Monday 27 February 2012

Nigeria: What The James Ibori Deal Exposes

Others doing the deed
That it will take foreign countries to expose the rot of endemic corruption in Nigeria just shows how the system appears not to have the capacity to reform and divest itself of the problem.
This morning [1] James Onanefe Ibori the ex-governor of Delta State agreed to a plea deal accepting all charges of money laundering and conspiracy to defraud in the United Kingdom.
In Nigeria, despite the mountains of evidence that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had, it was literally impossible to prosecute the man, he gummed up the judicial process, employed militants to resist arrest by the authorities and successfully absconded from justice to Dubai hoping to have escaped from reckoning and accountability.
How the big fish was netted
Meanwhile, in the UK, his wife, sister and solicitor were fighting charges of money laundering for which they were all convicted but it meant James Ibori was fighting legal battles in at least three countries.
At first, he lost the battle in Dubai as a place of refuge and ultimately got extradited to the UK where the revelations today might just be a microcosm of gubernatorial excess in Nigeria, window into corruption and an introduction to how our dear country has been plundered for decades by our leadership who expect no censure or sanction because it has become the rite of passage for anyone near the cash till.
Born a criminal
James Ibori’s criminality goes back a long way and in the UK itself; he was convicted for stealing in 1991, then for being in possession of a stolen credit card in 1992; many of his sort have besmirched the name of Nigeria, disgraced us, creating for many honest Nigerians untold heartache, distress and difficulty in seeking access and opportunity abroad because of their dishonest and shameless activities.
We have had to work twice harder, produce more documents, jump through impossible hoops, aver until we were red in the face because we were deemed untruthful, dishonest, suspect and suspicious because the likes of James Ibori raised the threshold of plausibility even for the least significant issues – it is a travesty that those of his ilk still get celebrated, honoured and respected in Nigeria.
Despite the plea bargain, I am glad that the deal was not a sealed and confidential document; the prosecutor did not mince his words in laying out the depth of opprobrium James Ibori must accept and the inefficacy of the system in Nigeria to police itself.
The lack of checks and balances
James Ibori was to have earned $25,000 per annum as governor over the 8 years he was in the Delta State government house, which will come to $200,000 in total. I doubt the British police were plucking numbers out of the air if they are suggesting he stole $250 million during his tenure. In other words, James Ibori walked away with 1,250 times the money he was legally entitled to.
You have to ask what system we have in place in Nigeria that allows a government official or a politician with responsibility for an executive office to walk away with a multiple of 1,250 of his entitlements and still be untouchable, unimpeachable, feted in high places, having the adulation of the people and unaccountable to any authority.
The bigger Nigerian corruption problem
That is the problem Nigeria faces because the stolen $250 million is no doubt the tip of the iceberg in terms of how Nigerian has been plundered, raped and stolen from by a brigandage of leadership that still rules in our midst. He cannot have done this alone; most of this would have been facilitated by other accomplices and conspirators who have taken their cut and have blended into society as respectable and without blemish.
The numbers are in the news story, but in what really grates and shows that we are nowhere near resolution of the Nigerian corruption problem; the public gallery of the court was not big enough to accommodate the almost 30 supporters of James Ibori, some wearing T-shirts with the slogan “Free Ibori”.
Our fight
In all honestly, it would have been nice to have all those disgraceful, shameless, odious, dishonourable people corralled as promoters of corrupt enterprise in the UK, Nigerians who have been completely blinkered that even if the truth slapped them in the face and literally yanked their ears off, they will rather side with falsehood, shame and the disreputable.
The problem is more widespread beyond those who stole, we have grown to condone it, tolerate it, celebrate it and desire it. In some ways, James Ibori just foolishly got caught; we Nigerians who strive to build a good name for our country just have to work harder to ensure that the likes of James Ibori and their supporters do not become the enduring image of what a Nigerian is, either at home or abroad.

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