By Shehu Abubakar, Zakariyya Adaramola, Monday Osayande, Asaba & Ibrahim Chonoko, London
The story of former Delta State governor James Ibori is not unlike that of the late Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, even though they differ. Escobar was rich even though a criminal. At his peak, he owned numerous luxury residences, automobiles, and airplanes. Indeed, he even had a short-lived career in politics.
For James Ibori, the story sounds pretty imitating. During his trial in London, United Kingdom, the court heard that Ibori was able to afford luxury properties, fleets of Rolls Royces, a Bentley and a Maybach, first class travel, private boarding school fees and a private jet worth $20 million, far above what his salary as governor could give him.
And like Escobar, who continued to make money through his numerous ‘illegal’ businesses, even after he was jailed, Ibori is also believed to be making millions even as he commenced his prison term in the United Kingdom. In Delta State, for instance, the former governor is believed to be either the owner or one of the owners of ULO Consultants Limited, a construction and consulting firm handling several lucrative government projects in the state.
If this is so, as many of our sourced said it is, then Ibori is reaping billions of naira even as he is serving a jail term in London.
ULO is currently handling the construction of a gigantic building that is to be the new Government House, in Asaba. The company constructed Maryam Babangida Way, Asaba that links the Benin/Asaba expressway with Asaba town.
It is also handling the construction of the state’s Commissioner’s quarters’ road and its drainage work covering the old to the new Government House as well as the dualization of section “C” of the Asaba/Ughelli road.
Indeed, the company is one of the three companies handling the contract for the demolition of the hill at the Asaba international Airport which was awarded at N7.4 billion.
When contacted for comments over Ibori’s ownership of the company and other matters related to its operation, ULO Chief executive officer, Uche Okpuno said he does not speak to the press and cannot therefore answer any question from the reporter.
However, a source at the company’s office in Asaba told this reporter on condition of anonymity that Ibori has investment and financial interest in the company, adding that, “There is no record in this company to show that Ibori is either a shareholder or a director. But some of us who have been in the company when he was the governor of the state know he own it.”
“When you visit our office at Wuse Zone 5 in Abuja you will realize that we share the same office with Daily Independent Newspapers. Everybody knows he (Ibori) owns that newspaper company. We got the highest number of construction work from his administration. We are still enjoying the same patronage under the present administration in the state.
“But when you look at the list of our executive management and administration officers, you will not see his name there. We have Chief Uche Okpuno as the Group Chairman and chief executive officer, Barrister Sam Nwosu is the Company Secretary, Brian George Hartzenberg is the General Manager, Toyo Osai is Assistant General Manager, Timothy Oladosu, Operations Manager and Christine Plaatjies, Human Resource Manager,” the source said.
Another source at the company that also pleaded anonymity argued that Ibori has assisted the company so much with contracts when he was the governor of the state and it was the same Ibori that linked the company with the current Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan’s administration that is also patronizing the company. Don’t forget that Uduaghan is a cousin to Ibori.
Her Majesty’s Wandsworth Prison
Ibori is currently being held at Wandsworth Prison in South West London. He has been in detention at the prison since his extradition from Dubai, United Arab Emirate in April 2011. Built in 1851, Wandsworth is one of the largest prisons in the UK and Europe. It is a male prison and holds more than 1,660 prisoners at a time. It has sports and health facilities, including specialist clinics for asthma, diabetes and mental health. It also has facilities for education and vocational training, as well as a library and a chaplaincy team that caters for various faiths of its inmates.
However, at Ibori’s assets confiscation hearing on Wednesday, May 9, his defence team hinted that the former governor may be moved to a prison outside London. A staff at Wandsworth who declined to give their name said it was normal to move prisoners to other prisons after trial to make room for other prisoners or to ensure convicts are held at appropriate prisons.
Weekly Trust recalls that shortly after Ibori was sentenced to 13 years in jail on April 17, a London Metropolitan police detective said Ibori may be allowed by the Home Office to be sent to Nigeria to complete his prison term. He however emphasized that would happen only after all pending issues, including the confiscation of Ibori’s assets were completed.
‘Down but not out’
However, Prince Charles Abutoh, a computer hardware engineer is the Secretary-General of Oghara Clan Union, UK, which stood by former Delta state Governor James Ibori throughout his trial in London, said the former governor who is an Oghara himself, is facing his prison sentence like a man. He is psychologically prepared for it. His mind is made up. He regards his travails as one of those things of life. He is not bitter and he is looking forward to a good future. He is not down and he is not out. He is comfortable with the food in prison. He is not been fed from outside. You can’t take food into prison here. He is not missing anything – he exercises and mixes well with other inmates.”
‘Corrupt firms must be sanctioned’
Meanwhile, chairman of Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL), Debo Adeniran said in an interview that the group would send petition to the Federal Government to stop patronizing any company with corruption cases pending against them. “We have informed the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP) to ensure compliance and we are going to impress it on BPP to ensure that Ibori’s companies are stopped from participating in government contracts pending the time they would be taken over as state property because they are set up from proceeds of crime. That is the way to stop him further looting in Delta State,” Adeniran said.
Also, he said, “Already we have advised the UK authority to put the loot in escrow account till the expiration of the present regime in Delta State.”
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which also has a case against Ibori, did not respond to Weekly Trust inquiries.