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

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, who told Nigeria he would maintain control of the country.

Later that year, Gen Sani Abacha staged a coup, removing Mr Babangida but cementing the military’s grip on power for another five years.

According to Anthony 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.


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 then bankrolled the 2007 Yar’Adua election campaign.

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.

By Andrew Walker  BBC  Africa


  1. No, no, it’s not his own James Ibori. dis not ‘fair’. d court didnt know we have over 1001 ‘James Iboris’ in Naija? they shd have called d judge dat gave his judgement in d great Naija 2 prove dis or d Naija judiciary shd appeal d case on his behalf 2 save their faces after declaring him a man of honour. Dis has gone 2 show dat Naija justice system shd be ashamed 4 makin jest of themselves. Thank God 4 a system dat works!

  2. There are 36 governors that are looting from us as this man did. Senators, Chairmen, countless public office holders. Yet,subsidy on fuel had to be removed for Nigeria to move forward. Where is the hope for a better Nigeria?

  3. Yes, Presido GEJ has always told the world – there is BOKOM HARAM everywhere in Nigeria. Original BH were IBB, ABACHA, IBORI,, ATIKU, OBJ, YAR DUA,Current BH are IBB, ATIKU, IBORI, MILITARY/ POLICE OFFICERS, POLITICIANS/SENATORS/GOVERNORS/LGA chairmen/councillors,, SSS, JUDGES, PRISON OFFICERS, MILITANTS, BAKARE/NEW GENERATION PASTORS, FAKE ISLAMIC SECTS, NEW WORLD ARMED ROBBERS etc etc etc Wonders shall never end.Solution is to request all Nigerian 50yrs and above to retire to their villages and towns to learn what humble living is supposed to be- close all bank accounts of all politicians, civil servants and govt paid workers containing more than N1million as at 1/1/2012 until they can prove the legitimate sources of the income/money there..

  4. If the mistress, Sister and wife of embattled former governor of Delta State and a British exconvict have been sentenced since two years ago, five years each for assisting Ibori in laudering money and other fraud, what is the UK court adjudicating for well over one year unable to find Ibori guilty of the same crime that led his family into incaceration since. We are not fulls you all know, when you are tired of milking this oil rich state, release Ibori on new “gramical precedence” and implat it into both British and Nigeria laws, no one would question you.

  5. Anything u do be it good or bad must bounce to you one day and dont be deceive by power in your possession because nothing will last forever on Earth but always remember the adage that says ;Good name is better than riches’

  6. The judge that discharge and acquainted Ibori should hide his/her face for a life time. Our judicial system is a national shame. Executive and legislative arms we all know is a disgrace to mankind. Shame on Nigeria

  7. Yeah Maybe Many Nigerians are corrupt and many are also corrupt by circumstances. But nevertheless, considering how the government of America, Britain, France Germany and many other countries are making criminals out of many innocent Nigerians. Why is it that they dig out any one who is not working with them and not from them. When this guy was leaving Britain why not transfer his credentials to Nigeria. No, they wait until they can use it to Mame some one for some hidden reasons. If Nigeria has no power to see the truth or cooked up truth about all the accusations laid to many Nigerians in Jail. Many Nigerians have been accused for raping a girl they only refused to be friend with. A woman can sleep with you and later call the police and tell them that you raped her. If you do not pay a lawyer (German lawyer), your case will not be proofed, you’ll simply go to jail especially is you are a Nigerian. Many sentences are legally cooked against Nigerians. I do not say that we are clean but many crimes are simply tied to us Nigerians with the confirming statements ” You do not know Nigerians, The are capable of anything”. Once any accusation is documented., In Germany , the authority require no proof if you are a back, especially a Nigerian. At times I think that they are bent on discrediting (in future) people that might know the real white man tricks over Africans Hence when you try to get up to something in your country, they will present their crooked documents proofing that you are a criminal whereas the true criminals have our money in their banks and they do not say that they are criminals. I think that Africans are ripe enough to know their criminals and when to start punishing them and not an information from nations that have no atom of respect for a black race. All Nigerians to them are drug pusher, fraudulent and even if you are clean, before you grow old in Europe, they will tie one useless crime to you.


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