Of Bode George, Crime and Punishment
Have you gone to visit the Mandela of our land?' 'Who? The Madiba is around?' 'Who is talking about Nelson Mandela? I mean, Oga Bode, the atona oodua, PDP chieftain, former Chairman of the Nigeria Ports Authority, La-go-s Bo-y?'
'Ex-convict plenipotentiary and extraordinary, graduate of Kirikiri maximum'
'Be careful. Don't talk like that. You say he is an ex-convict but the day he came out of prison, every important man in his party came to worship with him in the House of God. Have you not heard his supporters saying he is the Mandela of Nigeria and that he is also the Obafemi Awolowo of the 21st century.'
'I heard all that nonsense. Pure blasphemy; an intelligent person should be able to spot the differences. The Mandela Foundation and the Awolowo Foundation should put out disclaimers.'
'Mandela went to prison and returned, Awolowo was also jailed, and when he came back his supporters hailed and celebrated him. Like Mandela and Awolowo, Bode George came back from prison and was received by a tumultuous crowd wearing aso ebi. It was all on live television.'
'The more reason the foolishness of the Bode George welcome party should be exposed. Mandela and Awolowo were prisoners of conscience. Bode George was jailed for corruption. Mandela and Awolowo went to jail because of their principled opposition to tyranny. For abusing public funds, Bode George was found guilty of sabotaging the people's interest.'
'Which people? Are they not the same people who went to Kirikiri to escort him out of prison, all clad in aso ebi, white, blue and lemon T-shirts bearing the man's image, they arrived at the prison gates by 6 am; with posters bearing the inscription: 'George, Joseph of our time'.
'A rented crowd if you ask me. Given the level of poverty in Nigeria, people can be hired to do anything, including weeping for a fee at a stranger's funeral, standing in as a parent at a wedding, or filling a vacuum as a husband services provider, anything is possible in Nigeria these days, and it has to do with the level of moral degeneracy. We have lost it. There is no country.'
'Oh come on, there is a country, be careful, you can be charged for treason. But are you trying to suggest that Obasanjo was also rented and the PDP Governors and the Minister of Defence who represented the President at the occasion?'
'I think it is a shame that Obasanjo had to travel from Abeokuta to come and dance with Bode George in Lagos. I thought Obasanjo was the chief campaigner against corruption in the land. President Goodluck Jonathan promised that his administration will sustain the war against corruption. But he sent a representative to receive Bode George. On Tuesday, the man was in the VIP stand at the President's campaign rally in Lagos. Had it not been that people raised a storm over the singing and dancing over Bode George's return, the man would have been asked to make a speech at that rally. Our leaders are hypocrites. And I worry about the kind of message we are sending to the youths of this country.'
''The young people will understand.'
'Understand what? That it pays to steal public funds, and gain a hero's welcome? You know even the newspapers have been part of this moral crisis. They have been granting space to Bode George, with him boasting that he will reposition his mind and serve his party normally, and that the PDP is going to cause a 'tsunami' in Lagos 'so that other parties will get the jitters'. If he wants to reposition his mind away from the crime that took him to prison fine, but if he wants to cause a tsunami, then he apparently has not learnt any lesson from his punishment.'
'I recall the priest at the Cathedral Church of Christ, Marina, told him to go and sin no more. In his sermon titled 'A Minister and a witness', Ven. Tayo Aduloju told Bode George: 'if you are involved in any shady deal, if you are found anywhere elections are rigged, and partake in any form of manipulation, it means you have not learnt anything from your experience. Real power belongs to God…As from today, you are expected to represent Christ. You are an ambassador of Christ. Never again will the name of God be soiled through you.'
'Apparently Bode George was not listening. And I guess nobody in the church listened to that sermon. The celebrant of the day went straight from the church to address journalists at his Ikoyi residence and he told them he will lead his party in Lagos to cause a tsunami. That is Aduloju's Ambassador of Christ!'
'You know oftentimes, these churches are part of the problem. Do you know whether the church was paid for the use of its premises? If you paid for the use of a church, you can afford to ignore the sermon.'
'I don't believe that. It is the duty of the church to save lost souls and rehabilitate sinners.'
'I hear you. Didn't the Cathedral Church of Christ collect offerings from Bode George and his rich guests? Don't be surprised if one of these days, the man buys a brand new vehicle for the church to show his appreciation.'
'I am willing to give the Cathedral, the Minister and the witness, the benefit of the doubt. The whole idea of imprisonment is not to destroy but to reform and re-integrate into society.'
'Well, that homecoming party for Bode George wasn't a case of rehabilitation. It was sheer hypocrisy. Have you not heard some of his friends mouthing the nonsense that he was not found guilty of corruption but that he went to jail for helping his friends with public resources. Who has ever heard of anything so silly? It beats me hollow to think that there are people in this country who may in fact be planning dinner parties for Bode George.'
'With the hue and cry over his welcome party, nobody will try that.'
'Suppose they do. The man I pity in all of this, is the judge who convicted Bode George and five others; Justice Bunmi Oyewole. If it were in another country, he would have left town. He has just been told by Bode George and his friends that he did wrong. More pitiful is the use of the paraphernalia of state authority to serenade Bode George. And yet if that man has to fill any form tomorrow, he will have to fill that embarrassing portion that says: have you ever been convicted for an offence?'
'He will answer yes and no. But in any case, it doesn't matter, I understand that one of these days, the President will grant him and the others state pardon. And he can keep his national honour too.'
'The five others? Did they also organize parties wherever they are?'
'You know, once upon a time in this same country, if a man goes to jail, when he is released, he will not dare show his face in public again. He may relocate to another town and change his identity. But these days, when people return from prison, even for something as shameful as this one, they stage a song and a dance. It is the ultimate contempt for the state.'
'I hear warders at Kirikiri are unhappy. Something has gone wrong with our prison system. I gather that when warders have a Very Important Prisoner in their care, they are excited. They know the VIP will be generous to them, and his guests even more. Do you have any proof that Bode George ever wore a prison uniform?'
'I read that he was holding court in prison. And he never tasted prison food. Even the warders gathered to send him forth. His exit for them is actually a loss of revenue and patronage.'
'But really that should not shock you. There is one Reverend King who is on death row, I hear he lives like a king behind bars. Recently, his birthday was openly celebrated by his followers and church members. There was this man who was found with fresh human skulls, around Oshodi, Clifford Orji; who has ever heard about him again? He probably left prison and returned to normal life. Don't be surprised that Al Mustapha and co will also one day be released and they too will stage a carnival like Bode George's. There was also one 419 fellow who was in prison for about two years and during the period his wife gave birth to a baby, who looked like his carbon image. Made from prison! It makes me lose faith in the country.'
'We live in a country where only the man who gets caught is considered a thief, and if you play ball, you won't get caught. And if you get caught, and you are big enough, you can escape the long arms of the law. Come to think of it, if I may play the Devil's advocate though, I mean let's give the Devil its due, Bode George is still a lot better than other big men who were convicted in recent times. He served his jail term like a proud soldier. He didn't opt for plea bargain like some people. He didn't proclaim an emergency sickness that will require him to serve his term in a five-star hospital. I mean, even among prisoners, there are men of honour.'
'I can't claim to understand your drivel'.
'I am trying to reposition my mind, like Bode George's. Look at it this way, some of the people who are even condemning him are hypocrites. Do they know who amongst them will also one day end up in Kirikiri?'
'Your wahala. Let's find something else to talk about jare. We are here belly-aching while Bode George is probably at home holding court and planning the 'tsunami' of 2011 polls. And certainly there will be a budget for that too, and you and I are not his friends.'
'Another N100 billion?'
'Or more. And soon of course, there will be a book on his travails: Bode George: From Prison to Glory; and a Yoruba movie: 'Ipadabo Atona Oodua' (The Return of the Oodua Pathfinder).'
'When a people make a mockery of their own justice administration system, they encourage impunity to fester.'
'Hey. Ha be-erh- gi. You are beginning to sound like that priest at the Cathedral, and the judge who jailed George.'
By Ruben Abati