Abuja – Former Gov. James Ibori of Delta has been released from prison in the United Kingdom.
Reports say he was released on Tuesday, having agreed to be deported after serving half of his 13-year prison sentence.
But it has now emerged that the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd did not intend to deport Ibori to Nigeria until he handed over £18 million of “proceeds of crime.”
A High Court judge said attempts to detain him were “quite extraordinary.”
Ordering Ibori to be immediately freed from prison, Mrs Justice May said: “You don’t hold someone just because it is convenient to do so and without plans to deport them.”
A Home Office application that Ibori be electronically tagged and subjected to strict curfew conditions was also rejected.
The judge accepted arguments that the home secretary was attempting to misuse her immigration and deportation powers.
Ibori, a former London store cashier, was jailed for fraud totalling nearly £50 million in April 2012.
He evaded capture in Nigeria after a mob of supporters attacked police but was arrested in Dubai in 2010 and extradited to the UK, where he was prosecuted based on evidence from the Metropolitan Police.
On Wednesday, the Home Office’s barrister said the government was concerned that Ibori might “frustrate confiscation proceedings” and wanted him kept in jail or subjected to strict controls on his movement.
But it emerged in court that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which is pursuing the confiscation proceedings, was “neutral” about Ibori’s release and possible deportation.
Ian MacDonald, QC, representing Ibori, said: “The Secretary of State has taken it upon herself. There is no objection from (the CPS) for release.
“This is extraordinary”, Mrs Justice May said. They (the CPS) don’t care.
“Why doesn’t the Secretary of State just send him back?” she asked. “He wants to go. She wants him to go.”
The conviction of James Ibori followed a government anti-corruption campaign led by the Department for International Development (DfID) 10 years ago.
In court on Wednesday, Ibori’s barrister, Ivan Krolic, explained how another defendant in the fraud case had appealed against conviction on the grounds that “police officers in the investigations had been corrupt.”
“The Court of Appeal rejected that after counsel for the Crown indicated that there was nothing to support the allegation”, Mr Krolic explained.
Ordering Ibori’s release, Justice May said: “The Secretary of State appears to have taken it upon herself that Ibori does remain in this country, in apparent contradiction of the order served earlier this year to deport him.
“The position of the Secretary of State, as very candidly set out by Birdling (representing the home secretary), is that she accepts that there is an argument that she has no power to detain him.
“I have decided that the balance of convenience falls heavily in favour of his immediate release. I am not prepared to impose conditions involving tagging or curfews.”
The judge said the matter of Ibori’s deportation should be heard before the end of January.
News Agency of Nigeria in Oghara, the home town of Ibori, has been agog over his release.
A source close to the flamboyant politician, who remained a political force in his native Delta state throughout his years of travail, however, said it was not comprehensible whether Ibori would fly to Nigeria.
“This is in view of legal proceedings concerning the confiscation of his assets worth tens of millions of dollars, still up in the air.’’
Ibori, who ruled Delta from 1999-2007 was one of the most influential governors during his time and he established a political dynasty that produced his successor Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan and the incumbent Gov. Ifeanyi Okowa.
Despite the legal entanglements and the prospect of Ibori taking his case to the Court of Appeal, the mood among his kinsmen and politicians in the state, especially Peoples Democratic Party faithful is that he should return.
Reports say Oghara is wearing a new look with banners bearing pictures of the ex-governor strategically displayed at different roundabouts within the town.
Associates and loyalists are also catching up on the event to pledge their loyalty to Ibori as they adorn the banners with their pictures side by side the former governor.
Some of the banners, which were placed at the Market Roundabout, Ibori Roundabout and entrance of Oghara, have inscriptions such as: “Welcome back home, our national leader”, “The political messiah and his kinsmen” and “The resource control living legend.
“His ordeal, God’s plan to fortify him.’’
Former DESOPADEC Commissioner representing Ethiope West, Sapele and Okpe, Henry Ofa, told Vanguard: “Without trying to be immodest, the world knows that there is great expectation in Oghara.
“Since he left, there had been lots of misgivings and backwardness in the area in the hope that when he arrives, so many things would change positively.”
“We are prepared to follow him and we are convinced that he is going to lead us to the Promised Land’’, some of his followers told Journalists.
“We have the belief that there is a plan for him by God,” Ofa, a key loyalist said.
Meanwhile, Some people of Oghara in Delta are jubilating over the release of former governor of the state and their son, Chief James Ibori, who had been in prison in the UK for money laundering.
The people, who expressed their joy in separate interviews with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Wednesday, said that Ibori’s release was a huge relief to them.
The Ovie of Oghara, Orefe 11, Noble Eshimeton, told NAN on phone that the entire people of Oghara were grateful to God for the release of their son.
“I am grateful to God for his release. I was in a traditional council meeting in Asaba when one of my subjects called me that Ibori has been released.
“He has worked for us hard and I am hopeful that his release will open a new chapter in Oghara,” he said.
Eshimeton said that a traditional council would set up a committee to give the former governor a befitting reception.
Mr Ben Igbakpa, a former commissioner in the state, said that his release had brought joy to the entire Oghara people especially and the entire people of Delta.
“Oghara is agog with celebration that our benefactor, leader, father and visionary had been left off the hook.
“His release is a lesson to all; it shows that no matter how long one’s torture or hard times lasts, it will one day come to an end.
“I want all Deltans to reflect on this and ask ourselves what our individual and collective tasks in the course of his travails. We should ask ourselves where we got it wrong,” Igbakpa said.
Sen. Ighoyota Amori, a former commissioner in the state and one of Ibori’s close loyalists, said his joy was unquantifiable.
Amori, who spoke through his media aide, Mr Felix Ekwu, thanked God and all the people who stood by them throughout Ibori’s travail through thick and thin.
“We thank all for their support and give God all the glory, there is celebrations in Oghara town, people are happy.
“There is celebration everywhere in Oghara, Mosogar, Jesse and the whole Urhobo and Delta State,” he said.
Mr Josiah Ntekume, the Public Relations Officer (PRO interim) of Urhobo Progressive Union, described the release as a new dawn in the Urhobo nation.
“We the Urhobo people are indeed very happy with the release of Ibori,” he said.
Also, Mr Sunny Areh, former media aide to Ibori, said that his boss did something the people would ever live to appreciate.
“The people still celebrate him 10 years after he left office shows how the people love him. His release is the best thing to happen to Delta people,” Areh said.
Sources said celebration had caused serious gridlock in Oghara town and part of the Oghara/Benin expressway.