By Denrele Animasaun, from London
In a closed society where everybody’s guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.” – Hunter S. Thompson
In case you missed the news on Wednesday,18th of April, James Ibori, the former governor of one of Nigeria’s oil-producing states, pleaded guilty in a UK court to 10 counts of money-laundering and conspiracy to defraud, at Southwark Crown Court, South East London. The case is estimated to be worth as much as $250m over eight years, according to police.
“The money was lavished on a portfolio of luxury houses, fleets of top-of-the-range cars, fees at some of the UK’s most expensive boarding schools, first-class travel, expensive hotels and even a $20m private jet,” the Metropolitan Police, which investigated Mr Ibori along with Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, said in a statement.
The prosecutor called him a “thief in government house and common criminal”. The rise and fall of the likes of Ibori is stuff of fictions only, sadly it so very true. Ibori is not an isolated case and there are more of Iboris lining up to covet the national coffers to their private bank or ATM.
I have long accepted that the “Iboris” of Nigeria do not represent the honest, hard working Nigerians who despite the hardship and level of corruption, go out to make an honest living and inspire their children and those around them that through hard work and only hard work do you get a just reward. James Ibori did get his just dessert in the long run and am sure that he will have time to think about his crimes while locked up in jail.
Ibori’s crimes did not start when he got to the governor’s house, he and his wife had been at it while they were working in a DIY store in England, he had a criminal record and yet he rose to a position of power and given the carte blanche to spend money as if it was going out of fashion. Ibori has been convicted in the UK before – in 1991 for stealing, in cahoots with his wife who worked as a cashier, from the Neasden, London, branch of the DIY shop Wickes.
He was also found guilty in 1992 for being in possession of a stolen credit card and having used it to fraudulently withdraw $1,590.
We need to examine ourselves as Nigerians if the likes of Iboris are the markers of success in our country and if our aspirations are to milk the system for all its worth. We need to re-examine our conscience, sense of pride and dignity.
There is an uncomfortable pattern of self gratification and delusion of grandeur that occurs when some assume high position in Nigeria, that they lose all sense of proportions and decency. We need to reclaim and restore our national pride in honesty, hard work and pride in one and another .
More poignantly, was the absence and the inability of the Nigerian legal system to investigate Ibori’s case thoroughly that he was given the free reign to continue to abuse his position and make mockery of the Nigerian legal system.
“He was never the legitimate governor and there was effectively a thief in government house. As the pretender of that public office, he was able to plunder Delta state’s wealth and hand out patronage.” Some $35m of his alleged UK assets were frozen in 2007.
Under its federal system, state governors enjoy huge powers and control budgets larger than those of many West African countries. Governors, have immunity from prosecution while in office. No matter how long these people cling to office, they will have to atone for their crimes just as Ibori had done , it is not a matter of if but, when.
Prosecuting QC Sasha Wass said Mr Ibori, 53, had “tricked” his way into becoming Delta state governor, by giving a false date of birth and claiming he had no criminal record. Every part of his rise to power is flawed with inaccuracies and at no time was he stopped and reprimanded.
This made the likes of Ibori feel invincible and untouchable. When his trial at London’s Southwark Crown Court was about to begin, Mr Ibori changed his plea to guilty and admitted stealing money from Delta state and laundering it in London through a number of offshore companies.
The Metropolitan Police Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had asked the UK’s Metropolitan Police to look into the ex-governor’s financial affairs and are actively seeking the confiscation of all of his stolen assets so they can be repatriated for the benefit of the people of Delta state.
“The vast sums of money involved were used to fund Mr Ibori’s lavish lifestyle,” Detective Inspector Paul Whatmore, the officer in charge of the investigation, said. He said that the money Ibori stole should have been used to pay for sanitation, power supplies and healthcare for some of the poorest people in the world
Ibori spent some of the stolen money buying six houses in London – he paid £2.2m in cash for one Hampstead mansion – and put his children in expensive British private schools, police say. Two other former state governors have been convicted of corruption charges in Nigeria, after fleeing the UK while free on bail.
“To oppose corruption in government is the highest obligation of patriotism.” — G. Edward Griffin