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Niger Delta: Ibori’s return as game changer



Analysts say the unfolding political development is pregnant


By Tony Opara


When former two-term Delta State Governor, Chief James Onanefe Ibori left the precincts of the U.K prison, several weeks ago after serving time on money laundering charges, pundits hazarded that his release and return was definitely going to raise the political temperature in Delta State and the Niger-Delta region of Nigeria. And he has not disappointed.

After spending a few days in the UK, understudying the political situation in Nigeria and consulting extensively, he returned to the country to a well-organised reception in his Oghara home town.

Equally, underscoring the fact that his time away from the arena had made him even more cognisant of the role that the one who is in effective control of the levers of political power at the centre plays, he has since his return, made one or more fitting stops in Abuja to pay homage, and consult with representatives of the federal government.

And while there is clearly yet a likely place for Ibori in the unfolding political interplay at the national level (what with his long-time friends and allies like Atiku Abubakar and Bukola Saraki already oiling their campaign machines ahead of the February 2019 presidential contest as well as subterrenean attempts to get him into the ruling APC fold), Ibori’s more apparent strategy appears to be to firm up his leverage over the political structures in Delta State first, and then the extened Niger-Delta region.

Underscoring this approach, the Delta State Government was high on the chain in the Ibori reception event at Oghara which it reportedly funded. This was not unexpected as Ibori had thrown in his weight behind the incumbent Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s bid to become governor even when he faced formidable opposition from the previous occupant, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan. With the warlord, Government Epemupolo, aka Tompolo’s support, and drawing upon his vast network of subsisting loyalties, the Uduaghan opposition was not only contained, but he, Uduaghan was to be further taught an even more bitter political lesson when he was himself to be pushed off the contest for the Senate.

And then only days ago, Ibori’s senator, Ovie Omo-Agege jumped ship to the embrace of ruling All Progressives Congress, APC in an apparent indication of the fact that there could very well soon be a contest for the Delta Central Senatorial seat! And who would be the replacement senator? You bet!

As for the broader Niger-Delta campaign, this also seems to be in full swing too. In line with this scheme, Ibori appears to have continued calling up all the political debts that he can yet draw upon. For example, Bayelsa State Governor, Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson, on Thursday visited Oghara, the ancestral country home of former Governor of Delta State, Chief James Onanefe Ibori.

A statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, said during the visit, the Governor held a closed-door meeting with Chief Ibori in his residence.

The meeting centred mostly on peace and security in the Niger Delta, as well as possible roles the former Delta State Governor, who still commands a lot of respect among his people.

Ibori is expected to play a big role in rallying major stakeholders towards tackling some of the peace and security challenges in the region, the statement said. It further disclosed that the two leaders equally discussed likely windows of opportunities for criminally minded youths in the region to be more meaningfully engaged as well as protect some of the critical national assets of the country within the region.

The Bayelsa State Governor, who had earlier spoken with his Delta State counterpart, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, expressed satisfaction with the disposition and resolve of the former Governor to support current measures at tackling the age long security challenges in the region.

Hon. Dickson was accompanied by the Secretary to State Government, some members of the State Executive Council, including the Commissioner of Information and Orientation, Hon. Jonathan Obuebite.

Governor Dickson has since returned to Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital.

Given Dickson’s place as a Governor on the platform of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, it is not clear if the Ibori visit is presently indicative of a PDP position on the Niger-Delta crisis or whether it is part of the broader cross-party regional re-alignments that has also seen governors of the South West and South East holding their own consultative meetings. It is also not known how much the Dickson move owes to former President Goodluck Jonathan (under whose watch Ibori was to be allegedly hounded by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission into exile in Dubai). This is because, the thinking among political watchers is that the inability of Jonathan and Ibori to put the past behind them will yet serve as a point of division for the political leaders of the region.



Chief James Ibori



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