By Ochereome Nnanna
THERE are two local expressions synonymous with being behind bars that I know. The first is â€œsmelling rodâ€. The second is â€œeating beansâ€.
Those who coined them knew what they were saying because every prisoner or even detainee wants to come close to the iron bars in order to breathe fresh air and have another look at the fixed scenery. In Nigeria, the detaineeâ€™s main staple food is very poorly prepared (and usually watery) beans porridge. I donâ€™t know why.
Former Deputy National Chairman of the ruling Peopleâ€™s Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olabode George, now officially a convicted criminal, is cooling his feet in Kirikiri Prison after the historic Monday, October 26 Lagos High Court verdict which found him and five others guilty of corruption and abuse of office over the N85 billion Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) contracts.
He is definitely smelling rod, but being such a fabulously wealthy man, he does not have to eat beans. He will, like his â€œolder brotherâ€ in the Kirikiri penitentiary system, Major Hamza Al Mustapha, continue to have his choice of designer food ferried in from home or hotel.
You see, there is no justice in this world. Those who eat beans are the petty criminals or accused persons awaiting trial who cannot afford their own designer food. Big-timers eat Chinese or Continental or Africana, just as they wish!
Are we to say that if you have to be a criminal better be a big one? If you have to eat a toad eat a fattened one? Yet small-time felons hurt very few people. Those at the scale of the Bode Georgeâ€™s of Nigeria hurt the entire nation.
And that is obviously why not a single decent soul (apart from those who will miss the court-day carnivals that George spent so much to organise) has condemned the Justice Joseph Oyewole verdict that sent Bode George to Kirikiri where he will spend the next two and a half years.
You see, Bode George represents the worst values in the political elite who have ruled the affairs of Nigeria since 1999.
He wears the face of the Obasanjo years, when hypocrisy was raised to a high art. A war on corruption was announced to the world and a hunting dog, Malam Nuhu Ribadu, was sent to display for the benefit of a cheering public, while all the Obasanjo men and women helped themselves to the nationâ€™s resources attached to their duty posts. Obasanjo himself is currently touted in some quarters as one of the richest men in Nigeria.
The other day he announced with glee that his Obasanjo Farms alone currently employs over 6,000 workers, up from a situation of total ruin in 1998 when rats ran the Farms.
During the years that Obasanjo and Bode George dominated the affairs of Nigeria , many prominent politicians were killed all in efforts to forcefully take over the South West and give Obasanjo a political base.
The political mainstream of the region was destroyed. When Obasanjo secured the South West, he desired to retain himself in power. Bode George was sent to Chimaroke Nnamaniâ€™s Enugu where he was caught on national television boasting: â€œWe will not give them (North) power. They will never smell it againâ€. Few months later, Obasanjo went behind his back and gave power back to the North.
Bode George, just like James Ibori, Orji Kalu, Chimaroke Nnamani and Femi Fani-Kayode, glamorised corruption by sponsoring well-dressed men and women usually decked out in colourful Ankara cotton prints and accompanied by musical groups to his court outings.
Many complained that he was adding insult to injury because a person accused of crime of that magnitude should actually be sombre and ashamed.
He should try to hide his head. Culture demands that. But our political buccaneers were not raised on culture. They shot to fame by riding rough-shod over it.
Now I believe it: The arms of the law can be long â€“ even in Nigeria !
FORMER Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Malam Nuhu Ribadu, was one of the first to rush an email response on Bode Georgeâ€™s conviction to NEXT newspapers last Monday after the verdict.
He was quoted to have described it as â€œa reference point in investigation and trial of corruption in Nigeriaâ€, adding: â€œIt is a measure of the shamelessness of our elites and the institutions that fuel their values that Chief George could be awarded a national honour in our country and that he could later sue some newspapers on account of the indictment report I prepared against himâ€.
It was this same Ribadu, shortly before Obasanjo stepped down as our president, who started saying there was no concrete evidence to prosecute George over the NPA affair. Ribadu challenged any who had any evidence against George to come forward with it, pointing out that he was only a ceremonial chairman and could not have been involved in contract wards.
This was a volt-face, because he had earlier on, after his investigations, given the impression that he had enough to send George to jail.
Ribadu looked the other way when The News published a ton of evidence against Bode George, for which the latter sued for libel.
It was Mrs Farida Waziri who, seeking to convince the public that she was serious in her pursuit of the war on corruption, resurrected Bode Georgeâ€™s file in the EFCCâ€™s vault.
Perhaps, Ribadu had to make that about-face in May 2007 when he hoped to land the post of Inspector General of Police as Ibori had accused?
Or did he think weâ€™d forgotten so soon? When he was Chairman of the EFCC, Bode George was one of Obasanjoâ€™s untouchables, period!