IBORI: What does 50 million pounds really mean?

Guest post by Chima Onoka 

Maxwell lost his wife Ufuoma last December. She was pregnant and started bleeding before her time of delivery. The emergency nurse who attended to her when she was rushed to the hospital rebuked Maxwell for not bringing his wife for antenatal care. But Maxwell could not pay for antenatal care at the time. Though a graduate, he was yet to secure a job 4 years after losing the last one he had. While still trying to recover from the loss, his four year old child also died of malaria. Malaria! He could not buy the prescribed antimalaria drug until it was too late. Since then, Maxwell who lives in Delta State Nigeria has become a psychiatric patient – depressed and suicidal.

This morning though, Maxwell took his bath and dressed well in a way he had not done since his ill health started. He approached me and said;

“I just heard people whispering that my former governor stole money, 50 million pounds… is it true, he asked….what does £50million mean?”

I could not hold my emotions. I told Maxwell that it was true. As for the meaning, I explained it to him in the best way he would understand it given his recent problems…. fifty million pounds means any of these:

  • The cost of Antenatal care for 13.1 million pregnant women based on the costed National Strategic Health Development Plan (NSHPD)…that’s more that the number of pregnant women in the entire south-south region of the country!
  • Cost of Basic health care package for 2.5 million (63%) Deltans based on WHO costed minimum package for achievement of MDGs
  • Essential Health care package for 2.6 million (66%) Delta state citizens based on the costed National Strategic Health Development Plan (NSHDP) for Nigeria
  • One year’s premium for 1.25 million (30%) Delta state residents based on computed health insurance contribution rates for voluntary enrolees
  • Complete package of Child Health Services for 3.8 million children based on the costed NSHDP…that’s more than the number of children in Delta and Edo states!

I told him that if this £50m was available to the people of Delta State, perhaps his wife and child would have been alive. On hearing this, Maxwell, turned and quietly walked away, cursing…..

We will never really know how much the people of Delta state lost to Mr James Ibori during his time as Governor of Delta State Nigeria. What we do know is that he was once one of Nigeria’s wealthiest and most influential politicians (for insight into the extent of his influence, read Segun Adeniji’s Politics, Power and Death), was arrested in 2010 in Dubai and then extradited to London. What also know  that he was originally charged by the British police of  stealing  £250m over 8 years, and that he admitted and was convicted to 13 years imprisonment for fraud totalling £50m. We also know that Federal High Court in Asaba, Nigeria previously acquitted (yes acquitted)  James Ibori, of a 170-count charge of corruption filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

Picture source: Metro News London.

This story is as perverse as it gets and has received a lot of analysis in both local media and international media but the one aspect that has been most disturbing is the apparent lack of anger amongst the people most directly affected. Before his escape to Dubai and eventual arrest, the former governor was protected from the Nigerian police by people in his home town. After his arrest, the Governor of Delta State said it would be inappropriate for the state government to take a position on a “purely private’ matter. Really???. A year after we were glued to our TV sets watching the Arab spring unfold – this has been very disturbing.

The change we seek will not come – until we are ready to make it happen. We are not ready. Not yet….


Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

Chikwe Ihekweazu is an epidemiologist and consultant public health physician. He is the Editor of Nigeria Health Watch, and the Managing Partner of EpiAfric (www.epiafric.com), which provides expertise in public health research and advisory services, health communication and professional development. He previously held leadership roles at the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the UK's Health Protection Agency. Chikwe has undertaken several short term consultancies for the World Health Organisation, mainly in response to major outbreaks. He is a TED Fellow and co-curator of TEDxEuston.

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