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Date Published: 07/21/10

Holding the Nigeria Prison Service Captive By Bamidele Bisola

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An incident happened a long time ago that I want to share with everyone. I was just fresh from secondary school and I went to stay with an uncle in Lagos in search of greener pasture. A director, Mr. Udo Kanga (not sure if I get the spellings correct) in a popular parastatal was redeployed to another department within the organization. As at the time, the Director was on leave and yet to complete the leave when the directive was given. He was so powerful and feared that all sorts of things were said about him. He had boasted that no one could move him against his wish. The said Director hurriedly returned from his trip and resumed in his former office unhindered. No questions were asked. And that was the end of the matter. To a green horn like me that time, the maxim I learnt in Government class that everyone was equal before the law turned out to be a fallacy. This line of thinking remains inherently valid in me till toady. I will prove it shortly.

Leaving the very far past to the immediate past, other ugly incidents happened that we can not ignore. During the Obasanjo administration, a lot of injustices were perpetuated almost with impunity. Sunday Ehindero, an Obasanjo’s kinsman almost refused to quit the stage when his tenure expired. We heard of tenure extension, second term or whatever they call it. But thank God, the late president Umaru Musa Yar’Adua would not have any of that. As Governor of Katsina State, he, probably, was sick and tired of Obasanjo’s administration and was determined to correct the wrongs.

Then came Chief Mike Okiro as Inspector General of the Nigeria Police. Even though he was appointed against an established norm, he too foot dragged when it was time for him to leave. As usual with most public office holders, he suddenly remembered something he ought to have done that he had not done. He was therefore, lobbying for extension of tenure. As God would have it, the late President Yar’Adua did not succumb to pressure. Okiro’s request was outrightly rejected.

It then became clear to everyone that the mess associated with Obasanjo’s administration was a forgotten issue. Hence, when the Custom boss, Ahmad Hamman’s term came to a halt, he quietly threw in the towel without any attempt to prolong his stay. Professor Charles Soludo tried but with no success. Under Obasanjo he would have gotten his way through. In summary, what I am trying to say is that Obasanjo’s government was a jungle government where anything, I mean anything, went. Yar’Adua tried to follow due process in his actions.

The controversial INEC chair, Professor Maurice Iwu would have had his second term approved if not for the fact that it is no longer fashionable under the present dispensation. He used every resource within his reach to campaign and lobby for an extension. Paid adverts, opinion articles, pro-Iwu demonstrations etc were all gimmicks he used to sway public opinion and hence government’s decision in his favour. Even elders and opinion leaders, some who could sell their mother’s head for a morsel of gari were speaking for Iwu at the time. That is how rotten the society has become.

It appears that the Obasanjo’s third term mentality has awakened the tenure elongation madness of some public office holders. This ugly and unfortunate incidence is presently replicating itself at the Nigeria Prison Service which forms the basis for this discussion.

The tenure of the present Comptroller General of the Nigeria Prison Service, Mr. Olushola Adigun Ogundipe expired by the end of last month, i.e. June 2010. Prior to this period, he went on pre-retirement leave. But there were gossips everywhere that he was coming to resume office after his leave, just like Udo Kanga, the powerful director mentioned at the beginning of this piece. As if to confirm this, he did not appoint anyone to act in his stead when he was going on leave. Even private estates are not run in that manner.

To avoid power vacuum, the minister appointed one Dr Labo to act and this was widely reported in some national dailies. All expectations were that Mr. Ogundipe was coming to handover to the acting officer as reasonably demanded by law. But alas! The reverse was the case. He came, he resumed and he started work. There was confusion within the Service as to who actually was in charge.

The issue now is, how long are we going to continue like this? Even in the jungle where decency does not exist, certain norms still thrive. How can we make ourselves laughing stock in the eyes of the whole world and yet expect to be respected? This can not happen in Ghana , not even in Togo .

If people who are due for retirement refuse to go, how can people down the ladder grow? How can our fresh graduates get employed? Yet we keep on talking of rising unemployment figure everyday. And its not that Ogundipe had a robust outing as the head of the Service. All through his tenure, nothing changed either in our prisons or in the Service. So, why on earth will anyone be talking of tenure extension?

President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan should address this issue to prove to us that his government is one that will not tolerate any form of cheating, injustice and corruption. He has already demonstrated that his government cares and listens to the yearnings and aspirations of the Nigerian people. He should not fail the country on this one.

Bamidele Bisola , a concerned citizen sent in this piece from No 34, Gidan Aboki, Behind Federal Housing Authority, Lugbe, Abuja .

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