By Tony Eluemuno
Since 1999 controversy has trailed Chief James Onanefe Ibori, controversy actions as his name has been selling newspapers though he has remained a reticent, private but effective political manoeuvre and game-changing action man. And his staying power is intriguing; just when you think he is down and out, he is not only up but galloping away.
He has hardly granted an interview in a decade, yet every step he takes causes a raucous discourse resulting in faulty conclusions.
Take his relationship with His Excellency, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, for instance. Many think it is a new found romance, unaware that it has been on since May 1999 when both became state Governors.
Ibori came into office fighting for fiscal federalism, especially Niger Delta rights and that his office should not be an appendage of the President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s office as Delta state was a federating unit of the country.
In the South-South geo-political zone, only the late SDP Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa state and Akwa-Ibom’s Dr Victor Attah and Edo state’s Lucky Igbinedion shared Ibori’s views. On this, Iborifound a soul mate in Lagos State’s then Governor Bola Tinubu. Thus, when in 2004 Obasanjo invited the Governors to Abuja to get their blessings as he just slapped a state of emergency rule against Plateau state and suspended the Governor, Joshua Dariye, the Governors held a meeting in Abuja before meeting Obasanjo. In vain did Ibori and Tinubu attempt to rally all the governors to oppose Obasanjo’s action as Northern Governors saw it through a regional prism; that the upheaval in Plateau state which instigated the state of emergency declaration was religious and pitched Plateau’s ethnic groups against the Hausa/Fulani settlers. So, they backed Obasanjo!
Tinubu, then an Alliance for Democracy Governor issued a one-governor statement condemning Obasanjo’s action. The intra-party collaboration between Ibori in the service of true federalism continued till their tenure expired. For instance, both of them supported Dr. Chris Ngige immensely when as Governor of Anambra state, Obasanjo tried several times to remove him from office.
So, the moment Tinubu became a President-elect, he identified a friend with friends across the political parties who could buoy up his administration. Thus, with the Independent National Electoral Commission’s Certificate of Return as the winner of the 2023 presidential election, in his hand, he enplaned for Lagos. First, he visited the Oba of Lagos and then Ibori, staying for five hours and had his dinner there.
I am citing this here to point out the faulty reports which that visit elicited in the mass media; that Ibori visited Tinubu instead of the other way round. Also, some media outfits illustrated that misreport with a picture taken when Ibori and Tinubu met during the burial of Prince Nduka Obaigbena’s mother in Agbor, but presented as though taken during the visit under reference. Such wrong reportages have often been visited on Ibori but the public accepted them as truth.
Yes, Ibori visited Tinubu a few times before he was inaugurated President without fanfare but the press magnified the one when Ibori took former Governors Chisom Wike and Seyi Makinde of Rivers and Oyo states to see the President in Aso Rock. Owing to this last visit, many have called me to complain that Ibori had back-stabbed former President Atiku Abubakar. On this, there are two issues.
The first one is that if anyone back-stabbed the other, though back-stabbing is a strong word and I have never heard Ibori complain about Atiku, I will argue that Atiku could be said to have back-stabbed Ibori. Please, pan back to January 2003. Obasanjo had concluded plans to drop Atiku as his running-mate in his 2003 re-election bid. I was there when Obasanjo organized the “Obasanjo
Speaks” in April 2002 at the International Conference Centre, Abuja to ignite the bid and he never mentioned Atiku. So the Atiku camp in the PDP, led by Ibori, began a move; that if Obasanjo would not pair up with Atiku, the former Vice-President could challenge his boss. There was a third option, to co-opt late Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Vice-President to Shehu Shagari in the 1979 to ’83 Second Republic into the race and Atiku would be his side-kick. So, After I broke the story in October 2022 (in Daily Independent) that Ekwueme would contest against Obasanjo, Ekwueme waited until two weeks to the PDP primary and national convention before he announced he was in the race; he was waiting for Atiku’s position to be clear and to take Obasanjo by surprise, too.
15 PDP Governors who were opposed to Obasanjo had been led by the then PDP Chairman, Dr. Audu Ogbeh, to see Obasanjo right inside the Aso Rock Villa. Ibori spoke for the group. He told Obasanjo that owing to his non-democratic tendencies “you have proved to be unmarketable, unsaleable and un-electable”, and it was in the PDP’s interest to pick another presidential candidate. The Rubicon had been crossed and the die fully cast. Turning back would be suicidal. Obasanjo pleaded with the group to give him another chance and promised to become more democratic and less authoritative but that was in vain.
By the Wednesday before the Sunday 5thth/Monday 6th January 2003 convention, the Ekwueme train was on course and with full force. When the delegates had poured into Abuja by Thursday and they booed Obasanjo wherever he went to campaign, he sought out Atiku on Thursday night and pleaded for forgiveness. He knelt down before some Governors such as Orji Uzor Kalu, then of Abia state. He searched for Ibori but he searched in vain; Ibori had left Delta State’s Lodge and camped out in a hotel; only his Police ADC, knew where he was and he didn’t divulge that information. It was on Saturday morning that Ibori heard that Atiku had forgiven Obasanjo and returned to his corner meaning that Ekwueme had lost the support of the PDP reformists; he was crest-fallen. He, who had led the campaign on Ekwueme/Atiku’s behalf to clip Obasanjo’s wings, was neither consulted nor even informed.
Ibori paid dearly for supporting the Ekwueme/Atiku cause in 2003. Two weeks after that convention, a story broke; Ibori had been accused of being an ex-convict who was convicted for “criminal negligence” for allowing workers under him to steal building materials at Lower Usuma dam. Yet, otherwise respectable journalists still write that Ibori was tried for stealing. The building allegedly being constructed has not been named. If it was the Abuja Lower Usuma Dam, then that would be outrageous for that dam was completed in 1986, yet, it was claimed the dam was still being constructed in 1995 and Ibori was a subcontractor there. It is factual that Abuja started getting water from that dam in 1988 but journalists on destructive missions care little about historical records.
Yes, when Ibori congratulated Obasanjo on his re-election, Obasanjo replied: “James, you said I was unmarketable, unsalable and unelectable. All your life I will make you unmarketable, unsalable and
unelectable”. Since then Ibori has not been allowed to know peace. But Ibori should thank God for little mercies; A.K Dikibo the South-South PDP Vice-National Chairman who had started campaigning to become National Chairman in 2007 was assassinated and Alamieyeseigha, another Atiku supporter was also murdered – by being denied adequate medical treatment as he was incarcerated in an attempt to get him make a (guilty) plea bargain.
The ex-convict allegation was designed to get the PDP stop Ibori from re-contesting for office. Though I unearthed the late Shuabu Anyebe, whom a Bwari Upper Area Court had convicted because a N10, 000 worth of bundle of zinc got lost under the man’s watch (he was a night watchman at Kogo Village Abattoir), ferreted out the receipt of the fine he paid in lieu of going to jail, and I served the public Mr. Moses Ushafa’s (the Bwari Area Council’s head of administration) authentication of the fact that he reported Anyebe to that court and was convicted, the journalists pinned the allegation squarely against Ibori. Not even after Segun Adeniyi and Cletus Akwaya interviewed Anyebe for THISDAY and saw that receipt, did the story change; neither Adeniyi nor any of his friends such as Azu Ishiekwene, Simeon Kolowale and Waziri Adio ever mentioned it in their write ups. Never!
That allegation that Ibori was convicted for “criminal negligence” for allowing workers under him to steal “zinc asbestos” (which is non-existent in the entire world) worth “110, 000,000” remains laughable. That the sum would have fetched some 55, 000 bundles of zinc roofing sheets at the 1995 rate of N2, 000 per bundle, did not give journalists a second thought, as the idea of roofing the Lower
Usuma Dam would have been outrageous because dams are never roofed. How could 55,000 bundles of zinc have been stolen in a day? Yet, an anti-Ibori witness said he used a pay-loader to stuff all that zinc and some iron rods, too, into an almighty trailer.
When that Bwari court ex-convict allegation failed, Ibori’s travails for being active in Atiku’s corner took a new turn, this time championed by Nuhu Ribadu-led Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and ending in Ibori’s conviction in London. This brings us, naturally, to Ribadu, who was mentioned in a recent report as lobbying Ibori to help him get President Tinubu to appoint him the National Security Adviser. All the publishers of that story added as background, that Ribadu got Ibori jailed for corruption.
No, corruption was not the reason; Obasanjo used Ribadu and the EFCC to actualize his political persecution against Ibori. You may ask why a London court found Ibori guilty if he wasn’t corrupt. My answer: a truly criminal case is supposed to be tried and proved beyond reasonable doubt but Ibori’s conviction was based on INFERENCE and INFERENCE alone. The monies that flowed into Barclays Bank in England from Ibori’s MER Engineering, for instance, was termed laundry of tainted money, though Ibori had proof that the company contracted out those four ship houses.
As proof, I give you a Financial Times of London report written by Michael Peel and Dino Mahtani on November 16, 2007, titled “Probe into Chevron and Shell payments.” “Anti-corruption investigators are probing payments by ChevronTexaco and Royal Dutch Shell to a company owned by a powerful Nigerian politician they suspect has laundered tens of millions of dollars in British banks, property and cars. A UK court affidavit seen by the Financial Times says there is reasonable cause to believe Mr Ibori bled money from his oil-rich state and bought assets including a $20m jet, houses in London and Dorset, and a €406,000 ($595,460) armour-plated Mercedes-Benz from a Mayfair dealership.
“The affidavit says the “purportedly legitimate” payments were for the rental of two houseboats for oil workers, although it suspects the transfers were “corrupt payments rather than in exchange for legitimate services”.
“Nuhu Ribadu, chairman of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which has worked closely with the British investigators, told the FT he was “investigating huge payments made by Shell and Chevron to MER Engineering” over the hiring of the houseboats. Chevron confirmed it had hired two houseboats from MER, but declined to give more details. It said it believed it had complied with anti-corruption laws. Shell said MER was on its register of approved contractors. It declined to elaborate on the amount and type of work done by MER. NNPC said it never paid bribes”.
Yes, the company hired out boat houses to those companies, yet, Ibori was forced to plead guilty. And Ibori had no private jet despite the song and dance Sahara Reporters, London-based Financial Times, the EFCC and the global media made of private jet – an attention-grabber.
Yet, some have asked how Ibori could be on speaking terms with Ribadu? My reply: Ibori has already forgiven all those who railroaded him into jail. When Senator Akpor Pius Ewherido died in 2013, Ibori from a London prison, asked Mr. Solo Udele, his former ADC and I to send a condolence letter to the Ewherido family. Once we got to the house, wailing broke out everywhere. “From Ibori again”? Yes, I heard that with my own ears! The late Senator was one of the two persons who wrote a petition against Ibori, handed it over to Chief E. K Clarke who took it to Obasanjo and who called Ribadu to collect it and add to the arsenal trained against Ibori. Yet, when the Senator became critically ill, Ibori phoned the family to send their son abroad for advanced health care. When the National Hospital said only an Air Ambulance would suitably move him, Ibori helped to arrange for one to air-lift the man to Germany. I don’t know whether the then Gov. Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, approved for Delta State Government to pay for the aircraft or Ibori personally did, but as the Air Ambulance was landing at Abuja, Ewherido died.
Lesson: Ibori forgave Ribadu long ago. He has no enemy list. But President Tinubu should read these words I have borrowed from Mr. Chidi Anthony Okpara, who in turn took them from what one Aminu
Muhammed wrote on Facebook in 2019: “In September 2006, then EFCC Chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu appeared before the Senate on a report the agency had just released then. He clearly mentioned five Governors as the worst thieving Governors.
- Orji Uzor Kalu: I remember how he said the Governor was number one not because it is number one alphabetically but, because he had one of the biggest established cases of stealing, money laundering and diversion of funds.
- Ahmed Bola Tinubu: I remember how he specially narrated the wicked stealing patterns of the then Governor of Lagos State whom he said his own stealing had an international dimension to it. He berated Tinubu then for being a big thief. Prof. Yemi Osinbajo was his Commissioner of Justice and Attorney General then and I can’t remember if they sued EFCC or Ribadu for those expressions/exposures beside the press statement of not being surprised by Mr. Dele Alake, Tinubu’s then Commissioner for Information and Strategy.
- Ahmed Sani Yerima: I remember clearly how he also stated that then Governor of Zamfara State was one of the worst cases because in Ribadu’s words, the man was fingered as being involved in direct stealing of state funds. He summarized the Governor’s stealing as a tragedy.
- George Akume: He said Akume was not just a thief but a heartless one who even physically beat up the commission’s operatives in the office of the state Commissioner of Police while he tried to recover some incriminating files against him from the operatives.
- Abdullahi Adamu: Ribadu told the Senators that a case had been established against the Governor whom he said had personalized both the state treasury and the accounts of Local Governments. He said the accusations against the Governor were massive.
Ironically, all the five plus Nuhu Ribadu are very active and influential members of the APC”.
Then, year 2023 rolled in and today Tinubu is Nigeria’s President, Adamu is APC’s National chairman, while Kalu is a front-runner in the Senate Presidency race. Akume is the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. If Tinubu appoints Ribadu as NSA, would he not be approving his past decisions as EFCC chairman, including his indictment of 33 Governors including himself, a self-indictment? And would he not be injecting bad blood into the highest echelons of his administration in which some of those Governors, including Tinubu, now play leading roles? How could Ribadu and those who believe he accused them wrongly, work seamlessly together? Ribadu could be useful, though. Yet, how bright is Ribadu’s real, as opposed to fake, track record? Why did he tarnish 33 Governors of the 1999-2007 class, including Tinubu, as hopelessly corrupt? And why did late President Umaru Yar’Adua “dethrone” him from the EFCC high seat? Well, Ribadu’s best
friend and grand collaborator has given the answer: Ribadu had moved against Yar’Adua, on trumped up charges, as El-Rufai informed us in his book, “Accidental Public Servant” that Ribadu dreamt up charges against Yar’Adua and began to arrest Yar’Adua’s Katsina state Commissioners. Yar’Adua had visited Ribadu and told him that Obasanjo had asked him to contest the 2007 presidential election and Ribadu dismissed him outright; “Nasir el-Rufai is my candidate”. El-Rufai told Ribadu: (page 359) “You want me to be President because I am your friend, not because you think I am quite different or better than Yar’Adua”. El-Rufai added in that book (because of Ribadu’s actions against Yar’Adua) “things have really gone bad for me and all of us”. In fact, El-Rufai’s title for that section of the book is telling: “Umaru Asks Nuhu For Support; The Beginning of Our Problems”. So, Yar’Adua removed Ribadu as EFCC chairman because he adjudged him too corrupt for that office as he engaged in political persecution dressed up as fights against corruption.
Yet, in two different books: “My Story; My Vision” by Ribadu himself and in Wale Adebanwi’s “A Paradise for Maggots”, Ribadu never mentioned his quixotic actions against Yar’Adua and the repercussions against him and friends. Instead, he claimed that he was fighting corruption and Yar’Adua went after him after he arrested Yar’Adua’s friend; Ibori. And Nigerians, not seeing through this, gave him their blind support. You could also read through Azubuike Ishiekwene’s “The Trial of Nuhu Ribadu” and you would never know that Ribadu acted wrongly against Yar’Adua and so Yar’Adua had the most cogent reasons for not wanting Ribadu as EFCC head.
Yet, do I marvel why Ribadu has not “denied” that he is desperately lobbying Ibori to help him lobby President Tinubu to make him NSA. Or has he forgotten an item Premium Times published September 24, 2013: “Ribadu lambasts Okiro, describes ex-IGP as corrupt, “shameless liar’”
“He said it was the same “shameless method of desperate lobbying” that the former IGP (Mike Okiro), whom he described as “a chronic political jobber and sycophant of the first order”, used in securing
appointments as Chief Security Officer to the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and later as Chairman of the Police Service Commission, PSC. The former EFCC boss, a retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, AIG, had told a London court that Mr. Ibori was instrumental to Mr. Okiro’s appointment as IGP, a claim Mr. Okiro debunked, accusing the former EFCC boss of falsehood”.
Hey, why would anybody even lobby Ibori at all, a PDP kingpin for an appointment in an APC administration? Some have asked me if Ibori would jump ship and join the APC. Such questions poured in after the immediate past Governor of Delta state, and PDP’s Vice-Presidential candidate in the 2023 election explained the political disagreement between him and Ibori over the 2023 Delta state PDP governorship candidate.
Okowa said he refused to support Ibori’s candidate, David Edevbie, because Edevbie betrayed him personally in 2011 when he disrespected the state’s agreed zoning formula and he, an Urhobo, attempted to become Governor when it was Anioma people’s turn. That was after Edevbie had also given Okowa his word that he would not join in that governorship race.
Before I state what I learnt from personal investigations, I think it is necessary to say that the last time I sat with Ibori was during my wife’s funeral on November 17th 2022. Since then, like the nice man he is, he has let me be and mourn my loss and as he advised, “learn to play the role of father and mother at the same time. Learn to calm yourself and be gentle with yourself. Don’t think too much; remember the health implications”. We have been communicating on the phone but as fate would have it, we have not spoken since May and he even had to write and sign his press statement when Chief Raymond Dokpesi died. I have been trying to stir, returning to my work, plotting how to finish the books I have been writing, but I’m not there yet. For Edevbie, the last time he phoned me was on the day I submitted his C.V at the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), for his appointment as late President Yar’Adua’s Private Secretary in 2007 or 2008. Neither he nor Okowa called when my wife died.
Did Ibori support Okowa’s bid to be Governor of Delta state? That is not in doubt. He did it against the wishes of the then incumbent Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan because Okowa had been anointed by the Anioma people. Anioma traditional leaders, after a meeting at the Asagba of Asaba’s palace, sent a Dan Okenyi-led delegation to Ibori in London to stress that Okowa was Anioma’s choice. Ibori pledged his support and didn’t break it. In April 2022, Urhobo people of Delta Central also adopted Edevie. In a communique issued on Sunday, April 17, the supreme governing body of Urhobo nation, Urhobo Progressive Union, and signed by Olorogun (Dr.) Moses Oghenerume Taiga, President-General, Chief Capt. (Dr.) Anthony Onoharigho, 1st Deputy President-General, Chief Godwin Notoma, Chairman, Forum of Presidents-General of the 24 Urhobo Kingdoms, Dame Chief (Mrs.) Christy Siakpere, President, UPU Women Wing and Comrade Ovie Ebireri, President, UPU Youth Wing, UPU stressed that insistence on Edebvie.
The UPU also apologised and pleaded with Governor Ifeanyi Okowa to forgive Edevbie for any wrong for which he may have been angry with him and allow the Urhobo nation to present their best and preferred choice in the overall interest of the development of the state. That sealed the choice for Ibori who had nothing personal against Hon Sheriff Oborevwori Governor of Delta State, Okowa’s candidate, who is now His Excellency, the Delta state Governor.
As Okowa explained recently, Edevbie had betrayed him in 2011 by contesting when it was Anioma’s turn and so lost the right to benefit from the rotation agreement. On this I learnt that in 2011 when
Uduaghan showed signs that he would not support Okowa, Edevbie and several others from other senatorial zones were encouraged by the state’s Ibori political group, of which Okowa was a top member, to pick nomination forms and begin to campaign so that he and the others could build up bases that could later be solidified into one to benefit Okowa. Udughan’s blessings were with the late Tony Obuh. When even Anioma people stoutly opposed Obuh, Uduaghan turned his support to Edevbie and a surprised Edevbie told the Ibori political family he was ready to announce his support for Okowa, Ibori advised him not to do so as that would destroy his political career but that he, Ibori would handle that matter at the right time.
Ibori then tasked Hon Monday Igbuya, a former Speaker of the Delta House of Assembly and Hon Evelyn Obaro of the House of Representatives to secure Sapele and Uview respectively for Okowa while Ibori secured his Ethiope West and Ethiope West even from London. At the Asaba Cenotaph convention venue, Ibori telephoned Igbuya who one by one handed over the telephone to the Ibori’s political family leaders in the various LGAs and Ibori told them personally to ask their delegates to vote for Okowa…and Okowa won.
So, just as Ibori supported Anioma’s Choice in 2011, he supported Urhoboland’s choice in 2023. To him, Okowa was right in opposing Uduaghan’s right to choose a candidate for the Anioma people and Ibori opposed Okowa’s insistence on choosing for Uhrobo people. Finish! I dream of one fine tomorrow when Ibori, Uduaghan, Okowa, Oborevwori, Edevbie and other Delta leaders would gather amicably to discuss matters affecting Delta state for there is great lesson in this saying: “you win, I win, but we l –o-s-e.”