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Who Is Afraid of James Ibori?

April 22, 2010
Whatever becomes of the face-off between former governor of Delta state, Thief ( sorry, Chief) James Onanefe Ibori and the State, let it be on record that the Nigerian security agencies came out second best in Oghara, Delta state and have proven quite incapable of securing the lives of ordinary Nigerians. And to add to his litany of undeserving titles, may James Ibori now be proclaimed Commander-In-Thief of the Delta Forces.
This was Ibori’s way of flexing his muscles with the poorly equipped men of the Nigerian police force and the EFCC. And he won!

My first reaction to the reports of the ‘battle of the creeks’ was to take a walk up and down the stairs leading to my office, laughing all the way. According to news reports, the police had returned to Abuja stating that they had been out-gunned and out-foxed by Ibori’s militants. One member of the police force was quoted praising the superior fire power of the militants. If anyone needed further proof of how insecure we have become as a country, we need not look any further than events that transpired in Oghara recently. For while the issue of Ibori’s warrant of arrest for corruption provides the main plot to the story, let us spare some thought for the Nigerian police, the SSS, the Air Force and the EFCC. That the men who are entrusted with the responsibility of safeguarding lives and property can be so easily chased out of the Delta by militants loyal to a particular individual provides a glimpse into our very existence as Nigerians.

James Ibori can afford a laugh at our expense. He probably saw it coming. A few days before the raid on his property in his home town, he was in the capital city doing business as usual. As he left the Capital to take a deserved rest from swindling, he reportedly had members of the same Nigerian police force watching his back. They followed him to his home town and fortified his residence. The commissioner of police of his state must have had lunch with him that afternoon. How (on earth) was he to believe the EFCC arrest warrant was nothing more than an empty threat? What moral justification did the men of the police force who had been eating from his palms and giving him all sorts of hope, have to turn him in? And to whom was he going to be turned in to? For Pete’s sake, he had the ears of the top brass of the Police!

It is worth recalling that since he left government house, Ibori has always been a guest of the law enforcement agencies at home and abroad. Aided by a Yar’Adua presidency which accorded him plenty of immunity from arrest wherever he was, Ibori was to metamorphose into an outlaw and the de facto President of the Niger Delta. Led by ousted Attorney General Of The Federation, Michael Aondoakaa, the federal government made sure Ibori was never arrested even in the face of mounting evidence of corrupt enrichment. Docked abroad for money laundering, the government spared no expenses; with the Attorney General reeling us with extant laws on why Ibori could not be tainted and only stopped short of canonising him. He was just untouchable. Nigeria was his stage and he could steal however and wherever he wanted. Yar’Adua owed his ascendance to the throne to Ibori’s millions, so his Rule of Law mantra wasn’t for the likes of his protégé. There was the oft quoted “ no evidence to indict him” banality at the ready, to be hurled at any one who wanted Ibori in the gulag.

Pursuant to a petition from his kinsmen however, Ibori, it must appear, now knows that the game is up. And like the (fake) warlord that he is, he has promised to go down fighting. With a controversial injunction from a corrupt Judge restraining his arrest proving inadequate, Ibori resorted to fighting the state with arms to ward off his arrest. He is no thief, he has been telling all who care to listen, and his latest travails, his lawyers muse, are merely political. As I pen this article, the entire Federal security might have been asked to report to Oghara to get Ibori arrested. It may just be a matter of time before we see him in handcuffs before the TV cameras. But the lessons for the Nigerian state from this episode are myriad. For every Ibori paraded today, they are thousands out there in the political circuit waiting for their own turn to steal the state blind. Ibori’s is just a metaphor of the sad state of affairs in Africa’s most populous country.

Corruption is everywhere we turn around here. The police force at check points, the local government officials, the politicians who are bracing up to rig next year’s polls. Acting President Goodluck Jonathan may just have gone for Ibori to score a populist point, but he is threading the right path. The other Iboris out there would be fighting back soon, and Jonathan may just decide to go quiet on corruption like his predecessors. We should not expect anything different.

But for now, let us send Ibori to jail and keep him there for a long while yet to cool his heels. Let the bosses of the security forces who could not arrest a common criminal, be bold enough (with their tails still wagging between their legs) to tender their resignation letters. This has been another show of shame from the ‘boys’ scouts’ called the Nigerian security agencies.

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