James Ibori: The Glory of Being a Celebrity Thief in Nigeria

It baffles me when I log unto social media and see gory images/videos of a haggard-looking man being lynched by an irate mob for stealing a handbag from a random passer-by. A handbag with contents like an expired Identity Card from a nameless company, a paltry sum of N1,850, an outdated Tecno Android phone with an ATM card that has an account balance of maybe N6,330. 35. 
The vicious mob would be rejoicing as people excitedly donate car tyres and the expensive fuel to burn the suspect like he is the major problem of Nigeria. 

Jungle justice is rife in Lagos, Benue, Abia, Port Harcourt, Delta and other states especially in ghettos where people are disconsolate with life probably due to scathing economic hardship. These set of people seize any available measure to expel their frustration and depression. Even at the event of a false alarm, hundreds could gather in the speed of flight like it’s a religious crusade or political rally. Fuel which has suddenly become gold generously surfaces in abundance to orchestrate a barbaric act.

The pick pockets, petty robbers and kidnappers are seen as menace to the Nigerian society. They are treated like outcasts and plagues. The general public viciously condemns these culprits by publicly shaming, maiming or killing them to serve as a deterrent to other would-be criminals. This crude and uncultivated behaviour borne out of lack of faith in the judiciary is a perfect example of seeking short term remedies for long-term drawbacks.

As long as people like the former governor of Delta State, James Onanefe Ibori - a convicted criminal, are celebrated like Jesus Christ during his triumphant entry into Jerusalem; there will be no good governance in Nigeria. The Delta political juggernaut amassed his wealth from being a picaro. He consolidated his stay on the top of the ladder by eating and drinking away the future of his impoverished people and selfishly storing the left-over of their hopes in his numerous private bank accounts. Ibori has successfully robbed Peter to pay Paul just like the popular Ponzi Scheme - Mavrodi Mondial Moneybox. He has deprived a large number of people of the dividends of democracy and also touched the lives of a few to stay relevant in the society.

For running a myriad of offshore companies, the United Kingdom courts in 2007 froze Ibori’s questionable assets worth £17 million ($35 million). He was also accused of bribing the erstwhile chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Malam Nuhu Ribadu with a gargantuan sum of $15 million as at 2007. The funds were reportedly deposited at the Central Bank of Nigeria to serve as exhibit.

In April 2010, about three months after the take-over of government by former President Goodluck Jonathan, a new allegation that he embezzled N40 billion ($266 million) was pressed against Ibori. On 12 July 2010 the Governor of the CBN, Malam Sanusi Lamido revealed that Ibori had used Delta State as collateral for N40 billion loan when he was governor.

On 27 February 2012, accused of stealing US$250 million from the Nigerian public purse, Ibori pleaded guilty to ten counts of money laundering and conspiracy to defraud at Southwark Crown Court, London.
Recently, a suspended lawmaker and whistleblower, Abdulmunin Jibrin alleged that Ibori donated $600,000 to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara in 2015 to pursue the heated speakership race against Femi Gbajabiamila. Several other public office holders in Nigeria have also been reported to have benefited from the ‘Ibori Bank’ in pursuing their obnoxious ambitions.

Imagine the developmental effects of these mind-boggling funds if judiciously used to develop Delta State where militancy, robbery, oil bunkering and kidnapping have become the dream jobs of all youth due to the current realities in the oil-rich state.
Picture the level of progression in the state if the funds were invested in empowering the youths with quality artisanal trainings, soft loans for entrepreneurs, construction of standard schools, and quality healthcare for the masses, good roads in rural areas to boost the local economy and give the rugged people a sense of belonging.

Ibori successfully used his ill-gotten wealth in putting square pegs in round holes in the Nigerian political sphere. A vivid example is the failure of his lawmaker daughter, Eriatake Ibori (Ethiope West constituency in the Delta State House of Assembly) to read a public speech during a valedictory/tribute session for the late Olorogun Felix Ovuodoroye Ibru, the first civilian governor of Delta State. This irritated her audience and she was humiliated off the stage.

Ibori has also groomed people of questionable characters as political leaders and the resultant effect is the continued desperate rape of public funds at different levels of government. It’s appalling that the Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, Chief Monday Igbuya, People’s Democratic Party stalwart, Chief Ighoyota Amori among others like Senator Peter Nwaoboshi on an emergency note hurriedly left Nigeria for the United Kingdom to celebrate the release of Ibori from jail. Nwaoboshi sensationally declared that Ibori facilitated the emergence of Senator Bukola Saraki as Senate President and the alleged ‘Chief Budget Padder’ – Hon. Yakubu Dogara as the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Nwaoboshi, in a video widely circulated on social media, said Ibori made governors, ostensibly incumbent Ifeanyi Okowa, senators (himself as one), made his daughter, Eriatake Ibori a state lawmaker among others despite being restricted behind bars. Even most able-bodied men with unlimited freedom in Nigeria wouldn’t boast of this political feat. What a great man!
Niger Delta billionaire, Ayirimi Emami also took to the streets alongside his ilk to celebrate the freedom of the ex-convict probably to demonstrate the importance of criminals to the Nigerian society where everything goes.

A teeming crowd were also paid to celebrate Ibori's homecoming in Oghara and other Urhobo communities in the Delta to kill the shame of being an ex-convict. The next move will be to pay some skilled journalists to help launder the image of Ibori in national newspapers and present him as the missing piece President Muhammadu Buhari needs to actualize the All Progressives Congress agenda of change. This incongruity even further paints the hypocritical nature of Nigerians naturally wired towards double-standards in all spheres of life.

There is no significant difference between Ibori and the petty miscreants being lynched by their fellow despondent misfits. Ibori only stole big. Yes! It’s good to steal big in Nigeria. After heartlessly ravaging the treasury like it’s your inheritance, simply share your loot among your kinsmen and sponsor the elections of other popular politicians. Sink a borehole in your Local Government Area, share some foodstuffs among the less-privileged people during festive seasons, fix a major road and publicize the action. It’s not yet over, go to the traditional rulers and give them their cut because you will need them to ‘tribalize’ your prosecution when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC knocks at your door.

Stroll to the Church or mosque and drop 'something' called the prophet offering for your spiritual leader and watch him give you that fake and money-induced prophecy of a colourful future. Make sure you have massive funds reserved for lawyers who will be defending you in court. These lawyers will in turn link you with the presiding judge on a subterranean note for a black market judgement.

The way high profile corruption cases are being handled in the country forces one to believe the constitution was only designed to curtail the excesses of the poor alone and not the rich. The jury is very swift to sentence a local chicken or phone thief to prison within a space of three months of hearing the case while the case of  N4.7 billion fraud against a former governor of Oyo State, Rashidi Adewolu Ladoja has been lingering for almost 9 years. Sambo Dasuki's trial is still dragging and Patience Jonathan is enjoying massive support from ethnic groups, unscrupulous civil societies, advocacy groups and other protesters embarrassingly disturbing the streets with placards over a paid-service of N2,000 or even at a lower price.

Yes, Nigerians in their typical nature will say; Is it your money? Is he the only thief in Nigeria? What about the late Sani Abacha and others that robbed the country blind during the military regime? Are you not aware of the fact that the former President Olusegun Obasanjo left prison in 1998 with barely N25,000 and he is unofficially one of the richest men in Nigeria today? There will always be a moral justification for his thievery as Ibori's monumental looting holds the ace in the Niger Delta region alongside the late governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha who was honoured with a moment of perfect silence at the hallowed Senate on his demise. Our gallant soldiers constantly dying in the battle against Boko Haram in the face of lack of water, food, quality weapons and other necessities never went close to such recognition and yet, they bleed defending our territorial integrity against demons created by the political class.

The celebration of Ibori's freedom from jail also reminds of the case of People's Democratic Party chieftain, Olabode George who hit the 'red carpet' after his brief spell behind iron bars. Hamza Al-Mustapha also toed that line as he always elevated to the status of a king overnight for political reasons.

In utmost sincerity, President Muhammadu Buhari can't cleanse Nigeria of corruption. The quest for political power and influence has afflicted Buhari with corruption and corrupt elements that are now his closest allies. Tagging Buhari's name to the fight against abuse of public office is an illusion Nigerians need to recover from. The best fight against corruption should be a collective war. Nigerians need a change of perception. Anybody spending above his means should be 'quarantined' like an Ebola Virus Disease patient.

We need to sacrifice out present cheap gains for a brighter future. We should frown at big thieves the same way we attack the petty ones.

We should bear at the back of our minds that the nefarious actions of the ‘civil robbers’ using their pens to tamper with the commonwealth will give birth to the miscreants on the street.
When there is scarcity of food in the ecosystem, the food chain is altered for survival. The fingerlings become easy prey to the big fishes and it goes on and on.

For Nigeria to move forward, Ibori should be publicly condemned and made to literally parade the streets in sack clothes and ashes as a sign of remorse. He should make a public apology to the Deltans for abusing their trust and scarce resources. Yes, he is not the only one convicted of corruption, but since there is much media attention on his case; it will make an exemplary example to the general public.
We are Nigerians, we are people of integrity, we are not corrupt, we are responsible and cultured people and most importantly, we don't celebrate thieves.

Stealing will never be a part of our culture regardless of the height it is being perpetrated.

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About Osahon

I'm a journalist and a Political Scientist undergoing a doctoral programme focused on media, democracy and governance in Africa. My mission is to uphold the role of the media as the 'fourth estate of the realm' and also tell the Nigerian Story to the world. You can contact me on smile2georgex@yahoo.com Phone number: +2347053302356.
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