For the past eight years, every 4th of August (except last year’s), had resounded in Oghara, Ethiope-West LGA of Delta State as Chief James Onanefe Ibori’s political followers would mark his birthday. Remarkably, Ibori was not even in Nigeria then. So, with his return last year, the plan for a massive celebration when Ibori would attain age 60 on 4th August 2018, began – though Ibori had never publicly marked a birthday. Then a few weeks ago, head of the Ibori family, Chief Williams died of heart attack.. That killed the party plans. Two years ago, I warned an Ibori follower that Ibori did not want his birthday commemorated. He retorted: “we don’t need his permission. It is something that issues from our very souls”. On this uninhibited followership, Mr. Emeka Nmadu from Okpanan town said, “most Deltans can follow Ibori to battle and will not ask why they were fighting until the fight was over.. I’m one of them. Few leaders merit such trust”. Since Ibori’s return, various communities have organized receptions to thank him for uplifting them during his tenure as Governor, an office he left 11 years ago. This week Monday, 20 heavyweight personalities led by Prof Sam Oyevwaire, representing the entire state visited him at Oghara to condole him over his uncle’s death. Come August 11th the t.own of Ugiri-Amai in Ndokwa LGA will be hosting him.
In The Beginning
Ibori did not come into politics as a godfather. He even lost his first election, to the House of Representatives to Chief Godwin Ejoor; to become a member of the House of Representatives in 1991 He simply learnt from his mistakes and joined the Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM) when the Abacha transition incepted. Sen. Ighoyota Amori, Delta state’s present Gov Ifeanyi Okowa, his predecessor Dr. Emma Uduaghan, Dr.Festus Okubor, Mrs. Faith Majemite, Chief Solomon Ogba, etc. came with him from there. Some non-Deltan state GDM member such as Alhaji Lawan Gambo are still Ibori’s very close friends. When that transition stopped, his cousin Princewill Ejogharado said Ibori formed the “Concerned Deltans” group. Thus by the time different groups were coalescing into the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Ibori’s group was there at International Conference Centre, Abuja. A big boy was emerging in Delta politics; unnoticed. The group produced Senator James Manager; the founding PDP Delta state Chairman, showing it had become the soul of the PDP in Delta state. Ibori the PDP governorship candidate had his campaign headquarters in his house in Warri opposite the Bendel Property Development Estate. Mr. Sheddy Ozoene who was Ibori’s spokesman by then said that a hotel opposite the house was virtually taken over by the Ibori team. Another lesson here went unnoticed; that the campaign was well-funded, yet Ibori had no godfather. This means that Ibori had become rich before he became a governor.
Peace building was the first task Ibori embraced on winning the election. He courted his opponents; appointing Moses Kragha the APP candidate he beat at the election into an Advisers Committee. As Ibori was being sworn in May 29th 1999 the Ijaw versus Itsekiri hostility had soaked Warri in blood such that President Olusegun Obasanjo had to visit Warri within a week of his inauguration. Ibori was routinely invited the Ijaw and Itsekiri youth activists to the Government House; he later formed lasting relationships with Frank Omare, Patrick Bozimo Ayiri Emami. Ibori’s efforts bore fruits and the peace that the state enjoys now, returned. Commenting on this, Mr. Tony Obuh who retired as a Delta State former Permanent Secretary and now Chairman Delta State Pension Scheme said: “Ibori united the various groups that formed the PDP in Delta and laid the good foundation for which people love and appreciate him. He managed a complex state expertly. He made two very strategic appointments: Chief James Erheoro as Secretary to the State Government and Chief Francis Agworo as Chief of Staff. They had been Permanent Secretaries and so highly experienced and they made the state embrace Civil Service Rules and Regulations as Ibori took their advice seriously. He had a large space in his heart for the opposition, making his opponents to really love him. Can you believe that it was Kragha who gave Ibori the idea of Songhai Delta integrated agro scheme, Amukpe?” To Delta State Commissioner for Basic and Secondary Education, Barr Chiedu Ebie, “I don’t think I have seen any who enjoys Ibori’s amount of statewide or even nationwide goodwill and respect . It is pointless naming his friends and associates; where will you begin or end? Any who has interacted with him retains fond memories .This bridge between the old and the young shuns all ostentations, never celebrated birthdays, rejected awards. People love him naturally almost inexplicably. He is truly humble but a master tactician and strong willed. His travails never got to him but seemingly washed off him.
Ibori’s Political Group.
Mrs. Faith Majemite, now an LGA Chairman remembers the day Ibori’s team went to Abuja to merge with the G34 Group that formed the PDP. James Manager and Peter Nwaoboshi were there. Now both are Senators. Even the third Delta State Senator, APC’s Ovie Omo-Agege contested and lost an election in 2003 and Ibori made him his personal aide. So the three Senators are Ibori’s associates. Sen. Manager was in Canada when this story was being written; he said: “Ibori is my Oga forever”. Majemite said “Ibori is a born-leader; report somebody to him and he would investigate your allegations. He stands for truth and gives his followers true independence. We follow him willingly. Tokumbo Onabaifor remembered the GDM Convention in Maiduguri during Abacha’s regime. He said it is amazing that three attendees from the Delta State group; Ibori, Uduaghan and Okowa became state governors one after the other. The Ibori political family has endured because Ibori is never over-bearing but truly supportive. He builds people up and you just can’t help but love him” The Ibori pol i t i cal family was severally besieged. The first was from 2004 to 2006 when Abuja wanted to take over the state party structure. The then PDP National Chairman backed his wife who was aspiring to a Delta North Senate seat. Abuja annulled Senat o r Patrick Enebeli Osakw e ’ s p r i -mary election victory and gave it to her and canceled several House of Assembly primary election results to accommodate her supporters. In an uncanny move, Ibori sponsored the affected politicians – Sen. Osakwe, Hon Amaechi Joan Mrakpor (now in the House of Representatives), Aniocha-South, Hon Princess Patience Ajudua, Oshimili South, Mrs. Chinwe Olarinwaju Oshimili North, Pat Emetulu who later became a Commissioner, Ndokwa-West. through the Accord Party. Only Olarinwaju lost. Hon Mrakpor said that she will ever be “grateful to Ibori, an uncommon leader, for standing up for her cause and for his giant developmental strides in Delta”. Her husband Peter, Justice Commissioner, is a firm member of the family. Ibori’s trial and incarceration was the second time. Wherever he was -Kaduna prison custody awaiting trial, Dubai or London became a Meccah. The people willingly followed his leadership. Here, Prof Sylvester Monye’s role must be acknowledged; he took the then Gov. Uduaghan to former President Goodluck Jonathan and brokered peace and saved the group much stress. As the PDP primaries neared, Anioma traditional rulers met at Asagba of Asaba’s Palace and sent Chief Kasim Okenyi, a former Clerk of the Delta State House of Assembly, to take to Ibori the Anioma choice for governor. Chief Philip Asiodu had headed a committee that interviewed 17 governorship candidates and shortlist three; Okowa came first, Hon. Victor Ochei second and Hon Ndudi Elumelu third. Okenyi, until recently Commissioner for Lands and Survey, met former Abia State Governor, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu and Captain Esenebe, former PDP Delta state chairman visiting Ibori. Then Ibori went to work to aide Okowa’s candidacy. Two days to the state’s primary election at Asaba, Ibori phoned me: “who would win?. I replied: “Okowa would win handsomely if Abuja did not stop him”. Ibori replied: “Abuja will not stop anybody!” By this time, even the presidency was pleading for his help in re-electing Jonathan. Okenyi said, with Ibori on our side: “we Anioma people were confident our dreams would be realized. Of Ibori, Okenyi said that despite the “noise” about corruption, we know he suffered political persecution and frame up. His good work is continuing and we thank God. Today Delta is more united as a state than when Ibori assumed office. All that remains is for Okowa to have a second term like the people before him. In Ibori Anioma has a reliable friend”. Monye, Jonathan’s Special Adviser on Project Monitoring, “Ibori is a wonder that should be studied and documented for future generations” Nigeria needs more detrabilised Nigerians like him”.
Prof G. G. Darah, Ibori’s former Chief of Staff said: “he constructed over 2,000 km of roads and bridges including the Bomadi Bridge, the longest in West Africa; reconstructed 12 Govt. Hospitals to WHO standards, established the highly-rated Delta State University Teaching Hospital, said by President Jonathan to be the best in West Africa in 2010. He established three Polytechnics and paid their teachers highest university salaries to attract quality staff. He built the first totallycovered stadium in Nigeria – in Warri and 10 mini-stadiums in various LGA HQs. He led Delta to three National Sports Festival victories. Ibori won the victory that enabled the oil producing states to begin to receive the 13% derivation principle. Ibori’s Resource Control fight started the national restructuring agitation going on now”.
What Ibori means to Oghara town
His Royal Majesty, Noble Oyibo Eshemitan, Orefe III the Ovie of Oghara Kingdom said “we see Ibori as a son in whom we are well pleased. He made us enviable among other kingdoms, opened up roads and infrastructure, placed the community on the world map. So from the bottom of my heart, and on behalf of all Oghara people, I wish him a long and joyous life. He is a wonderful person; kind, humble and patient. As to prove the Ovie right, a young man, Mr. and Mrs. Moses Ogbe Jnr, called me from Indianapolis, USA to extend their greetings to Ibori. Why said Ibori had shocked them when they received his well-wishes during their wedding, in July.
Ibori and Gov Ifeanyi Okowa enjoy a decades old mutually respectful relationship. They are identical in several ways; dogged, thoughtful, they have uncommon retentive memories and drink in details easily. Okowa a Medical Doctor was practicing in Victory Hospital in Abavo town near Agbor when people began to encourage him to embrace politics. Reason? He was treating poor people gratis. His first foray into politics landed him in the LGA secretariat in Agbor. With Felix Ibru as state Governor Okowa was elected an LGA Chairman. Under Ibori, he was Commissioner of the largest Ministry; Agric and Water Resources. Then he became Secretary to the State Government. So he has had a lengthy preparation for high office. Actually Okowa nearly became Ibori’s Deputy Governor but Ika politics intervened and Ibori dispatched Mrs. Faith Majemite to bring Chief Benjamin Elue a man who had just aspired to be LGA Chairman and failed.
Ibori the Man
The best in Ibori appeared when late Senator Pius Ewerido was sick. Though Ewerido had sent a petition against Ibori to the EFCC, Ibori from London prison tried to fly him abroad him when he heard Ewerido had suffered stroke. When the National Hospital countered that Ewerido was too sick to travel, Ibori helped organise for an Air Ambulance to evacuate him. As that Air Ambulance was touching down in Abuja, Ewerido breathed his last –unfortunately Ibori showed his foresight in his support for a private television station about to be taken over and sold off over bank debts in 2002. Ibori heard about it, invited the owner and gave him the needed money to settle his debts. He told the man: “this station will remain yours. It may one day save Nigeria. Those eyeing it for 2003 election should go and establish their own”. In 2006, that station aired live Senate debates on Third Term tenure elongation which helped defeat the scheme. . “Ibori, when he pleases and when the stakes are high enough and the die is cast, courageously defies all competition. He gives battle like Achilles on the fields of Troy, hazarding himself for others’ benefits. He exercises extravagant will power so lordly as not only to truly astonish his enemies but meet with their admiration. What passion! What fighting spirit! What staying power! What self-will! What singularity!
Tony Eluemunor is chief James Onanefe Ibori’s Media Assistant
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