Barely 24 hours after James Ibori landed a 13-year jail term in the United Kingdom for money laundering, jubilation turned to anger following reports of the planned repatriation to Nigeria of the $250 million stolen by the former Delta State governor.
Nigerians both at home and in Diaspora are strongly opposing plans to return the money to Delta State where the current governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan, is Ibori’s cousin and “stooge”.
A statement by the UK-based Anioma Diaspora, a Nigerian socio-cultural and good governance campaign group, said that “returning Ibori’s loot to Delta State would be senseless and counter-productive in the light of the fact that the present governor of Delta State, Emmanuel Uduaghan, is a blood relation of Ibori.
“The money would be re-stolen from the poor people of Delta State by the same corrupt officials that Ibori brought in to succeed him or it will be in safe-keeping to be handed over to Ibori by his cousin the moment he walks out of the UK prison”.
According to the spokesman of Anioma Diaspora, Mr Clement Ofodu, the money would not be used for the benefit of the long-suffering people of Delta State considering that the new governor has previously been indicted as Ibori’s tag-team partner, having served for several years in Ibori’s cabinet first as Commissioner for Heath; then catapulted to a more strategic position of Secretary to State Government (SSG) and finally imposed on the poor people of Delta State as Ibori’s successor”.
During the botched prosecution of James Ibori by Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), the Delta State government had shocked Nigerians by issuing a statement saying that no money was missing from its treasury.
Following the sentencing of Ibori to 13 years in prison, the Delta State government said it had no official reaction to a purely private matter. Delta State Commissioner for Information, Mr Chike Ogeah, argued that “Ibori is a private citizen; Delta State Government cannot have an official position on a purely private matter”.
Hours after Ibori was handed the jail sentence for fraud and corruption offences by a Southwark Crown Court in London, British judicial officials said they would soon start confiscation proceedings to ensure that the stolen assets were returned to Delta State.
One of the investigators, Detective Inspector Paul Whitmore, said it was estimated that Ibori stole around $250 million from Delta State.
“The sum can only be described as huge; vast sums of money which were used to fund his lavish lifestyle; the real harm in this case is the potential loss to people in some of the poorest regions in the world,” he said.
Mr Whitmore added that a confiscation proceeding would be launched to ensure that as much of the money as possible was returned to the Delta state government.
Judge Anthony Pitts who listened to prosecutor Sasha Weils describe Ibori as “a common thief” admitted that the court wasn’t even certain about the exact amount Ibori had stolen but he expressed hope that new light would be shed on his theft during the confiscation proceedings.
Some of the assets that might be confiscated are a house in Hampstead, North London, worth £2.2m; a property in Shaftesbury, Dorset, worth £311,000; a £3.2m mansion in Sandton, near Johannesburg, South Africa; a fleet of armoured Range Rovers valued at £600,000; a £120,000 Bentley; and a Mercedes Maybach worth 407,000 Euros.
London investigators disclosed Ibori had piled up credit card bills of $200,000 per month on a luxury lifestyle while running Delta State like a fiefdom. The jailed politician was about to take delivery of a Bombardier private jet worth £12m when he was arrested.
In his guilty plea Ibori admitted one count of conspiracy to launder money, five of money laundering and one of obtaining a property transfer by deception and theft of more than £25m while he was governor of Delta State.
He also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud, conspiracy to make false documents, and one count of money laundering linked to a $37 million share fraud surrounding the sale of shares in a Nigerian company, V Mobile.
The UK-based Anioma Diaspora has said that the ill-gotten assets mentioned in the trial were only an infinitesimal part of a vast financial empire.
The group said the UK is not the only country Ibori stashed away loots and urged the Nigerian government to start searches in other foreign countries like the US, South Africa, Malta, United Arab Emirates and Ecuador where the former governor is believed to have interests in an oil refinery.
The Cordinator of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) in Lagos State, Mr Ehi Omokhuale, said that Ibori deserved a death sentence for impoverishing citizens of the oil-rich Delta State.
Nigerians in UK believe Ibori will likely serve his term in Wandsworth Prison, a facility currently able to hold 1,665 prisoners. Wandsworth is also where Ibori was held while undergoing trial. His jailed lawyer, Bhadresh Gohil, is serving his term in Wandsworth Prison.
Ibori’s wife, Theresa Nkoyo Ibori is in Holloway Prison in north London serving a five-year sentence for money laundering. Ibori’s sister Christine Ibori-Ibie and his mistress, Udoamaka Okoronkwo-Onuigbo are also in UK jails for their roles in the plunder of Delta State which Ibori governed between 1999 and 2007.