Nigerians plead for Ibori's release

A high-level delegation from the Urhobo Youth Leaders Association have asked for the freedom of former state governor awaiting extradition to Britain.

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DUBAI // A high-level delegation from the Urhobo Youth Leaders Association (UYLA) in Nigeria has launched an appeal to the international community and Dubai authorities to release the imprisoned former Delta state governor and Urhobo chief, James Ibori.

The UYLA claims to represent all 14 million members of the Urhobo ethnic group, which is concentrated in the resource-rich state. The 16-member delegation is concerned that Mr Ibori's extradition from Dubai to face money-laundering charges in the UK could lead to unrest and disrupt Nigerian oil production, the nation's main source of revenue.

"No man has a monopoly over violence," said Westam Adehor, the chairman of the UYLA and leader of the Urhobo people. "Currently, there is a security unrest in Delta state and if Ibori is not released this could lead to armed unrest."

A Dubai court ordered Mr Ibori's extradition on October 17 and he is currently appealing the order. He was taken into custody in June. He has stated that the case against him is politically motivated because of his political stance on the country's petroleum reserves.

"The majority of our resources are being controlled by the British and I want our country to benefit from them by restructuring the current system," Mr Ibori said in a telephone interview from the Interpol detention centre.

Delta state is considered a major provider to the Nigerian economy through its oil and gas resources. The threat, according to the delegation, is directed at the oil production facilities run by international corporations and the Nigerian government.

"The Urhobo people are not happy with what has been done to James Ibori and if he is extradited to Britain not a single drop of oil will come out of the Niger delta," said Vincent Oyibode, the UYLA press secretary who is also a Delta state government official.

The Urhobo people have been subjected to poverty and destitution because of a constitutional law that grants the Nigerian government ownership rights over any land that holds natural resources, according to Mr Adehor.

"A hungry man is an an angry man," he said. "We want to change that law and change the structure of wealth flow from the states. James Ibori was leading that reform and is being punished for trying to help his people."

According to UYLA members, during Mr Ibori's governance of Delta state from 1999 to 2007 he managed to increase security and disarm the Niger river delta's militant groups.

"James Ibori is a peaceful man and peacefully resolved the differences during his governance and told the militants that his nationalisation of resources plan could be gained constitutionally and peacefully," said Franklin Edevbie, a UYLA member and vice chairman of a local government in Delta state.

The four main militant groups in the delta region, who had been causing unrest and carrying out kidnappings until recently, are the Niger Movment for Emancipation of the Niger Delta, Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force, the Joint Revolutionary Council and the Niger Delta Vigilante.

"We call for the UAE government not to be pulled into this politically motivated situation and we are prepared to work with the corrupt federal government in Nigeria and even support the president in the election if our leader is released," Mr Adehor said.

"We visited Mr Ibori in jail and we could not even recognise him. He is not a criminal or a terrorist. He is part of the Nigerian political institution and the voice of the Urhobo people."

Mr Ibori was detained after an Interpol arrest request was filed by the Metropolitan Police in London, asking for his extradition. He was charged in Nigeria with 170 counts of fraud and was acquitted of all of them by a federal court last year.

During his term and political career Mr Ibori was one of the most vocal advocates for resource nationalisation in Nigeria.