James Ibori, Mega Nigerian Thief Who Became Prisoner Then Governor Then Prisoner Again

The former governor of Delta State, James Ibori, who was freed by a London court on Wednesday after serving four years in jail for money laundering and outright theft has had an incredible story.

James Ibori

He worked in London in the 1990s and was convicted for credit card theft and fraud, only to return to Nigeria and join hands with late military dictator Sani Abacha.

After Abacha died, he would become governor of the oil rich Delta state after switching his allegiance from Abacha to Atiku Abubakar, who would become Vice President of Nigeria. Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo, a former political prisoner in Nigeria was president then between 1999 and 2007.

As governor of Delta state, Mr. Ibori would amass hundreds of millions of dollars and fall out with President Jonathan who was then occupying a position he hoped would be his.

He would flee to Dubai and would be arrested there and sent to London for trial. He would be jailed in London, and has now been freed to start life all over again in Nigeria.

His incredible story is summarised by the BBC article below.

James Ibori: How a thief almost became Nigeria’s president

By Andrew Walker/Nigeria analyst

The story of how James Ibori went from convicted thief in London in the 1990s, to become governor of a wealthy oil-producing Nigerian state and then to a British prison is a remarkable one.

It is the story of a wily political operator, backing the right political horses and shifting allegiances when expedient.

Given slightly different circumstances, according to one observer, it could have seen Ibori in the presidential villa rather than a British jail cell.

Ibori’s defence in the face of allegations had always been that he had a successful business career and had made money independent of government.

But in 1991, he was working in a hardware store in the London suburb of Neasden.
The prosecution in this trial told a judge he was earning around £15,000 ($24,000) a year.

He was caught by his employer allowing his wife to walk through the till he was manning without paying for goods.

They both pleaded guilty at Isleworth Crown Court and were fined.

In 1992, he was convicted for possession of a stolen credit card, which had £1,000 spent on it, and was again fined in a UK court.

‘Murky business’

Ibori then returned to Nigeria intending to become a political operator. The country was about to be tipped into a tumultuous period.

Military leader Ibrahim Babangida had scheduled elections to return Nigeria to democracy in June 1993.

Ibori worked for the governorship campaign of a friend.

The experience gave him good connections with the parties that would eventually merge to form the People’s Democratic Party, currently ruling Nigeria.

The 1993 elections were cancelled by Mr Babangida. Later that year, Gen Sani Abacha staged a coup, cementing the military’s grip on power for another five years.

According to Antony Goldman, who worked as a journalist in Nigeria for many years and has followed Ibori’s career closely, this is when Ibori made his first shift of political master, offering his services to Abacha.

“He had an unspecified role in security,” Mr Goldman said. “That could be anything, it was a very murky business.”

Abacha was accused of murdering political opponents and ruthlessly crushing dissent and pro-democracy movements.

In the mid-1990s, Ibori was questioned by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) in the US about how he came into the possession of millions of dollars that he transferred to accounts in the US.

The FBI suspected the money came from advance fee fraud, the infamous Nigerian 419 scam, but he was able to prove the money came from his work with Abacha, Mr Goldman said.

Abacha died in 1998 and Ibori switched horses again, attaching himself to influential northern politician Atiku Abubakar, who went on to become vice-president.

Medically impossible

In 1999, Ibori took out a mortgage on a property in Abbey Road, London.

To do that, he got a new passport with a false birth date to mask his previous convictions.

The birth date he chose was in fact medically impossible as it was only a month after his sister’s birthday, the prosecution told the court.

Ibori was installed as the governor of the oil-rich Delta State in the 1999 elections.

In order to take office in Nigeria, he had to swear an affidavit that he had no convictions. To do this, he used the same birth date he had made up to acquire his mortgage.

It was this evidence that would, in a London court 14 years later, spell the end for Ibori.

Soon after he became governor, Ibori paid off the Abbey Road mortgage in cash.

He went on to buy three other properties in the UK. He paid £2.2 million in cash for a house in the plush London suburb of Hampstead.

‘Bankrolled election’

In 2005 the Metropolitan Police began to take an interest in Ibori after they came across a purchase order for a private jet, made through his solicitor in London.

It was just after this that Ibori shifted horses again, switching his allegiance from Mr Abubakar to the then President Olusegun Obasanjo.

In 2006, President Obasanjo recruited Ibori to help him force through a change in the constitution to allow him to run for a third term as president.

When that plan failed, Ibori promised his allegiance to Mr Obasanjo’s anointed successor, Umaru Yar’Adua.

At the ruling party’s pre-election convention in 2006, Ibori was on hand to lift up the northern governor’s hands in a display of victory – hours before delegates from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) voted to select him as their candidate.

Ibori is then accused of bankrolling the 2007 Yar’Adua election campaign, although this has been denied.

Mr Goldman says he understands Ibori was promised the vice-president’s job, in return for his support.

But Mr Yar’Adua, who had been ill for many years, died in office.

His Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan succeeded him and remains Nigeria’s president.

Despite being a fellow former governor of a neighbouring oil state, Ibori and Mr Jonathan were by now political enemies.

In 2010, President Jonathan set the country’s anti-corruption police, the Economic and Financial Crimes commission on him, but their officers were ambushed when they came to arrest him.

Ibori left Nigeria shortly afterwards.

He went to Dubai, whose government arrested him and transferred him to the UK to face trial.

Mr Goldman says had Yar’Adua lived, and made Ibori his vice-president, he would have had a clear run to become president.

“Then Mr Ibori would have met Queen Elizabeth at the state house, instead of serving at her pleasure,” Mr Goldman said

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TODAY NEWS AFRICA
TODAY NEWS AFRICA
Today News Africa is a widely read and respected U.S.-based publication that addresses the continent of Africa in news to provide relevant information for people and business from around the world.

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