November 14, 2009

Bode George and EFCC : Time to dare


THE chickens have finally come home to roost. After a seemingly business-as-usual legal tryout, the nation woke up to a 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 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 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.

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 flagrant 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 13 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.

With the landmark judgment of  Oyewole, Nigerians have come to the correct awareness that justice and respect for human rights is not only 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. 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 creating platforms for commendation for good deeds as exemplified by 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.

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. 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 is resident in Abule-Egba, Lagos