Nigeria's Ex-Governor Convicted of Corruption Insists He's 'Still a Politician'

James Ibori
James Ibori, former governor of Nigeria's Delta State, speaks after a court hearing outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Britain, January 31, 2017. REUTERS/Estelle Shirbon

A former Nigerian governor convicted of corruption, who was recently released from a U.K. prison, has hinted that he could return to politics in the West African country.

James Ibori, the governor of Nigeria's oil-rich Delta state from 1999 to 2007, was arrested in Dubai in 2010 after avoiding capture in Nigeria. He was extradited to the U.K., where he pled guilty in 2012 to 10 counts of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering totalling around £50 million ($77 million at the time).

He was released in December 2016 having served half of his 13-year sentence, including pre-trial detention. Ibori is currently appealing against his conviction on the basis of allegations that a British police officer took bribes for information on his case.

James Ibori
Former Delta state governor James Ibori (R) acknowledges his supporters after leaving the courtroom at the High Court in Asaba, Nigeria, on December 17, 2009. Ibori was imprisoned in the U.K. in 2012 for corruption but was released in December 2016. PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty

Ibori's conviction currently bars him from running for political office for 10 years, but this would be nullified if his conviction was overturned.

Speaking outside a London courthouse Tuesday, Ibori told Reuters that in African politics, "you are in it until you die."

"I am a politician, I will always be a politician. I play the politics in my party and in my country for the good of my people," said Ibori, 57.

Ibori governed for the People's Democratic Party (PDP), currently in opposition in Nigeria, and remains hugely popular in the country's south. Following his release, a YouTube video showed Ibori being welcomed with cheers by supporters that included a sitting senator from Delta state.

The Delta state government, which is administered by the PDP, welcomed Ibori's release, with state information commissioner Patrick Ukah describing him as "our son, our brother" and "somebody that everybody loved," according to the Nigerian daily Punch.

During his time as governor, Ibori built up an impressive portfolio of foreign properties and luxury cars, including a £2.2 million ($2.8 million) London mansion and a Bentley worth £120,000 ($150,000), according to the BBC.

Since Ibori has been in prison, Nigeria's federal government has changed hands from the PDP to the All Progressives Congress, after APC candidate Muhammadu Buhari defeated former PDP incumbent Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 election. Buhari has made tackling corruption a cornerstone of his administration, but has so far failed to secure any high-profile convictions, although several trials are ongoing.

Ibori was also linked to four offshore companies in the Panama Papers leak.