The day before the sentencing of former governor of Delta State, James Ibori, at the Southwark Crown Court in London, I had accompanied a friend to Wigan for a video interview. We didn’t get back to London until past 1am. So when I was startled out of bed at 6:30 by a call from my former editor at Next (now with PREMIUM TIMES), Musikilu Mojeed, you can tell how crossed I was.
“My Oga (boss),” he said. He only calls me that when he needs a favour.
“Have you forgotten that Ibori will be sentenced today?”
Half awake, I muttered something in the line of how I wasn’t interested in the trial and how I didn’t give a monkey if he spent what was left of his thieving life in the cooler.
“But you are a reporter na,” he said. “You did so much reporting on Ibori back at Next, at least you want to know how the whole thing will end. Please myoga we need you to help us report the proceedings at the sentencing.
I grumbled about how I’ve got a trainload of assignments, personal/ group projects I’ve got to turn in by the end of that week.
But he would have none of that. You see, you haven’t met a persistent person until you meet Mojeed. Jeez! Mojeed could pester a snail into a sprint!
Anyway, I grudgingly dragged my sleepy bones out of bed; rushed into the bathroom for the 3s (shit, shave and shower); got dressed; and hopped into the freezing and teary morning, toward the court.
At the entrance of the court, tripods, huge mics, and cameras of all shapes and sizes welcomed me. I walked past them without stopping to say hello. A smallish security guard with hooked shoulders and a huge Ghanaian accent stopped me and asked if I was going to the Ibori trial, I nodded.
“4th flour, Court 9”, he said.
Just as I was about to dash through the security scanner, he tapped me on the shoulder and said:
“I doubt if you will make it into the courtroom. There is a crowd up there and some of them have been here since six.”
My heart dropped. The only thing I could think of was Mojeed calling to rebuke me of how I just allowed a chance of getting an award-winning scoop at the trial pass me by!
As I stepped out of the lift, I knew I should have been there three hours earlier.
As I pushed myself through the crowd, a plus size woman dressed in a gaudy blouse and traditional lapa shouted:
“Make dem allow us enter na. Na wetin sef na” in that singsong pidgin commonly spoken in the Niger Delta.
The courtroom was locked but through the glass door one could see lawyers and court clerks getting ready for the day’s trial.
Trust Nigerians, the place was chaotic. There was pushing and shoving and everybody was shouting at the same time. I swear, I smelt starch and banga soup from half the breaths jabbing at my nose!
Then a scuffle ensued…
I heard someone scream in pain. An official of the Nigerian High Commission, who claimed to be representing the high commissioner at the trial, had buried his teeth into the finger of one of the hired supporters of Ibori from Warri.
Before one could scream fraud, the entire Ibori horde had circled our diplomatic Clifford Orji like a cackle of hyenas would do a dying antelope.
“You’re a shameless man,” screamed Madam Plus size. “Idiot! As you old reach you still dey bite.”
“What are you people doing here?” said a pretty babe.
Honestly, she was the only disappointment among the lot. There’re things beautiful women shouldn’t be seen doing. Only ugly people should be hired to do ugly jobs such as the one this looker is doing.
“Where were you people when he needed you? You left him to be treated like a criminal.”
Criminal??!!! For a moment I thought she was speaking Eskimo Spanish.
Okay, that was it. I couldn’t listen to anything the Ibori horde had to say anymore. I promptly plugged my ears with my cloned Beat earphone!
Fortunately, at that moment, I was allowed into the courtroom.
As the press gallery was already filled, I was asked to sit at the public gallery. I didn’t like the idea at first but as things turned out, it was the best thing that happened to me that week.
Apart from a couple of law students and myself, the Ibori Horde occupied the all the seats in the public gallery. Thanks to an adjutant lawyer on Ibori legal team who made sure his supporters had the right of first refusal.
Minutes before the court clerk announced the entry of the Judge, Madam Plus Size realised that a certain Thomas from her gang was missing. She stood up and beckoned towards Miss Looker, sitting cross the courtroom, shouting:
“Where Tomasi? Tell lawyer say Tomasi nefer enter na. Tomasi dey outside abeg tell dem to allow am come inside na.”
You would think she was Tupac. All eyes were on her. The court clerk cursed under her breath!
Enter Ibori led by a court guard into the glassed prisoner’s dock.
He was spotting a dull black suit. But on his wrist was seated a gleaming gold watch with black leather straps.
He has also lost some of his Godfather bounce. A man whose entire life is fashioned by crime, he still retained the swagger and shifty look of a common criminal. His complexion has also lost its brilliance: he looked like a kid coming home after a bath in the village stream during the Harmattan.
One of his supporters muttered, “Correct Man!”
About 30 minutes into the hearing, as the prosecuting counsel, Mrs Sasha Wass, was taking us through the criminal web contorted by Ibori to hide his stolen billions, Madam Plus Size started snoring. I remembered tweeting that she sounded like an elephant with cold!
When the court resumed from a two hours break, from his glass cage, like a circus monkey, Ibori decided to entertain his supporters.
Ibori showed something many people would never suspect about him. Or who would have thought that an international thief thief (apology to Fela) like him is skilled in cracking jokes in sign language!
I couldn’t stand the thunderous laughter from his supporters as he gestured to them in the most criminally unimpressive motion of hands. I looked around the courtroom to see if I was the only one unimpressed by his display, I wasn’t disappointed.
On day two of the trial, half of the Ibori Horde arrived late to court. They missed their way in the maze that is the London Underground.
Madam Plus Size was beside herself with anxiety as she awaited the missing members of her gang.
“Where dem dey na?” she asked a man beside her that couldn’t take his hand away from his groin. He told her he saw them leaving the hotel.
“Why dem no go come court na,” she cried. “No be wetin dem leave Warri come do be that?
I won’t bore you with John Fashanu and the phantom nine Olympic-size stadiums and the world class shooting range in built by Ibori. It trended on Twitter.
Anyway, Mr. Fashanu couldn’t impress the judge with his fairy tales. Ibori was condemned to 13 years in a cold British jail.
As we walked out of the court, I saw tears streaming down the eyes of Miss Looker. Being an idiot for pretty things, I made to offer her a handkerchief, but I remembered I was there as a reporter and was midway into an essay on ethics, I promptly changed my mind.
Nicholas Ibekwe, a PREMIUM TIMES affiliate, is a chevening scholar at the City University of London where he is studying for a Masters in Journalism. This article was first published on his blog.