By Patrick Dele Cole
HIS achievements are as considerable as his background is somewhat murky and unclear.
Like most Nigerian 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 was not clear why the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and State Security Service, SSS, were not able to establish the truth of his alleged London convictions.
In London, the processes of the criminal justice system include photographing convicts and having their finger prints documented. Did someone dissuade INEC and SSS from checking these? 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 Tinubu and several large ventures such as Kakawa Finance Company House, Airtel, etc. He belonged to the club of rich men; though he was fantastically generous and he carried himself as a successful rich man.
Aminasari Dikibo was the National Vice President 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, did not believe that General Olusegun Obasanjo, OBJ, would want a second term. Ibori had said electing OBJ for second term was unwise and that OBJ was unelectable. This is why OBJ had it in for 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 unaccepted. James Ibori led the Southern revolt, but he wanted to be the vice president, VP. James and his fellow governors in the South South thought that one of them deserved the office of the VP and worked assiduously to achieve it.
His disagreement and travails with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and in courts and his eventual imprisonment was preceded by lengthy protracted court proceedings in Nigeria. But even then, he was politically active from jail in the UK. The Metropole Hilton Hotel on Edgware Road was the place of choice for hundreds who visited 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 Nigerian politician to be arrested during the colonial era was a badge of honour.
During the military rule, hundreds of politicians were incarcerated. In fact, you are not a serious politician if the iron grip of the military did not grasp you. James Ibori was surrounded by bright young men who were his first respondents. They have remained loyal to him. But 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.
It is a question of personal opinion whether or not other famous prisoners succeeded. But many others have been in prison and ended up being leaders. There is a long list – especially during the colonial period. Famous on the list are – Gandhi, Nehu, Mandela, Aung San Suu of Burma, Bhutto of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif.
James 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 State election. But he was accused of serious crimes. Should someone accused and convicted of crimes of betraying public trust have such power? If he 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 allowances for a convicted bribe giver and one who “stole” the people’s money. Is the issue one of relativity? Whereas other governors did what he did and had gone scot free, he was bitter when he had to go to jail because he helped a lot of people with the said ‘stolen’ money. He built roads, he put Delta State in the fore front of States in Nigeria. Delta’s voice was as strong as it was relevant.
There are two views on 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 sorts of the people – he took his time to listen and operate 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 hunt him? Most criminologists would argue that he should not be further disturbed, that he may have been reformed; he has been punished; he should not, therefore, suffer any more disabilities.
Not all would agree – 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 be seen. I felt the same when Ojukwu was returning from Abidjan. The whole of Lagos came to a stop. It was as if a hero has come 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? One thing is clear; Ibori’s arrival in Delta will change the political dynamics of Delta State and thereby of South South.
*This piece was written long before Ibori gained his freedom