James Ibori: Ex-con, Thief, Governor… President?

by Rachel Ogbu

James Ibori was going for the kill, the national cake as president of Nigeria. Even as he’s probably squatting in a corner of a British cell, he must obviously still be nursing such aspirations. Therefore we are not counting our chickens yet as this man’s record shows his deceit knows no bounds.

Our pessimism is obvious; Ibori’s tale is a grating one. How did this man go from being a convicted thief in London in the 1990s, to become governor of a wealthy oil-producing Nigerian state and then run to be president?

In 1991, he was working in a hardware store in Neasden, London. While working at the till one day, he was caught allowing his wife to walk through the till without paying for goods. They both pleaded guilty at Isleworth Crown Court and were fined.

In 1992, he was convicted for possession of a stolen credit card, which had £1,000 spent on it, and was again fined in a UK court.

Ibori then came back to Nigeria and went into politics. At the time, military leader, Ibrahim Babangida had scheduled elections to return Nigeria to democracy in June 1993 and Ibori took a job working for the governorship campaign of a friend. The experience gave him good connections with the parties that would eventually merge to form the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Omojuwa.com quoted Anthony Goldman, a Nigerian journalist who had followed Ibori’s career saying Ibori made his first major move in politics, offering his services to Abacha after the dictator had staged a coup, removing Babangida to cement the military’s grip on power for another five years. “He had an unspecified role in security.  That could be anything, it was a very murky business,” Goldman said.

Omojuwa.com also reported that in the mid-1990s, Ibori was questioned by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) in the US about how he came into the possession of millions of dollars that he transferred to accounts in the US.

The FBI suspected the money came from advance fee fraud, the infamous Nigerian 419 scam, but he was able to prove the money came from his work with Abacha, Goldman said. Also Ibori’s defence in the face of allegations had always been that he had a successful business career and had made money independent of government.

According to omojuwa.com, the Metropolitan Police in 2005 began to take an interest in Ibori after they came across a purchase order for a private jet, made through his solicitor in London.

Goldman says he understands Ibori was promised the vice-president’s job, in return for his support for Yar’ Adua but after the president died in office, his plans seemed to have fell flat.

In 2010, President Jonathan set the country’s anti-corruption police, the Economic and Financial Crimes commission on him, but Ibori fled the country to Dubai.

The Dubai government acted quickly and arrested him then he was transferred to the UK to face trial.

Goldman believes that if Yar’Adua was alive and made Ibori his vice-president, he would have had a clear run to become president.

Can we say – thank God we dodged that bullet? I say not yet, we have many more Iboris in government today.

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