All Hail James Ibori, the Kleptomaniac “Redeemer”


Ahmed Oluwasanjo

James Ibori
In saner climes, people dissociate themselves from people with criminal records. But in ours today, people take pride in being known as friends and supporters of corrupt politicians whose malfeasance have brought untold misery and agony to many Nigerians.

The euphoria that engulfed Delta State a few days ago as jubilant supporters of James Ibori, former governor of Delta State, took to the streets in celebration, shortly after the news of his release from a UK prison broke, confirms the stance of Professor Wole Soyinka on the “death of common sense” in Nigeria.

Sometime in August 2015, a religious crusade was organised to intercede for the release of Ibori, I recall. The invitation card to the crusade ridiculously read: “Crusade! Crusade!! Crusade!!! Rise Up Deltans For A Grant Bail And Release Prayer For Our Amiable Brother, Redeemer And Daddy. Enough Is Enough.”

Praying for a thieving “redeemer” then sounded more like one of the social media jokes. However, the celebration that followed Ibori’s release from prison seemed a proof that the prayers of many Deltans where answered.

But, why rejoice over the release of a hopeless pen robber whose heist and abuse of high office took away part of the future of a generation?, many wondered. Why won’t they celebrate their own?, I responded on a number of occasions. Those asking would need to look back to when it began to rain.

Please don’t get me wrong. Condemning those celebrating Ibori’s release is fine. But, the sad thing is that Ibori is not the first criminal turned celebrity, and he will certainly not be the last in Nigeria.

Moreover, if some yam-head Yorubas could jettison their much cherished omoluabi creed, shamelessly adorn themselves in Aso Ebi to attend a special thanksgiving service in honour of Bode George, a People’s Democratic Party chieftain who was sentenced to time in Kirikiri for fraud, shortly after his release in 2011, why should some slavish Deltans not celebrate their own Ibori, an international ex-convict?

Not too long ago, we saw how some northern talakawas sheepishly thronged the airport to welcome erstwhile governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido and his two sons shortly after they were granted bail from Kano prison for alleged contract kickback rackets.

Although the National Bureau of Statistics ranked Jigawa State among one of the poorest states in Nigeria in 2013, seven years after Lamido assumed office as governor, yet, “Lamido is the best thing that has happened to Jigawa State”, his cheering supporters had claimed then. If such encomium was good for Lamido, why is it not OK for Ibori?

What about former governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, who was jailed for money laundering? Have we forgotten how his puppet, former president Goodluck Jonathan granted him presidential pardon in 2013?

That’s not all.

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In spite of the fact that Wikipedia put Alamieyeseigha’s loot in cash and asset at some $3.2 billion, still an insolvent Bayelsa State that could not pay the salaries of its workers gave him a state burial on his demise.

Again, if Bayelsans could celebrate a corrupt Alamko, a man who bled the State raw, in death, why should Deltans not celebrate a living, even if thieving, “redeemer” in Ibori?

Let’s face it, that some riffraff protested that the Code of Conduct Bureau should stop the trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki on false asset declaration; that some morally bankrupt persons protested against the possible probe of the former minister of Petroleum, Deziani Allison Madueke; that a bunch of shameless women protested against the freezing of former first lady, Patience Jonathan’s $15 million; and the fact that some debased never-do-wells brazenly crafted the #BringBackCorruption and gave it flight on social media, evinces that fools are gradually outnumbering sane people in our society. It also reveals how well corruption has permeated our society.

That this barbaric culture of celebrating criminals cuts across our religious, regional and ethnic spheres tellingly shows how close we are to the edge of the cliff. By implication, it is an encouragement for other pen robbers to continue with their malfeasance, since the society always honours them, even after they have been convicted.

In saner climes, people dissociate themselves from people with criminal records. But in ours today, people take pride in being known as friends and supporters of corrupt politicians whose malfeasance have brought untold misery and agony to many Nigerians.

Why are we like this?

Ironically, those celebrating corrupt politicians are those who would bestially hack down petty pickpockets at the slightest opportunity. If I may ask, how are the Iboris of this world different from Lawrence Anini, the notorious armed robbery gang leader who terrorised the old Bendel State? I could imagine Anini weeping uncontrollably in his grave, wishing he had carried out his heists with the pen like his counterparts in politics.

But I digress.

We have seen how debased the supporters of Ibori are. Nonetheless, Nigeria being what it is, we shouldn’t be taken aback if some irresponsible folks call for a state pardon of Ibori or if some charlatans in cassock liken him to the biblical Joseph or Nelson Mandela of South Africa, who both left the prison to become prime minister and president of their respective countries, forgetting that Joseph and Nelson Mandela were never imprisoned for being a thief like Ibori was.

Celebrating Ibori and other criminals like him tells more about our sick society and not them.

Ahmed Oluwasanjo

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