Since the news broke that Chief James Onanefe Ibori, former Governor of Delta State, is due to be released after serving time in the UK on charges of money laundering, Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and other security agencies seem to have gone into overdrive. Their excitement is that they will have another chance to prove how “effective” they are in fighting corruption by immediately pouncing on Ibori, generate headlines and railroad him to prison here in Nigeria for the same offences for which he was jailed in the UK.
The indications have come in several headlines that say the EFCC is “reopening” the cases of corruption against Ibori and other political office holders accused of stealing. While all those who have stolen and misused their offices deserve to be prosecuted and punished, if found guilty, the whole security and media obsession with jailing Ibori smacks of laziness and a tired propaganda machine. Chief Ibori is certainly no saint but the idea that the UK has made the job easy for the EFCC and other agencies to lap up and photocopy here in Nigeria is an indictment to the agencies themselves because there are a thousand and one cases of corruption against former governors and political officeholders that have been placed in the cooler, and the reasons for the lethargy are even ridiculous. For instance, former Rivers State Governor, Peter Odili, accused of stealing billions of naira while in office, has successfully staved arrest on account of a global stay-of-prosecution order from a court obtained about 10 years ago. Yet Ibori went through a trial, was detained in Kaduna prison and was eventually acquitted by a court of competent jurisdiction while here in Nigeria before he was tried in the UK later on charges that are still being challenged there.
This opinion piece is not to glorify or justify corruption but to show how ineffective and pretentious the whole anti-corruption campaign is. The EFCC said in 2015 that it was reopening the cases of several governors and no sooner this was done than some of them started seeing the light in the new political party at the centre. Just recently, as these cases were ‘reopened’, former Governor of Abia State Chief Orji Uzor Kalu who has had his cases unfreezed suddenly defected to the APC at a ceremony that was well-publicised by the national leadership of the party, where National Chairman John Oyegun presided. The evidence suggests that much of the whole anti-corruption campaign for the past 16 years is one of political vendetta. Is it not interesting that some of the people who push for Ibori to be tried are the same characters who benefitted massively from the looting of the Arms Procurement Funds in the immediate past regime? What then was the motive for the campaigns that were done? It is important to understand this and know the forces that are scared at Ibori coming back to Nigeria. Mnay are people who have no political base in the south south region and fear that Ibori would again bestride the political scene in this crucial part of the country, especially at a time when the region needs leadership that commands attention and respect.
So far the President Buhari regime has shown tremendous understanding of the political calculus that has pushed certain agendas, including allegations against some of his regime’s officials and top security officers that he has chosen to work with him. He needs to exhibit the same wisdom in watching how his agents work the Ibori affair, so that he does not become a willing permitter of barefaced political treachery.
The reason I write this is because the point can be made that what Ibori has gone through in the hands of the last federal administration was a straightforward political vendetta orchestrated by a combination of narrow ethnic regional interests and a propagandized persecution, the purpose of which was ultimately self-serving. That should not be the case. A resort to a media-style arrest and headline-grabbing exercise should Ibori come home cannot serve any clear headed purpose; what will, is following through on the campaign against corruption. In Ibori’s case, what has been forfeited to the state already is far more than anything that any other political office holder has retuned and he has definitely suffered more pain than any other politician accused of corruption. Ibori should be given space to address the issues that may be in his case file in the same manner that other political actors have been made to. To do otherwise would be an over dramatization of the anti-corruption war, an overkill, a statement in political brigandage and an exhibition of crass incompetence. Let the obsession with Ibori cease.
. Zakariyau, a political scientist, writes from Abuja, Nigeria.