For a man whose state was earning a big slice of the federal allocation when he was governor, going to jail for a mere $200 million is grossly unfair. Thus those who moved to bolster his spirit in court on Tuesday, April 17, 2012 are true friends of James Onanefe Ibori. They should ignore those who deride them as hirelings. What they intended to achieve with their unruly behaviour, however, in a sane society like Britain really astounds the imagination. They are lucky it was not in another unruly society, many of them would now be nursing injuries from the battering of policemen. And not a few would be behind bars. Perhaps, that would have pleased them to no end as that would ensure that Ibori would “not walk alone” in jail. This is not the first time a hired crowd would protest Ibori’s innocence. In 2010, when the officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission turned the heat on him, he fled to his Oghara, Delta State, home. And when policemen tried to arrest him, they were fiercely resisted by armed youths who were guarding the house. That confrontation, however, must have been an eye-opener for Ibori. The game was up. A new Pharaoh had mounted the throne, one who knew not Joseph. He fled abroad.
Many were the tales that made the rounds as to how he escaped. With his chubby, ebony blackface, many said he dressed like a woman and was spirited across the old NADECO route into a neighbouring country. That route was a network of many roads through which many prominent Nigerians, such as the late Anthony Enahoro and Prof. Wole Soyinka, fled into exile to escape the vice grip of General Sani Abacha. Do not forget Ibori was a consultant on security matters to the late Abacha, under whom he made a pile of money. That pile was big enough to raise eyebrows on the account into which the money was paid in the United States. He ran this successful consultancy only a few years after he had been convicted for theft in London. That conviction and a similar one by a Bwari, Abuja, court nearly ruined his second term ambition in 2003. Many Nigerians believed he oiled the system so well that the high court judge who heard the case insinuated that the testimony of the lower court judge who convicted a James Onanefe Ibori for negligence and theft was unreliable. Now we know better.
As he cools his feet in Wandsworth Prison, his home for the next five years or so, Ibori must be regretting the stupidity of his flight from Nigeria in 2010. He should take consolation in the fact that even the most intelligent criminals do have their off-days when they successfully scheme themselves into a dead end, where nemesis is calmly waiting for its pound of flesh. For at the time of his sudden flight from justice in Nigeria, Ibori’s wife, mistress, sister and lawyer were already in the firm grip of the law in Britain for aiding his money laundering business. Perhaps, hoping to save their own necks, they opened up on their individual roles. And the wife’s testimony in court actually exposed Ibori, the “common thief” and philanderer. Many Nigerian men would forgive him the philandering though, for who is that public official out there with tomes of money at his beck and call who will choose to cast the first stone when it comes to cheating the spouse? If the new prisoner had chosen to weather the storm at home rather than fleeing abroad, he will today be junketing up and down the Nigerian landscape. No matter, the heavy-duty allegations as to his malfeasance by the EFCC, his lawyers would have ensured that the case was tied in Gordian knots of injunctions. There are many former governors in Ibori’s shoes who have been charged to court for several years. Nothing is yet to come out of such cases. And they walk the land freely and rubbing shoulders with the powers that be.
All Ibori would have needed to assure his matter is held in abeyance is to swear fresh allegiance to the new Pharaoh in the land and prepare an IOU which would repeat the feat when he assisted the Peoples Democratic Party “to keep air-borne a flotilla of seven aero-planes and several helicopters and other logistics that gave it victory in the 2007 General Elections.” That quotation is courtesy of the South-south Grassroots Coalition in their advertorial in support of the former governor, published in several newspapers last week. Titled IBORI: YOU WILL NEVER WALK ALONE, the piece declared that Ibori was a victim of political persecution. It would have been surprising if the jailed former governor did not attract any sympathy for his travail from any quarter. Write-ups like this, the solidarity picket of his supporters in court last week and even the protest of youths in his hometown as to his “political persecution,” will surely lift his spirit and keep him company while he is “holidaying” in Britain.
His only regret would be that if he had been tried and found guilty at home, he could have had that rare opportunity to take over the running of the prison. Thus prison authorities would readily turn the blind eye when a section of their “estate” is turned into a three-bedroom apartment for a most distinguished inmate, who used to be “the Governor of governors… and the most prominent and influential governor of the Class of 1999 to 2007.” And many would have been the visitors, both the low and the mighty, that would have come to pay obeisance on the Ogidigboigbo, the invincible godfather. His Excellency, the prisoner, would even have been entitled to conjugal visits as many times as he desired. If the price is right too, a new permanent mistress may be duly installed in his official quarters in prison. These are all perks that could come his way without much sweat. After all, it is a matter of cash. And Ibori has it aplenty.
What he has been asked to forfeit to the state so far may just be a tiny per cent of what is believed to be his huge wealth largely made up of stolen fund. Although the curtain is for now drawn on the Ibori saga, it leaves a lot of queries for our judicial system. And out of a deep-felt anger at the rot in the whole system, not a few Nigerians would today buy into late Sam Mbakwe’s loud thought in 1983, that Britain should re-colonise us. Not a few would say perish the thought. But with so much mismanagement of our affairs by those ruling us, who can blame those who so speak out of despair. It would not be too out of sync, however, if through an Act of the National Assembly we farm out on a consultancy basis our judiciary to the British to manage for an initial period of 10 years. That step may finally bring us back to our senses by ensuring that many of our distinguished citizens who should be behind bars do not continue to brutalise our psyche with the nonchalance with which they flaunt their ill-gotten wealth in our face.