By Akeem Soboyede
Back in 1775, writer Samuel Johnson reportedly uttered these immortal words: “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”. The distinguished man of letters authored the first compendium of English words, titled “A Dictionary of the English Language”. But Johnson’s alleged diatribe against purveyors of fake patriotism has lingered longer than his landmark dictionary. And rightfully so.
More than one Nigerian merits the title of “false patriot”. But the individual who deserves the honorific more than any other at this time must be James Onanefe Ibori, erstwhile governor of Delta State. The former-governor-turned-convict
While decrying the protestors’ act, Ibori made it known he remains “absolutely, completely and entirely committed to the indissolubility of the Nigerian State, as stipulated in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
No one should have any problem with Ibori’s expression of patriotism, since he was also a former chief executive of a state in Nigeria. But exactly why is this quintessential Nigerian hypocrite, sorry, “patriot”, in prison at this time, especially since he feels it important enough to denounce those he perceives as threatening the unity and territorial integrity of the Nigerian state?
For those not quite aware of or have forgotten his unfortunate saga (however improbable that might be), Ibori was the former elected governor of Delta State who reigned from 1999 to 2007. He wielded power over his state in an imperious manner, even projecting his impact beyond his resources-laden state. Ibori was believed to have financed the installation of the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as President of the federal republic, and remained the main political influence behind that administration until Yar’Adua’s premature death in 2010. But Ibori’s dogged “commitment” to the Yar’Adua project was mainly to protect himself from the credible allegations of corrupt enrichment snipping at his heels, both while he was in office and in its aftermath.
Delta is one of Nigeria’s richest states, given the immense petroleum and natural gas resources located there. But the state never fulfilled its potentials to its citizens when Ibori held sway. While most of those he reigned over laboured under the yoke of crushing poverty that could well have been prevented, Ibori used his office to amass riches fit for a king. On February 27, 2012, when he pleaded guilty in a London court it emerged Ibori had raped the Delta State treasury to the tune of US$250 million while he was governor, a figure many still believe is as conservative as they come. The pillage included a house in an exclusive area of London Ibori purchased for £2.2m; a £3.2m mansion purchased in a high-brow area of Johannesburg, South Africa; a fleet of armoured Range Rovers valued at £600,000 and a Mercedes-Benz Maybach 62 bought for €407,000 in cash, which Ibori purchased for his exclusive use in South Africa.
What the likes of Ibori really mean when they bleat they are committed to the indissolubility of the Nigerian State is that they need the structure and safety provided by the state to commit atrocities that negatively impact the less fortunate citizens over whom they rule.
It is also instructive that Ibori’s statement mentioned that all through his life, he “… has believed in a strong, united Nigeria where the rights of every citizen is held sacrosanct, where no region of state or even local government area, is neglected or is made to feel alienated in whatever way, no matter how infinitesimal.”
Those in positions of power like Ibori that are afflicted with the disease of false patriotism should realise that nothing more violates the rights of their fellow citizens than officials of the state raping the public treasury, or using resources meant for the majority to satiate the obscene appetites of those “lucky” to find themselves in positions of power. The houses, cars and private jets Ibori acquired in foreign currencies and in foreign lands could have funded innumerable clinics, roads and power projects across many local government areas of Delta State while he wielded power. The poor citizens denied these amenities, or who had a legitimate expectation of such, certainly remain alienated from governance and those who rule over them.
“Biafra 2.0” that the likes of Kanu are now engaged in is certainly an ill-advised adventure. But those genuinely patriotic among us should resent scoundrels like Ibori using the pro-Biafra agitation to cloak themselves in the toga of a false Nigerian patriotism.
*Soboyede is a public affairs commentator