OFFICIALLY JAMES Onanefe Ibori, born August 4, 1958, was a two-term governor of Delta State from May 29, 1999 to May 29, 2007. A member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), he was at one time seen as the most powerful or influential politician after the President.
He hails from Otefe in Oghara kingdom, Ethiope West Local Council. For his education, he attended Baptist High School, Oghareki, now Oghareki Grammar School and the University of Benin where he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in economics and statistics.
He started his working career with Mobil Oil Nigeria Limited; later joined the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) as one of the pioneer staff in the marketing department of the corporation’s Warri Refinery and Petrochemical Company.
Between 1994 and 1997, he consulted for the Federal Government on public policy formulation and implementation. His major assignment during this period was the research, which resulted in the formulation of a national drug policy for the country.
In 1990, Ibori joined the National Republican Convention (NRC) and thus began a career in politics. In 1991, he contested but lost his bid for a seat in the House of Representatives, to represent Ethiope Federal Constituency.
He joined the Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM) during the Abacha Transition Programme. With the death of Abacha, Ibori and other politicians in Delta State, formed the Delta National Congress (DNC). The party was one of the streams of parties that flowed into the PDP. .
Since leaving office in 2007, Ibori became an influence peddler. He literally financed the presidential campaign of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. And when Yar’Adua was elected, Ibori had a front seat in Aso Rock Villa. Even in the PDP, his views were respected. He was the most powerful politician, after the President.
One of the closest persons to the late president, few people got close to Yar’Adua without going through Ibori. His friendship with the late president was providential. As a former governor, exposed without immunity, Ibori knew he had influence, protection and power.
The list of political appointments by Yar’Adua, allegedly with Ibori’s signature is long. They include former Inspectors-General of Police, Mike Okiro and Ogbonnaya Onovo; former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mrs. Farida Waziri and former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa.
David Edebvie, Principal Private Secretary to the late President, was Commissioner for Finance in Ibori’s government. He also worked in the Yar’Adua/Jonathan Campaign Organisation.
Yar’Adua made a case of going after corrupt politicians, even his former governor colleagues. Up till this point, Ibori was a name easily associated with corruption. His prosecution began at the Federal High Court, Kaduna, in 2007. But in spite of the charges of corruption around him, the Yar’Adua government put him on the country’s delegation to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, fuelling suspicions that the Yar’Adua administration was shielding Ibori from prosecution.
On September 10, 2007, Aondoakaa said in Abuja that the EFCC had cleared Ibori and former governors, Victor Attah (Akwa Ibom) and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu (Lagos), over the sale of their states’ shares in EWN when the EFCC had not concluded investigations.
The EFCC denied. The EFCC in statement signed by Femi Babafemi stated: “The commission wishes to state emphatically that it has not at any time or in any correspondence with the persons referred to in the media reports or any other person, cleared them of complicity in all matters relating to them which are in court or still under investigations.”
As the cases of corruption thickened, Ibori alleged that former President Olusegun Obasanjo caused his problems, using Ribadu to “package me as the face of corruption and brand me as the greatest obstacle to Nigeria’s development.” He claimed that the problem was that he teamed up with other governors to oppose Obasanjo’s re-election bid in 2003.
“When I met him soon after the convention, he told me that he learnt that I had put forward the view that he was unmarketable and unelectable. He then vowed that he was going to make sure that I was unmarketable and unelectable,” Ibori said of Obasanjo. He also alleged that his campaign for resource control had upset Obasanjo.
Ibori had also claimed that Ribadu was moving against him because he refused to assist him in his bid to become the Inspector-General of Police.
While Ibori added that Ribadu’s claim that he offered him $15 million bribe was false, ribadu described Ibori’s claims as concocted.
“How could I have been seeking the assistance of a convicted felon for the highest police position in the country? If I wanted to be IG, he would be the last person I will consider to help me,” Ribadu said.
The First Republic Information Minister, Chief Edwin Clark, had said: “Ibori has no reason to accuse anybody for his travail. If he did not commit a crime, will Obasanjo manufacture offences against him? There is nothing to show that Ibori was against Obasanjo for the third term. After the third term, he and Obasanjo were hobnobbing; they were meeting together from time to time.
“All the houses he bought in London, was it Obasanjo who told him to buy the Total Oil company in Benin; and the purchase of N5 million worth of diesel every month from Total, which came to about N300 million; and the shares he bought from Afribank, the N5 billion spent in Afribank, was it Obasanjo who was responsible for that?”