James Ibori: The New Avatar?
In 1997, the Nigerian media space was enlarged with the entry of the Diet newspaper. It paraded some of the finest wordsmiths in the clime and it seemed rather promising. Alas barely a year later, the ‘ogbanje’ syndrome crept in and it found its way into abyss where the requiem was done for many other newspapers and magazines which had entered with a similar loud bang.
The paper though short lived gave national prominence to its publisher, James Onanefe Ibori. Some sources speculated that he got about five hundred million naira from the late maximum dictator, Sani Abacha to use the rag sheet for the purpose of image laundering. Others opined that he made a fortune as a security consultant for the dark goggled, introverted sadist and had a hand in the death of the late politician and businessman, Chief Alfred Rewane.
The controversies around him made him have a massive populist appeal and against all odds upset the apple cart by defeating Late Senator Felix Ibru in the PDP primaries of 1999. The late Ibru was backed by the influential Guardian newspapers – arguably the most powerful at the time, a boot load of inexhaustible cash from his late elder brother, Michael Ibru and an extensive network. The upstart, Ibori who had earlier lost his bid to go into the Federal House of Representatives in 1991 was not intimidated by all these and proved to be the man of the moment indeed.
He proved to be a good student of Niccolo Machiavelli when he mounted the saddle as the second civilian helmsman of the state fondly referred to as the Big Heart. He ensured massive development came to his native Oghara and sold himself as a champion of the south-south cause by spearheading the fight for resource control and a better deal in the derivation formula that was a mere thirteen percent.
He had a brush with former President Olusegun Obasanjo as a result of his resource control and pro federalism stance. The erstwhile two time ruler was eager to maintain the unitary status of the nation and was not in a hurry to concede to this then Young Turk. Ibori smartly read the political barometer and made Tony Anenih Jnr, the eldest son of Obasanjo’s Man Friday, Chief Tony Anenih the head of the Delta State Contract Verification Panel so as not to jeopardise his chances of losing the 2003 re-elections.
While his colleagues were running to the Senate and angling for ministerial appointments to remain politically relevant, he emerged from behind the scenes as one of the power brokers in the administration of the late Umaru Musa Yar’adua. He was allegedly the brain behind Chief Michael Kaase Aondoaka’s appointment as Attorney-General who was said to do a yeoman’s job of keeping him a free man. His former finance commissioner, David Edevbie found his way to the villa as Principal Secretary – a newly created office. He never forgot the age-long adage that charity begins at home and ensured his cousin, Emmanuel Uduaghan who served as his health commissioner and secretary to the state government succeeded him. He was indeed the ‘voice’ of the south-south.
His die-hard supporters opine that his troubles started because he was in the bad books of Goodluck Jonathan whom he allegedly snubbed when the latter was vice president. A salient fact remains that he pleaded guilty to the charges before the London Southwack crown court which casts a huge slur on the integrity of our judiciary. The invasion of the homes of some Judges by the Department for State Security is a pointer to the can of worms in the bench at all levels.
The culture of celebrating corrupt politicians has its roots even before the lowering of the Union Jack. In 1955, the late Adegoke Adelabu a.k.a Penkelemesi was forced to resign as the Minister for Social Services and was summoned to answer to corruption charges by the Nicholson Commission of Enquiry. Shortly before the trial, the charismatic politician opened the doors of his Cadillac and ensured that the masses passed through it. He then asked them whether any of them had ever gotten close to the car of his arch-rival, Obafemi Awolowo whom he unsuccessfully tried to unseat as the Western region’s Premier. The ‘hypnotised’ supporters screamed outside the courtroom that it was better that Adelabu embezzled their funds as a fellow Ibadan man rather than for it to find its way to Ikenne. In 1957, the great Zik of Africa hurriedly called for a general election after being found guilty by the Foster-Sutton tribunal of a conflict of interest in handling the affairs of the then African Continental Bank. Throwing the nationalism card, the gullible masses swallowed his argument of being persecuted hook, line and sinker and returned him back to office with a landslide. Bode George had a party organised for him by his horde of hangers on. It was no surprise that Ibori’s supporters flew to London to celebrate the release of their hero who had demystified being behind bars by still calling the shots from there as an infamous guest of her Majesty. Senator Peter Nwaboshi openly praised the sagacity of his master and revealed that he was responsible for Saraki, Dogara and many positions of some present public office holders. Dogara was quick to deny this and Saraki has kept mum. The Nigerian political terrain is indeed an interesting and comical one.
We wait with bated interest as to when he would come back home and some lawyers are already divided as to whether he should be re-tried when he eventually arrives. There is some subtle talk for him to be granted a presidential pardon as his fans insist his travails were politically motivated and their master can do now wrong. With the current war against corruption, their request could be worse than a starry-eyed lad asking for the moon.
One thing is clear that the failed state that the ‘Giant of Africa’ has tragically descended into makes the hapless populace seek solace in corrupt politicians who are a bit ‘generous’ and remember to throw some crumbs at them. The rejoicing in Oghara, Asaba, Patani and other parts of the oil rich state is a clear tragedy of how an emotionally and psychologically battered people can hold up criminals as role models and scramble to sniff their farts. There was pin drop silence from the same oppressed people when it was revealed by the Delta state government that Ibori was paid a whopping 250 million in jail as part of his entitlements as governor.
The latest pet project still whispered in hush tones is the possibility of him succeeding Buhari. Anything can happen as the emergence of Trump is one such proof. Would Ibori toe the path of Mandela and Obasanjo who emerged from prison to the presidency?
Nothing should shock you in the theatre of the absurd!
Happy New Year in advance even though this year would start on a fresh note for millions on the 14th.