James Ibori, former governor of Delta state, admitted 10 counts of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering.
Southwark Crown Court was told the amount he stole from the people of Delta state was “unquantified”.
Ibori, who evaded capture in Nigeria after a mob of supporters attacked police, was arrested in Dubai in 2010.
He was extradited to the UK, where he was prosecuted based on evidence from the Metropolitan Police, who estimated he stole $250m (£160m) from state coffers.
One of the counts Ibori admitted related to a $37m (£23m) fraud pertaining to the sale of Delta State’s share in Nigerian privatised phone company company V Mobile.
He was governor of Delta State between May 1999 and May 2007.
Sasha Wass, QC, prosecuting, told the court Ibori “deliberately and systematically” defrauded the people he was elected to represent.
The court heard he came to the UK in the 1980s and worked as a cashier at a Wickes DIY store in Neasden, north west London.
He was convicted in 1991 of stealing from the store but then returned to Nigeria and began his climb up the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) network.
When he ran for governor he lied about his date of birth to hide his criminal conviction in the UK – which would have prevented him standing for office.
Ibori, whose address was given as Primrose Hill, north London, claims to be 53 but police in London say he is 49.
He became governor in 1999 but soon began taking money from state coffers.
A house in Hampstead, north London, for £2.2m
A property in Shaftesbury, Dorset, for £311,000
A £3.2m mansion in Sandton, near Johannesburg, South Africa
A fleet of armoured Range Rovers valued at £600,000
A £120,000 Bentley
A Mercedes Maybach for 407,000 euros that was shipped direct to his mansion in South Africa
After the hearing, Sue Patten, head of the Crown Prosecution Service central fraud group, said it would bid to confiscate the assets Ibori had acquired his riches “at the expense of the some of the poorest people in the world”.
International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said: “James Ibori’s sentence sends a strong and important message to those who seek to use Britain as a refuge for their crimes.
“Corruption is a cancer in developing countries and the coalition government has a zero-tolerance approach to it.”