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BANKOLE AND THE ANTICLIMAX OF POWER

By NBF News
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Has the immediate past Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole bitten more than he can chew? Has he stepped on powerful toes or is his ordeal one of the routine experiences leaders who occupy juicy offices often go through in the country when they are out of power?

The above are definitely some of the questions agitating the minds of critical observers since the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arrested the Ogun State born former Speaker. His arrest barely 24 hours after he left office has further put a question mark on the integrity of the leadership of the lower chamber of the National Assembly even though he is presumed innocent until proved guilty.

But from whatever angle one looks at the travails of Bankole, the truth is that the man, hitherto considered the most powerful lawmaker in the Green chamber is in the eye of the storm. His predicament has shown once again that occupying a position of authority in Nigeria may be easy but the challenge actually lies in leaving such office with one's integrity still intact.

Though the 41 year old politician continues to wear his trademark smile even while being arraigned in court by the EFCC, there is no gainsaying that he is currently swimming in turbulent waters. Many believe that even if he survives the ongoing crisis, he has had enough embarrassment that would haunt him until eternity.

But for followers of events in the country, what is happening to Bankole is not strange because according to E.C Mckenzie in his book, 14,000 quips and quotes for writers and speakers, 'nowadays, a man goes into politics with a bright future and comes out with a horrible past'. It calls for reflection that a man who used to call the shots in a strategic institution like the House of Representatives has suddenly become an object of pity and amusement. But where did the former Speaker go wrong?

Unofficial sins
As is common in Nigeria, there are insinuations in many quarters that Bankole in the course of his stewardship bit more than he can chew. Even though he is considered a smart politician, critical observers argue that it would be preposterous to imagine that after leaving office, he would just walk home free without blemish. Many reasons account for this permutation.

It would not be forgotten in a hurry that the former speaker was initially reluctant to join the bandwagon of power brokers who fought for the emergence of Jonathan as President when his predecessor, late Umaru Yar'Adua was incapacitated by pericaditis, a disease of the heart. Many argue that unlike the Senate President, David Mark, who was fast to play ball with the Jonathan camp, it took time before the former Speaker supported the controversial confirmation of the President to take over from his then ailing predecessor. In the estimation of critical observers, this may be a payback time for not being the 'good boy' when it mattered most.

There is another school of thought which also thinks that Bankole's party, the PDP is not amused by his veiled support for Aminu Tambuwal to succeed him. The thinking is that as somebody who had occupied such a high-ranking seat in a government controlled by the ruling party, it would be considered a serious offence for him to have worked against the collective decision of the party hierarchy. Many argue that supporting Tambuwal is tantamount to anti-party activity and Bankole should be made to pay for his sins.

Some even stretch the argument further that the former Speaker's support for Tambuwal was to ensure that his tracks while in office are well covered. There is also another group which argues that before Bankole left office, he did not have a healthy relationship with the chairman of EFCC, Mrs Farida Waziri. The former Speaker was once quoted as having referred to the anti-corruption agency headed by Waziri as a toothless bulldog. Those in this school of thought believe that it is time for the anti-graft czar to prove to the former Speaker that the agency can actually bite.

But many are waiting to see what will come out of the ongoing trial of Bankole. While some think the EFCC's action was in order, others insist that the current predicament of Bankole is politically motivated. For instance, reacting to the development, former Ogun State governor, Olusegun Osoba summarized it thus:

'I am not happy with the way they have handled Dimeji Bankole. We should stop this primitive way of handling things. The young man said he would report on Monday, why run after him and grab him on Sunday.

'What is wrong in interrogating him in his house? You can even put him under house arrest. It is becoming a norm that you must disgrace people. 'I am not in support of corruption, but our laws say you are innocent until proven guilty. Must we continue with the culture of Tafa Balogun? Dragging Tafa Balogun on the floor, to prove what? I am not saying there should be double standard.

'What applies to Bankole must apply to the ordinary person in this country. Let us be decent in the way and manner we handle our criminal investigation and the way we treat people who are on trial for whatever reason. I am totally upset and I don't like the way they have treated Bankole. 'If EFCC is now saying we need time to investigate, if we leave him, he will interfere, it shows a level of lack of confidence in their ability to do thorough investigation.

Osoba reasoned that there was a political angle to the ordeal the former speaking is passing through adding that, 'their game plan was to arrest Bankole on Sunday, as a signal to destabilize members of the House, voting the way of their conscience on Monday. I have that suspicion. I am not saying that I have concrete evidence to support my position.

'You pick a man in the eve of electoral process in the Representatives and I heard rumour that they were even laying ambush for Tambuwal at the entrance of the National Assembly.'That was why you found him, a Fulani man in a South South bowler hat, why must you be that crude? So, I do not put it past the PDP in power to have politicized the Bankole issue, which is clear now. They are beginning to politicize it. Take for example, the voters in the House of Representatives, I was there. What was supposed to be open secret ballot system, you now insisted that they must put their names and their constituencies in order to be able to identify who voted for whom'.

But irrespective of the direction of arguments by the different schools of thought, the question is: are there really concrete facts bordering on fraud against the former Speaker?

Allegations against Bankole
He was accused of colluding with some people at large to increase the cost of purchasing Samsung television sets, HP computers, Digital Copiers, two units of Range Rover Bullet Proof vehicles and three units of Mercedez S-600 cars among others. The offences were said to be contrary to section 58(4)(a) of the Public Procurement Act punishable under section 58(5) of the same law.

He was also accused of colluding with other people whose names were not disclosed, and with intent to defraud, rigged the bid for the purchase of 100 units of sharp digital Copier 5316 by refusal to follow all the procedures prescribed for public procurement in sections 17 to 56 of the Public Procurement Act No. 14 of 2007, leading to a loss of value to the national treasury.

The EFCC further alleged that the former Speaker and other principal officers of the House responsible for the approval of contracts, conspired among themselves to inflate the cost of 800 units of Desktop Computers by approving the purchase of the item at N330,000 per unit, instead of the prevailing market price of N160,000 per unit.

The former Speaker is facing 33 charges at different courts.

In the new charges, Bankole and his then deputy, Nafada are being accused of committing criminal breach of trust by allegedly conspiring to approve the allowances and running cost of members of the House of Representatives in violation of the approved Remuneration Package for Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders by the Revenue Mobilisation allocation and Fiscal Commission and the extant Revised Financial Regulations of the Federal Government of Nigeria, 2009.

In the course of investigating Bankole and Nafada, the EFCC had grilled the Clerk of the National Assembly (CNA), Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa and Clerk of the House, Sani Omolori.

Already, spokesman of the EFCC, Femi Babafemi, confirmed that the submissions of both Clerks have sufficiently indicted the former Speaker and his deputy, Nafada.