Chief James Onanefe Ibori, born 4th August, 1958, is a former Governor of Delta State and, arguably, one of the most vocal advocates of resource control in Nigeria.
Born to the family of late Chief Ukavbe Ibori and Mrs. Comfort Oji Ibori of Otefe in Oghara clan, Ethiope West Local Government Area of Delta State, he attended Baptist High School, Oghareki, now Oghareki Grammar School, before proceeding to the University of Benin where he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics and Statistics. He started his working career with Mobil Oil Nigeria Limited and was later seconded to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) as one of the pioneer staff assembled to develop the marketing department of the corporation's Warri Refinery and Petrochemical Company. He later quit for the exciting world of business.
Between 1994 and 1997, he served as a consultant to the Federal Government in the areas of public policy formulation and implementation. His major assignment during this period was the research, which resulted in the formulation of a national drug policy for the country. A proposal he submitted to the Federal Government was the basis on which Decree 3 of 1995 was promulgated and the office of the Special Adviser to the President on Drug Matters was established.
A lover of sports, he was passionate about sports development. He built the Warri Township Stadium and six smaller ones. The investments in sports yielded good dividends as Delta State several times won the National Sports Festival. For these and many other developmental projects in electricity, agriculture, health, water resources and housing, he has received several awards for distinguish leadership and service from many
organisations and institutions including the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Leadership Watch, Centre for Youth Development, South South Peoples Assembly, Exams Ethics Project, the University of Nigeria Alumni Association, Lagos Chamber of Commerce, Federal Polytechnic, Oko, University of Benin Alumni Association, Delta State Baptist Conference as well as a citation from the Assembly of the State of Wisconsin celebrating the establishment of the James Ibori Centre for Policy Studies, a non-profit foundation dedicated to the enhancement and furtherance of human
development in Africa.
Ibori is both loved and admired by Deltans and non-Deltans. The calls of excitement he received whenever he made a public appearance within and outside Delta State is a testimony to this. He is fondly referred to as Odidigboigbo of Africa. This, surely, is in admiration of his undaunted, unbowed, unflinching, indomitable and irrepressible spirit. Ibori has seen challenging moments, and he has gone through them with gracious ease, but he ascribes his victories to the mercy of the Almighty God.
Delta State during James Ibori’s tenure as Governor from 1999 to 2007 witnessed unprecedented progress in infrastructure and human capital development. This is understandably so of a man who during the 1999 electioneering campaign demonstrated an in-depth knowledge of the problems and pains of Deltans. The state was in a state of near anarchy, characterised by massive destruction of lives and property, with an upsurge in youth restiveness. It was not only the turmoil epitomised by the multi-ethnic crisis in Warri and environs but also the industrial labour crisis, which virtually crippled the entire public service, that portrayed the sorry state of things in the state. There was also a near total absence of an enabling environment for any meaningful government activity.
In his inauguration address on May 29, 1999, Ibori said, “I wish to assure all Deltans that my aspiration … is to surpass all past achievements in the physical and socio-economic development of the state by laying down good and enduring legacies that posterity would judge us by and for which we would remain proud”. These were rainbow words that reminded Ibori of his covenant of good governance with Deltans throughout his tenure as Governor of Delta State. To assist in this onerous task of recovery, redefinition, and advancement, he, on 12 August, 1999, inaugurated the 50-member Delta State Think Thank on Development (DSTTD). Chaired by Deacon Gamaliel Onosode, its other members include Dr H.T. Bozimo, Professor G.G. Darah, Mr. S.P.O. Fortune Ebie, Princess Olu A. Egbe, Mr. O. J. Idudu, Engr. M.O. Kragha, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, Chief (Mrs.) P.L. Ogboru, Mr. G.E. Omene, Chief J. O. Osima, Prof. Sam Oyovbaire, Professor I.E. Sagay, Engr. Doris A.O. Uboh and Professor Pat. O. Utomi. Among many others, the DSTTD terms of reference include identifying reasons for the upsurge in youth activism, violence and breakdown of traditional controls, and suggest ways of rechanneling the energies of the youths towards state and national development; identifying ways of initiating poverty reduction strategies, particularly in relation to the socio-economic well-being of rural dwellers; and identifying ways of increasing revenue generation and establishing effective control mechanisms for prudent management of available resources, developing strategies that would foster greater ethnic harmony and unity amongst Deltans and other residents of the state.
Ibori set about with a religious devotion to implement the recommendation of the committee. Like all great leaders, he recognised the contributions that men and women who have carved a niche for themselves in the nation’s socio-economic space can make to development. A summary of James Ibori’s achievements as Governor of Delta State is presented below.
A significant focus of the infrastructural development of the Ibori Administration was the construction of roads, bridges and drains. The extensive road networks constructed by his administration enhanced socio-economic activities through facilitated movement of goods and services between and within local government areas, cities, towns and villages in the State. To complement the activities of the state Ministry of Works, the Ibori Administration established the Direct Labour Agency (DLA) to accelerate the construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of roads across the state. To integrate the neglected riverine communities of the state to the mainland, the administration of James Ibori also constructed four gigantic bridges code-named ‘Bridges of Unity’. They are the Ughoton-Omadino Bridge, the Ase River Bridge, the Bomadi Bridge and the Olomu Bridge. The Ughoton-Omadino Bridge, across the Ughoton-Omadino creek, was abandoned by the Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC). This bridge, completed by the Ibori Administration, frees the riverine Itsekiri communities in the Warri South and Warri-South-West areas from decades of neglect. It opens up the rural areas there and boosts industrial and commercial enterprise along the Ekpan-Jeddo-Ughoton-Ubeji-Ugborodo axis of the emerging Warri-Effurun Urbanisation Scheme. Prior to the construction of the Ase River Bridge, travelling to the historic town of Aboh was a nightmare and a distress, for a rickety ferry at Ashaka was the only means of conveying vehicles and goods across the Ase River. During the rains, it took hours to traverse the wetlands and waterlogged route from Ashaka to Aboh and the oil rich communities in the area. All that is now history! The Ase River Bridge opens up vast agricultural lands on the western bank of the Niger and connects them to Ndokwa West, Isoko North and Ukwuani Local Government Areas. The majestic 600-metre long navigational concrete deck Bomadi Bridge across the Forcados River connects the neglected communities of Bomadi and Burutu Local Government Areas to the Warri-Port Harcourt-East-West-Federal Highway. This bridge, unimpeachably, is the most ambitious ever undertaken by a state government in Nigeria since 1999. And the Olomu Bridge, sited at Okpare, was abandoned by the Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) in the 1990s. This bridge, also completed by the Ibori Administration, connects the oil-producing districts of Ughelli South, Ughelli North, Burutu and Udu Local Government Areas to the Warri-Effurun economic nerve centre.
While the number of students seeking admission to higher institutions snowballed, the number of higher institutions in the country did not record a commensurate increase. This left many qualified youth stranded, some staying at home for several years. The Ibori Administration responded to this challenge by establishing four higher institutions in the state: three polytechnics at Ogwashi-Uku, Ozoro, and Oghara, and a College of Physical Education at Mosogar. Under the auspices of the Delta State Higher Education Project (DSHEP), these polytechnics had since taken off and got accreditations in various academic programmes that help the future technical manpower of the state in particular and the nation at large. It is also to be noted that the establishment of these institutions also created employment for thousands of qualified Deltans. The Delta State University, Abraka, also experienced tremendous growth and development through the construction of new facilities, administrative buildings, staff quarters, hostels, electricity, water, and road projects. In 1999 when Ibori was elected Governor, the value of bursary to students in tertiary institutions was N500. By 2007, it had increased astronomically to N10, 000. Thousands of students also benefited from the state government’s undergraduate scholarships, just as hundreds benefited from scholarships tenable in foreign universities. Not the least important is the mass rehabilitation of public primary and secondary schools. Existing government schools were rehabilitated, equipped and adequately staffed. Over 5,000 classrooms were renovated and over 3,000 new ones built. The public primary and secondary schools were also fenced. All these were part of his administration’s efforts to improve the standard and quality of education in the state.
The establishment of primary health centers and the expansion of General Hospitals in Abraka, Obiaruku, Ibusa, Udomi-Abavo, Patani, Okwe-Asaba, Umutu, Mosogar and many other places, as well as the renovation and equipment of four Central Hospitals (Central Hospital, Warri; Central Hospital, Ughelli; Central Hospital, Agbor and Central Hospital, Sapele) and eight General Hospitals (General Hospital, Bomadi; General Hospital, Otu-Jeremi; General Hospital, Ashaka; General Hospital, Burutu; General Hospital, Koko; General Hospital, Ekpan; General Hospital, Ogwashi-Uku and General Hospital, Oleh) to international standards are a testimony to a government that attached much importance to health care delivery. The Ibori Administration also built a world-class teaching hospital, the Delta State University Teaching Hospital (DELSUTH), Oghara.
The Ibori Administration responded to the housing challenges of the people particularly those in the oil-producing areas by embarking on low and medium housing schemes. The first phase was the construction of over 400 units of one to three bedroom flats spread across 21 communities in the state. Such estates were completed at Agbaro, Ughelli, Oleh, Koko, Kwale, Ogbimbiri, Ogulagha, Burutu and Uzereland, and sold to indigenes at 50-80% subsidy. Office accommodations were also provided for various government agencies and parastatals, including some Federal Government agencies. Another major project was the Government House Complex, Asaba. The complex has a Presidential Lounge, a Governor’s Lounge, a Banquet Hall, Guest Chalets and a Government House Press Centre with Executive Lounge, Media Centre, a Cafeteria, a 200-Seater Conference Hall, Library, Studio and ancillary offices. The complex also includes Governor’s Office Annex at Warri, Secretariat Annex at Asaba and House of Assembly Extension. There is also a chapel and a health centre. Other housing projects embarked upon by the Ibori Administration include Golf House, Asaba; Cenotaph/Parade Ground, Asaba; Uvwie Motor Park; Boat Waiting Sheds at Ogheye, koko and Ogharefe; new Commissioners’ and Special Advisers’ quarters made up of 17 duplexes and 5 bungalows; Middle Management staff quarters made up of 108 units; Legislators’ Quarters of 32 units; National Youth Service Corps quarters, Warri, Asaba and Ughelli; Delta State Liaison Lodge/ Office, Lagos; the Plantation Luxury Apartment Estate at Otokutu; commercial housing scheme of 500 units at Asaba and Jeddo; Judiciary Buildings and Judges Quarters at Asaba, Obiaruku, Owa-Oyibu, Akwukwu-Igbo, Abbi, Illah, Umunede, Agbor and Issele-Uku in Delta North Senatorial District; Otu-Jeremi, Isiokolo, Oghara, Eku, Orogun, Agbarho, Arhagba, Effurun and Amukpe in Delta Central; Ozoro, Bomadi, Olomoro, Ojobo, Patani, Akugbene, Burutu and Odorubu in Delta South.
In recognition of the importance of communication in modern management, the Ibori Administration carried out extensive expansion of physical infrastructure, equipment and service as it relates to information dissemination. The complex of the Delta Broadcasting Service, Edjeba, Warri, was one of the gigantic projects the government embarked on. The monumental edifice is fitted with state-of-the-art equipment and accessories. The studios of the Delta Broadcasting Service also underwent renovation and refurbishment. High level training was organised for staff in the Republic of South Africa to upgrade their skills and acquaint them with global trends in broadcasting and information management in a democratic setting. New equipment was procured for the printing press at Asaba and the state government-owned Pointer Newspaper. The government also acquired public enlightenment vans for widespread dissemination of information of government activities and also built stations for the Federal Government owned Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) located in Asaba, Warri and Sapele.
To make electricity accessible to all Deltans, especially the subordinated rural areas, was one of the passions of the Ibori Administration. In pursuit of this agenda, the government invested in over 1,000 electricity schemes with 400 communities, including the riverine areas, benefiting. Several hundred kilometers of overhead cables were installed throughout the state. To improve electricity supply and connection to the national grid, over 750 units of transformers were procured and given to ‘NEPA’ for free! The Rural Development Agency (RDA) was also established to, among other things, enhance electrification in the rural areas of the state. Some of the beneficiary communities include Patani (Patani Network, Including a 42-Kilometre 33 KV Patani-Ughelli overhead line), Patani-Ohoro, Evwreni, Aven, Okwagbe (3 substations), Eghwu (2 substations), Uzere, Ogwashi-Uku, Arhavwarien, Ughelli (5 transformers/substations), Kpakiama, Igbuku, Onicha-Olona and many others.
During the life of the Ibori Administration, over 300 urban and rural water projects were provided and fairly distributed in all the senatorial districts of the state with more than half of the projects sited in rural communities. To address the problem of power generation for water supply in rural areas, the government also set up the Rural Water Supply Agency, which introduced solar power water supply schemes with initial pilot schemes at Abari (Patani LGA), Ugbimidaka (Sapele LGA) and Ossisa (Ndokwa West). The success of the scheme on power generation for water supply made the Ibori administration to spread same across the 25 Local Government Areas of the State.
Architect of Resource Control ‘There is hardly any alternative to true and resource autonomy for the purpose of nation-building and harnessing of the diverse cultures and resources of the nation.’ These are the exact words of Chief James Ibori as he summarised his lecture on ‘Towards Sustainable Democracy in Nigeria’ at the Inaugural Edition of the Annual Lecture Series of the Lagos Country Club, Tuesday, December 18, 2001. Governor Ibori’s advocacy of resource control, a cardinal doctrine of the principle of true federalism, did not just begin here. The practice of fiscal federalism was the ideological anchor of his campaign during the Delta State gubernatorial election in 1999. While moving round the nooks, crannies and creeks of the state, he pledged to pursue the cause of a just federation if handed the mandate. James Ibori is arguably the most vocal advocate of resource control in 21st century Nigeria. His drive stems from the painful observation that the Niger-Delta, which produces the oil and gas that keeps the nation, and which bears the brunt of the environmental effects of oil and gas activities, is impoverished. Many of the oil-producing communities lack potable water, electricity, roads, schools and many other infrastructure that could have made their life and living less distressful. This push for resource control was given greater impetus by the juxtaposition of the Niger-Delta poverty and underdevelopment with the continued, immoral opulence of the feudalistic centre and other sections of the country at the expense of the Niger-Delta region. The kernel of Ibori’s contention was for a return to the practice of fiscal federalism where the federating units of Nigeria will exercise 100% right to own, explore, manage and use their natural resources and human capital. From the revenue earned, each state will pay appropriate tax to the Federal Government, part of which may be available in a distributive pool for sharing by all states. Ibori has consistently maintained that Nigeria, not just the Niger-Delta, will be better off with resource control, dispelling fears in certain sections of the country that the practice of true federalism will make them to be left behind. Each state is endowed with precious mineral resources, and the practice of true federalism will challenge and inspire all states to devote attention to exploiting these natural resources to fund their own development, instead of waiting lazily for monthly allocation from oil revenue. James Ibori’s were not mere rhetoric. He walked the talk! An astute politician, he took the nation by surprise in March 2000 when he initiated the summit of Governors and National Assembly members from the South-South geo-political zone. In his speech at the maiden meeting of the forum, which he hosted in Asaba, the Delta State capital, he challenged the leaders of the long-neglected people of the zone to seek better ideals in the allocation of proceeds from the natural resources they have been blessed with by God. It would be recalled that the 13% derivation formula was agreed upon at the National Constitution conference of 1994-1995. The formula was enshrined in Section 162(2) of the 1999 Constitution. The payment of the derivation should have started on May 29, 1999 when the democratic system took off. But the Federal Government refused to implement it. This was part of the reason Ibori rallied the Governors and Legislators of the South-South states to Asaba in March 2000. A stern communiqué was issued at the end of the summit. Coupled with mass mobilisation and sensitisation on this issue by the Ibori Administration, the Federal Government was compelled to pay in April that year. This success marked a significant landmark in the resource control agitation. It also marked a noticeable change in the economic fortunes of the oil-producing states. Even Richard Gozney, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, in a letter to the Delta State Honourable Commissioner of Finance, dated 19 December 2005, remarked that “the Niger Delta State Governors who receive the largest federal allocations have an extra responsibility to show the rest of Nigeria what they are doing with the oil money. Delta State has now answered that challenge”. Ibori never wavered after then in his clamour for resource control. Needless to say, the feudal lords at the centre were rattled by this stentorian voice from the Niger-Delta. And that was when he was earmarked by the powers that be. What many Nigerians do not know is that the many political and legal travails of James Ibori have their origin in his courageous challenge of the status quo. Discerning minds have quietly wondered, ‘What did this man do among the 36 state governors of this federation for which he had to go through these many challenging moments?’ The philosophy of the feudal lords was, ‘Smite the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.’ He was packaged as an enemy of the people, almost demonised, so that many cried, ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’ But the issue of resource control, which is now synonymous with fiscal federalism, is not about any man. It is a clamour that is connected to the soul of Nigeria, and which will continue to haunt it until it is resolved. The agitation continues… The table below shows untapped resources available in all states of the federation, according to the Federal Ministry of Solid Minerals, SOURCE: - Federal Ministry of Solid Minerals, Abuja.