Date Published: 10/29/09
Bode George and EFCC: Time to Dare By Johnson Bayode
The chickens have finally come home to roost. After a seemingly business-as-usual legal tryout, the nation woke up to a shocking reality of the unusual when Justice Olubunmi Oyewole of the Lagos High Court, an indicator of an incorruptible courage and rare gusto convicted Chief Olabode Ibiyinka George, a chieftain of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and former chairman of the Board of Directors of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), and five other members of the board
Before now, it was practically unthinkable or rather impossible for Bode George to imagine himself behind the bars. Why? He was one of the anointed untouchables of the former emperor. Not even with the grandeur and pomp that sickeningly presaged his appearances in court while the trial lasted and on that fateful day of reckoning. He besieged the court with a retinue of loyalists apparently in anticipation of an acquittal; forgetting that the effects of actions may only be postponed but never lost. Let no one delude himself anymore. There is always an inevitable reward for good deeds and an inescapable punishment for bad. The judge held unequivocally that “the defendants while employed in the public service as Chairman and Directors respectively on the board of the NPA at that material time did approve split contracts which was an arbitrary act and prejudiced the approving authorities superior to the NPA board constituted by them at that time, and that they thereby abused their offices. This must not be condoned or treated with kid gloves. If the quality of service in our public life is to be altered to the appreciable standard of the civilized world, the right to deterrent should be given. For this deterrent to be served, therefore sufficient firmness must be demonstrated”
In 2005 when the EFCC under the leadership of Mallam Nuhu Ribadu investigated the Bode George-led board of NPA, the commission then came up with a “damning indictment report”, exposing a can of worms with various allegations of abuse of offices and dubious financial practices but the powers that be then characteristically moved against further action on the matter. In spite of Ribadu’s indictment of Bode George, he could not prosecute him. He even later swallowed his earlier indictment and declared George innocent after the all powerful Obasanjo called him to order. This case which today gave Nigerians a budding hope that fragrant abuses of privileged mandate and public offices will no longer go unpunished would have died a natural death if not for the audacity of Mrs. Farida Waziri who reopened the case and assiduously pursued it to this instructive climax. In my opinion, it is worthy of note that in spite of all cynicisms and doubts, Waziri, with this shockingly singular conviction, has recorded another high profile conviction. Though, she had gotten thirteen Filipinos and a former governor, Lucky Igbinedion convicted earlier through normal court proceedings and plea bargain, it is impressive that she has since risen to the occasion against all odds with three celebrated convictions in sixteen months in the saddle. Her diligence in prosecuting this matter through due processes as opposed to the commando and arm twisting approach of the previous leadership of the EFCC sounds more than a warning tune and most welcome. Although, plea bargain yielded some sort of result for Ribadu with three high profile convictions in four years, the record breaking conviction of Bode George through normal court process is an indication that corruption can be fought within the ambit of rule of law and due process. Diligence, no doubt surpasses good luck. In spite of the hypocritical howling of politicians and public office holders, citizens and institutions with the statutory power of scrutiny must not allow themselves to be intimidated to subvert issues of national interest to the degree of absolute compromise. This, our leadership must be made to recognize and accept.
However, that the matter would have gone under the proverbial carpet would not have come as a surprise. Reason? It was a common knowledge that the copious approach and unofficial mandate of the anti-graft agencies then was to subdue and suppress any suspected or self styled opposition no matter how crooked and uncivilized. The infamous culture of selectivity held sway as the rule of whims and not of the law prevailed.
With the landmark judgment of Justice Oyewole, Nigerians have come to the correct awareness that justice and respect to human rights is critical and central to the future and progress of our nation, but that our resolve to build a truly virile polity ultimately depends on how we organize the judicial system by making it independent, dependable and incorruptible to evolve a notion of social equity and progress where the abuse of public offices for private benefit is discouraged.
To this end, one is tempted to believe that a new window of hope has opened to us as a people signaling a new frontier in the fight against corruption. One lesson we must all learn is that the culture of impunity and blatant disregard to decorum in positions of authority and natural law of justice must be eschewed from our national life.
If we think seriously about the future of our country, the challenge before us now is how to strengthen the institution of government with a view to create platforms for commendation for good deeds as exemplified by Justice Oyewole and for condemnation for those who are used to walking on the divide of evil. The bench and the bar should be proud of the rare courage demonstrated by one of their own and encourage others to take a cue from him. The time has come for the judiciary to accurately measure the dangers of corruption and move fast to stem its rancid consequences by ensuring that every constitutional abuse is punished by the law. Ironically, a person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inactions, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury. If the position of the law as entrenched in our constitution is that corruption can be placidly eradicated without trampling on the fundamental rights of suspects as we can see in this rewarding style of Farida Waziri, then let the bench restore public confidence and take on all forms of corruption with high sense of responsibility.
With the consciousness that the law court has ceased to be a venue for the display of shame and undue popularity as demonstrated by senseless display of stolen wealth even when some sobriety and sense of remorse is expected of a citizen standing trials, Oyewole’s ruling remains a turning point in the crusade against corruption. This sort of judgment will significantly make the incentive for corrupt practices in the first place unattractive, even as it now serves as deterrent for others.
“Though force can protect in emergency, only justice, fairness, consideration and cooperation can finally lead men to the dawn of eternal peace”, opined Dwight Eisenhower. The abuses of the past have only left us all traumatized, deprived, impoverished and undeveloped. It has almost expunged integrity from our national consciousness leaving the entire populace assaulted. With this judgment, it is apparent that the anti-graft war can be fought and won within the ambit of the law. For Mrs. Farida Waziri and her team in the EFCC, this is not the time for ease and comfort. It is the time to dare and endure. However, let us all join the match. The race has just begun.
Bayode writes from Abuleegba, Lagos