Reflection on James Ibori
His achievements are as considerable as his background is somewhat murky and unclear.Like most Nigeria leaders, questions about him remain unanswered. For example, did he go to prison before he was elected governor of Delta State? It is true that our constitution forbids ex-convicts from holding political office. Before the election, it is not clear why INEC and SSS should have been unable to establish the truth or otherwise of the alleged London convictions. In London the processes of the criminal justice system normally photograph convicts and have their finger prints on file. Did someone dissuade INEC and SSS from checking? James is charismatic and he would have left a thorough footprint in London for our security forces to have easily followed with the help of the Police in the UK.
There is a strong connection between him and Abacha, Mike Adenuga, Abubakar Atiku, Wale and Bola Tinubu and several large ventures such as Kakawa Finance Company House, Airtel, and so on. He belonged to the club of rich men; though he was fantastically generous but he carried himself as a successful rich man.
Aminasari Dikibo was the National Vice Chairman for South and was his very good friend. In fact, he was on his way to visit James Ibori when he was assassinated. James Ibori, like most PDP members, never believed that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo would want second term. Ibori had said electing OBJ for a second term was unwise and that OBJ was unelectable.
This is why OBJ had it in for James Ibori, who had led the movement to stop Obasanjo’s second term bid because that was the original agreement at the time of recruiting OBJ to run in 1999. OBJ was to be President for only one term, so even the third term proposal was unacceptable. James Ibori led the Southern revolt, and he wanted to be the Vice President. But James and his fellow governors in South South thought that one of them deserved the office of the Vice President and worked assiduously to achieve it.
His disagreement and travails with EFCC and in Courts and his eventual imprisonment was preceded by lengthy protracted court proceedings in Nigeria. But even there he was politically active from jail in the UK.
The Metropole Hilton Hotel on Edgware Rd was the place of choice for the hundreds who went to visit him in London. James was not the only politician who went to jail. Other politicians have been in jail, all over the world, especially during the colonial era. For a politician to be arrested during the colonial era was a badge of honour for the Nigerian politician.
During the military rule in Nigeria hundreds of politicians were incarcerated. In fact, you were not a serious politician if the iron grip of the military did not detain you.
James Ibori was surrounded by bright young men who were his first respondents. They have remained loyal to him. Even so, some questions still persist about James Ibori. Was he convicted in Abuja? The court could not decide, indicating failure of the Appeal Court system. Normally finger printing and photography ought to have been used.
Other famous prisoners – Bode George, OBJ – both came out of prison emboldened and more determined to fight for power and to clear their names. It is a question of personal opinion whether or not they succeeded.
But many others have been in prison and ended up being leaders. There is a long list -especially in colonial period. Headed by the most famous Gandhi, Pandit Nehru, Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, Ali and Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan.
Ibori remains popular. More so than Ogbemudia who by all accounts did a lot for the then Mid-West. James, by far the most popular leader, seems to control the party even from an English jail: from where he was able to dictate the outcome of the last Delta election.
But he was accused of serious crimes. Should someone accused and convicted of crimes of betraying public trust have such power? Had he stayed in Nigeria, he might have survived without imprisonment. Should he continue to be relevant?
One cannot quarrel with a man who is so loved by his people. But we have to question the morals of people who make such allowances for a convicted bribe giver and who “stole” the people’s money. Is the issue one of relativity? Whereas other governors did what he did and went scot free, he was bitter when disposed of even though he helped a lot of people, built roads; he put Delta in the fore front of states of Nigeria. Delta’s voice was as strong as it was relevant.
There are two views of James Ibori- one that he was a mere victim of circumstances which conspired against him, led by his considerable powerful enemies. The second view is that this is a hard-boiled unscrupulous manipulative politician unafraid of taking risks. He was imbued by a singleness of purpose which put steel in his backbone. He was a patriot of his people ready to lead them to their destiny by whatever means necessary.
Delta though is ethnically divided, James Ibori seems to have achieved great harmony with all sets of the people – he took his time to listen and operated in their best interest.
What is my grouse with James? It is that he is now serving time for a crime he committed? When he gets out, should that fact of imprisonment still haunt him? Most criminologists would argue that he should not be further disturbed, that he may have been reformed; he had been punished; he should not therefore suffer any more. Not all would agree afterall there is the issue of being a role model. His incarceration may have changed him to be an even better person, but that is still left to been seen. I felt the same when Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu was returning from Abidjan. The whole of Lagos came to a stop. It was as if a hero was coming back to repossess his own. For me, I had a different feeling. Yes the war was over but he was not a hero. He was a misguided man dealing with difficult circumstances, led by other equally misguided people. He did his best with what he had: but there is always another side. What if at the end of the World War II, Hitler was to come back to Germany, what would be Germany’s reaction?
This piece was written long before Ibori gained his freedom but I did not publish it because James Ibori was a political genius, loved by his people even though he looks like a fallen hero in a Shakespearean tragedy, like King Lear. One thing is clear: Ibori’s arrival in Delta will change the political dynamics of Delta State and thereby of the South-South.