FREEPRESS – James Ibori has been, for over a decade, the story of Nigeria’s guilt and shame. His biography has also served a menu of crime and punishment. But Ibori, former Delta State governor, has seen all these in this generation more than, perhaps, any Nigerian politician, living or dead.
Before our eyes, Ibori lived in glory. Now, all that has faded. He who once flashed with rhetoric of the throne, uttered the language of guilt. He whose face shone with hauteur had to look about in shame. He once beamed with the Urhobo beads and hats and tops to the rhythm of his royal strides. But he was forced to slouch, head down, in prison clothes, before a judge. He heralded himself in many motored convoys to parties, to official ceremonies, to airports. He had to flee, siren-free, for his dear life.
He was a colourful and popular personality in his Delta State, sweeping to victory twice and building a dynasty perhaps rivalling any state in the country. His dynasty is more potent because he sways even while coiled within the smouldering walls of a prison. When his term expired, he still clucked with swagger in the Yar’Adua administration, influencing appointments and policies.
As fortune flipped, so did Ibori’s form. From being the man of power and splendour, he was on his heels. The Jonathan administration, working with the EFCC and other political wheel horses, would not let him go. They would not forgive him for his days of thunder. But found revenge in the guise of a legitimate excuse. He had to answer charges of corruption. So, within a year, he witnessed the sunshine and shadow of power.
His first trial in Nigeria reflected the flaws and maggoty underside of the Nigerian judiciary. He was set free, and he indeed celebrated. But he had a man too many, including the former president who would not let him flee in peace. He eventually was arrested and put on trial on a foreign soil, and it was then that we saw, first hand, the contours of corruption in Nigeria.
The trial was seen as that of Ibori. Indeed, it was. But it was a trial of the Nigerian politician and politics. It was a theatre of revelations, of humility and humiliation, and tirades and familial conspiracy. Ibori’s life stood in the mirror, all scums and offal undisguised. It turned out it was not Ibori alone that was literally on trial. We saw he had a mistress in the story, a sister, a wife, and other friends and relations. It was also a trial of the past.
We saw that he had lived a humbler life once. The judge in London would not escape a narrative of the pre-Mercedes Benz, pre-Mansion, pre-billionaire Ibori, even daring to unearth his brush with the law with his wife for stealing when he earned a paltry $24,000 a year.
After his trial about six years ago, he was sentenced to prison and his story, even when not obtrusive, still haunted the Nigerian body politic. His story whispers in every show of corruption trial in Nigeria. The Ibori trial was handled swiftly and with professional dexterity. Yet, since Ibori was convicted in London, have we had any high-profile conviction of his stature? We have not.
That brings one to the story of the judges and corruption in Nigeria. The DSS stalked and stormed the homes of some judges a few months back, and some lawyers said it was not right. Maybe the visit was not beautiful in the night, but no one has proved the DSS did wrong. What we want is justice. But the revelations of corruption in the courts and judges reflect why a man like Ibori is now completing his term of punishment and others are still involved in judicial dances of adjournments and trials without a conviction or acquittal in the horizon.
Yet when the court in London spoke of a Mercedes Benz Maybach, another top politician here at home was also guilty. When he was accused of a lordly mansion in South Africa, another governor was also guilty in another state. Ditto to the funnelling of millions of dollars. But Ibori got his punishment. He did not only get that, he got his shame because his guilt was put on parade. The ones at home are rolling in stolen plenty, their children are getting married in opulence at home and in the world’s exotic best. Their fathers are private jet-lagged or happy. They are living in misery, if they don’t know it. Greek playwright Plautus once wrote that “nothing is more wretched than the mind of a man conscious of his guilt.” Though these men are guilty, they own the law and the process and force the lawyers and judges and the bureaucrats to eddy about in a futile whirligig at the expense of justice. They don’t act as though conscious of their guilt. Apostle Paul described them in the Bible as men whose consciences are “pierced with hot iron.”
With Ibori about to come out of jail, reports have it that some forces are calling for more trials for him. This is no more than vendetta. He has seen trial, exposed and disgraced not only in Nigeria but on the world’s public square. The open offal of his life has abused our sense of dignity and moral purity. He has been ensconced in jail for over half a decade.
I am not party to those who want to throw a party for him as he leaves jail, but he needs to be left alone. There may be other charges unanswered. If he were charged in Nigeria, as his peers are today, they would have been combined, and he would have suffered the same fate. If it is not technically a double jeopardy, it is morally. I would like to see judges do the same thing to hundreds of cases of politicians undergoing rigmaroles in court. Let justice to its course.
The current war on corruption has its great shortcomings. We are shaming some people and taking money from them in public. In private, however, some are treated like sacred cows. We take money from them, and the public do not know them. They are not allowed to undergo public disavowals or ignominy like the Dasukis, Fani-Kayodes, Obanikoros et al.
In his novel, The Great Expectation, Charles Dickens says “we need never be ashamed of our tears.” The question is, Nigerians have not shed tears enough to know the right thing. We have not lamented enough at home the abuses of the integrity of office. Let the abusers of our patrimony pay like Ibori and we will know that justice is around the corner. Ibori has had his. Let’s learn the lesson and not bring him to further suffering. It’s now the turn of others for justice. To try Ibori again is an overkill.