Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and other associates of his predecessor, James Ibori, are preparing for his release from prison in London, the United Kingdom (UK) in 2016, an investigation by our correspondent has revealed.
Ibori was jailed 13 years in 2012, two years after his arrest by the Interpol in Dubai, the United Arab Emirate, in 2010, where he was hiding after fleeing Nigeria.
Despite several allegations of corruption, his trial and jail, the former governor still enjoys some support of a section of the state, particularly within his Urhobo ethnic nationality.
It was gathered that his friends, beneficiaries and supporters had begun moves to resuscitate his businesses and investments across the country to reintegrate him into the “system”.
His “enormous fortunes”, allegedly stolen from the state, was said to have been reduced after he left office in 2007 with the seizure of his property and cash by foreign governments.
In April 2012, at his conviction hearing, the UK Crown Prosecution Services justified the confiscation of Ibori’s choice property in London and South Africa worth over £6.4 million, were allegedly purchased “at the expense of some of the poorest people in the world”.
Investigations by our correspondent revealed that his key allies and supporters in prominent political positions were preparing to resuscitate his businesses and stalled projects.
Okowa, who was part of Ibori’s eight-year government, is said to be in constant touch with him through intermediaries regularly sent to the UK.
The Communication Manager to the governor, Mr Jackson Ekwugum, who was contacted on the matter, declined comment.
But a close source to the government told our correspondent that Okowa’s regular emissaries to Ibori included a former chairman of the state Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), an influential member of the State Transition Committee and official of the state organ which manages 13 per cent revenue accruing to oil communities.
The source said: “Ibori was instrumental to Okowa’s emergence as the candidate of the PDP as well as victory in the April governorship election. The governor is only showing his gratitude by giving Ibori’s allies key positions in his State Executive Council (Exco).
“Ms Erhiatake (‘Take) Ibori, daughter of the former governor, a first-time member of the House of Assembly, stunned political analysts when she emerged the chairman of the influential House Committee on Finance and Appropriation.
“The Managing Director of the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC), Chief Williams Makinde, is a protégé of the former governor, who was instrumental to his emergence as DESOPADEC’s chief. Apart from being from Ibori’s clan, their relationship runs deep and it was Ibori who single-handedly made Makinde the National Treasurer of the PDP.”
Makinde was recently accused to using DESOPADEC to give N350 million lifeline to a near-comatose newspaper owned by the former governor.
There were also reports of contracts to Ibori through his daughter, including for the supply of vehicles to DESOPADEC.
But Makingde denied the reports in a statement by his spokesman, Prince Victor Orhomonokpaye.
He said the alleged transfer of DESOPADEC’s funds to the newspaper was unfounded.
Also, a worker of Ibori’s Western Delta University, Oghara, told our correspondent at the weekend that the institution was getting “assistance” from the state government.
The source, who spoke in confidence, added: “We have been assured that things will improve when our Oga returns to the country. We are beginning to see the signs.”
A check at the university’s permanent site in Ibori’s home town revealed that construction had picked up. The Vice Chancellor, Prof Austin Asagba, last month, told reporters that the school would move to its permanent site in March 2016 – about the time Ibori is expected to be released.
Our correspondent’s investigation revealed that the embattled former governor may yet face further trial in Nigeria when he returns.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is reportedly planning to appeal his controversial acquittal by an Asaba Court in 2009.
Shortly before he fled Nigeria in 2010, the EFCC had reopened investigation into allegations that Ibori used the state as security to borrow N40 billion.