The most full-throated of all the tributes paid so far to Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha, since his demise on October 9, 2015, came from an unlikely location. It emanated from…a British prison!
It was authored by James Onanefe Ibori. A convict serving a 13 year jail term for fraud and money laundering in Worcestershire. Someone late Afrobeat legend, Fela, would have honored as an ”International Thief Thief”.
Assuming an aptitude for recognizing genuine leaders, Ibori, a former Governor of Bayelsa State held his one-time Bayelsa counterpart up as a model of public stewardship. He predicted that Alams’ authentic portrait would ultimately trump today’s caricature of a crook. Sometime in the future, historians and biographers would grasp objectivity and perspective and then be smitten by Alams’ saintliness.
‘’Alamieyesieigha was my friend, brother, and co-fighter on the Resource Control and fiscal federalism front. We were not just colleagues in the Governors Forum from 1999, in the man I found a boundless and dependable warrior in the battle for the cause of the Niger Delta. He was fearless, forthright, outspoken and dedicated his life to the causes he believed would benefit the people…’’
This is the beginning of a thief’s homage to his soul mate. And judging from the brotherly bond that it celebrates, an elegy of similar wording would have emerged if the reverse had been the case. If the two friends had swapped places and Alams happened to be the living one, he would have lavished a flowery eulogy on Ibori.
Ibori was right to say that Alams was more than a colleague in the governors’ club. They shared a devotion to the cause of ‘’Resource Control and fiscal federalism’’. Their closeness began as the attraction of likes and later gelled into the solidity of collaborators.
Both of them had a twin- like partnership. They had formidable synergy. One person affirmed his nature and traits by validating the other individual’s distinctiveness.
Ibori and Alams were both governors of oil-rich Niger Delta states in the same era. They abused their stewardship and stole as much as they could from their respective states. They warehoused the substantial part of their loot in the same country –Britain.
But while they robbed their people, they hankered for more. They needed to steal more but were limited by the sum that was being allocated to their states. So, they formed a “Resource Control” vanguard to demand for increased allocation of more petrodollars to their oil-producing states.
At that time, they cajoled the nation with the imperative of ecological justice. They pleaded that the business of oil exploitation had, over the years, increasingly enriched Nigeria while impoverishing their people, Niger Delta aborigines, whose backyards yield the crude that is our national lifeblood.
A significant number of the locals, who are traditionally fishermen and subsistence farmers, have lost their livelihoods. Oil leaks polluted their waters and choked their lands. Worse, those already sentenced to hunger can’t breathe: they inhale air made toxic by ceaseless gas flaring.
The “Resource Control” exponents argued that the states that supplied Nigeria a constant issue of oil money deserved a larger share of the revenue. The coastal South South states needed more money to remedy the degraded environment, build infrastructure, and create jobs.
We would later discover this was just about the most altruistic con men can sound. ‘’Resource Control’’ was a seductive label the thieves plastered on their self-serving scheme to hijack more of the revenue they were receiving on behalf of their people. They proved to be fraudsters and fraud stars.
It is fitting that Ibori lauded Alams as his fellow ‘Resource Control’ warrior. They were kindred spirits who launched a successful conquest of the coffers of their people.
Both men presided over spatially distant areas but they despoiled their different territories with the same level of wildness. And more than the intensity of their sack, the pattern of their operations showed a striking similarity that easily suggests the duo must have maintained a link of telepathy, used a common template or kept appointments to compare notes.
The repeated interaction of Ibori and Alamieyesiegha, it would seem, had resulted in an osmotic balance where two greed quotients merged into an average standard. And so, Ibori and Alams became equal; one good as the other collaborator –in all matters fraudulent!
Thus, Ibori’s tribute wasn’t just a compliment to a dead ally. It was more. His tribute represents the sort of elegy he would love to be lavished on him at his own passing. His lyrical praise of his friend, after emphasizing that he and Alams were indistinguishable in public persona, is akin to narcissist saluting his own reflection.
Ibori airbrushed Alams because Ibori sees himself in the turn of Alams’ story. Ibori foresees that the rendition of his own personal story will take the shape of Alams’ irreverent portrayal. Ibori is scared of the near-assured certainty of that possibility.
Ibori’s tribute is the kind of tribute Ibori would want written for himself. Ibori would love to be cited as a folk hero, the best governor Delta State ever had. He would love to be venerated as an icon without warts, a legend without blemish.
Ibori would not much as admit that Alams a flawed. That would amount to Ibori’s self-indictment. Instead, Ibori twice invoked the word ‘’victim’’ to explain that Alams’ weakness was inflicted on him by an outside force. Some anonymous bully orchestrated Alams’ disgrace. Alams was guilty of no wrongdoing: he was simply misnamed for hanging.
Ibori even had the temerity to highlight as the keystone of Alams’ virtue the very antithesis of what Alam lacked: modesty. Alams was poor in the spirit. Could we believe that Alams had ‘’only one house’’ in his village!
But we know that Alams was not contented with the possession of one shelter Amassoma in Bayelsa State. The implacable thief in Alams wanted to inherit the earth.
The United States Department of Justice executed a forfeiture order on the $700, 000 worth house he bought in Rockville, Maryland, USA. The EFCC recovered, ‘’Over 3 billion, which includes proceeds” realized from the sale of his Chelsea Hotel, Abuja and the following pieces of real estate: 1. Plot 26 Dalhatu Close, Abacha Estate, Ikoyi; 2. 20 Obaji Street, Diobu, Port Harcourt; 3. 1 Community Road, off Allen Avenue, Lagos; 4. 247, Water Gardens, London W2 2DG; 5. 14, Mapesbury Road, London NW2 4JB; 6. Flat 202, Jubilee Heights, Shootuphl L, London, NW2 3UQ; 7. 68-70, Regents Park Road, London; 8. 4A, Ilu Drive, Ikoyi, Lagos; 9. 18 Mississippi Street, Maitama, Abuja; 10. V & A Water Front, Cape Town, South Africa; 11. 2, Marcibit Street, Ishaku Rabiu Estate, Off Aminu Kano Crescent, Abuja; and 12. 24, Amazon Street, Maitama, Abuja.
Ibori expressed hope in his tribute that ‘’one day, no matter how long the delay, Alamieyesiegha’s real story would be told, the truth about him would be unearthed and the world would know the kind of virulent politics he was victim of.”
But Ibori didn’t leave his friend’s story to form in the womb of eternity. Ibori didn’t trust that that day of future revelation would come. Or he didn’t believe that when that day eventually dawns, the texture of the story would not please his fancy. So he took matters in his own hands, jumped the gun –and began revisionism in earnest.
Ibori’s tribute to Alamieyesiegha is an accolade to self. It is Ibori’s laying a claim to self-righteousness. In Ibori’s own eyes, his travails echoed Alams’ humiliation. He and his friend were nice people who were framed up and persecuted.
Ibori’s tribute is a scream of unapologetic defiance. It is the plea of someone who considers himself a prisoner of conscience. In this vignette, he manifests as a thieve who has hardened himself against the boundless opportunity for reflection that incarceration offers.
Ibori seizes any good chance to steal -as a matter of habit. In 1991, he was arrested with his wife for stealing from a London store. They both pleaded guilty in court and were fined. In 1992, he was convicted for being in possession of a stolen credit card. Another UK court fined him. As two term governor, he stole approximately half of the revenue that accrued to Delta State.
But Ibori would not admit that he is a thief. Neither would he accept that he is currently a victim of his own rank greed. He would rather look forward to the day when he and Alams would be vindicated and the apparitions that ‘’witch-hunted’’ them damned.
Ibori is mistaken. He can neither rig his past nor anybody’s . A piece of flattery that is in conflict with solid facts cannot be the posterity’s final word.
Ibori’s tribute shows he covets a good name. And he thinks he can get by it purporting to award it to himself. But it will take an unprecedented exercise in atonement for him to vitiate the footnote of thievery that is sure to dog every story about him.
A good name is earned by fidelity to integrity. It is an intangible asset, impossible to be hijacked and abused like taxpayers’ money!
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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