James Onanefe Ibori would not want to remember the day he chose to leave the shores of Nigeria in the bid to evade arrest by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. That escape bid did not only cost him his freedom, it has turned him into a prisoner in far away United Kingdom.
Before his ‘costly’ escape, Ibori was among the power brokers in the country. As a governor of the oil-rich Delta State, Ibori was one day in company with the then Governor of Edo State, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, at Lagos Airport. It was learnt that a photographer who had taken his photograph had laid ambush for him at the airport.
As soon as Ibori saw the big portrait, he looked at Igbinedion and smiled with contentment. With a hand placed on the shoulder of his Edo counterpart, a broad smile suggesting arrogant infallibility lighted up Ibori’s face. Ibori was correct to feel infallible because he controlled immense powers before the cookie began to crumble. Before the turn of events, Ibori, who was known as the ‘Sheik’ of Nigeria, was a regular caller at the Presidential Villa even when he was out of office. He was said to be one of those that provided the funds that installed the late President, Umaru Yar’Adua. However, the sudden death of Yar’Adua turned the powerful Ibori into a fugitive in the villa as the new occupier, President Goodluck Jonathan, haunted him out of power equation and eventually, the country.
The case that ultimately landed Ibori in jail was initiated by the then former Chairman of the EFCC, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu. He also presided over the investigation of the case that made Igbinedion an ex-convict today. Looking at the array of top leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party whose Ribadu’s EFCC investigated and got convicted for corruption, he must have thought he would never take cover under the umbrella of the party that produced such men. This could be the reason why he decided to join the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria.
In December 2013, Ribadu, after reflecting on the mass defection that rocked the PDP was happy that he belonged to the All Progressives Congress. Speaking with journalists in Yola, the capital of Adamawa State, he said the reason Nigerians were defecting from the PDP to the APC was due to the public’s realisation that the ruling party was at war with them.
Ribadu had said, “Nigerians should not be deceived by the aspersions and mischief being promoted by the PDP leadership against the APC, calling it an old wine in a new bottle. What they are saying is not true, they are blinded by their desperation to cause confusion because of the wind of change currently blowing in the country.” He added that those who were defecting from the party were “leaving the failed party that has relegated their aspirations to the background to a party that will salvage them from the current lacklustre government.”
Now, Ribadu has united with the party he described as an unsuccessful political party. Were Ibori to be around, he (Ibori) would have probably joined the league of those that would welcome him to the party he once loathed.
In the party, the former presidential candidate is expected to rub shoulders with the likes of a former Governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, who he also got convicted. Today, the former governor who is one of the ‘godfathers’ of President Jonathan has received pardon from his former deputy who sits atop the affairs of the country.
If Ribadu wins the governorship election in his home state of Adamawa on the platform of the ruling party, he will join some of these men as members of the re-election campaign team of the President.
Those he also accused of corruption and are today occupying top positions either in the party or in elective positions are waiting for him. Fortunately, some of them are members of the National Executive Committee of the party, which is its highest decision-making organ.
One of such is the Governor-elect of Ekiti State, Mr. Ayodele Fayose. By virtue of the constitution of the party, Fayose is a member of the PDP NEC. He is currently undergoing trial for corruption, but his election has fuelled speculations that the anti-corruption agency would drop charges against him. The commission has, however, dismissed this as a mere rumour. The agency’s Head of Media and Publicity, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, says the recent election of Fayose has not affected his trial at the Federal High Court, Ado-Ekiti, for alleged corruption.
Uwujaren said the case would go on, adding that the immunity clause in the constitution only applies to the President, the Vice-President, sitting governors and their deputies, and not governors-elect. He said, “The trial is still going on; it is continuing at the Federal High Court, Ado-Ekiti. It is the court that would decide whether the case would be discontinued or not; all arguments will be canvassed in court and it is the court that would decide.” Like a patient dog, Fayose, who has repeatedly denied complicity in the case of financial mismanagement being prosecuted by the EFCC, is calmly waiting till October when he would assume office and then wear the garment of immunity. That will put his trial on hold for four years.
In his new party, Ribadu is also expected to rub minds with a former governor of Taraba State, Rev. Jolly Nyame, whom the Supreme Court said must face criminal trial over alleged stealing of N2.4bn while in office. The apex court, in making the order, dismissed an appeal brought by the former governor seeking to quash the 41-count of stealing and money laundering preferred against him by the EFCC. Nyame was a three-time governor in the state, starting from 1992 to1993 and 1999 to 2007.
Though he had left the ruling party for the Labour Party, a former Governor of Plateau State, Senator Joshua Dariye, is also making efforts to return. He had sent a letter to the national leadership of the PDP, asking that he be allowed to use the party’s platform to return to the Senate where he and other 108 members are making laws for the country. Dariye was among those who the EFCC on the watch of Ribadu investigated and indicted for corruption. He is still facing a six-count for corruption at an Abuja High Court for allegedly embezzling the sum of N700m state funds.
It is also not clear if Ribadu would be at ease being under the same umbrella with the former governor of Enugu State, Senator Chimaroke Nnamani, whose case for alleged corruption and money laundering is still pending. The ex-governor was indicted by the EFCC for allegedly stealing close to N6bn from the treasury of Enugu State. He was alleged to have bought several houses and invested in several businesses with the money.
Whether the new-found ideology of Ribadu would also tally with that of a former Governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Saminu Turaki, who was once declared wanted by the anti-graft commission, remains unclear. Specifically, Turaki was declared wanted by the EFCC in connection with an alleged N36bn fraud in May 2013. “You are hereby commanded to arrest the said Ibrahim Saminu Turaki and bring him before the Federal High Court, Dutse, Jigawa State without delay,” the commission said while declaring him wanted.
Ribadu, who was described as a man who does not take riba (bribe) by a former Governor of Osun State, Chief Bisi Akande, will also meet other notable politicians whose corruption cases have been inconclusive for years under the Jonathan administration.
They include four former governors Gbenga Daniel, Adebayo Alao-Akala, Aliyu Akwe Doma, and Muhammed Danjuma Goje, for allegedly misappropriating N58bn, N25bn, N18bn and N12.8bn respectively.
May be as a result of the reports he gets from the field, Ribadu himself has said he is aware how thorny his decision to defect and intermingle with his new political associates could be. He writes on his Facebook page that “I know how difficult it may be for you to come to terms with my defection to another party. But I must assure you that it’s a carefully considered decision for which I do not wish to hurt anyone’s feeling.” His new friends are already welcoming him. One of whom is a former Special Adviser to the President on Political Affairs, Mr. Ahmed Gulak. He said Ribadu is welcome to the ruling party since he has “decided to summersault and eat his vomits.”
It is, however, with sadness that the National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, bade him farewell. He told our correspondent that Ribadu’s decision to join the ruling party was “a confirmation of the level to which our society has degenerated.” He said, “For a man of that calibre to fall into that trap because of governorship position is disappointing. There is no problem; we wish him luck.”
He may need more than that to survive in the party and also preserve his integrity.