As the second executive governor of Delta State, (May 29, 1999 – May 29, 2007), Chief James Onanefe Ibori is described as the founding father of modern Delta State, weathering several storms to lay a solid foundation for his successor to build on
Eddy Agofure, 26, is one young entrepreneur who will eternally be grateful to James Onanefe Ibori, immediate past governor of Delta State. An aluminum fabricator and a native of Ughoton community, an Itsekiri enclave, Agofure’s workshop is located close to the Omadina Bridge, and business, he told the magazine, had been good. Before the construction of the bridge, Agofure said he would never have contemplated bringing his business to its present location because of its inaccessibility. A visibly excited and appreciative Agofure told the magazine: “I’m happy about this bridge. It’s a good development because it has been of help to those in the riverine areas. Before, it was by boat we used to pass the area but vehicles now go through it. As a result, there has been development in the area. Those who initially were not interested in building houses in their ancestral land due to the exorbitant cost of transporting building materials across the river are having a change of mind and the place is developing. James Ibori did well as governor and it was during his administration that this bridge was constructed. He constructed many bridges and schools and a lot of other things”. Monday Onosoweh, on his part, had been saved the risk of plying the waterways by boat. Hitherto a boat driver, Onosoweh now operates a tricycle, ferrying passengers across the bridge to neighbouring communities. According to him, “I have been operating on this road for the past two years and I can say that before then, it had been a very terrible experience going from Ughoton to the next village. There was even no road; we used to go on canoe to ferry people and goods from here to the next community. But with this Omadina Bridge, it has aided traffic from one community to another. We now use cars, buses, keke and motor cycle on the bridge”.
The Omadina Bridge, one of the four bridges tagged “Unity Bridges” by the government, was a product of the rural/urban integration development strategy of the Ibori administration. Other bridges built by the governor, cutting across the three senatorial districts of the state, were the Bomadi Bridge, Igbuku Bridge and the Olomu Bridge. Given the very challenging and impossible terrains of the areas, coupled with the intense security challenges in the state during the period, the construction of the bridges were indeed very ambitious and daring. But Ibori did much more than the celebrated Unity Bridges. He did various other projects spread across various sectors – health, education and roads. Funkekeme Solomon, the state Commissioner for Works, said the bridges have had ripple effects. Giving an example of the Bomadi Bridge, Solomon said, “because of that bridge, now there are roads connecting various rural villages”, stressing that “before Ibori, it was not possible; it was believed to be impossible. Various people were hiding under the issue of difficult terrain. In fact, Professor Jibril Aminu, former Petroleum Minister, was singled out for that kind of irredentist description of the Niger Delta when he said that the area is so difficult that no one can even plan; but Ibori broke that jinx and successfully commissioned within four or five years, the bridge. Now there is road to the right and to the left of all the neighbouring communities; one is leading to my village and that has increased economic activities”.
In the education sector, the former governor also left an indelible footprint, establishing five tertiary institutions in one fell swoop – three polytechnics, one college of education and one college of physical education at Mosogar. The polytechnics are the Delta State Polytechnics at Ozoro, Ogharefe and Ogwashi-Uku. He also established three campuses of the Delta State University at Abraka, Oleh and Anwai, in Asaba. Though the building of the Asaba International Airport is to the credit of his successor, Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan, Amos Agbe Utuama, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and state deputy governor, hinted that the airport was indeed Ibori’s idea. According to Utuama who was Ibori’s Commissioner for Justice and the state Attorney-General, “the airport in Asaba, it’s not original to us. His government was building an airstrip; he acquired a piece of land in that place now to serve as an airstrip instead of going to Benin or Enugu to board a plane… But then, he couldn’t do it. Then we now decided to embark on it. Thank God we changed the concept; we enlarged it from an airstrip to international airport. The same thing with the new Government House; he started it with Costain. Costain couldn’t perform even after being mobilized. Then we came and we decided to use a local contractor”. The wave-making Delta State University Teaching Hospital, DELSUTH at Oghara was also started by Ibori. The buildings were completed before he left office but the lot fell on Uduaghan to put finishing touches and equip them with state-of-the-art medical equipments such that today, the hospital is known for various medical feats hitherto uncommon in this clime.
A sports loving governor, Ibori built several stadia across the state where the young ones could deploy their youthful energy positively instead of engaging in anti-social behavior. Paulinus Akpeki, Commissioner for Housing, noted that the former governor “built a lot of houses to accommodate public officers and top civil servants like commissioners and permanent secretaries”. The Commissioners’ Quarters, the squash club and the government VIP Guest Houses, all in the precincts of the Government House, have remained invaluable and enduring legacies of the administration. Of course, the legacies of the Ibori years cannot be complete without a generous mention of his pivotal role in resource control and the off-shore, on-shore oil dichotomy saga. Sunny Areh, Senior Special Assistant to Uduaghan on Documentation and Research, described resource control as Ibori’s “brain child” and was happy that “he achieved something out of his agitation for resource control”. Ibori who earned the appellation “Mr. Resource Control” because of the way he stood in the vanguard of the agitation, mobilized the people of the Niger Delta to demand for what he considered their right. Utuama went down memory lane to recall how in March 2000, the agitation started. According to him, “we found that the federal government was not being fair in allocation of revenue to the state and the governor then, Chief James Ibori said we needed to do something about this and he quickly met with governors from the South-south and canvassed the need for true federalism and true fiscal federalism. The agitation was, first, the 13 per cent derivation must be implemented because it was not being implemented when we came in. to cut the long story short, the federal government itself, because of the agitation, and to halt the agitation, went to Supreme Court, asking that the Supreme Court define and demarcate the seaward boundary of the littoral states…for the purpose of sharing the derivation money. The federal government went on to start implementing it; it enacted this onshore and offshore dichotomy for that purpose. But, the sum total was that they began to implement the 13 per cent derivation”.
The peace presently being enjoyed in the state today was largely not without the imprimatur of Ibori who was heralded into office amidst staccato of reverberating gun shots from the raging inter-ethnic clashes in the Warri axis. Comrade Ovuozorie Macaulay, secretary to the state government, who was a key player in that administration, gave kudos to Ibori for rising to the occasion. In his words, “he was dogged, he was straightforward; he was focused in arresting the ethnic crisis. At a stage, because he wanted to arrest the situation, he relocated sort of and people misunderstood that to mean that he had removed the capital from Asaba to Warri. But he had to be more in Warri to be able to wake up with the issues, sleep with those issues and reach out to the persons. When he saw that was not really giving him the desired result, he created a Ministry of Ethnic Relations and Conflict Resolution. And by the grace of God, that was how he finally arrested it. Without blowing my trumpet, I happen top be the first and only commissioner who managed that ministry and it was through that ministry that we brought the eight –year Warri crisis to an end that engendered the peace we now have today in these areas”. According to Macaulay, “if you don’t give Ibori any further credit, you must give him the credit of arresting the ethnic crisis in Delta State. But of course you must give him the credit of being the only and only governor in this country who initiated and completed four bridges in eight years”.
Utuama said history will judge the Oghara-born politician and political scientist favourably for being the first governor to connect Ijaw communities to the national grid. According to the deputy governor, “he was very interested in ensuring that there was electricity in every part of the state, including the riverine areas. It is on record that his administration was the first to extend public electricity to any Ijaw community. He did it before Bayelsa could even attempt it”. Areh who said Ibori achieved so much regretted that “he was under-reported, and the blame was not on his media people”. According to him, “the blame was his own because he was always insisting that he would not want to spend, say N10 million constructing a project and then spend another N10 million flagging it off. His belief was that those who are enjoying the facilities will appreciate it more than others”. As far as Utuama is however concerned, “one day, history will record for him what is due to him. He did a lot. He laid the foundation upon which Uduaghan’s administration is building”.