Former governor of Delta State, Chief James Onanefe Ibori returned yesterday to Nigeria, after serving a jail term in the United Kingdom for the crime of corruption and money laundering. His return was the climax of a build-up that started since December 21, 2016, when his release from a London prison was announced. Many of his associates paid their way to London to celebrate his freedom and pledge loyalty to a man that had remained so tenable in Delta and national politics, even while in prison.
The fanfare that attended that London show of solidarity almost created the wrong impression. It had seemed as if Ibori was defiant and learnt nothing from his travails even as he kick-started fresh legal processes to prove the claim of political and judicial vendetta against him by the British authorities. The situation was only carefully managed to douse the fire of triumphalism that had been inadvertently stoked around Ibori by the post-prison get-together in London.
And so, instead of a triumphant re-entry as was widely anticipated, Ibori, more or less, sneaked quietly into Abuja, yesterday, and started immediately the onward movement to his home town of Oghara in Ethiope West Local Government Area of Delta State. It was the best way to return after all the issues that defined his long absence from the home scene.
There are growing fears that the authorities in Nigeria may re-open charges of corruption against him, with a view to maximizing his pains for reasons that could be so elastic that anything would stand justified. It could be pleaded that maximum punishment for Ibori would serve as a deterrent to other itchy politicians. And since he is acclaimed as Odidigboigboi who cannot be vanquished in conventional warfare, it makes sense for his adversaries to sustain the pressure and finish him at this hour of his seeming vulnerability.
It is very much like Shanci – the game of death – where an opportunity to take out an opponent is taken with both hands. If this were to be the case in the ongoing saga, Ibori would require greater tact to survive freedom in Nigeria than he ever applied to survive imprisonment in London. That he returned home in spite of these undercurrents is a measure of his courage and confidence in himself. It could also mean he holds all the ace cards in the unfolding game and solidly in a stead to contain all planned offensives against him.
Whichever, my candid advice is that this is not the time for Ibori to acknowledge with relish, the high sounding name of Odidigboigboi – the invincible. The bible teaches that to everything, there is a season. There is a season to be impregnable and there is a season to lie low and be vulnerable. There is a season to be lion-hearted and there is a season to be chicken-hearted. This is the season for Ibori to eat and sleep and maybe swallow few tots of brandy in-between and avoid like plague, nocturnal political meetings designed to re-arrange the variables ahead of 2019.
The Good God has delivered the man from permanent incapacitation or evil. That said, Ibori has a bigger responsibility to pray even harder not to be led into the temptations ahead. This time, many shall come to imbue him with transcendental attributes and say strange things like nothing about 2019 will happen in Delta State and Nigeria, except the endorsement comes from him. These are fake prophets. Amongst them could be those that fasted and prayed fervently for Ibori to be stuck in London so that the coast would be cleared of hurricane Ibori in the cruise towards 2019.
For now, Ibori should go into serious community service in Oghara. If he must hold meetings, he should do so with family members and the Oghara council of chiefs. His silence should be silence, not ominous silence, which is the kind of silence that is noisier than sound. I am saying this because between now and when the road to 2019 becomes more defined, anything he says or fails to say will be held against him. If he is talking, he should not speak in tongues but in a language that will be understood by Christians and Muslims, North and South, herdsmen and farmers, etc. If he is not talking, he should cultivate the tact to communicate his silence in a manner that will make his own crowd to understand that he is not keeping quiet in the face of evil.
In saying all of this, I must admit some measure of presumptuousness here. We are kind of assuming that it is the same Ibori that left Nigeria about six years ago in turbulent circumstances that has returned and therefore needs to be taught how to avoid common mistakes in politics and public administration. If a man who went to prison with his wife, sister, mistress and lawyer learnt nothing from the experience and remains the same, he is not likely to learn anything forever.
For all we care, Ibori after the London experience, does not need too much counseling. I can say for sure that no university on earth can teach him in 20 years what he has learnt in human psychology, politics and philosophy in the last six years. He should be completely on guard and not repeat the same error of judgment twice over. His genuine crowd has a responsibility to assist him too. This idea of drawing one ugly parallel to justify another is wrong. That some people even in worse circumstances are walking free in the streets today, or are in the Senate as distinguished senators without any threat of being prosecuted hanging around their necks, does not exonerate Ibori if the authorities here have sufficient grounds to hold him for further questioning.
Therefore, a uniform narrative should be maintained. And that is, to constantly draw a line between prosecution and persecution and why it is the latter if Ibori after the London trial and conviction is made to face the same crucible in Nigeria all over. The substance of the case remains the same. Ibori was punished in London not so much for his sins against the Queen of England as his sins against the Nigerian State. No good jurisprudence replaces justice with law.
Strange men, not associates or family members reportedly picked up Ibori at the Abuja Airport yesterday. It fits into the narrative of the readiness of the authorities here to purge Ibori all over again. Good. All through, the Delta State Government never corroborated claims that the money stolen for which Ibori was tried and convicted in a UK court came from the state’s treasury. It underscored the axiom that politics remains local no matter the lofty interpretations at higher levels.
The events so far have consistently proved one thing and that is, it will be pretty easier to pass a camel through the needle eye than to decouple Ibori from the people and politics of Delta State on account of his sins against them. It is an interesting point to note, as all parties go fully into the Ibori saga.