Lies are so powerful that they can upend justice, especially in a country like ours. So, the Ibori loot, as it is often described, looks like a story that will not end. For the same case, he fled the country. A former governor conquered the headlines. UK handcuffed him while their media huffed. His mug shot a public spectacle. His love story titillated bedside revelries. We were introduced to his girlfriend and relatives and his errors as a London youth. He was docked because he could not duck. The UK court proved he purloined his state’s money, and locked him for years behind vertical bars.
The story seemed to disappear. Many at home applauded and even gloated at his guilty verdict. The justice that eluded him at home haunted him like an African witch across the pond. He returned into silence after a flourish of a hero’s welcome at his Oghara home.
The man returned to his familiar role as the quiet beaver of Delta politics. He has shied from headlines, interviews or the glamour toast.
Even recently, he probably would not want the Ibori revival in our national drama. After the humiliation, verdict and time in jail, a lie has refused to die. Those in the Delta State government said the billions of Naira for which he went to jail is not missing. They would wish they did not lie. They thought it would change the narrative, and turn guilt into liberty for the Ogidigboigbo. They could have followed the words of German novelist and essayist Thomas Mann: “A harmful truth is better than a useful lie.”
It might have hurt then to say it was Delta money. That would have given them a moral high ground today. But this essayist wonders if it would have made a difference for the Attorney-general and his men in Buhari’s government in deciding what to do with the money. The decision to make it federal money on the basis that the Delta State government said it was not missing is one of the most irresponsible acts of financial impunity in our history.
Ibori went to jail. That means he stole the money. The UK court said he did and that accounted for his incarceration. Those who applauded and celebrated Ibori’s time in jail are now not ready to admit that the money belongs to Delta State. Some SANs logged onto the specious logic that the UK government took the money as its own, and it is only giving it back to us as an act of benevolence. Some SANs need education on justice and the dignity of the black man.
If a Briton stole British government money and brought it here for safe keeping, and he was sentenced here to jail, shall we say it is our money? I think this is colonial mentality. It is a drawback from the slave trade era. The British think what is theirs is theirs, and what is ours is theirs. Lawyers should understand that the law is made for justice. It is the same way the British took our people as chattel, guzzled our oil, our palm oil and robbed us of our rubber, cocoa, and ivory. They still display today, with proprietary arrogance, our Ife and Benin artworks of genius in their museums. “The law never made anyone a whit more just,” noted American essayist Henry David Thoreau.
If, as I have stated before, Ibori went to jail, it was because of the money in question. He was governor of Delta State. It was money allocated to Delta State. It was money meant to do roads, build houses, educate and elevate the lives of Delta State citizens. Anyone who denies this is the bigger liar. No one ought to defend those who said it was not Delta money. It was and is. The accounts paper trail followed the money to Ibori and to Delta. Now that it has returned it should follow the same path to those who own it. It is simple. Give Deltans their money. If the government lied, should the average citizen suffer bad roads or bad schools because of that? The average citizen had no access to the account. If the UK investigators did what even the local courts in their moral perfidy could not, why make the ordinary man on the streets of Ughelli or Agbor moan?
To say it is not Delta money is to say because I swallowed a frog and denied it, it means I didn’t swallow it. It is corporeal self-deception. Shakespeare said, man to thyself be true. I say to the Federal government: To Nigeria be true, to Delta be true.
By diverting Delta money to the centre, we are witnessing grand theft with a receipt. It is licensed larceny. It is broad day-light looting of loot. It is federal fraud without shame. It is like a crazy hen eating up its day-old chick.
We are seeing in clear repose the subversion of the concept of federalism. We have always espoused fiscal fairness. We already have a centre with a big and greedy appetite supported by a rogue constitution. At least, it pursues its routine roguery with honour by giving the states the pittances the law allows. But to take that pittance back, as it is doing with Delta money, on the excuse of an agreement with a neo-colonial master, is in bad taste. It is legalised looting.
The argument has been made that the money should not go to Delta State government because they stole it and denied it. That is not a legal argument. When it came to technical argument, they point to fine points of law. They say the British government gave it to Nigerian government. But when it comes to returning the money, they say it should not go to the government. It is imbecile reasoning. But I am ready to concede that the money should not go to the state government. It can be used to develop the state.
So many are poor, so many roads undone, so many schools need fixing, so many are sick without help. The money can do that without the state government’s finger on it. We cannot punish the people because of their government.
After all, we claim to practise a democracy. It is the people first, not government. Governments are caretakers. Caretakers, like the real ones, can defraud the landlords, the people. Speaking about landlords, who says the money is safer in the hands of the federal government? Is it not the same government that cannot account for hundreds of billions of Naira spent on security? The National Security adviser says the money is missing. If we, as Nigeria on the whole, are concerned about missing money, let us focus more on that. It is because of that many people are running from farms and villages. It is the reason people are slaughtered daily, wives and nubile girls raped, boys take everlasting treks in the wilderness, girls dragooned on trucks and bicycles overnight. No one travels in peace. We cannot abide by Soyinka’s poesy, “You must set forth at dawn/ I wish you marvel of the holy hour.” No holy hour on Nigerian road. It is chockfull of shocks, of madmen and specialists of horror. It is road rage, Nigeria special. I just saw the video of the goons pointing guns at the petrified girls kidnapped in the bushes. NSA Monguno cannot go to his Borno village even with military escort. Even though Monguno denied the claim somewhat, we know he spoke the truth. He did not speak it because he wanted to but because it was his own revenge on the service chiefs who undermined him. We know he is saying the truth because the soldiers say they don’t have weapons to fight the enemies. Again, why should service chiefs be in charge of military contracts? It is only in Nigeria that such a thing happens. It is the service chiefs brief to demand, but the ministry to order and supply. When does a medical doctor now become a contractor of medical equipment? The same government rewarded the service chiefs as ambassadors. The former army chief was never openly investigated over allegations of fraud? To paraphrase Shakespeare, if correction lies in the hands that committed wrong, to whom shall we complain?
How can the money be safer in the hands of a government that distributed billions of Naira in supplies to non-existent students on holiday during a pandemic? Even today, we still don’t have accountability. So, let us devise a panel acceptable to the people of Delta State for development work. Every kobo should be spent transparently. When Dariye erred, the money went to Plateau State. After Alam’s alarm, Bayelsa State received its loot back in joy. Why not Delta?
If it is no longer Ibori’s money, it is Delta’s, and the people should benefit. It is the meaning of what French philosopher Rousseau called the general will.