£101.5m: Ibori, Judge Tomlinson And Matters Arising


Last week’s judgment by Judge David Tomlinson of the Southwark Crown Court which ordered former Delta state governor, James Ibori to pay the sum of £101.5m immediately or face an eight-year jail sentence is meant to achieve one sole aim – cause frenzy in the polity. However, the news soon faded out and failed to achieve the purpose for which it was intended.

While many ignorant Nigerians, some who were not yet born when Ibori became governor in 1999 took to social media to hail the judgment and pour invectives on the man who has lived all his life defending the interests of the Niger Delta on the issue of resource control, other discerning Nigerians saw through the façade in the ruling, a clear case of injustice and undue persecution.

A cursory look at the order clearly shows Judge Tomlinson’s ulterior motive. He ruled that Ibori should pay the sum of £101.5m “immediately” or be jailed for 8 years. While many undiscerning minds are focused on the amount ordered by the judge, supporters of Ibori including some civil society organisations who have no association with him have kicked against the ruling, saying the judge’s aim is to return Ibori to prison for a second term.

What a ridiculous judgment! How did Judge Tomlinson and the prosecutors arrive at that sum? For someone who completed his tenure as governor over 16 years ago and has not held any public office since then till now, where Ibori will get £101.5m to pay the fine? Even if they sell all his confiscated assets, will it amount to the sum he is asked to pay? The fine is nothing but ludicrous cum preposterous.

Of course, it has been proven times without number that Ibori has been a wealthy man even before his emergence as Delta state governor in 1999. In a recent interview, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, the state secretary (later chairman) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Delta state when Ibori became governor in 1999 said “ We came together and said Ibori, you have to run for governor because he was the richest among us. He has more contacts. He was rich and he also has the reach. And so, we knew that none of us can stand the force. So, we all agreed here in Ibuzo here. All of us the young men, we said as far as we are concerned, he is going to be the governor. He brought his money. I am not an ingrate. Some people will be talking negatively about Ibori today because of ingratitude. None of us had money to go for election. He (Ibori) was the only man who has money, real money to go for the election. 99 percent of the money we spent was from Ibori.  I speak as the State Secretary of the party. Even the contacts we used and the electronic systems and all the equipment we used were in my cahmbers. All of them were done by Ibori”.

This statement clearly punctured the claims of the UK government and other naysayers who claimed Ibori acquired his wealth by stealing the resources of Delta state as governor from 1999 to 2007.

According to Ibori in a statement issued shortly after the ruling by Judge Tomlinson, Since 2005 the British Prosecutors have investigated my assets worldwide, they have had a restraint order in place on most of those assets and they are well aware that the total monetary value of those assets is nowhere close to the sums that were the subject of today’s Order. Notwithstanding the fact that many of the assets are not and have never been owned by me – it seems that if you are my friend and you allowed me to spend some holiday time in your house, then by this order I now own your home and must ask you to sell it to satisfy the Order”.

It is not surprising therefore that Ibori likened the £101.5m order by Judge Tomlinson to estimated billing by NEPA, a situation where electricity companies give out outrageous guess bills to their customers even when electricity is not supplied to them and they expected them to pay

After serving his term in prison, Ibori was due to be released on 20 December but instead, he was illegally held in immigration detention . Rather than release him, the Home Office wanted him to be kept in prison for a longer period. It also made an application that Ibori should be electronically tagged and subjected to strict cur­few conditions. However, the ap­plication was rejected by Justice Juliet May who described the Home Sec­retary’s attempts to detain Ibori as “quite extraordinary. While condemning the actions of the Home Office and ordering Ibori to be immediately freed from prison, Mrs. Justice May said: “You don’t hold someone just because it is convenient to do so and without plans to deport them.”

Upon his release, Ibori sued for damages for false imprisonment and breach of his rights and demanded £4,000 in compensation. The judge, Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb said the Home secretary had been “wrong throughout her dealings with Mr Ibori over the weeks leading to his release” and that he had been unlawfully detained. She then awarded a nominal damages of £1 against the Home Office. Ibori was vindicated. Rather than offering a profuse apology for violating his rights, Judge Tomlinson is talking of another possible 8-year jail term. The question rational minds should ask is ‘why were they hell-bent on keeping him in prison after he has officially served his terms’? Why are they talking of another possible 8-year jail term now? Can you jail a man twice for the same offence? That amounts to double jeopardy!

Consequent upon his release in 2016, Ibori has insisted that he was unfairly treated. In the current case, he has vowed to seek redress in higher courts in UK. That rights must be respected. Therefore, the issue of immediate payment of £101.5m or jail term cannot arise. The Supreme Court, not Judge Tomlinson will be the final arbiter in this case.

The people of Niger Delta are watching the latest development with keen interests. They see Ibori as a genuine leader who has genuine love for his people and will protect their interests, no matter whose ox is gored. When the agents of the federal government attempted to arrest him in 2010, the people vehemently resisted it. In 2017 upon his return from the UK, a tumultuous crowd rolled out the drums to celebrate his return home. His return saw to the cessation of militancy activities in the Niger Delta region.

From 1999, Ibori has been vocal in his quest for resource control and development in the Niger Delta. During the 2005 National Dialogue, he listed core demands of the Niger Deltans which include increased autonomy for the federating units, resource ownership control, local control of police and equitable representations at the national level. It was the struggle from leaders like Ibori on equitable representation that made it possible for a Goodluck Jonathan from Bayelsa state in the South-South region to emerge as Nigeria’s Vice-President and later, President.

In August 2019, the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), Ghana Branch described Ibori “as a role model and champion of the resource control struggle which has given the Niger Delta improved allocations from the 13 percent derivation fund”.

The Niger Deltans will not watch and allow one of their respected sons and leader to be persecuted and taken away from them again. Therefore, after due consultation, they have given Ibori the backing to appeal the obnoxious judgment by Judge Tomlinson. That was why, in conclusion of his statement,  he boldly said “I know one thing for sure, that if I do not go to the Court of Appeal to contest this outrageous order, then my people will definitely say that I am a madman!”.

Emmanuel, a human rights activist and public affairs analyst writes from Abuja


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