By Charles Ikhaghe
The proverbial cat with nine lives never dies. Each time it is thrown up by those who seek its death, it lands on its claws rather than on its vulnerable backside.
James Onanefe Ibori, former Governor of Nigeria’s most restive State, Delta in the volatile South- South region approximates that undying spirit of the mythical cat.
Nigerians appear to remember only his travails in the law court over his alleged convict status. In this most published legal tussle, Ibori was accused of having been an ex-convict and therefore unfit for the exalted public office of governor of a state.
Ibori was tried along with four others in 1995. They all pleaded guilty, according to the report, with the exception of one Mrs Innocent. She had her case adjourned till September 1995.
Those who said they were guilty were then fined #500 or one-year imprisonment. Ibori is said to have paid his own fine. Ibori’s traducers said the case was heard in upper area court in Bwari, Abuja.
Based on all these, Andrew Oru called a news conference in January 2003 to say he had unearthed a document that recorded the proceedings of the court, where one James Onanefe Ibori was convicted of criminal breach of trust. The conviction was allegedly to be for a theft of N110 million.
Oru said that on account of a constitutional provision, Ibori could not contest any elective position until after ten years. If this was true, then Ibori could not go for a new mandate in the election due in just a few weeks. But that wasn’t all. Oru said Ibori would have to pay back all the salaries and entitlements he had received as Governor since 1999.
Ibori fired back a few days later. He didn’t only deny the charges, but also he wrote to President Olusegun Obasanjo, saying that his name had been substituted for the real names of those responsible for the illegal alteration or super-imposition of his name in the proceedings”
The issue ran a circuitous journey through the Court of Appeal, Supreme Court and the Election Petition Tribunal. Finally on July 14 2006, the Court of Appeal Election Tribunal sitting in Benin Edo State, ruled that Ibori was not the person convicted by a Bwari Upper Area Court in September 1995.
In another attempt to bring down the governor over his crusade for resource control one Moses Oddiri tried to stop the payment of the 13% derivation to Delta under Ibori.
He said the governor was not applying the fund judiciously and so it should be paid directly to the oil producing communities of the state. At the Supreme Court Ibori floored the sponsors of the suit.
But at a much earlier period at the very onset of the administration of James Ibori, there was a strikingly vicious attempt to abort the vision and the mission of the Governor.
The media, resting on the shabby relationship between Ibori and Hamza Al-Mustapja, ex Chief Security Officer of the late Head of State, Sani Abacha, hoisted the Governor as a spy for the dictator.
A report in a weekly news magazine suggested that Ibori as ex publishers of the defunct Diet Newspaper set up the paper’s editor for arrest and subsequent jail by security agents.
Said the Journal: ”Like James with two faces, Ibori has his attention both in the world of the civil populace and …the dangerous espionage terrain”.
But Shaddy Ozoene, an aide to the Governor, said his boss and Al-Mustapha had been good friends long before the Abacha era.
Observers who ponder over the host of travails Governor Ibori has been through in the past many years say that when you add them to the perennial restiveness in the area, you have the image of a time bomb that has kept on ticking without going off.
Why hasn’t it exploded?
A lawyer anonymously told this writer that it has to do with the personality and policies of the Governor.
He says: “Ibori believes that if you deliver good governance, you will survive all adversities even if they come in the form of atomic bombs”.
Others say that Ibori’s magic is that he has been fair to all the communities in Delta, because of this, Ibori was himself held spellbound at the recent rousing reception that greeted him during his return to Oghara, his hometown in Delta State. Though he was jailed in London, dishonored and discredited, report of his freedom brought joy to his people.
* This piece does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Thisage and its owners.
- Mr Ikhahe, lives and wrote in from Lagos