It turns out that I, who easily finds the good in even the most condemned men and women, cannot find even one redeeming feature in James Onanefe Ibori…
Two years ago, General TY Danjuma made an astonishing announcement – thanks to some of those choice oil blocs lying around in Abuja, he happened to have a couple million dollars around, and he had no idea in the world what to do with it.
So he threw the money into something he called the TY Danjuma Foundation.
What happened next was predictable – a hue and cry over how men like him who have walked the corridors of power have raped our country so terribly that they even dare to confess in public that they have money to throw around. The injustice of it. The insensitivity of it. Off with his head!
The critics missed the subtle point – what Danjuma was doing is, in Nigeria, rare.
There are a galaxy of Nigeria’s ex-leaders whom we are convinced have siphoned a lot of our oil and other wealth. Indeed, based on pure mathematics, it is impossible for any of these ex-leaders to have made such stupendous wealth based on what they legitimately earn(ed). Thankfully, there are those like Yakubu Gowon and Muhammadu Buhari exist, whose relative poverty, especially based on the strong perceptions of their personal integrity, underline that point.
I remember our gang of ‘leaders’ today as I think of the man the UK government recently certified a thief. It turns out that I, who easily finds the good in even the most condemned men and women, cannot find even one redeeming feature in James Onanefe Ibori – who incidentally used to be the governor of my state, Delta.
This I have always wondered – if you have accumulated so much money illegitimately, why can’t you at least have the decency to give some of that back to society, even if out of that little thing Nigerians call “guilty conscience”?
Not the patronising borehole given to secure an ignorant electorate’s vote or the money used to sponsor a handful of kids to school so you can parade them for your next sloppily-written biography – I mean a creating a system of philanthropy that can actively and actually give back to society?
The wealthy of many countries, whose monies are gained by dint of enterprise, have made a culture out of it. It’s something we’ve seen with everyone from Bill Gates to Bill Clinton.
Here, what do we get? What Foundation, Charity or Cause can you identify with politicians Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, Atiku Abubakar, Peter Odili, Chimaroke Nnamani or Saminu Turaki – something they genuinely believe in, something they give their lives to, something that makes real impact for any of our many issues – including malaria, HIV/AIDS, poverty, leadership, education etc? Even if there is no formal organisation, how have they consistently touched lives in the way that, say an MKO Abiola did –churches, mosques, schools, football clubs, individuals all across the country – in a way that has sustained his legacy?
Instead of building obscenely expensive schools that add no real value to the landscape, and creating a network of activities solely for financial gain, what happened to finding a cause larger than yourself – something that shows humanity and responsibility beyond the relentless pursuit of power?
Every year, I see Babangida struggle to rewrite history and redefine his legacy while futilely negotiating relevance and I see Atiku jump from party to party in a fruitless search for power even while he fades into page 48 of the newspapers and makes himself a punch line, and it truly bothers me. Why can’t they focus that energy on building a real legacy that they and their children can be proud of – beyond “he was a powerful man with lots of money”?
What if James Ibori had taken all that money and done some good with it? What if Ibori had spent those years out of office winning public goodwill by throwing himself into expansive charity investments rather than plotting his way into Aso Rock? Why do we have a cadre of leaders who don’t understand that you can actually recreate your future and your legacy by doing good in the now, by redeeming yourself with public good, by getting your head out of your own behind and looking at your society with an eye to do good?
I suspect it is the same lack of compassion and conscience that led him to steal in the first place that causes this disconnect.
Still, all over the world – men with ill-gotten wealth always find a way. It doesn’t mean the past is forgotten; it means they appreciate the advantages of public and private redemption. Sadly, what we have here are relentless power mongers who think of nothing but themselves and their spoilt children.
Men (and women) like Ibori are dead to compassion – through and through. Their souls are polluted. Their hearts are darkened. These are slothful, contemptible, shameless men – no more than common highway robbers.
That is why I have a picture of his mugshot on my computer and on my phone. Every time I look at it, it gives me great satisfaction. For men like him, 10 years in jail are not nearly enough. Amen.