Ex-Delta State Governor Chief James Onenafe Ibori will lose his UK asset despite his returned to Nigeria unannounced six years after he first fled into exile in Dubai and four years after his imprisonment in the United Kingdom for corruption.
Ibori arrived the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja aboard a British Airways plane into the waiting hands of operatives of the Department of State Security (DSS) who drove him to their Abuja headquarters for interrogation.
DSS Director General, Mr. Lawan Daura, described his meeting with Ibori as a short debriefing session.
However British High Commission in Nigeria said Ibori’s return home will not stop the “legal process to confiscate and return to Nigeria” the ex-governor’s assets accumulated in London with stolen public funds.
It was only a matter of time before the news of Ibori’s arrival in Nigeria swept across the country.
But what was not immediately clear was his movement plan after leaving Abuja.
A report at about 10am on Saturday suggested that he was heading towards his Oghara home town in Delta State via the Osubi Airport in Warri.
Hundreds of relations, political associates and supporters who heard the information quickly besieged the airport waiting for him only to be informed later that he had altered the plan by which he would proceed to the Benin Airport which is a mere 30 minute drive from Oghara.
The crowd was informed of the change in the flight of the former governor at about 2:30pm.
He had landed in Benin, they were told.
A mild drama ensued as the people went into a frenzy, scampering to leave the airstrip, heading out to Oghara.
Some of those at the airport to receive the former governor were council chairmen, members of the House of Assembly, appointed office holders, traditional rulers, youths and other social bodies.
They included the Secretary to the State Government, Victor Ovie Agas; Commissioner for Environment, John Nani; chairman of Sapele council area, Ejaefe Odebala; chairman of Ethiope West, Solomon Golley; chairman of Okpe council area, Prince Godwin Ejinyere.
Others were the Managing Director of DESOPADEC, William Makinde; Pius Ovbije (POC), a commissioner on the board of DESOPADEC, Chief Emmanuel Ighomena, a Senior Special Assistant to the governor; Chief Emmanuel Ganiga, National President of the UK branch of UPU; Chairman of DSIEC, Mr Moses Ogbe; member representing Okpe constituency in the Delta State House of Assembly, Sheriff Oborevwori.
Ibori’s supporters who were in Benin or closer to the city began finding their way to the airport there.
His chartered plane, a Challenger 60 run by IZYAIR and bearing registration number India Zulu Yanky (5NIZY) finally landed at the Benin airport at about 2.25pm.
Aboard the plane were nine other passengers.
As soon as the plane came to a halt on the tarmac, Ibori quietly disembarked and walked straight into his waiting car and the journey to Oghara resumed in earnest.
Trailing his car was a long convoy of other vehicles.
By 3:30pm Ibori and his entourage were in Oghara.
The transition from down town to his private residence took quite some time as the roads were taken over by hundreds of people who had painted their faces with chalk and carried leaves in solidarity with him.
Music blared from loudspeakers placed along the streets by different bands.
His house was jam packed by well wishers and political associates, who came to rejoice with him.
Giving an insight into his meeting with Ibori yesterday, the DSS DG said the session was mainly to debriefing the ex-governor and to discuss the way forward.
He said: “He met me for a short debriefing session and way forward. Also, to welcome him back to his fatherland.
“We are also meeting soon to discuss issues of interest affecting the nation.”
The British High Commission said in a statement in Abuja that despite Ibori’s return, the United Kingdom will continue to pursue the confiscation of his assets.
It said the UK is determined to lead the way in a coordinated global effort to bring the corrupt to justice.
The High Commission in the statement by its Press and Public Affairs Officer, Mr. Joe Abuku, said: “Having been jailed for his crimes in the UK and served his sentence, Mr Ibori has returned to Nigeria.
“The UK will continue to pursue, vigorously, the legal process to confiscate and return to Nigeria, Ibori’s criminal assets.
“The UK is determined to lead the way in a coordinated global effort to bring the corrupt to justice.
“That is why it was vital we sent a clear message to the world that James Ibori, a man who stole millions from the Nigerian Government and laundered those proceeds in the UK, has been held to account.
“Mr Ibori’s return will not prevent prosecutors from pursuing confiscation proceedings against him.?”
Chief Ighoyota Amori, a former senator representing Delta Central, said Ibori’s return was a good omen to the people.
“We are happy that Ibori is back, people are jubilating, the crowd you see here and the enthusiasm that has been displayed today showed that we really missed him.
“This is the only way for us to appreciate that our leader who left us long ago is back.
“His coming is a beginning of so many good things to come, by his presence today, l’m sure we are gaining back all we have lost.
“Ibori remains in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) but it is not time to discuss politics. All his followers around are members of PDP.”
Mr. Lovett Idisi, member representing Ethiope East and Ethiope West Federal Constituency, thanked God for the safe return of Ibori.
“We prayed that all our PDP faithful should be steadfast now that we have a pure political direction.
“Their support has not been in vain. I believe now that our leader is out, we will have a sense of direction. We are a sheep with a shepherd right now.
“In my constituency, we now have somebody to consult without travelling overseas,” Idisi said.
One of Oghara’s youth leaders, Mr Efe Moses said the return of Ibori would turn things around for the good of the town.
“We are grateful to God for the return of our chief (Ibori). Sure things will turn around for better from now on in Oghara.
“Ibori is our father and we can die because of him,” Moses said.
Ibori’s arrival yesterday caught many people by surprise even after he had hinted earlier in the week that he would return within days to Nigeria.
He was released from prison in December after serving half of his 13-year sentence, taking into account pre-trial detention.
Ibori plans to appeal his conviction based on an allegation made by one of Ibori’s former associates that a British police officer had taken bribes in return for inside information on the case before Ibori’s conviction and that prosecutors had covered it up.
His road to prison began in 2007 after the Metropolitan Police raided the London offices of lawyer Bhadresh Gohil where they found in a wall behind a fireplace computer hard drives containing details of a myriad off-shore companies run for Ibori by Gohil, fiduciary agent Daniel Benedict McCann and corporate financier Lambertus De Boer.
All of these men were later jailed for a total of 30 years.
Following these corruption allegations, the United Kingdom courts froze Ibori’s assets there, valued at about £17 million in early August 2007.
Ibori’s wife, Nkoyo, was arrested at the Heathrow Airport in London on 1 November 2007, in connection with the probe of the assets of her husband, particularly in the United Kingdom. She was released after being questioned.
Ibori himself was later arrested on December 12 2007 by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) at the Kwara State Lodge in Asokoro, Abuja.
He was subsequently slammed with charges bordering on theft of public funds, abuse of office, and money laundering.
The then EFCC Chairman, Malam Nuhu Ribadu also alleged at the time that Ibori attempted to bribe him to drop the charges with a cash gift of $15 million, which Ribadu claimed to have deposited with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as exhibit.
A Federal High Court sitting in Asaba, Delta State, discharged and acquitted Ibori of all 170 charges of corruption brought against him by EFCC on December 17, 2009
But in April 2010, about three months after the assumption of office by the then President Goodluck Jonathan, a fresh charge of embezzlement of N40 billion was pressed against him.
He soon fled the country and headed to Dubai where he was arrested on May 10, 2010 by the International Police and extradited to the UK.
On 1st and 2 June 2010, UK jurists found James Ibori’s sister, Christine Ibie-Ibori and his associate, Udoamaka Okoronkwo, guilty on counts of money laundering, in a verdict delivered at the Southwark Crown Court, London.
They were sentenced to 5 years in prison each on Monday 7 June 2010.
On 27 February 2012, accused of stealing US$250 million from the Nigerian public purse, Ibori pleaded guilty to ten counts of money laundering and conspiracy to defraud at Southwark Crown Court, London.
On Tuesday, April 17, 2012, Ibori was sentenced to 13 years by the Court for his crimes.
James Ibori was released from prison in December 2016 after a court order. He served four years out of the 13 years he was sentenced to.