By Roimi Fasan
IT was yet another instance of ‘peculiar mess’ when former PDP chieftain, Olabode George, returned home from two years incarceration for financial crimes.
Parts of Lagos leading from the Kirikiri Maximum Prison were practically shut down by supporters of this PDP leader who went to welcome him home in a brazen attempt to both repeat and re-write history. I shall explain what I mean shortly.
But let me foreground my explanation by reminding the reader that Kirikiri conjures an image that is to say the least fearsome in popular imagination. It is a penitentiary, more in the mould of Alcatraz in the United States. In Nigeria, Kirikiri is the home of diehard criminals, aside those perceived to have committed serious political infractions against the state.
In the era of the military, it became a notorious destination point for senior politicians found culpable of one crime or another in the eye of the law. Of course, we do know that not all inhabitants of Kirikiri were or are actually guilty of the infraction that brought them there. But whether guilty or not, Kirikiri, for the average Nigerian is not a place you go to and come back smiling, calling out an entire city in joyful celebration.
But this was not the case with Bode George and the hordes from the PDP who were probably hired to go give the former Vice Chair of the PDP in the South-West a ‘rousing’ welcome. I said former ‘Vice Chair’ in the belief that his time in jail has robbed him of that position. This may not be true in fact. But to return to the manner of welcome Bode George had- only the peculiar judgement of this man and his supporters could justify such outrage.
Even if Chief George had returned as a victorious soldier from some campaign or bagged some academic laurel unknown in this part of the world, he couldn’t have got a better reception than he received on the occasion of his return from prison.
The return was, to all intents and purposes, ‘triumphant’, a resounding slap in the face of those enemies of ‘progress’ who sent him to jail and the rest of us evil Nigerians who stood by and watched a good man, like the lovable Lagos Boy, Bode, sent to jail. As Daddy Shokey would have put it, it was ‘shame to bad people’. Yet one must question the reasoning behind such brazen celebration.
Yes, Chief George tried in vain to have his conviction overturned. And under what circumstances was he convicted? It was no other than for financial misappropriation and embezzlement while he was chairperson of the Nigeria Ports Authority.
He was convicted along with five of his lieutenants. Yes, he tried a couple of times to have his conviction overturned but failed. The last attempt was just days before his eventual release after he had served time fully. However, and wherever the matter is viewed, Chief George had no justifiable reason to celebrate his return in the manner he did- at least not from the point of view of both the law and morality.
But in that uniquely Nigerian way of celebrating strange excesses, Chief George decided to roll out the drums and call out the city to join him in the celebration of graft. This, as I said, is an attempt to both repeat and re-write history.
Well, Chief George did nothing new in his raucous way of celebrating his failed attempt at shedding the garb of corruption. He followed in the trail of that other colourful politician of a bygone era, Adegoke Adelabu. This was the leading politician of Ibadan extraction in the 1950s.
As Wole Soyinka has it in Ibadan, The Penkelemes Years, his narrative of that period of brigand politicians and politicking in Western Nigeria, Chief Adelabu, having been accused of corrupt enrichment, had invited his supporters to join him on a ride in the very car he was alleged to have bought with the money from his loot.
They converged in Dugbe, a sprawling section of Ibadan, and joined him on the ride to the house of one of his accusers and proceeded to give the hapless man the beating of his life even as they sang in support of Adelabu, ‘Owo wa ni, sa maa na boo tife…(It’s our money, go on and spend it the way it pleases you…)’ It is to Adelabu that Nigeria owes the expression ‘penkelemes’, a populist corruption of ‘peculiar mess’ that has since passed into our political vocabulary.
Now to the attempt at re-writing history- to the extent that the courts never adjudged Chief George innocent, his loud celebration of his return was an attempt to re-write the judgement of the court that convicted him. More importantly, it was a way of insulting the intelligence longsuffering Nigerians who thought Chief George deserved to be sanctioned for his acts of impunity against the State.
It was not a sober Bode George that returned home. Rather, it was a man who, given the chance, would repeat all over again the very acts of wilful pilfering of tens of billions of tax payers’ fund for which he went to jail. Such a man deserves to be put under close watch because he would not hesitate to spit in the face of the rest of us once more and tell us he is only taking dirt out of our eyes.
We should also not forget those who joined him in the shameless dance, even if they now want us to believe that they knew nothing of the matter and were only tricked into participating in the celebration of corruption. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who some urban legend claims might know more than he pretends to about the conviction of Bode George and who apparently fought corruption while in office as president- Obasanjo cannot pretend he knew nothing of the celebration for George. The whole matter had been in the media days before it was executed. We know now what monkey business our politicians play with Nigeria.