James Ibori was a governor of Delta State in Nigeria's oil-producing region
In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Sola Odunfa ponders Nigerian morality.
There is a popular description of the sprawling city of Ibadan in the south-west of Nigeria as "the land where the thief is justified against the owner of the stolen property".
The general view is based on the premise that family property belongs to the family but national or government property belongs to no-one
I am not sure that the people of Ibadan take pride in the statement but it is as old as my great grandmother.
I think that the genesis was in the very strong fraternal affection among the people, such that the chiefs would find any excuse to acquit a "son of the soil" arraigned before them for stealing from a stranger, even if that decision affronted the law.
They might scold the thief later, but not in the presence of the outsider.
The sentiment is no longer exclusive to the Ibadan.
There is a curious morality in Nigeria by which heavy punishment is meted to anyone who steals from within their family or community but that person is regarded as a hero if they steal from the national purse.
Heroes or villains?
I have tried to make sense of this state of affairs but to no avail.
Is there a difference between stealing one naira or one million naira?
The way I see things, a thief is a thief, whether the amount stolen is one penny or a million dollars.
The person who stole one penny did so because they did not have access to a bigger amount, otherwise they would cart it away in a three-tonne lorry.
The general view is based on the premise that family property belongs to the family but national or government property belongs to no-one.
Members of a family feel deprived when anyone steals from them; but when that same person steals from the public purse his family members expect to be enriched.
Therefore they hail and protect them.
My subject this week is the continuing saga of the efforts by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to arrest Chief James Onanefe Ibori.
James Ibori is wanted by police in the UK too
He is the immediate past governor of the very rich Delta State, and is wanted by the anti-corruption body to stand trial in court over allegations of diverting several million dollars of public funds to his private use in the eight years when he was in office.
A national newspaper here described him as "a man who mirrors much of what is wrong with Nigeria".
That reputation was not acquired overnight.
Long before he became a household name in Nigeria, Mr Ibori had been tried and convicted twice in the UK for stealing.
In 1999 he was one of the foundation members of People's Democratic Party (PDP), which eventually became Nigeria's ruling party.
That same year he was elected governor of Delta State and soon he was reputed to be worth more than his weight in gold.
Now out of office he has lost his constitutional immunity from prosecution, and what he has found is time to publicly explain his reputed wealth.
He was cleared of corruption and money-laundering charges in December when a court said there was no clear evidence against him.
But when anti-corruption officers tried to arrest him again last month, they were ambushed by his supporters and he is now reportedly in hiding.
He is also wanted in the UK, where British police have frozen assets allegedly belonging to him worth $35m (about £23m).
What is wrong with anyone being invited by the police or the EFCC to come and defend themselves against allegations of fraudulent diversion of public funds?
But many of Mr Ibori's kinsmen - the Urhobo in Delta State - will have none of that.
They say it is persecution, because the former governor had got a judge in the state capital to order that he must not be arrested.
No such order can be perpetual in any civilised or decent society.
Whatever the Urhobo militants may say these are new charges against him and he owes all Nigerians his defence.
The Nigerian system demands an explanation in the general interest.
Thanks for your comments. Please read a selection below:
Economic and social deprivation has made the ordinary man to worship the affluent. The source of affluence by the affluent is not in this case a matter of consideration by the deprived. The ordinary citizens of Nigeria have being boxed to the corner of poverty, a situation where the next meal is not in sight. The deprived are always wishing that one of theirs will one day join the the league of the affluent and seek economic shelter from them. Ibori happens to be one of such and the kinsmen are ever ready to defend him. The root of all these is bad leadership and a directionless country. If the basics - Food, Clothing & shelter are readily available and having an accountable government where basic amenities are not just for the affluent but available for all no matter what your status, belief or creed is, then, the affluent will not be given this much protection in their communities but rather would be judged by their decency in the pursuit and acquisition of their wealth. I applaud Sola for his write-up and I would want to say that a change in orientation in Nigeria will come by exemplary leadership where the rule of law is in force, with full separation of powers and punitive measures handed over to errant parties without fear or favour.
Cyrus Ijomor, Bowie, MD
Leadership is always a reflection of society.....if Nigerians are ready for good leadership, they must elect trustworthy candidates for their integrity and not cash handouts. Even the heavens knew Gen. Buhari was of higher moral decency and integrity in 1999 and 2003 but did we elect him? and if so, did we defend the votes against all odds including Iwu's army at polling centres? Let's stop this meaningless debate until we are ready...perhaps when pushed to the last wall!
Umar Ajiya, London, UK
My brother, don't waste your precious time reminding us of our kleptomaniac leaders, all of them and I repeat, all of them are the same, the only few that you hear people are praising, might just be doing a little of what the people who voted wanted, but look beside them you will the loot.
sada saulawa, kano, nigeria
What angers me are people saying selective justice is being issued. We should focus on the facts... did he steal or did he not? Forget about whether Mr A, B or C stole more or less. Using other peoples fault as an excuse for ours is a culture in Nigeria that is greatly slowing our progress. If each Nigerian faces the facts individually, and tries to correct it, instead of saying after all this other person did so and so, then we would be one step closer to being a better nation. Nigeria is a very hypocritical society, starting from our religious leaders who preach prosperity at any cost, and laud and accept huge 'donations' from our politicians and leaders milking the country dry - and foolishly thinking they can buy their way into heaven!
Tobenna, Rivers State, Nigeria
My comment is a reply to Brother Theo, Toronto, Canada's, View on Fighting Corruption and the Ibori Factor. Regarding James Ibori of Delta State. I want you to Understand that if Ibori is Paid N200,000.00 per month as you claim while in Office and you feels that is the reason why the Government should Probe Him for Corruption, then my Question is have you asked how much The same James Ibori Had in 1998 when he was Contesting for the Governorship Post. Do understand that Obasanjo was having just 20,000 Naira in his Bank Account and his Otta Farm was down as at 1999 when he take over the position of Presidency. All that the Delta Youths asked the EFCC is for them to start the Persecution from the Top. Arrest Obasanjo, Atiku, Ken Nnamani, Charles Soludo, Tinubu, Peter Odili, Yerima, Nuhu Ribadu, Mrs Patience Jonathan (The Wife of the Nigerian President), IBB, etc, then they will allow you to arrest Ibori. It is a clear case and all must stand to the truth. why must it be that when Election is by the corner that they always want to tell Nigerians that Ibori is a Criminal. Why are they Afraid of Only one Man (Ibori). Nigeria must remain a Failed State until people like you stop claiming that you are Good Nigerians....ok
Solomon De Great, London, UK
Is it not ironical that Nigerians are considered one of the most pious and God-fearing people in the world and at the same time, Nigeria has repeatedly topped the list of the most corrupt countries in the world? We have numerous examples of Nigerian pastors who have established themselves over the border in Cameroon and will stop at nothing to squeeze the last CFA Franc from their poor followers in the name of church contributions. If religious leaders who are supposed to be models of morality are this corrupt, does it surprise anyone that Nigerian politicians behave the way they do? The Nigerian corruption and scamming virus has spread locally and internationally. I don't trust a single Nigerian anymore. All the internet scams seem to originate from Nigeria. What is wrong with you people?
Lakinyo, Yaounde, Cameroon
It is simply outrageous to know that the youths of Niger-Delta particularly those in the Sapele-Warri axis could think that prosecuting Ibori was injustice. What planet are these guys living? If they are reasonable enough to know that Ibori's salary as an 2-term governor at N200,000.00 per month is barely under N20M for 8 years is not commesurate with the life-style Ibori is currently living, then they will have every reason to question their leaders patrioticness.
The sad part of this drama is that the youths whose future have been forever mortgaged think Ibori is innocent whereas the truth is, Ibori has used the resources meant for their development for his own personal use! By their fruit we shall know them! Let them continue to demonstrate and loot others.....Ibori and his family can never and will never be like them for the rest of his disgraced life!
Theo, Toronto, Canada
Nigeria is a country where the abnormal becomes normal. I bet there are millions more like Ibori waiting for their chance to 'chop'. A good start to sorting out the problem may be to have regular independent audits of government finances which are then published in the newspapers. While it may not stop the pilfering it may at least reduce it.
kayode ogunfeibo, london, england
@ George Oyeho, St Paul, MN: The issue of corruption is given as much seriousness in the Western world as Africa. Humans worldwide will always try to get round or bend laws. The systems in place in the 'developed' world ensure these instances can be talked about and dealt with - mostly. Our African leaders make a mockery of our laws. A number of Africans I spoke to were amused about the 'fuss' made in the UK over politicians being held accountable for helping themselves to a few hundred pounds of public money when ours compete to empty the treasury millions of dollars at a time (while the masses starve). People are mostly held accountable in the Western world and in spite of the corruption that may be ongoing at their levels of leadership, the citizens of these countries (that have much less natural resources than the "developing" countries) have a far better standard of living than we do in our Africa that is blessed with an abundance of resources. We insult ourselves when we try to share the blame for our misfortunes with the "Western world". It implies we are weak or stupid to allow foreigners influence us to our detriment. Most African countries have enjoyed independence for several years now. We can't achieve a developed status overnight but we would get there quicker if we start accepting our shortcomings and identifying what to do to make us more robust as nations. I used to get embarrassed by postings like this on the World Wide Web and was hesitant to comment based on the Nigerian saying that it is a bastard that points at his father's house with the left hand. However if shaming us would change our attitudes and that of our leaders in particular, then perhaps these articles are a God send.
Seun Oluyomi, Aberdeen, Scotland
Everybody to his own opinion. The question I want to ask the anti graft agency is: Hope they mean business in the anti corruption fight? If the answer is yes, let them start the probe of all the BABA who had occupied ASO rock. If done, you will find out that Ibori had Crayfish while the ex-presidents had Nama/Cow/Whales. The issue is that the EFCC is driving home a well written script to suite some cabal. Let us face the fact.
JOHNBOSCO MUOZOBA, Awka
You cannot blame those militants that shielded Chief Ibori from being arrested by the police, rather, poverty and our Government should be blamed. These boys can hardly afford their daily three square meal, now somebody promise them money if they can protect him and shield him from being arrested by the law, without any hesitation they will jump at the offer. If these boys are comfortable they would never think of sacrificing their dear life for such a former corrupt leader.
JACOB KEHINDE IDOWU, Dubai, UAE
In many African countries, corruption is institutionalized by the primary agency that is supposed to oppose it - the government. But as Fela once demanded to know: why is it that the "oyibos" (white men) are always the last to condemn the corrupt leaders of Africa? One of these leaders was Obasanjo, whom the white man dug out from the pit of the dungeons in 1999, and made him the ruler against the will of the larger Nigerian masses. The man that Nigerians gave their mandate was mysteriously snuffed out as he died while drinking tea in a meeting chaired by two white men from the so called advanced world. I do not share a lot of the views expressed here by the writer. Africans, nay, Nigerians know the good from the bad. However, Africans are handicapped by the different meanings inherent in Mr . "Teachers" (Oyibo) interpretation of morality. If for instance, Obasanjo lived in say England, and practised half of what he did in Nigeria, he will be languishing in jail. Oyibo man will not dare bring him out of the gallows, and make him their ruler, telling their folks that they cannot find a better man. Nowhere else but Africa will the white man support an ex con's candidacy for president. It is this very contradictory signals from the so called world custodians of morality that is the bane of the confusion of Africa's treatment of criminals like Ibori and co. When the Teaching stops teaching Africans nonsense, maybe, this confusion will go away.
ED N, TX, USA
The problem with our dear country Nigeria is foundational.
The founding fathers were selfish & self centred. They never believed in one Nigeria, even though they say it with their lips their actions is far from what they say. The corruption in high and low places, the killings (whether religious or tribal), the unrest in the Niger Delta and the general insecurity in the whole nation is due to the fact that we don't still believe that Nigeria is one. This is the exact reason while anyone who get an opportunity to serve in the local govt, state or federal govt see it as an opportunity to enrich himself and that of his immediate family. Because to most of them, Nigeria is just a figment of some people's imagination, it is not real, it does not exist. This is about the only country in the world were a leader is indicted of corruption and he will remain in the same office using all available opportunity to fight the system, whereas in a civilized world, no one beg or compel such an individual to resign, he simply do it for his conscience sake.
But here in Nigeria, Peter Odili was arraigned by EFCC, he simply got a court injunction not to be arrested or prosecuted and it has been so till now for years.
Until we all agree to be one nation irrespective of which state of tribe you come from, a country were any citizen can vote and contest election from any state where he or she is born or has live for a number of years, it is only then we can say and acts as the nation truly belong to all of us (then when a leader steal the govt money, we will all say the money as our money, not just govt money).
Ehighamen Kennedy, New Delhi, India
1st and foremost all these people calling Nigeria GREAT...are a typical example of the growing madness in this country...How can you repair a broken down vehicle if you keep lying 2 yourself and anyone who cares 2 listen that its working just fine?...Secondly, any marginally intelligent person should have figured out by now that the efcc is a sham that was created as a dog on obasanjo's leash to hound those who opposed him...Now we expect thieves to catch thieves...Youths for change?..What a stupid joke...A graduate has a 1 in 20 chance to land a job while ur next governor is some politicians semi-retarded cousin who dropped out of high school and is hooked on drugs...And you expect change...Seriously?....And some politician was talking about us having the best medical schools and graduates....I'd so like to slap him...My sister and all her class of about 50 have been rotting in strike ridden, unequipped, unacreditted universities for 12yrs while coevals who were sent abroad are now consultants with masters..I myself am an accountant but have been without a job since graduation..I personally know about 25 graduates doing absolutely nothing...Am presently typing this from a phone because there is no light and i do pay the bill...And you expect people not to be desperate and steal? (and trust me the above narrative is a bed of roses compared to that of the vast majority)...All these idealistic Nigerians in absentia talking rhetoric pls if you don't live here or do not know what its really like then don't spout patriotic nonsense....A child born in water will have to learn to swim or drown...The people are just trying to survive but its the leadership at federal level..(if they can be called that..) that has to be forced out of power because they cant change and sadly they have found a way to 'clone' themselves...There's more but am just plain tired of this lie called Nigeria...
Just to buttress "the son of the soil" syndrome discussed by Odunfa, when any Nigeria is given a public responsibility his kin's will visit him and say "it is your time", so appointment or elected to public office is not seen as wakeup call to serve the nation but an opportunity to dip your hands into the public cookie jar.
Tayo Olayiwola, Tallahassee, FL
Mr Odunfa, while I agree with your reasoning in this article, It was wrong to give the impression that Mr Ibori is being protected by the whole Urhobo ethnic group. NO! Just as your statement about the attitude of the Yoruba people of Ibadan does not reflect the attitude of all Yoruba people, the action of some "hired" Oghara (his native town) thugs does not translate into endorsement by the Urhobo people. You neglected to state that some of his accusers - the petitioners on whose complain he is been declared hunted are also Urhobo.
Chief R Dema, New York, USA.
corruption is the main characteristics of our political leaders. public office holders should declare their worth at the time of assumption of off and their expected increase at the end of their term. And their should be a body that will be check mating on a regular basis.
Mind boggling stealing has become an everyday practice in Nigeria. While I condemn those involved in helping themselves to state funds, I am more concerned with unbridled availability of 'pinchable' money. Nigeria is 100% a black economy. Therefore, the inducement to steal through shoddy deals is very almost irresistible, hence those who won't steal are regarded as very 'unwise'. It is common to hear people say 'if it (money) floats, its for grabs'. Sad as it seems, it's the practice.
Dr Magnus Amajirionwu, Owerri, Nigeria
We had similar issues during the communist era in Eastern Europe. You didn't steal from individuals, but it was ok to steal from the government and it's institutions. Bribes to get stuff done were also common. Now there is no government stuff to steal anymore and almost no-one accepts bribes anymore. Sounds good, right? Except the poor are still suffering and crime abounds anyway, only now it's the government and the newly rich stealing from the people. Still no excuse there to do wrong. So we struggle and pray.
Excuse me, the Urhobos had never shielded Ibori from answering to any corruption charges. Members of his immediate family and the people from his village Oghara, mounted road blocks and protects and tried to prevent his arrest. But Oghara is one of the twenty clans that make up the Urhobo nation of approximately three millions in Delta State. This Ibori issue should not be used to drag the integrity of the Urhobo nation to shame. The Urhobo Progressive Union, UPU, the single social cultural umbrella of all the Urhobos had requested Ibori submit himself for questioning and had distanced itself from protecting anybody involved in improper conduct. Please, lets not tribalise, ethnicise improper conduct, that is sending the wrong message.
Sam Yoko, London
It seems We Kinda chasing a shadow..As long he remain alive and breathing Impunity still covers Him...Na Today EFCC know for sure they Can't Get him ....As long as no Evidence lol..We just being a fool in Our Father's Land...God Help Nigeria PEace.
Amusan Ayodeji, Victoria Island, Nigeria
Old news, new day. One of the corrupt judge will eventually throw the case out. I'm sure most of them dont want to get involved. It's all about godfatherism, if that's a word. Ibori has couple, the militants consider him one. It's all about loyalty and getting a piece of the loot. If Nigeria is serious about corruption, one has to start from the top. The president, ex-presidents, vice-president down to local government chairmans and also including the so called foreign companies doing business with Nigeria. In reality, a lot of people would have to be sacrificed or made a scapegoat for the rest, or else they'll be coming at you (and your family) with full force and with all they got in order to stop you.
Shola, Washington, DC
Whatever it will take to get this man to answer for his sins will be for the collective interest of this country. By and large, those in support of his kleptomaniac tendencies should be made to know that Nigeria is for everybody, not only for Ibori. Finally, it's our system that gave him the opportunity to steal.
Chris Nnadi, Nsukka, Enugu state, Nigeria
A hugely corrupt Ibori and his ilk make up a larger percentage of Nigeria's leadership cadre. And so singling him out as the most corrupt Nigeria is bound to be seen as persecution by his ill-informed kinsmen. What with Babangidda, Odili, Tinubu & co walking pot-hole filled Nigerian roads as free men! It's politically expedient to humiliate Ibori now as it was with Olabode George, as 2011 approaches. But unless we eschew selective justice and wholeheartedly fight coruption, ours will remain a country in perpetual reverse mode.
Idowu, Edmonton, Canada
there is no justification for ibori kinsmen to come out the way they did to defend him, but we should take note of the fact that everything in nigeria has been tribalized and not until we agree collectively to put the interest of the state beyond tribalism things will continue to fall apart. because here is a man who received so much and has little to show for it and still his kinsmen are ensuring that he is not brought to justice.
aghaunor sunday, benin city
An english proverb says and I quote "clear conscience fears no accusation" I wonder why Mr James Ibori should be running away from Justice. He should stand bold and tell nigeria the truth. He can run but he cannot hide. Our nigeria leaders has institutionalized corruption with impunity thereby mortgaging the future of the youths. Mr Ibori is not alone, there are still many others walking freely. At times, I wonder the kind of future our so called leaders are leaving behind for the youths. I ask again, which way nigeria at 50yrs because are so called leaders are never changing but let them know that none will be buried with wealth. Thank you.
Nnonyelu Collins Ikenna, Dakar, Senegal
The corruption in Nigeria may be high and ill-gotten wealth may be wrong. I deeply appreciate the revelation. However, why is issue of corruption given such a seriousness in Africa and other developing world, and not the supposed developed world? Global financial crisis we are emerging from is nothing but out of corruption. So, who spread and protects the vice? And why only the world without media muscle?
George Oyeho, St Paul, MN
Mr Odunfa has just beaten the drum that all of Africa have been dancing to and continues to dance to.
Some will even say it is right to steal as long as it is spent in the country. But what about those you are depriving from helping the country?
They also justify their stealing by "Everybody is doing it." They fail to realise that wrong is wrong even if everybody does it and right is right even if nobody does it.
The irony of this all is that parents who have brought up their children telling them to always do the right thing are the ones who will later condemn their children for doing what they taught them when they fail to steal and live like the Joneses. To them he/she is not serious.
Cillaty Daboh, Wonde-Gboyama, Sierra Leone
There couldn't have been any other profound analysis of the Nigerian Lunacy more than what the writer has done. Nigerians need a moral re-engineering, if only we want to affiliate or interact effectively with the modern World. Mr Ibori deserve the highest punishment for his offence. The entire Nigerians deserve an explanation for his insane act. What a shame?
omoba usa, Chicago Iliinois USA
The youths supporting him are shameless people. They just of what they will do with their life. Imagine, supported a thief. well it is only in Nigeria will celebrate thieves. Nigeria needs change of mentality, starting from the grassroot. If no change, then in the next 20years Nigeria will be a laughing stock in the world. I believe we can if only we can put our heads together to say no to corruption and corrupt leaders like Ibori. I believe in Nigeria. Pride of Africa.
During the apartheid years in my country, South Africa, there was also this belief that stealing from a white person is justifiable. The other issue we had were the violent protests we during the apartheid years, Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi warned us against such acts then, but people saw him as trying to appease the white man. Now we have problems of "our" people stealing and killing each other, and people protesting violently and vandalising property in the process. The government seems unable to control this, because they did the same things before they came to power. The moral of the story is that you can never justify wrong. The end never justifies the means.
Khumbuza, Tshwane , South Africa.
Truly, I believe and so do many that this issue and that of the PDP chairman exemplifies the problem with the giant called Nigeria. When ordinary thieves are beaten and burnt alive, while many who use pen to steal are praised and protected with Police escorts. What a shame that this can happen openly. Until we hold our elected men responsible, until we question that wealth (knowing fully their income level), until the society itself changes and begins to reward hard work and refuse chieftaincy titles to wealthy men and women who have no clear jobs that can make them rich, history will keep repeating itself.
Chigozie, Milwaukee, United States
The militants should realise that these men are the worms that have destroyed their future for ages.
Protect him now and gain some petty cash for now but what about the long term?
My humble plea is that Chief Ibori and his likes should stop this act of keeping people hungry and perpetrating the evil of corruption. The militants should just think... if Ibori is sick, he goes abroad for treatment, he is not bothered if there is no electricity because he has his generators, he has good cars and flies the best airlines because he has, like all other corrupt leaders, stolen from his people (the same militants). We can only get rid of these practices by embracing the law and good governance.
Uche O, Houstob, TX
We have always tolerated public servants that steal, no disrespect to the last govt. that allowed Abacha's family to keep $100,000,000. Even typing this digits annoys me but it's a fact. In Ibori's case what is new? People in Africa generally assumes that once you are in public post. It's all yours to take, it's your property, anybody opposing you is your enemy. If the Urhobos realise that what he stole is enough to keep their children in school for years to come, I bet they will revolt against him. They are only defending him in the hope that he'll throw some at them. The French says "when the seagul follows the trawler it's only because they think sardines will be thrown at them". There is no 'one Nigeria' when it favours you. What I have heard from some of them is that if he does not take it someone else will take it.
Shame the thinking of the poor man rather the logic behind the fact a wrong was committed.
We have grown up in a very strict family setting with parents going out of their way to ensure that their children display and uphold a good character within the community. The irony here is that many of our parents who hold this strict values at home are the same ones collecting bribes, abusing power and living off from the proceeds of corruption. When they are challenged their defence is summed up in this local and naive saying 'that where a man works is where he eats' - this saying is very common among he police who the very embodiment of corruption. This is a serious moral inequality and am afraid this is the culture we need to change by representing our values to the letter whether at home or at work.
Gabriel Okodoa, Bolton, UK
We all know that the so called "kinsmen" have probably received some money in order to support him. How can there be any support for someone who clearly did nothing during his tenure as the governor of Delta State???
Karen, Geneva, Switzerland
Fela Kuti said in one of his popular music "oro pesi je" which literally translates to "no comment"! Sola succinctly without ambiguity wrote about what has led to increase in lunacy in Nigeria! when right thinking individuals start to think about crass disrespect to law and the impunity with which laws are broken, they get confused and end up in asylum! Everything to me here is upside-down! Thanks Mr Odunfa couldn't have observed any better.
Popoola Rasheed, Lagos, Nigeria