By Donu Kogbara
FORMER Delta State Governor, James Ibori, has just been jailed for l3 years in London by a British court…for defrauding the mostly suffering people of Delta State of nearly £50 million (N13 billion).
That’s one year in custody for each stolen billion, so the punishment certainly fits the crimes.
Pleasant, down to earth guy
I met Ibori a few times before he became notorious; and I warmed to him because he came across as an intelligent, pleasant, down-to-earth guy.
When I discovered that he had dedicated a large chunk of his life to financial crimes – starting with petty theft as a youngster and graduating to grand larceny when he got his hands on government funds – I was very disappointed and wished that he had used his brains and charisma to excel in honest ways.
But I never expected him to be punished for his kleptomania. This country is full of men and women who are just as greedy and fraudulent as Ibori – or even more addicted to ill-gotten billions than he was. But 99 per cent of them are at large and living large. And I assumed that Ibori would get away with it. And he very nearly did, thanks to Justice Marcel Awokulehin, the Nigerian judge who let him off the hook when the EFCC filed 170 corruption charges against him in 2009.
Fortunately, British judges are less easy to manipulate; and Ibori now faces a long, humiliating stretch in a foreign prison cell. And even though British jails are infinitely more comfortable than Nigerian jails, VIPs are not provided with special treatment in the UK and he’s not going to have a fun ride behind bars.
An English lawyer I know says that Ibori’s sentence will be substantially reduced if he behaves himself…and that his relatives and pals will be able to visit him quite often…and that he won’t have to share his cell with more than two fellow convicts…and that he’ll get tolerable food and decent medical care…and that he’ll have constant access to newspapers, books, TV and internet facilities.
But prison is still a painful, soul-destroying experience, even in the liberal Western World, especially for those who were once revered, sybaritic Ogas.
And Ibori – who has been in custody for a while, pending trial – has already endured endless indignities since he was arrested and will, for the forseeable future, continue to suffer many dark private agonies and hellish public slights.
Hellish public sights
He is no longer a kingpin who issues instructions that minions dare not disobey. He now has to jump whenever prison guards tell him to jump. He can no longer order gourmet dishes or vintage champagne. He now has to manage with the basic refreshments. His neighbours are no longer the crème de la crème of various societies. He now has to mingle with rapists, murderers and paedophiles.
He can no longer raffishly hop onto a private jet or languidly relax in first class aircraft cabins whenever he feels like travelling. His movements are now severely restricted. The most exciting journey he can embark upon in an average day at the moment is a short walk around the claustrophobic prison yard.
He’ll be lucky if he’s let out of his cell for more than two out of every 24 hours. He can no longer host lavish parties and invite the prettiest girls in town. He can no longer luxuriate in warm bubbly jacuzzis behind closed doors. He now has to bathe in horrible communal showers and use very rudimentary toilet facilities. I know he deserves it, but I find it hard to perpetually glory in other peoples’ misfortunes. Even when someone has offended or damaged me, my anger and desire for revenge don’t last; and I actually feel very sorry for Ibori.
I cannot but sadly remember the man who had so much potential. I cannot but think about what he could have been rather than what he decided to become.
Prison is not supposed to be an entirely negative experience. It is supposed to deter and reform as well as punish; and salvation is always possible.
I pray that Ibori has learned his lesson and will reflect on his misdemeanours in prison, emerge with a completely different mindset and devote himself to altruistic activities that will earn him the forgiveness of those he betrayed.
Lousy service providers
I ALWAYS move around with four handsets because I am absolutely neurotic about communications issues. Perhaps because I am a journalist (that is, a professional communicator), I regard accessibility as crucial and need to maximize my ability to reach those I want to reach and be reached by those who want to reach me.
We all know that one cannot totally rely on any Nigerian mobile phone operator to provide a consistently good service. So, call me crazy, but I have tried to protect myself from blips by investing in MTN, Glo, Airtel and Etisalat simcards.
But, much to my fury, all of the above networks have been woefully epileptic in recent days. The Easter period was particularly bad. Getting through to anyone in the first place was extremely difficult. And even when I got through, I’d be cut off every few seconds or unable to hear what the other person was saying.
Mobile phone operators often say that their services are compromised by factors beyond their control, including government-related problems. And I really don’t know whether to believe them and whom to blame for this fiasco.
All I know is that MTN makes massive profits and that we deserve a better deal from all operators…and that the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, should tell us why it is so ineffective and why we are not getting a better deal.
And don’t get me started on PHCN’s uselessness! I spent Easter in Port Harcourt where several households suffered without any electricity at all for several days. Shame, shame, shame, shame.