his country home in Oghara, to receive him the day he arrived. The place was a Mecca of sorts throughout last week, as political associates paid homage to the man widely regarded as the godfather of Delta politics. A close confidant of Ibori, Senator Ighoyota Amori said: “We are happy that our leader is back. The jubilation and the enthusiasm displayed by our people showed that we really missed him. Our joy knows no bounds over his triumphal return to his fatherland. Ibori remains our hero. He remains our political leader.”
Another close associate, Paul Abu, also said: “We are excited our brother is back hale and hearty. Today is a remarkable day and a day of joy. Whether you accept it or not, Ibori is a phenomenon and an institution in Nigeria’s political landscape. Our people need his contributions towards their advancement. Politics in Urhobo will surely wear a new look.”
The Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Mr Leo Ogor, said he and other politicians from the state were in mood of celebration, because they see Ibori as a political leader whose return must be celebrated. Ogor, who represents Isoko Federal Constituency, said: “Ibori’s release calls for celebration. He’s our great leader whose political prowess knows no bounds. Let’s just keep politics from his release. I know for sure that Ibori will not jump parties, but if he decides to do so, we will go along with him, because he is our leader.”
Ibori’s political dynasty
Based on his antecedents since the return to civil rule in 1999, the former governor is believed to have established a political dynasty in the state. No one has held any significant political office in the state since then without his blessing. For instance, Uduaghan and Okowa were handpicked by him.
A close confidant of Ibori who pleaded anonymity said while he was in prison in the UK, he superintended over the affairs of the state seamlessly. He said: “As long as he lives, his influence will continue to dominate the state. Almost all political bigwigs and power brokers look up to him for blessings. Nothing significant takes place without his knowledge and consent. Somehow, his approval is required.
“Before he returned home, there was a regular exodus of people to London, to pay homage to him. In the battle for the 2007 governorship ticket between the incumbent governor and his predecessor, Ibori’s decision prevailed on the kingmakers; a situation that compelled Okowa to soft-pedal, to allow Uduaghan to clinch the governorship, with the assurance that the governor should wait for his turn in 2015.
“As the 2015 governorship approached, London became the second home of those seeking Ibori’s blessing to emerge as governor. Those who sought his blessing for the PDP governorship ticket in 2015 include: the incumbent governor; the current Commissioner for Finance, David Edevbie; the Director General of Asaba Capital Territory Development and Clement Ofuani.
“This is so because Ibori is seen as the father of Delta politics and his decision to a great extent always carries the day. The present administration of Governor Okowa is a continuation of his dynasty. Ibori is seen as the great man of Delta; hence, he is referred to as the Odidigborigbo of Africa by his fans across the state and other parts of the country.”
But why is Ibori still held in high esteem in Delta State, despite the fact that he has just finished a jail term for money laundering? Civil right activist, Comrade Michael Afe, said those who benefitted from Ibori’s looting of the public treasury will continue to adore him forever. He said while in prison they paid solidarity visits to him in London. Even his birthday was celebrated by the government and people of Delta State in absentia.
Okowa justified the celebration of Ibori’s 58th birthday last August, attributing it to his sterling contribution to the development of the state. The governor extolled the enigmatic political prowess of Ibori, whom he described as his former boss, an astute administrator and leader of impeccable disposition. According to Okowa, the sterling contributions of Ibori to the development of Delta State and Nigeria are legendary. He said such contributions will remain a subject of discourse by contemporary political watchers.
The Speaker, Delta State House of Assembly, Mr. Monday Igbuya, described the former governor as a distinguished Nigerian who relentlessly pursued resource control, a noble cause for the benefit of not only Delta State, but the entire Southsouth region. He said the former governor worked hard to improve the economic well-being of the state and deserves more credit in this respect.
Igbuya said: “Chief James Ibori occupies a special place in the hearts of the people. He is a true Deltan and will always be noted in history as such. Chief Ibori is an outstanding Nigerian. He is a good political leader. He epitomizes many good things. Ibori is a man of rare talent and ambition. He holds no animosity toward anyone. He insisted on pragmatic and moderation in government programmes.”
The Speaker who recalled Ibori’s achievements, service to community, to the state and the country in general, said the former governor, apart from performing the task of government well, guided the PDP to victory in 2007. Specifically, he commended Ibori for improving the state’s education system, providing better roads, building bridges, facilitating the training of Deltans in local and foreign universities and providing selfless service to mankind.
Meanwhile, his return has triggered another crisis. According to highly-placed sources, there was anxiety in Okowa’s cabinet. Since his return, there has been an uneasy calm in the political landscape of the state, as some political appointees contemplate their future in the event of a cabinet reshuffle.
A source at the Government House, Asaba, who spoke in confidence, said there may be a cabinet reshuffle, to re-engineer and realign the government to present political realities. He said with the arrival of Ibori, the politics of the state has changed. He disclosed that the fear may not be unconnected with the speculation that the former governor may defect to the All Progressives Congress (APC); a development that may alter the political equation in the state.
Many Nigerians have expressed displeasure over the celebration of the return of Ibori by his kinsmen. They described the situation as condemnable, unfortunate and uncalled for. A retired civil servant, Mr Andrew Oghifo, said it was unfortunate that the people of Delta State celebrated Ibori as a hero, even though he admitted in court that he plundered the state’s treasury.
Oghifo said: “It is a shame that a man who served a jail term in far away United Kingdom is being celebrated here in Nigeria. What signal are we sending to the international community? Ibori is an ex-convict and should be treated like a common criminal.
“It is a shame that we are celebrating those who contributed to the under-development of the state; those who were responsible for the increased rate of unemployment, poverty and infrastructural decay. Until we start to change our ways and mindset, we will continue to wallow in abject poverty.”
Expressing a similar view, a market woman, Mrs Grace Johnson, said the jubilation that heralded the return of Ibori was uncalled for. Johnson, an indigene of Delta State, said it is a shame that an ex-convict who contributed to the under-development of the state is being celebrated in that manner.
Johnson said most Nigerians are suffering from what she described as the poverty of the mind. She added: “We value wealth so much; we don’t even care that the money stolen was meant for our welfare and development. All they want is that Ibori should continue to distribute the ill-gotten wealth to them.”
Also, Chief Chris Adigwe said that the celebration of Ibori’s return was uncalled for, as the former governor contributed in no small way to the under-development of the state. He wondered why people from Niger Delta continue to blame the Federal Government for the challenges confronting the region, whereas people like Ibori should be held responsible. “It is sad that the people of Delta State are celebrating him,” he added.
A Lagos-based lawyer, Mr Ireti Adebowale, said something must be done to stop celebration of criminality in the country, as it was becoming rampant. He expressed worry that the United Kingdom may not release the money in question to the Federal Government, with the kind of celebration accorded Ibori by his kinsmen.
Adebowale said a similar celebration was witnessed when the former Chief Security Officer to the late General Sani Abacha, Major Hamza Al-Mustapha was released. He said: “I feel really ashamed as a Nigerian. We don’t need people like that in our society any longer. They need to be isolated, so that they don’t corrupt more people.”
Similarly, an Urhobo leader, Chief Edward Okpere, said the problem of under-development of Delta State started with the Ibori administration. He said former Governor Uduaghan gave the true assessment of Ibori’s performance when he assumed office in 2007. According to him, Uduaghan disclosed that his predecessor abandoned over 418 road projects, valued at N133 billion. The projects, he said, had 1,372 kilometre length of roads and 744 kilometre length of drain.
Okpere noted that Uduaghan disclosed at a mid-term ministerial briefing that a total of 10 contracts were immediately repudiated for non-performance, when he assumed office in 2007. He said apart from the N43.2 billion spent on 60 per cent of the non-performing projects, N240.8 billion were expended on other 367 projects across the state. He disclosed that a works and construction company allegedly owned by Ibori and Inter-Bau Construction Company are some of the defaulting contractors sanctioned by Uduaghan’s administration for non-performance.
Okpere said: “The problems of Delta State started under Ibori. The state was the richest among the oil-producing states then. But outright stealing and diversion of public funds into private pockets robbed the state of the needed fund for developmental projects. I can’t even imagine that the debt profile of Delta State is as high as N637 billion, without anything to show for it. The debt started accumulating from Ibori’s regime.”
Analysts said if Ibori could wield such an enormous influence over the affairs of Delta State while in prison, what would be the fate of the state with his release from jail and his return to the country?Source: The Nation