The good book has it that ‘a prophet has no honour in his town’, however a politician’s path to fame and honour is deeply rooted in the hearts of his supporters and followers at home.
This assertion can be no truer than the widespread jubilations that erupted across the globe among James Ibori’s kinsmen, associates and supporters when he stepped out of the London prison after a-six-year jail-term.
That James Onanefe Ibori, the second civilian governor of the oil-rich Delta State, has been freed in London where he was prosecuted and convicted for money laundering and sundry allegations, having fully served his prison term, is no longer news.
The news now, however, is what becomes of his post-London-jail political plans in Nigeria on arrival, which many analysts and practitioners of politics are already discussing with interesting nuances that may add fervor to the 2019 general elections. Also, many are of the opinion that Ibori should be made to face the law as soon as he returns to the country, if Abuja could not get him extradited to expedite actions on his trial in Nigeria.
As soon as news went round a day before the strong man of Delta politics was released that he would be freed within the next 24 hours all the legs of his political allies, godsons, goddaughters and prospective pals located the roads to London from all walks of life, just to register their undying solidarity to their premium power broker.
To some Nigerians, aping purity of the pious ilk, such celebration was grossly uncalled for. To them, they are like given credence to the untoward culture of corruption that has gotten the nation on its knees for many decades.
“It’s a shame that we are celebrating those who had contributed to the increased unemployment rate in the country, lack of healthcare services, dwindling standard of education and failed democracy among other challenges.
“Until we start to change our ways and mindset, we will continue to wallow in our problems in this nation,” Augustine Igwe, a retired teacher, said.
Unperturbed by what other Nigerians might think for celebrating Ibori’s release, Ogahara, his home town in Delta State, witnessed wide jubilations that claimed the life of a man believed to be a relation to the especially influential politician. The deceased, simply identified as Ochuko, was said to be a commercial motorcyclist, plying the major roads linking the various communities of Oghara, headquarters of Ethiope West Local Government Area of the state.
Apparently irked by the widespread celebration by Ibori’s supporters and associates, home and abroad, ex-governor of Delta State and cousin to Ibori, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, had hit hard at the people openly praising and eulogising the embattled former governor of Delta State, jailed 13 years by a London court for stealing and laundering monies belonging to his state between 1999 and 2007 while he was the governor.
In his January 1 post on his Facebook Timeline, Uduaghan said “Happy New Year. It is my sincere prayer that God will give us the ‘common sense’ to know when our utterances, and or our actions, can push our ‘loved’ ones over the cliff.”
Uduaghan, some watchers of the scenario surrounding the release of Ibori believed, was no doubt referring to the likes of Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, who represents Delta North in the upper chamber. The senator was said to have ranted for almost an hour when his ‘godfather’-Ibori was freed from prison as if he went to jail on a noble cause.
Among other reckless comments, Nwaoboshi had boasted and called Ibori a ‘hero,’ who from his prison space imposed a certain state governor on a people, influenced the election of the current Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and the Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogara among many other elected officials. Though Dogara had since denied knowing and, or been made Speaker at Ibori’s instance.
Uduaghan had earlier warned the praise singers, whom he accused of causing more problems for Ibori. To him, his predecessor who practically installed him as governor in 2007, despite being a cousin, should not be seen in both national and international limelight at this period for such sleaze reason.
“For those going to London to see Chief James Ibori and posting pictures and making comments, please stop it. We appreciate your love for him but you can go quietly without the unnecessary publicity. You are creating more problems for him than you can ever imagine. Nigeria is a complex country and you must understand and respect people’s sensibilities.”
Meanwhile, despite the fact that Ibori has been released from a United Kingdom prison, his freedom is not a total one – that is he would not be allowed to return to Nigeria immediately. He must face a deportation hearing and then also pay £18 million to the UK government as the “proceeds of crime.”
These protracted issues almost elongated Ibori’s incarceration until a high court judge gave an order that he should be released and that attempts to detain him were “quite extraordinary.”
Mrs. Justice May, while ordering Ibori’s immediate freedom from prison, said “You don’t hold someone just because it is convenient to do so and without plans to deport them.”
Also, Home Office application that Ibori be electronically tagged and subjected to strict curfew conditions was also rejected by the judge who argued that the home secretary was attempting to misuse her immigration and deportation powers.
The Home Office’s barrister expressed concerns that Ibori might “frustrate confiscation proceedings” and therefore preferred him to be kept in jail or subjected to strict controls on his movement, while the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), pursuing the confiscation proceedings, was neutral on Ibori’s release and possible deportation.
Ibori’s barrister, Ivan Krolic, explained how another defendant in the fraud case had appealed against conviction on the grounds that “police officers in the investigations had been corrupt.” The Court of Appeal rejected that after counsel for the Crown indicated that there was nothing to support the allegation.”
Justice May said “The Secretary of State appears to have taken it upon herself that Ibori does remain in this country, in apparent contradiction of the order served earlier this year to deport him.
“The position of the Secretary of State, as very candidly set out by Birdling (representing the home secretary), is that she accepts that there is an argument that she has no power to detain him.
“I have decided that the balance of convenience falls heavily in favour of his immediate release. I am not prepared to impose conditions involving tagging or curfews.” The judge said the matter of Ibori’s deportation should be heard before the end of January.
Perhaps, to allay the fear of what that this nuance might cause his numerous supporters, Ibori cried out that he was not under any form of restrictions.
“I’m a completely free man, neither under police restriction nor surveillance,” Ibori said, while debunking the report that a tracking device was placed on him to ensure his whereabouts is known to the authorities.
Clarifying the reports that he would not be free until the end of the confiscation trial, the next stage of his legal battle in the UK, Ibori wondered where the report that he was still restrained emanated from.
In a statement by his spokesman, Tony Eluemunor, Ibori said nothing in the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) report titled “Nigerian ex-Governor James Ibori Released From UK Jail,” which some media organisations were citing to authenticate their claims. He never mentioned that he was under any form of monitoring.
“On Wednesday, the Home Office’s barrister said the government was concerned that Ibori might ‘frustrate confiscation proceedings’ and wanted him kept in jail or subject to strict controls on his movement. A Home Office application that Ibori be electronically tagged and subject to strict curfew conditions was also rejected after the judge accepted arguments that the home secretary was attempting to misuse her immigration and deportation powers.”
He said the clarification became particularly necessary, because, “a mischievous on-line publication misled many Nigerians into believing that Ibori would wear an ankle tag that would beam his whereabouts to the Police and also report weekly to the Police. But from the quoted BBC report, no such order ever came from the court but from some corrupt and corrupting minds.
“In fact, the BBC, quoting the Judge, Her Honour, Mrs. Justice Juliet May, Queen’s Counsel, said “The position of the Secretary of State, as very candidly set out by Mr. Birdling (representing the home secretary), is that she accepts that there is an argument that she has no power to detain him.”
Ibori, according to him “has given every thanks and glory to the Almighty God, for making his release from jail possible, despite the last-minute obstacle the British Secretary of State placed on his way. He is grateful to his team of lawyers who fought gallantly for his release. He sent his heart-felt gratitude to the dozens of mainstream news organisations, especially in Britain and Nigeria, that trained attention on the relentless persecution, instead of prosecution.”
In spite of his guilty plea and conviction for corruption, his kinsmen at Oghara and other Urhobo communities in the Delta, however, turned his release from jail to a carnival as they lined up major streets dancing.
The strong and huge home based support he has enjoyed from Abuja to Dubai and even London, pundits posit, may emerge Ibori an indispensable hands in the ever increasing political schemes for 2019 general polls. This view, they added, could not be severed from the intra-party crises that beset the two major political parties – Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC). And as the two parties are seen fighting dirty over who controls Niger Delta politics, Ibori may again experience a meteoric rise within the Nigerian political space few months on arrival.
Video: See Ibori’s Moments Shortly After Release…