Chief James Onanefe Ibori hails from Ethiope West Local Government Area of Delta State – the Delta Senatorial District of the state. He was Governor in the state between 1999, the advent of democracy and 2007. He handed over to his successor, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, his cousin, who hails from Delta South, in a controversial circumstance.
His alleged single-handed choice of Uduaghan when power was to shift pitched him against the Delta Elders’, Leaders’ and Stakeholders’ Forum, being led by the elder statesman and foremost Ijaw Leader, Chief Edwin Clark, who compiled his (Ibori) sins and petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The petition on money laundering soon landed Ibori in trouble.
The anti- graft agency summoned, detained and dragged him to court. His desperate attempt to jump bail complicated his case. He escaped to foreign country where he was arrested and repatriated to London to face trial. He was convicted and jailed. His return from jail was not without fanfare. It was a carnival as his home town in Oghara, literally became Mecca of a sort. ‘Our papa don come’ became the sing-song among the political class of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state.
He was said to be dictating the politics of the state even from jail as those jostling for appointments used to travel from far distant countries to seek his help. The highpoint of his return from jail was the almighty thanksgiving service/reception that he threw to test his political strength.
He told those that cared to listen at the church service in Oghara that he did not steal. “I am not a thief. I am a victim of political witch-hunting. I did not steal”, he told them. Several receptions were also organized by his political associates in some parts of the state in his honour. During his trial, the Delta State government defended him to the last. When the state was called upon to furnish the court with facts and figures about the looted treasury, the state simply replied, ‘no money is missing in Delta State’.
The uncooperative stance of the Delta State government till date had allegedly stalled his retrial case in Nigeria when he returned from London jail. Now, the chicken has come to roost. There is money on the table – because of the initial ‘no money is missing in Delta State’, coupled with the fact that the accused had not pleaded guilty and confessed to the crime, it has become difficult for the state government to openly fight to collect the looted money from the Federal Government. It is now allegedly doing so in proxy.
It is a matter arising for the dramatis personne in the case. The matter definitely has its good side, especially as Clark and few members of his group are still alive. It is a bad case for the Big Heart State that initially denied the missing money, in a subterranean move to protect and prevent Ibori from going to jail. It is ugly as the militant axis the region had taken their destiny in their hands and formed accountability group to recover looted funds.
It is good that the sponsor and financier of the petition that nailed Ibori is still alive and is currently blowing hot. He has warned the presidency against misappropriating the loot. He has vehemently opposed the plan of the Federal Government to appropriate the £4.2 million pinched from the former governor by the United Kingdom (UK) Government.
He said that plans to use the British Government soon-to-be repatriated fund forfeited by Ibori in his money laundering trial to complete roads in other parts of the country, whereas federal roads in Delta State are all dilapidated, would be resisted vehemently. He maintained that the money belonged to the Delta State government and not the Federal Government, hence it should be appropriated to the state.
The elder statesman indicated that Delta elders would take the Federal Government to court over the matter and asked the state government to follow suit, as it was the rightful owner. He said: ‘It was announced in one of the television stations that the British government has decided to return to the Federal Government the sum of £4.2 million stolen from Delta State government in the past by a former governor. “The Federal Government wants to use the money for the completion of Lagos-Ibadan expressway, Abuja- Kaduna-Kano road and the 2nd Niger Bridge in Onitsha, Anambra State.
“I was shocked because the money does not belong to the Federal Government as was the case of General Sani Abacha, which money was paid to the Federal Government by the American government and it was used by the Federal Government because it is their own money taken from the Central Bank of Nigeria.
“The case here is different. The money belongs to the Delta State government. So, we are taking them to the court to explain why they are appropriating the money belonging to Delta. “Roads in Niger Delta and Delta are bad; the condition of East- West Road in the Niger Delta, which is the most important economic road in Nigeria is pitiable.
“The Federal Government has not been able to repair or rehabilitate any of the federal roads in Niger Delta and Delta State. Take the Benin- Warri road for example, it has completely collapsed and even the partial work by the Delta government did not solve the problem. A journey of one hour now takes six hours or more.”
He continued: “Sapele-Agbor road is a federal road that was awarded to a contractor by the Federal Government and it has been abandoned. Why does the Federal Government not want to use this £4.2 million to rehabilitate the important Sapele-Agbor road via Eku and Abraka? We do not understand.
“We see it as a sign of deliberate oppression and provocation of our people. Perhaps, they are tired of Niger Delta. If that is the situation, let them go on since what they want is a problem in the Niger Delta. We cannot be taken for granted in our country. “As I earlier said, we are ready to go to court on this money.
It belongs to Delta and should be used in Delta State and we will not allow this oppression to continue”, he added Secondly, the House of Representatives has urged the Federal Government to immediately stop the disbursement and appropriation of the loot, stressing that the funds belonged to Delta State.
The resolution followed the unanimous adoption of a motion moved by the Minority Leader of the House, Hon, Ndudi Elumelu, who led nine other lawmakers from the state, to co-sponsor the motion at plenary, on Wednesday, March 10. In raising the motion, titled, “Urgent Need To Halt Appropriation of £4.2 million Looted Funds Recovered From A Former Governor of Delta State by The Federal Government,” Elumelu said the £4.2 million pounds, being proceeds of looted funds recovered from former Gov. James Ibori was being transferred to the coffers of the Federal Government for appropriation, without recourse to the Delta State Government. He noted that the money belonged to the people of Delta State and should be refunded to the coffers of the State Government for developmental purposes.
The Federal Lawmakers reasoned that assets seized by Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from other states were returned to those states as was the case in Bayelsa and Abia. “If the Federal Government is allowed to appropriate the funds without recourse to the Delta State Government, the people of Delta State will be shortchanged/deprived of their legitimate resources to improve on the economy of the state as well as provide the requisite infrastructural development for their benefit.
“From all indications and information to Delta State indicates that the actual money is £6.2million and Federal Government should ensure that the total of £6.2million is credited not £4.2million as stated. “Unless this House halts immediately the Federal Government of Nigeria from further dealing/tampering with the said fund, the recovered loot may not be accounted for and or have any direct bearing or benefit to the people of Delta State (who are being deprived of the fund) in terms of infrastructure or people oriented projects,” Elumelu and the lawmakers stated in the motion. The House unanimously resolved that the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Federal Ministry of Finance should stop forthwith further appropriation/and or disbursement of recovered loot of £4.2 million pending the final determination of the matter by the House, while requesting the Federal Ministry of Finance and Attorney General of Federation to furnish the House with all particulars relating to the recovered money. They also directed the House Committee on Treaties, Agreements & Protocols, Finance, Justice, Loans and Recovered Funds to investigate the matter and revert to the House within two weeks.
A concerned pressure group in the state – Deltans Lives Matter (DLM), with the watchword #corruptionmustendindeltastate, which has Hon. Christian Moses Abeh, a former Special Assistant to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa on Inter-Party Relations, as the Global Coordinator, supported by his Deputy Global Coordinator, Hon Gabriel Mamuzo and Europe Coordinator, Citizen Miracle Ifeanyi Ogor, in a petition letter to the Minister for Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN) on Tuesday, March 9, urged the Federal Government to withhold the money as soon as it comes because the money will be misappropriated by the state government.
The group in a co-signed statement said when the news that the British Government had concluded plans to return a whopping amount of money stolen from Delta State by Ibori, it was received with mixed reaction because the money would fall into wrong hands again. “Barely a day after, the same Delta State Government that claimed there was no missing money suddenly turned around using hired media bugs to demand for the release of the money to the state by the Federal Government. As if that wasn’t enough, they filed a suit against the Federal Government at the Supreme Court just to claim the money.
“It is expected that Okowa’s Government will do everything possible for the state to claim the money, including lobbying the people concerned on percentage basis. “The troubling aspect of the whole thing is that, Okowa and Chief James Ibori will pocket this money and announce to Deltans that the money has been used for projects” The petition continued: “Despite the huge amount of money the Okowas administration has received from the Federation Account, Hon. Minister and Attorney General, Deltans have nothing to show for it.
“Sir, an unannounced three days working visit to Asaba and Warri will convince you on what to advise Mr President after the court’s decision. The group maintained that releasing the money to Delta State government without tying it to verifiable projects that would be monitored, will amount to giving the money back to Governor Okowa and his political godfather (Ibori) their Easter package. It reminded the Minister that the thieves have seriously started to regroup over the money.
“They are so desperate about it that some have started consulting oracles for the use of voodoo on the Supreme Court Justices to grant judgement in their favour over a money they told the world was not missing in the state some years back.” “Kindly do everything within the powers of your office to make sure that this money is not released to the state now, rather use it to pay for part of the state debts.”
That the Federal Government has formed the habit of attaching any recovered fund or tying any borrowed money to the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and Second Niger bridge, had become embarrassing and thereby breaking the world’s record by tying the proposed spending of Ibori’s loot again to the two aforesaid projects.
The statistical analysis of pundits revealed that over seven different funds have gone into the two projects without an end. According to them: “All Abacha loot for Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and Second Niger bridge. Chinese borrowings for Lagos- Ibadan expressway and Second Niger bridge.
“World bank borrowings for Lagos- Ibadan Expressway and Second Niger bridge. Recovered loots from corrupt politicians for Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and Second Niger bridge. Pension Funds borrowings for Lagos- Ibadan Expressway and second Niger Bridge. “IMF borrowings for Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and Second Niger Bridge. 5 per cent of Nigeria’s yearly budget for Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and second Niger bridge. 50% hike in VAT to fund Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and second Niger bridge.
“And Now, Ibori’s forfeited loot, going to Lagos-Ibadan expressway and Second Niger bridge projects?” A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Babatunde Ogala, did not take it lightly with Delta State and those advocating that the money should return to the oil rich state.
He wrote on the recovered loot thus: “The money was tracked, investigated and recovered by the British Government under British Law on British soil from James Ibori and his associates and family as suspected proceeds of crime. “The British Government approached the courts and James Ibori and his associates were prosecuted and convicted in London.
The court also ordered that the money be forfeited to the British Government. Ibori and his associates did not appeal. Neither did the Delta State Government lay claim to the funds. So, the money thereafter became vested in the British government. So, the money thereafter belonged to the British Government. “The British Government, out of benevolence, elected to release some of the money to the Federal Government of Nigeria with certain conditionalites contained in an MOU that it be spent on the completion of three projects.
Any attempt by the Federal Government to use the funds for anything outside these three projects will be a breach of the MOU entered into with the owners and donor of the money – the UK Government. The £4.2 million belonged to the UK Government and no other and no one can dictate to them how they spend their money. I hope this very simple narrative helps.” As if that was not enough, the recalcitrant militant group – the Reformed Niger Delta Avengers (RNDA) has mobilized and moved into the case. They have called on Niger Delta governors to account for alleged N44.68trillion of the 13 per cent derivation allocation from 1999-2018.
The group is provoked that from 2018 to 2021, the 13 per cent derivation funds collected by Niger Delta State governors have accumulated to N50 to N55 trillion, without justifiable projects to quantify the total amount. The group is crossed that a former governor of the region eloped with a whooping £4.2 million, without recourse to the pitiable condition of the oil bearing communities in the state he was elected to govern for eight years and he is still in power by proxy.
In a statement after an emergency meeting held in the Creek convened by the Commanding Officer of the RNDA, Johnmark Ezon-Ebi (aka Obama), RNDA said that it wants 13 per cent derivation allocation paid directly to the oil and gas producing communities for the interest of peace.
It reads, “With the huge trillions collected by this South South state governors, yet the oil-producing states remain most indebted. “The Reformed Niger Delta Avengers (RNDA) militant group, called on governors of the nine oil-producing states to account for N44.68 trillion of 13 per cent derivation allocation received since 1999-2018 and from data available to us from 2018 to 2021, over N50 to N55 trillion has been collected by this Niger Delta State governors without any significant development in the oil and gas producing communities.”
The group said the governors from the oil producing states have collected the said sum apart from internally generated revenue and monthly allocation from the Federation account, excluding excess crude monies, Paris club bailout funds, monthly security funds and other funds that come from the Federal Government to the purse of oil producing state governors.
“RNDA also pointed out that President Muhammad Buhari released Paris Club Bailout funds to the governors running into billions of naira. Unfortunately, the debt profile of the six oil producing states in the region amounts to over N1.25 trillion.”
The group also vehemently opposed the claim of the governors of South-South states that blamed the region underdevelopment to failure to inaugurate of the board of the NDDC. “While the South South state governors refuse to properly utilize the trillions of naira collected from the 13 per cent derivation funds and also refuse to use these funds to develop the area which is the purpose for collecting the funds from the Federal Government. “And it is on this note that we are vehemently opposed to the claim by the South-South state governors alleging that it is the refusal to inaugurate the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) that led to underdevelopment in the region.
We are saying that it is a big lie and far from the truth. “We the RNDA militant group want to say capital NO to this claim made by the Governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa, who is the Chairman of the South-South Governors Forum, because the major reason why the Niger Delta region is still underdeveloped is the fact that the South -South State Governors refused to properly utilize the 13 per cent Derivation funds that is coming to their coffers but find their way into their pocket and that of their cronies which they use to buy properties worth billions of naira in Dubai, Lagos and Abuja with the balance siphoned to their various foreign accounts.”