BY JOSHUA ERUBAMI
HOW a man the reason the act and watch how impossible it becomes to stop him from acting- Ancient Wise Crack
So it has been, and so it will be for a time longer than tomorrow.
The entire landmass of the Niger Delta region vibrated and reverberated with joyous noises when Delta State former governor, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, returned to Nigeria and got reunited with his friends, political allies and kinsmen in Oghara, the administrative headquarters of Ethiope West Local Government Area of the oil-rich state.
Specifically, on Saturday, February 4, 2017, it became crystal clear and vivid that, despite Ibori’s near seven-years of physical absence from the state, the masses- the ruling class and ordinary citizens alike- still hold much regard for him. In fact, the visible gridlock, the sea of human heads and the welter of praises that were easily observable on that day of his arrival and beyond show that Ibori is not only popular among Deltans but also truly loved by them.
In muse, Ibori ruled Delta State as governor between1999 and 2007. In the heat of the unprecedented acclaimed ‘war’ allegedly launched against him and others by former President Goodluck Jonathan, he left the shores of the country to Dubai from where he was extradited to the United Kingdom and got jailed for 13 years after pleading guilty to his alleged offences that later played out to be a political witch-hunt from interests that apparently feared his growing popularity in the country’s political landscape.
He was released on Wednesday, December, 21, 2016, after completing the prison term that ran on a concurrent basis. The former governor, simply called the Sheikh, announced his readiness to return to Nigeria in a matter of days during an interview with a Reuters journalist in London on Tuesday, January 31, 2017.
For reasons that apparently still inspire awe in the minds of many, the former governor was widely welcome with great applause, encomiums and accolades that are still shaking not only the Niger Delta region, but the entire geo-spatial entity christened Nigeria.
But what, in specific terms, are the reasons and conviction behind the endless celebration of Ibori?
In a bid to assuage the curiosity of most Nigerians, our Correspondent delved into an opinion poll among the kinsmen of the former governor and amazing reasons that, perhaps, go beyond ordinary reasons, were advanced forward for the hysteric and echoic fanfare that still dog Ibori’s Saturday trip to Nigeria. In the poll, our correspondent reached out to stakeholders in Oghara, Ibori’s home town. A summary of the reasons showed that the huge infrastructural development, eight years long period of positive socio-economic impact and empowerment of ordinary citizens still remain the impeccable justification and plank for which Ibori, easily referred to as the People’s leader, will perennially remain dear to Deltans and the good people of the Niger Delta region.
His Personality Attracts A Large Crowd- Ighomena
A former Commissioner for Power and Energy and Chairman of the Ibori’s Freedom Thanksgiving Committee, Chief (Engr) Emmanuel Ighomena, explained that each person celebrating Ibori has his or her reasons that are best understood by them.
He said: “The question is likeable to bringing different blind men together and asking them to describe an elephant. Of course, to the one who touches the body, it is a wall; to the one who touches the tail, it is a rope, while the one who holds the leg believes it is a tree. Everybody celebrates Ibori because of his personality which occurs to them at their personal levels.
“Nonetheless, Ibori is generally the man of the people who is concerned about the welfare of the masses; he has positively touched their lives in many ways and governed Delta State in such a manner that every city, town, village and hamlet felt the true touch of government.
“Ibori is one of the few men that you can find the crowd following easily and they can follow him to anywhere he directs them because, people know he will never mislead them. If, for any reason, Ibori decides to trek to Abuja, then I am convinced that all roads will be closed because virtually everybody will volunteer to trek with him.
“The thanksgiving service we are holding today is entirely being funded by Ibori’s people, not the Delta State Government as being alleged in some quarters. The whole event shows that Ibori’s name alone pulls a large crowd. The peasants and ordinary men are Ibori’s supporters; everyone is following him and that is the strength of the man”.
He Made Many, But Was Made By None- Ofa
In his submission, a former Commissioner representing Ethiope West, Sapele and Okpe Local Government Areas on the board of Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC), Chief (Dr) Henry Ofa, described Ibori as a man who came into politics as a made man and established many people financially in the period of his administration.
Hear him: “Ibori was already made before he came into politics. He had his own wealth he was enjoying before he ventured into politics. When he contested as a governor in 1999, he was able to not only sponsor his election but also financed the elections of many representatives members in the state House of Assembly. So, for anyone to accuse him of looting the state’s treasury is entirely laughable, particularly in light of recent developments validating the fact that the UK government and the then Federal Government conspired to nail him.
“Ibori’s travails were borne out of two factors: His calls for resource control and fiscal restructuring as well as his unflinching support for former President Umaru Yar’adua. We thank God that he is free and free indeed as we speak.
“Another basic reason people will forever celebrate Ibori is the huge infrastructural strides he made as governor. Ibori’s legacy will out-lived him because, to his name stands eternal edifices in infrastructure. These include the imposing navigational bridge over River Raymos in Bomadi, the Omadino bridge; the Ase bridge – all laid out in marshy terrains thought impossible to build on; the three polytechnics at Oghara, Ogwashi-Uku and Ozoro; the College of Physical Education at Mosogar; the Delta State University Teaching Hospital (DELSUTH), Oghara; the Delta Towers, Abuja, and legion other infrastructure-related facilities.
“His administration is equally credited with the massive recruitment of teaching and other hands into the state public education sector, as well as the massive renovation of public primary and secondary schools in the state. His administration equally ran a free education policy in its schools at both the basic and secondary levels. He is generally perceived as a generous mind. All these will make his name ring in the hearts of many forever”.
In His Time, The Ordinary Prayed For The Continuity Of Democracy – Ojo
On his part, the Ethiope West Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Hon. Onome Ojo, justified the celebration with Ibori’s generally acclaimed principle of extending the dividends of democracy to all citizens and residents of the state.
His words: “The tenure of Ibori, as Governor of Delta State, marked a new dawn in the politics of the state. It was in his tenure that many people understood the ideals of politics; it was in his tenure that many people, particularly the common man, felt the gains of government and saw democracy as an interesting system of government.
“In the time of Ibori, people prayed for the continuity of democracy as everything moved smoothly, not because there was more money in the system but because his government favoured an egalitarian system in which the collective patrimony of Deltans was spread to all citizens. If you ask even the most illiterate resident of Delta State about Ibori, I can vouch that he or she must have a worthwhile memory to recall of him.
“Politically, a holistic analysis of what Delta State was before Ibori emerged as governor in 1999 and what it became at the time he came down the saddle in 2007, will reveal that Ibori’s administration saw greater strides in all areas of developing critical infrastructures than any administration before and after it.
“Besides, Ibori can least be described as a man of luck because in his time as a governor, civil servants worked and saw the positive results they achieved with their salaries. It was not the case that they were receiving higher salaries, but it was because of the sort of fortune that flowed out of Ibori’s administration.
“Also, the man is extremely loveable; he never segregates against any group and he has the internal charisma of dousing tension, anger and hatred among aggrieved groups. He takes others’ pains to heart and helps them out as much as he can. In brevity, he is a helper worth emulating. We have been praying that God should protect him and, today, we are happy He did”.
Celebrating Him Is Automatic- Ofotokun
But one of the stakeholders in the town, Chief John Ofotokun, believes that the wide applause given to Ibori came automatically because of his established leadership qualities on the state.
“Ibori’s celebration turns out to be automatic because everyone is in love with him. The man is simply a universal governor. As you may have observed, the bulk of the people welcoming him are not politicians but the ordinary citizens whom he had helped in the past. We are happy that Ibori is our brother, our son and even a father to some of our children. Ibori is like the magnet that attracts other things to itself. Wherever he goes is where the masses will go”, Ofotokun told our correspondent in Oghara.
His Travail Was Politically Created- Udju
Also, the Director of Primary Health Care Development Agency and President-General of Oghara kingdom, Chief Isaac Udju, maintained that Ibori’s travails were politically-motivated, hence his redemption from the stronghold of his “enemies” is worth commemorating.
“There are many reasons we are celebrating Ibori. The first is, Ibori has passed through the thick and thin, yet he survived it. Anyone who survived what Ibori passed through is, indeed, worth celebrating. Even if not for anything, the indisputable fact that God kept him alive and brought him out safely calls for celebration.
“The large crowd that greeted Ibori’s return shows his general acceptability to his people; it shows that the man has distinguished himself as a worthy leader. The travail of Ibori was a function of political creation. Some people were obviously afraid of his growing popularity and overwhelming influence in Nigerian politics; that was the root cause of his persecution”, Udju pointed out.
Questioning His Celebration Is Like Beating A Child And Expecting Him Not To Cry- Takpor
“For a long time, Delta State was in darkness until Ibori took over the helm of affairs. Ibori is de-tribalized, listens to the cry of the people and he is a political enigma and colossus”, said a legal practitioner, Chief Lucky Takpor.
Takpor added: “The question of why he is being celebrated makes me laugh because it is like beating a child and expecting him not to cry. This is a man who brought unequalled development to all aspects of the state; the day he returned tells it all because those who welcomed him cut across all political and social divides.
“We know that Ibori’s travail was politically -motivated and borne out of his clamour for resource control and fiscal federalism which is still the call and yearnings of most Nigerians. James Ibori is a God-sent leader to Oghara, Ethiope West, Delta State, and Nigeria. His reach cuts across every political divide. “Again, we are happy that God did not allow the plans of the evil ones to materialize in his life because the grace of God is upon him. Considering the mammoth crowd that cheered him on Saturday, it is beyond argument that justice was not done in his trial”.Asked to advise him, the lawyer said: “Ibori has seen how the people accepted him because of his good works; I enjoin him to continue in that line. It is our collective prayer that God will honour him with long life and give him the grace to fulfill his purpose of creation because, in all honesty, he has just started”.
Well, while that may be some of the reasons that may easily come to the mind of many as the frenzy surrounding Ibori’s return continue, it is possible that there may be far greater reasons behind the welter of praises being poured on the former governor. For now, I can only say welcome to the great Odigborigbo of Africa, whose freedom thanksgiving service comes up this morning.