John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Nigeria: Ibori Goes to Jail

by John Campbell
April 19, 2012

Newspapers, with details of the sentencing of James Ibori, are seen on a a news-stand in Lagos April 18, 2012. (Akintunde Akinleye/Courtesy Reuters)


Human Rights Watch and Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency are hailing the conviction and jailing of Nigerian “big man” James Ibori. A British court has sentenced the former governor of Delta state to jail for thirteen years for money laundering and associated crimes. Ibori pled guilty to numerous counts. The judge said that if he had fought the case, “he would be looking at twenty-four years but will get a discount for pleading guilty,” according to the press. Already in jail in the UK is his wife, his sister, his mistress, and his London solicitor, all convicted of related crimes.

Ibori was a particularly squalid representation of big man politics. He and his wife acquired a criminal record while living in the UK before he went into Nigerian politics. It would have disqualified him from office in Nigeria. To hide it, he resorted to a forged birth certificate. He was elected governor of oil-rich Delta state in 1999 and re-elected in 2003 in polls that reflected the rigging too characteristic of Nigerian elections. He became part of the inner circle of the ruling People’s Democratic Party and was a close associate of President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Umaru Yar’Adua.

It is hard to know how much Ibori actually stole from the federal and state governments. According to the press, a British police inspector estimates that Ibori stole $250 million. His guilty pleas involved more than $79 million.

Such was Ibori’s political clout that EFCC efforts to prosecute him under Nigerian law went aground. One judge in Delta state threw out all one hundred and seventy charges brought against him by the EFCC. But the EFCC charges never did go away entirely, and after his gubernatorial term concluded, he no longer enjoyed immunity from criminal prosecution. Eventually he fled to Dubai. The British and Nigerian governments then cooperated in securing Ibori’s extradition to London, where he was tried and convicted.

While flying high, Ibori acquired the big man toys. According to the BBC, the British government has confiscated a house in north London valued at 2.2 million British pounds, a mansion in Sandton (in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg) valued at 3.2 million British pounds, a Bentley, and a Maybach that he subsequently shipped to South Africa. Meanwhile, most of the population of Delta state remained desperately poor with collapsing health and educational services, as the press points out.

Most hopeful about this episode is the close cooperation between the British and Nigerian authorities in bringing Ibori to justice and the tenacity of the EFCC and the Metropolitan police. Friends of Africa can only hope that Human Rights Watch is right in its assessment that Ibori’s conviction and jailing is a “landmark in the global fight against corruption,” and that it is a harbinger of similar efforts in the future.

Post a Comment 6 Comments

  • Posted by Ayo


    Wow!. The beginning of good things to come in Nigeria.
    I hope this happens to all our greedy politicians!.

  • Posted by Maduka

    But would Ibori have suffered this fate if he was close to the present administration? Is Ibori the only corrupt Nigerian politician with assets in Britain? Why do British banks and lawyers continue to do business with shady characters from developing countries?

    There is more to this than meets the eye, and even though Ibori deserves his fate, I don’t think this seriously changes anything in the murky world of Nigerian politics.

    The opposition to Jonathan will be muted, because most politicians don’t have clean hands and EFCC can be used as a stick to beat down enemies (notice how feeble the opposition to Jonathan has been).

    What will happen? People will still embezzle government funds, but they will be discreet about it. The psychological and economic reasons for corruption will still remain – to contest for an election as a governor you need to raise N 4.7 million (about 30,000 USD) to just BUY THE FORMS.

    The cost of the election campaign could easily run into several billions of naira (tens of billions of USD). Most people don’t have that kind of money and desperate crooks with absolutely no scruples tend to rise to the occasion.

    In other words, expect a lot more Iboris in future, but with more finesse.

  • Posted by Quantum

    The question I have is why are the Western countries especially Britain and France charged, tried, and convicted this one and only politician, out of so many from Nigeria, even from the whole of Africa, who had used them as a safe deposit box for their loots and laegese stolen from their countries? Is there something that is now changed, or was there more to this story than what is been reported here.

    I am very sceptical, that the West just decided to have a changed of heart here. Or, are they now trying to cleanse themselves of the past sins they had committed?

    There is an old adage in Yoruba land from Nigeria, that says …”Eni to gbe epo loja, ko j’ale, bii eni to gbaa fun”.. meaning that the crime of a person that habors stolen good from the thieve, is even more than the thief. If the West had not been harboring the stolen goods of these formal and even current politicians and generals from Africa for such a long time, Nigeria and Africa would had been well bettet off.

  • Posted by Madu Kaejiaka

    According to you, Ibori …”was a close associate of President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Umaru Yar’Adua.” Just to clarify, the present Nigerian government cooperated with the UK. Obansanjo’s government shielded Ibori (here one is reminded of the billons of money Obasanjo and his appointees are either accused or being investigated). As for Umaru Yar’Adua, his government, though his Attorney General Aaondaka (SAN) wrote the UK authorities telling them that this Ibori had no case to answer in Nigeria (so why should the UK cry more than the alleged bereaved?). Consider the case against Orji Uzor Kalu – another “big man” state governor of Abia State. In point of fact, Umaru Yar’Adua’s government actively and openly fought the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s prosecutor in court and prevailed in killing the charges against Mr. Kalu. I point this out to show that it was largely through the effort of a foreign government (UK) that this momental feat against corruption was achieved. WONDEROUS PONDER: a mere state governor stole some $250 million in eight years. What did the other 35 governors and over 400 local goverment chairmen steal? What did the presidents and presidential advisers, and ministers and heads of goverment entities and outfits steal?? Is there any future for Nigeria if individuals got as greedy, stealing over 80% of all available funds? Isn’t it sickening??

  • Posted by John Ojeah

    It serves him right. But I will like to see corrupt politicians in the good books of a current administration jailed. Until then, the corrupt elites will still believe that you can only get into trouble if you are fighting the govt just as Ibori did against GEJ’s inauguration as acting president.

  • Posted by JONA


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