Politics James Ibori: Hero or Criminal in Nigeria? - VOA

Britain is preparing to send some Nigerians jailed in the country back to Nigeria. British officials say any Nigerian serving a sentence of more than 12 months will be sent home, if both governments agree to the prisoner exchange.

One of the prisoners could be James Ibori, a popular former governor. He is serving 13 years for corruption. Unlike other prisoners, Ibori may be treated like a hero if he comes home.

Two years ago, a court in London sentenced James Ibori to 13 years in a British prison. He was earlier accused of stealing $250 million in public money from the Nigerian government. Before that, he was accused two times of corruption in Nigeria. But he was never found guilty of any crime.

Ibori supporters say the accusations and the British court ruling were moves by politicians seeking to crush Ibori’s support. They say they would welcome him home.

Davidson Okparamidevi worked on Ibori’s two successful campaigns for governor. He says Ibori’s popularity in Delta State is indisputable.

“Ibori became so popular because of his clear-cut achievements that have impacted positively on the lives of the entire Deltans. The list of his achievements as impacted on the people is inexhaustible.”

He says Ibori built roads, bridges and hospitals. He says President Goodluck Jonathan would do well to get Ibori back home and pardon him. The president is expected to seek re-election in 2015.

In recent months, Mr. Jonathan’s ruling People’s Democratic Party has lost several top officials, including five state governors. Rebellion in the north and poverty around the nation has also damaged the president’s popularity.

Again Davidson Okparamidevi.

“So if Ibori shows up it will be a boost. A real boost to Goodluck Jonathan to office.”

But other Nigerians are not so sure. Onyiye Gandhi is a lawyer in the oil-rich but poor city of Warri in Delta state. He says that Ibori used money from oil to pay back his followers and buy loyalty.

“Giving him freedom would indict Jonathan and confirm the allegations, very widespread now among Nigerians, that his government is massively corrupt, and pampers corruption.”

The British-Nigerian prisoner exchange was announced in early January. Under the proposal, hundreds of Nigerians in British prisons could be sent home, as well as one British citizen in Nigeria.

Amnesty International says it is “extremely concerned” that poor conditions in Nigerian prisons could make the exchange inhumane.

Observers in Nigeria say if James Ibori is sent home but not freed, there is no way he will serve the rest of his sentence in a dirty jail cell.

Credit: voanews.com

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