By Sonola Olumhense
In Aso Rock, he clinked champagne glasses with men of power and privilege. On the beaches of South Africa, he partied till the small hours, and then he moved indoors, changed women, and continued.
On the streets of London, foot soldiers and mistresses of no fixed address negotiated deals and bought property for him. In Lagos and Abuja and Asaba, people moved mountains for him so he would have real estate to lodge mountains of money.
In Accra, he hunted down the best estates and cornered the best property money could buy. In Dubai, he built mansions fit for Arab royalty, and demanded beds Arab royalty had yet to think of. In Canada, he wanted to buy a $20 million Challenger jet from Bombardier Incorporated, in cash if Bombardier desired.
In Abuja, the front gate opened to admit him long before visiting Heads of State had even left the airport. In Oghara, his hometown, he persuaded the youths to lay down their lives for him.
He might as well have been James Bond. His name: Ibori, James Ibori.
Mr. Ibori must have been persuasive in ways we could not readily see. In 2007, he helped fund the election bid of his former colleague in the Governors' Forum, Umaru Yar'Adua. It was the best insurance money could buy, because once Yar'Adua became president, Ibori knew he was a free man.
One year ago, Yar'Adua basically confirmed the national suspicion that during his time in charge, thieving former governors were untouchable. "We are determined to intensify the war against corruption, more so because corruption is itself central to the spread of poverty," Yar'Adua bragged to a newspaper.
But asked about people like Ibori, Yar'Adua immediately wagged a stubborn finger, saying, "These former governors are my colleagues. We had worked together for eight years. Because I am the President, I cannot just jettison people I know. I am always very careful to separate my personal relationship with people from my state duties."
Yar'Adua was as good as his word: he separated his favourite looters and their loot from the law, a policy of which the chief beneficiary was Ibori. Throughout Yar'Adua's time in Abuja, Ibori came and went as he pleased. He enjoyed great power, trading in influence in the highest of places.
Yar'Adua even permitted him to keep his diplomatic passport, despite the protests of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. The ex-convict's legal problems were considerable at home and abroad, but he was never harassed by a fly, let alone bitten by a bee. Ibori chose his own drinks and selected his own prostitutes, one of whom told the press how badly Ibori's breath stinks. The British prevented him from buying his dream jet and scared him off the streets of London, but he was having the time of his life.
In addition to Yar'Adua at the centre, Ibori's swagger was upheld in Delta State by Emmanuel Uduaghan, who took over as governor in 2007. Between both men, Ibori was able to smirk through his so-called trial for corruption at the Federal High Court. All the charges were dismissed.
That may be why, in his head, Ibori is not just a king; he is a king among kings. He calls himself the Odidigborigbo of Africa. Whatever that might not mean, it certainly means he feels he transcends his people of Oghara. Since neither Delta State nor Nigeria awards chieftaincy titles, he evidently wanted to award himself one that was loud enough for everyone to hear in Outer Mongolia.
I am pretty sure they did. The British put his life under every conceivable microscope and computed the number of hairs on Ibori's back. They knew from which side he likes to pour his wine. They knew which of his ears is more sensitive. They knew what kind of women he ordered in South Africa, as distinct from his preferences in Ghana. They knew how the smell changed in the Emirates when Ibori shopped Dubai Duty Free.
Yes, he was loud enough for them to hear him. And last week, despite his bragging the British would never find him, they came for him. In Dubai.
The story had been that Nigeria law-enforcement agents wanted him. They said the police had traced him to Oghara, where Ibori apparently disappeared in a puff of mischief. They said Goodluck Jonathan had insisted that Inspector-General Ogbonnaya Onovo, whose men personally guarded Ibori, produce the man.
But Ibori "disappeared."
Through a thicket of EFCC spies and informants and operatives, Ibori vanished. Through a forest of his own police guards and the Delta State police command, Ibori disappeared. Through rings of our arrogant immigration and Customs officials, Ibori vanished. ..until the British knocked on his door in Dubai.
If I were Jonathan, I would be incensed. If I were Onovo, I would not show my face in public until after Christmas. There are some embarrassments you cannot explain to your wife, no matter how patient she is.
Not that it matters. Ibori, an ex-and future convict, may have been foolish enough to think that his good fortune would last forever, but it was always clear his fate depended on Yar'Adua's troubled kidneys. When they called on November 23, 2009 to tell him Yar'Adua had collapsed and was being evacuated to Saudi Arabia, I do not think he feared it would all crumble so quickly.
Which must explain why the kitchen cabinet of the dying leader lied so hard and fought so hard (and prayed so hard, it must be assumed) that Yar'Adua last...one more budget cycle.
But now, Ibori it gets really interesting. Ibori can commit suicide, but he can hide no more. By choosing to flee Oghara, the ex-governor involuntary cast himself adrift beyond Nigeria's boundaries, and gave British investigators that Dubai whiff of him they had been sniffing in the wind.
Almost without a doubt, the next image of Ibori will be of the Odidigborigbo in handcuffs, reluctantly shuffling into a British court, drained of his bluster. There, he will set hands on a bevy of women in the dock. Trying not to fall on his face, he will look at the shackles on his ankles, whereupon he will find himself shoved between two of the women.
Looking up, the Odidigborigbo will find, to one side, his wife Theresa; and to the other, his mistress Mrs. Udoamaka Okoronkwo. Flanking them will be his former personal assistant, Ms. Bimpe Pogoson and his sister, and Christine Ibori-Ibie. All of them, along with his lawyer, are currently undergoing assorted money-laundering charges. Together, they had played a thousand games with millions of British pounds. The women will most probably go to Holloway Prison, the men to Brixton; a poetic resolution to ensure they are within a convenient visiting distance for the Ibori-loving British MP, Tony Baldry.
Ibori claims the "trial" he received in Asaba was fair. Most of us believe that kangaroo insult of a courtroom-and he-are proof of the triumph of impunity and atrocious governance in Nigeria. Ibori says he is being "persecuted" because of his "political belief;" most of us believe greed to be his only faith.
But I jump too far ahead. I see the present to be a win-win equation for both Ibori and the people of Nigeria, as both sides will finally get justice. Ibori will get the chance to demonstrate his "political belief," which, I expect to be a University of Benin Founders' Day-style treatise on easy graft in Nigerian public life, while we get to see him condemned to jail in the same way he condemned the people of Delta State to perpetual poverty.
Yes, Ibori is only one crook, I know, but he is one too many, and I look forward to his being separated from every penny. And I look forward to the hunting-down of all his associates, including those that are still in positions of power and blackmail in Delta State.
For me, Ibori's sunset is an epochal triumph. In celebration, I promise to party in an Asaba hotel.
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