I was musing on the excessive ambition and naivety of Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in gunning for the presidency of the World Bank when the news of the conviction and jailing of one of the greatest icons of Nigeria’s corruption, James Ibori broke.
Okonjo-Iweala’s inanity that America will hand over a crucial instrument of its capitalism to someone from the third world, Africa for that matter, was a case of careerism and inordinate ambition gone haywire. It was also a pointer to the fact that the ultra-orthodox economist may not, after all, be a patriot. She just spearheaded the withdrawal of the subsidy on petroleum, which left a lot of mess to be mobbed and she wants to abandon her project of transforming the Nigerian economy to become the president of the World Bank – an institution which is responsible for the collapse of many economies in the third world, Nigeria inclusive. It simply shows that Okonjo-Iweala may have championed the case for subsidy withdrawal in order to gratify the World Bank, so as to facilitate her becoming its next president.
On the conviction and sentencing of James Ibori, former governor of Delta State, not too long ago one of Nigeria”s most powerful politician and power broker, to 13 years in one of the Queen’s penitentiary, I could say that it is a big indictment of the Nigerian system, especially its criminal justice system. It is also a case of gigantic fall from grace to grass, with no parallel in the history of this country.
Judge Pitts sentencing Ibori to 13 years behind bars opined that none of the sentencing guidelines was enough to serve justice in his case, considering the huge amount he looted. If he had fought the case, Pitts said, he would be looking at 24 years but will get a discount for pleading guilty. The Judge deducted 645 days that Ibori has already spent in dungeon and ordered the ex governor to serve the rest in British prison.
The conviction of Ibori, who was cleared by a Nigerian High Court Judge, Justice Marcel Awokulehin of 170 count charges in 2009 is a proof that Nigeria is a fiefdom where the rich and mighty get away with breaking the law. I have said time and time again that had Ibori not eloped, he would have continued to be a special guest at events in Abuja and Asaba. He might even have be rewarded with a huge national award – not ruling out the possibility that, had President Yar’Adua not died, he might even have succeeded him (judging from how powerful and favoured he was in that regime, having bankrolled the late president’s election) as the next president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Therein lies the irony and tragedy of the Nigerian State.
However, his conviction by a foreign court is a chastisement of the Nigeria system. It is also a wake up call. First of all, with what we know today that Ibori was a petty credit card thief in London with a criminal record, one can only ask: how could such a person become governor and preside over the destiny of the Delta people for eight years? How could he have passed the INEC screening? How could such a person, who not too long ago was roaming the streets of England as an unemployed, so easily become the governor of a state? Now we see the hazard in the imposition of candidates and election rigging.
If not for God-fatherism, handpicking of candidates and election rigging, a man like Ibori would never have been at the helm in oil-rich Delta from 1999-2007. Under his watch, the state government received several billion dollars in oil revenue, yet there was almost little to show.
To think that Ibori was untouchable in Nigeria is a sickening reminder of how rotten our country is. And to remember that Nuhu Ribadu, former Chairman of EFCC was removed from office, demoted and humiliated because he wanted to bring Ibori to justice, makes one quake in anger at the state of corruption in our country.
I fail to rejoice that Ibori is now again, a convicted felon. I also resist the temptation to celebrate because he has paid the price for his sins against his people. Children and adults died because of his misrule, unquenchable greed and embezzlement. Delta could have afforded free health for all if the people’s money were used to uplift them. There are still a lot of Ibori living in Abuja as free men and still yielding a lot of power. I would only rejoice when our system ceases to be a respecter of persons. I will only rejoice when I see that President Goodluck Jonathan is serious about the fight against corruption. And the only way to show us that seriousness is by first putting Obasanjo, his benefactor, who sold this country’s greatest assets to himself and cronies, behind bars. Anything less remains unsatisfactory and pretentious.