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James Ibori
James Ibori

The Arena

(THE ARENA) Ibori, Delta and the Parable of the Cow


By Fred Edoreh

On judgment day at the London court, the Crown Prosecution Service Lawyer, Sasha Wass, told Judge Anthony Pitts that former Delta State Governor, Chief James Ibori, had pleaded guilty to the 10-count charge of money laundering and accepted the entirety of the prosecution’s case against him. They concluded their case on that note, and the sentence was subsequently made.

There were allegations that he took $250 million (about N350 billion by the forex rate today), converted over N500 million of the State’s business shares with Oceanic Bank, tried to bribe the then EFCC Chairman, Nuhu Ribadu, with $15 million and so on.

According to the Officer in Charge of Investigation, Paul Whatmore, the sums involved should have been used for the development of Delta State – power, sanitation, healthcare and more.

“We will now be actively seeking the confiscation of all of his stolen assets so they can be repatriated for the benefit of the people of Delta State,” Whatmore concluded.

Interestingly, Deltans are a peculiar people. They love themselves unconditionally. As such, no matter the revelations and his admissions, they never disowned nor disparaged Ibori, neither in secret nor in the public. They still deferred to him as a brother and leader.

The bond is like the dilemma of the cow described by Ola Rotimi in his “The Gods Are Not To Blame:”

“A cow gave birth to a fire, it could not lick it because it burned her, but it could not leave it because it was her own child.”

They did not like what he did. They knew the stolen funds belonged to them and the action undermined, retarded and hurt the development of the State. But Deltans always love Deltans, so they forgave or overlooked. The only pain was the losses incurred by the State and its people through his conduct.

When the British remitted £4.2 million as part of the sum, the Federal Government said Delta State will receive nothing from it. The then Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, rubbed it in by declaring that the repatriation would be used to fund such FG projects like the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, 2nd Niger Bridge and Abuja-Kano rail. They even refused to consider the federal roads across Delta State.

The underpinning position of Abuja was that since the State tried to protect and did not give evidence against Ibori all through the prosecution, it cannot therefore benefit from the judgment in any way and manner.

The FG also confiscated the $15 million lodged in the Central Bank which Ibori allegedly offered to Ribadu as bribe.

Perhaps, in acknowledgement of the deference which Ibori enjoys with successive state administrations, the EFCC argued that if the money was returned to Delta State, it would be given back to him.

Delta State counter-argued that the money would not be returned to Ibori because he is being fully paid his pensions and entitlements as a former Governor. The FG was not convinced and that money is either still hanging in the balance or finally forfeited by the State.

When Ibori returned from London, the State mobilised the people to welcome him. It was strategic to cure whatever psychological problems that may have derived from his incarceration, to remove shame and encourage his reintegration in the social and political system.

The only point of departure, however, was in the election of the candidate of the PDP for the 2023 Delta State Governorship election. It was a given that the position was on rotation to Delta Central. The then incumbent Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, and other leaders and members of the party pushed for Rt Hon Sheriff Oborevwori. Ibori and some other leaders pushed for a different candidate, just as some others also pushed for other candidates.

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As is the case in a democracy, the selection was subjected to the process of primaries. Politics would always have to be played and a choice must emerge. Oborevwori won and also proceeded to win the Governorship election.

For other elective positions, Ibori canvassed for Chief Ighoyota Amori for the Delta Central Senatorial ticket. He won the ticket but lost in the main election. His daughter, Erhiatake Ibori-Suenu, won the ticket for Ethiope Federal Constituency and also won in the main election into the House of Representatives. All under the platform of the PDP.

The true spirit of democracy and party politics requires that all winners and losers in the primaries would close ranks and work for the party.

Surprisingly and sadly, certain persons seemed to have acted differently in the general elections. Notwithstanding, Oborevwori won and has since hit the ground running and delivering several heart warming projects and programmes for the benefit of Deltans across the districts and communities.

True statesmanship also demands that all past, prominent leaders and well meaning citizens of the State would, in the interest of the people, support the incumbent Governor to achieve optimal performance.

It is in this wise that Chief Ibori’s recent open mockery of the State in a public forum, apparently with regards to the recent security breach in which 17 soldiers were killed, comes as curious and leaves a sour taste in the mouth of Deltans.

Speaking at the occasion, Ibori was quoted to have mocked: “Don’t cry to me Delta,” and punctuated the mockery with, “O Delta, O Delta, O Delta.”

Talking about crying, perhaps our leader seems to have forgotten that Deltans not only cried for him during his travails, the State also cried because of the financial losses it incurred through his conducts. Yet, the people and the leadership stood by him in all said and done.

Talking about the recent security glitch, it is not something for any leader to make coarse jokes about or seek political capital from. It is especially so as they are well aware of the inherent contradictions in the security structure of our nation: a situation in which State Governors are regarded as Chief Security Officers while the command of the security apparatuses rests elsewhere.

In the case of the Okuama and Okoloba dispute, Sheriff Oborevwori is acknowledged to have had hands on grip on the situation. Knowing how delicate the conflicts can be, how sensitive the parties can be about any government position or action, he had deployed tactical diplomacy and mediation to get both communities to sign a peace accord on February 7. The peace process was gradually deepening before the military went in with their different approach, probably acting on new information.

However, even the statement by the Chief of Defence Staff on the occurrence continues to suggest that the soldiers may have been attacked by disgruntled criminal oil bunkers, a challenge which falls squarely in the forte of the Federal Government and the security agencies.

Perhaps, Ibori may also want to appreciate that Oborevwori has also brokered an enduring peace accord between Aladja and Ogbe-Ijoh, in a dispute that had been on for over 80 years.

As the Daily Independent, Ibori’s newspaper, described in its publication of November 2018: “In 1995 and 2009, the Panels of Inquiry constituted by the Delta State Government to resolve the boundary dispute failed to nip the crisis in the bud.”

That clearly suggests that the crisis subsisted through Ibori’s own administration of 1999 to 2007, indicating that he could not resolve it as Governor.

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What Oborevwori did was to get the parties to accept the agreed delineation of the boundaries and get the State Government to acquire the buffer zone which had remained in contention. That way, there will be nothing more to fight about. I suppose that that will also send a clear signal to any other feuding communities that communal clashes would no longer be business as usual. That is quintessential decisiveness in governance.

The former Governor may also wish to recall that in his first tenure, he was also faced with the Warri Crisis which lingered well into his second tenure and beyond.

The global assessment of the crisis during his tenure indicated a colossal loss and failure of governance: “Over 200,000 people were displaced (in the Warri area) between 1999 and 2006; over 700,000 people were displaced by violence in Delta State overall,” says Wikipedia.

The report adds: “The 2003 conflicts interrupted oil production. Chevron, Texaco lost about 140,000 barrels of crude oil per day, and Shell Petroleum lost about 60,000 barrels per day. The Escravos pipeline was blown up by militant youths.”

All these were during Ibori ‘s tenure, but we also understand that the crisis was not his making. It was immediately precipitated by the action of the Federal Government in the siting of the headquarters of the newly created Warri South West LGA, the same way the policies, choices, actions and inactions of the Federal Government towards the meaningful development of the Niger Delta and oil producing areas have continued to challenge the achievement of complete peace in the region, including the elimination of criminal herdsmen unleashed on the people.

But, we agree with Ibori that, “In governance and in public office, when you are in trouble, you seek help. Don’t be ashamed to do so. You ask from people that you believe in.” But he ought also to remember that “an elder does not sit at home and watch the she-goat suffer the pain of childbirth tied to a tether.”

The holy book puts it this way in Jeremiah 29:7: “And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” Some other translations say, “for its prosperity is your prosperity,” while another version of the injunction of the book commends us to “pray for our leaders.”

Accordingly, Deltans, including leaders and general citizens, worked for and prayed for Ibori when he was Governor and leader. We expect him to do no less for his successors.

Also, in our culture, we do not wait to be called to contribute to solving any challenge we perceive to affect our communities. As elders and youths, we naturally rise up to the occasion, offering whatever capacities we have in knowledge, influence, physical strength or finances, whether we are members of the governing executives or not. This is a value we expect our leaders to transmit to younger generations by their utterances and actions.

Instructively, should Ibori have a differing opinion on any policy directives, programmes or approaches of the administration on any critical aspect of governance, he knows that, as a former Governor and respected leader, it would be very welcome for him to freely avail himself of direct contact with the leadership of the state to offer suggestions or solutions. It is even more so as, to whom much is given, much is expected. Taking an Absalomic posture would be akin to joining wanton kids to play in the sand.

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It is also somewhat uncharitable of a leader to want to criticise the Cabinet of his state, as Ibori seems to have alluded to in his public speech.

Just like he was at liberty to choose his cabinet while as Governor, so has Oborevwori done, considering competence, capacity and resourcefulness.

Consequent upon his well articulated parameters, Oborevwori’s cabinet is not only well spread across the districts of the State, it is highly inclusive and a rich blend of experience and youth, a very magistratial balance of innovativeness, discretion and depth of judgment, which is exactly what is needed at this age and time.

Ibori is sure aware of the various landmark projects and programmes being delivered by the Oborevwori administration under just one year. It is expected that he would be pleased with the ongoing infrastructural and urban renewal of Warri, Uvwie and environs, which sees his initial idea of a Warri Area Development Agency coming into tangible effect and which may lead to the return of the oil companies and businesses that divested and exited the city during his tenure.

He should also be happy with the high intensity of work on the Ughelli-Asaba Road Dualisation Project which has gone through successive administrations; the fact that the Beneku Bridge, connecting Ndokwa East, Ndokwa West and Ukwani LGAs, is 95 percent ready for use; the intensity of work on the Trans-Warri/Ode Itsekiri project; the ongoing construction of Orere Bridge in his Urhoboland; the completion of the Bedeseigha Bridge in Ijawland; the ongoing construction of Okpanam-Ibusa Bypass in Oshimili area; the completion of the Isheagu-Ewulu Road in Aniocha; the reconstruction of the old Umutu-Abraka-Eku road to provide an alternative route from the Agbor-Eku-Amukpe road, for locals in that axis; the Emevor-Orogun Road as well as the Phase 2 of the Enwhe-Uwheru road linking the East-West Road from Isokoland; the dedication of fund for the improvement of agriculture, especially the ongoing revival of the farm settlement in Mbiri, with Deghele and Kpakiama in view; the special attention to the provision of facilities for our tertiary institutions; the support of the State to enable its Local Government Councils meet their obligations to pensioners which had been a source of pain through the years; the re-equipping of all 260 primary health centres across the State immediately he assumed office; the ongoing re-equipment of all General Hospitals in the State, for which the Exco recently approved N3 billion for the Second Phase; not to talk about the health insurance scheme for all Delta State undergraduates in any university in the country.

The catalogue of achievements by Oborevwori is expansive and we sure would see and hear many more in the anniversary of his one year in office.

It is interesting that it was Ibori who first brought Sheriff into the service of the state as Special Assistant during his administration. He must have seen his virtues, and he made a good judgment because the acorn he sowed has grown into a big oak, providing cool shade and development planks for Deltans.

Like any good father would pray for his son to do better than him, so also should past governors pray that their successors should perform better than them, and Sheriff is already walking the talk towards a more advanced Delta.

Rather than needlessly try to throw spanner into the works, we think what Ibori should do is to give Sheriff a huge hug and pat on the back for raising the bar in the development of the State. As Falz would say, that’s what stars do…

 

 …Edoreh is Senior Special Assistant to Rt Hon Sheriff Oborevwori, Governor of Delta State.


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