“In it until you die – convicted Nigerian politician signals a come back”.
That’s the screaming headline that the number one global news leader, Reuters ascribed to former Delta State Governor, James lbori who was recently released from a United Kingdom penitentiary where he was convicted after pleading guilty(under duress) to money laundering charges.
Having had his freedom curtailed for nearly seven years while being held in both Dubai, the United Arab Emirates from where he was extradited to the United Kingdom and jailed, he has literarily been a guest of the devil and survived in the nearly ten years period of leaving office as governor in May 2007.
But despite his travails, lbori remains as solid as the rock of Gibraltar politically, physically and mentally.
That he has vowed to remain in politics until he dies as conveyed in the interview with a Reuters Correspondent, attests to the fact that lbori might have been knocked down by virtue of his long prison sojourn, but he is not out, because his spirit is not broken or his enthusiasm for politics, dampened.
In fact, as a demonstration of their solidarity towards lbori , his legion of supporters nationwide, who believe that lbori is a victim of political machinations, regard the period he spent in the penitentiary as a learning experience in the university of life. And indeed, lbori has learnt a lot about life and what it takes to conquer its vicissitudes.
Part of the lbori myth is that most of the people who betted against him politically ended up being the losers due to his ability to rise to his feet like a great pugilist who jumps to his feet each time he is knocked down until he defeats his opponents.
Let’s take a cursory look at those who betted against lbori, including two past Presidents-Olusegun Obasanjo, OBJ and Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GEJ whose political fortunes have now practically ebbed.
Apart from two past presidents an organisation which betted against Ibori and lost is the British Trade and Aid Agency, Department of Foreign Investment and Development, DFID, which in pursuit of their business interests rather than for altruistic reasons, funded the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission , EFCC in Nigeria to prosecute , if not persecute lbori, and also sponsored the Metropolitan Police which continued with the prosecution (persecution) of lbori in the UK after defeating the EFCC fairly and squarely in Nigerian courts.
But first let’s delve further in the OBJ and GEJ Ibori conundrum.
According to some conspiratorial accounts, it was under the tenure of the aforementioned two presidents that lbori was framed up. The first time was the trumped up allegation of lbori being an ex-convict which was concocted as a reprisal by his politician enemies. Political observers believe that it was a vendetta by OBJ against lbori who led 26 other Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governors to initially oppose his reelection as president in 2003.
So the motive behind lbori’s first political travail was to thwart his second term bid as Governor as a reprisal, but he defeated his antagonists in court and got voted back into office.
The second political victimisation of lbori occurred when allegations of corruption which he had defended successfully in court were suddenly resurrected after late President Umaru Yar’Adua passed away in 2010 and then Vice President , Goodluck Jonathan had to step up as Acting President following the introduction of Doctrine of Necessity by the National Assembly, NASS.
Analysts believe that re arraigning lbori was a political plot aimed at getting him out of the way to facilitate the plan for the Acting President to present himself for election as president.
Sensing that these nefarious actions were part of a treacherous ploy to clamp him in jail and possibly give him the treatment meted out to Shehu Yar’Adua , Sanni Abacha and Moshood Abiola of blessed memories while in prison , detention and house arrest respectively, lbori decided to take a recess from Nigerian politics by going on self-exile.
This is because as an astute strategist in political warfare, lbori knew when to advance or retreat , but unbeknown to him, the political forces after him in Nigeria would combine with powerful UK organizations with tentacles and competing business interests with him to arrest him while in Dubai, get him extradited to and incarcerated in the UK.
According to political observers, despite the fact that the aforementioned lbori traducers succeeded in abridging his freedom using the instrumentality of government through abusive court processes that featured police bribery, intimidation and cover up as well as suppression of information material to the case, by the crown prosecution service, CPS the pair of OBJ and GEJ have literarily become political Lilliputians today.
This is because in the cause of pursing vendetta against lbori, they more or less destroyed the party platforms that they stood on to become presidents, which amounts to cutting their nose to spite their face.
And here is how it happened.
After they both succeeded in hounding Ibori out of Nigeria into UK gaol, OBJ worked assiduously towards the political down fall of GEJ, his erstwhile protege by joining forces against him to scuttle his second term or is it third term bid in 2015. By that action, he sounded the death knell for the PDP by publicly tearing up his party membership card.
Had GEJ not been rejected in his 2015 bid presidential bid, he would have spent ten years as president which could have surpassed OBJ’s record as the first military head of state who returned to serve two terms (8 years) as president in a democratic dispensation.
Given that OBJ failed in his third term gambit that could have earned him another four years (12 years in total) as president, some would argue that OBJ could not stomach the possibility of GEJ having the chance to clock 10 years, hence he pitched his tent against his being voted back in office.
Keep in mind that lbori had pitched his tent against OBJ as they were both on opposite sides of the resource control issue.
While the former president wanted what he termed resource management, lbori preferred resource control by Niger Deltans which was the basis for his election as governor in 1999.
That was lbori’s first ‘sin’.
His second ‘transgression ‘ was when lbori led the 26 governors of the PDP which were opposed to OBJ’s reelection to party chairman Audu Ogbe to express their preference for then, Vice President Atiku Abubakar, stepping up to contest as president.
Analysts believe that following the two actions highlighted above, the battle line between lbori and OBJ were drawn.
On the part of GEJ, in his desperation to get reelected, he went ‘nuclear’ (as they say in America when established rules are changed by extraneous circumstances ), as he altered the party rules with respect to election timetable to suit his selfish end.
That move signaled GEJ’s political waterloo.
Apparently, working with a team deficient in consensus building skills required to inspire the buy-in of his colleagues for his reelection ambition, the PDP was destroyed by internal wrangling under GEJ’s watch as he failed to carry his critically important party members along.
The assertion above is evidenced by the party’s rather shoddy and uninspiring response when five governor’s walked out of PDP convention ground in eagle square Abuja along with former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
As the party apparatchik did not see the handwriting on the wall or understand the real politick that was unfolding, GEJ and some party stalwarts made empty boasts about the party not needing the deserters, and that turned turn out to be another big mistake and the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back for the erstwhile ruling party.
By changing the election timetable that hitherto made presidential elections the last in the lineup, and making his election the first on the pecking order, some pundits saw GEJ as shooting himself in the foot as the funds for the mobilisation of the electorate did not percolate down to politicians at the grass root levels where it was needed.
This is because other politicians whose elections were pending-governors and legislators-were withholding the funds to prosecute their own election campaigns instead of the presidential elections which was at hand.
Under the previous arrangement, it is the various campaigns for other political office seekers that gather momentum which culminates into the election of the president but under GEJ, the reverse was the case.
So while most PDP members were wringing their hands and blaming Jonathan for not releasing funds for the prosecution of his election, little did they know that the former president had allegedly released billions of naira through the Office of the National Security Adviser, ONSA headed by Ahmed Dasuki, who had custody of the $2.1b, ostensibly meant to procure arms/ammunitions to prosecute the war against Boko Haram but to be surreptitiously deployed as campaign funds – a scandal now infamously tagged Dasukigate.
Had then ruling party not lost the election , prompting the probe on ONSA, (if indeed $2.1b meant for arms procurement was converted to campaign slush funds and arms were not procured) Nigerians, particularly PDP faithful might not have known who received campaign funds on their behalf but failed to disburse the money accordingly.
While not discounting the relentless and gallant efforts put up by the then main opposition party, All Progressive Party, APC, which made sure that the traditional sources of funding the campaigns of the ruling party such as the national oil company NNPC and the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN were blocked, Jonathan’s leadership failed to be pragmatic enough to manage the insurrection within the party that he was leading.
In shinning the light on the activities of the organs of government-the NNPC and CBN- which are cash cows via the alarm by former governor of CBN, now Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi that $48b ( later $20b) oil receipts were missing, compelling the probe of NNPC account by the National Assembly, NASS , which culminated in the audit of the state oil behemoth by the accounting and audit firm, PriceWaterHouseCoopers, PWC, and thus made the presidency to look elsewhere for campaign funds, the ONSA looked like the most secured alternative source for campaign slush funds.
To be fair to politicians, such nefarious practices are not peculiar to Nigeria because in India , construction firms are the conduits for campaign slush funds.
Unsurprisingly, as Jonathan’s election was like the biblical story of trying to pass a camel’s head through the eyes of a needle, most governors and legislators flying the PDP flag, suffered similar misfortunes.
Thus, the APC-coalition of political parties which was the minority party barely two years ago , became majority by sheer no of governors and legislators in its fold due to political naivety on the part of then Aso Rock occupants.
To that extent, GEJ through pursuit of narrow selfish interests completed the destruction of the PDP which OBJ had started when he vociferously opposed GEJ’s bid for reelection and tore up party membership card as symbolism .
Nothing more poignantly illustrates the soured relationship between OBJ and Jonathan, co antagonists of lbori than an article by Olusegun Adeniyi, the editorial board chairman of THISDAY newspaper titled “Lest’s Buhari Becomes a ‘Captive King’ ” and published on the back page of the THISDAY of Thursday, February 2, 2017.
Adeniyi wrote “For instance, in the course of my interview with president Obasanjo, l accused him of being part of the “cabal” that gave president Buhari to Nigeria. “l didn’t join them in supporting Buhari. I joined in opposing Jonathan so Buhari was just a beneficiary of my position which was Any Option But Jonathan” President Obasanjo replied before theatrically reeling out the acronym for me A-O-B-J!”.
Considering that lbori strongly believed in the power rotation principle of the PDP, following the demise of Yar’Adua in 2010, he amongst others expressed the opinion that presidential power should remain in the north so GEJ can serve out the remaining of Yar’Adua’s term and the PDP should allow another northern candidate contest for the office of president in 2011 but GEJ would not have that, hence the tweaking of party rules and arm twisting of dissenters to the ploy.
Ibori as a northern president advocate in 2011 which is in fulfillment of the letter and spirit of power rotation principle of the party, became the enemy of GEJ as he was seen as a stumbling block.
Being arch political enemies of both past and present presidents owing to the stance that he took in 2003 against OBJ and in 2011 against GEJ, lbori was caught in the vortex of political storm , fiery enough to make his passage into exile in Dubai, UAE inevitable.
His subsequent ordeal in the UK where the forces that had conflicting business interests with him were waiting to extradite him in order to extract their pound of flesh, completed the cycle of persecutors.
Ironically, while lbori who was absent from Nigerian political scene flourished, by design or omission, the two main conspirators against lbori in Nigerian political firmament ended up self-destructing politically owing to political back stabbing between them.
Unlike OBJ and GEJ that suffered political misfortunes as evidenced by OBJ’s loss of face due to his failure in his third term gambit in 2007 and the subsequent tearing up of his party membership card and GEJ’s unsuccessful bid to get reelected in 2015 leading to political his emasculation; during the period lbori was ‘attending the school of life’, his political fortune waxed stronger as reflected by the legion of politicians and ordinary Nigerians whom he has supported to attain lofty political heights and empowered while in incarceration in England, who could not wait to pay homage upon his return.
The flock of supporters visiting his Oghara residence to accord him a hero’s welcome, is a clear testimony and confirmation of the fact that lbori is a sort of political enigma because instead of being cowed by his penitentiary experience, Ibori has borne his burden stoically as opposed to his head being bowed.
As a matter of fact, the mammoth crowd that welcomed him home even though all efforts were made for him to return incognito, validates the dictum, it is good to be good.
By and large, Ibori’s tribulations have been legion as he has constantly been in the eye of political storms in his career of about two decades, but the good thing is that he has always triumphed, albeit at a heavy prize.
Without a shred of doubt, lbori’s gift in the art of inspiring and mobilising people as evidenced by the wave of cheering crowds attests to the fact that the Delta State born politician has passionate and ardent supporters across the broad spectrum of Nigerian political terrain and his brand of politics is almost like a religion with devotees having unflappable zeal to stand by him through thick and thin.
That sense of absolute loyalty by his supporters arising from his willingness to sacrifice himself in the interest of the people of Niger Delta whose cause he is fighting, is what’s is now on parade in Delta State where his political family has remained intact and nationwide, where he has built an extensive network of bridges which is responsible for the rousing hero’s welcome and encomiums being poured on him.
Between 2002 -7, so much was the affliction of Ibori by powerful political foes controlling the levers of power in the presidency using the EFCC, SSS and police force against him that former lagos state governor and APC national leader , Bola Ahmed Tinubu once nick-named him Akpamaku- 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 2003 when he was preparing for his second term as governor and led other governors against former president Olusegun Obasanjo,OBJ who was also seeking a second term. The decision to stop OBJ 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 OBJ’s pre coronation agreement to serve only one term.
Leading 26 other PDP governors to meet with party chairman, Audu Ogbeh to register the opposition of the governors to the reelection of OBJ , 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 OBJ was nominated by PDP and subsequently got reelected.
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 de’ tat which was not followed through was targeted for destruction.
So Ibori’s frame up as ex-convict was a farce designed to halt his reelection bid and to kill him politically.
Invariably, OBJ’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, OBJ who went after Ibori for standing against his reelection 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 OBJ was being clever by half, to literarily 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.
Recall that Chief Audu Ogbe, was also sacked by OBJ 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 the reelection of OBJ in 2003.
Act 2, scene 1:
The second time another president betted against Ibori and lost , was when late President, 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, NASS.
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 party, saw to it that all stumbling blocks on the path to achieving his ambition like lbori were removed by hook or crook .
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 twenty, 20 months ago, has been bemoaning the calamity that befell our country after six years of what they term visionless leadership resulting in socioeconomic 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 is the glue holding the PDP together being trampled, the newly energised and rampaging APC rode into town like the legendary knight in shining amour 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 noses, as he triumphed over them.
Interestingly, it is not only Nigerians 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 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 literarily be in hot water by the time lbori 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 told a lie that lbori had laundered $250m 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 government 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 of 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 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 resource control struggle through intellectual efforts after Boroh tried through the famous Kaima 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 centers in all the 25 Local Government Areas of the state.
The foregoing are just his signature projects executed between 1999-2007 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 home coming.
In conclusion, lbori weighed against OBJ’s re-election bid and a cloak of ex-convict was put on him to scuttle his reelection 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 ago cleared him of the allegation.
Amazingly, today, lbori has survived the vicious plots against him from two Nigerian presidents and powerful UK business interest as highlighted below:
(i) At the end of 8 years, to the chagrin of most Nigerians, the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was almost altered to accommodate the third term bid of OBJ.
lbori was vindicated for not initially supporting OBJ’s reelection until then Vice President Atiku Abubakar deferred to his boss.
(ii) Following the death of Umaru Yar’Adua, Ibori opposed the return of power to the south instead of respecting the Pdp rotation principle of 8 years per region, and got hounded out of Nigeria by those who were controlling the levers of power and apparatus of coercion at that time .
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’s 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 received reprimands instead of medals for their ignoble roles.
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 decoy 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 literarily 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.