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

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