Daily Champion (Lagos)

1 November 2009

Nigeria: And the Curtain Falls

analysis

How are the mighty fallen. Finally, the trap has caught a very big one. It was long in coming but justice was finally done as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) strongman of South West politics, Chief Olabode George was sentenced to prison for abuse of office and disobedience to constituted during his tenure as chairman of Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA).

Who could have believed that the near invincible Bode George would appear in court how much more convicted? Ever flamboyant Bode, he came to court with praise singers and had already arranged for a not-guilty-verdict-party somewhere in Lagos. He never believed that he and his co-travellers would be convicted and marched into prison. Bode George was large as military governor of the old Ondo state and strutted the land like a peacock preening itself. He knew no fears as he had connections in the highest places.

A product of the Nigeria Navy where he retired as a Commodore, Bode brooked no opposition and has always sounded as and acted above the law. He once boasted that after he had dealt with Ondo state, the citizens would know that "a Lagos boy was here" Proudly called Omo Eko or 'Lagos boy', Big Boy George as he is fondly called ran whatever institution he found himself as a fiefdom. If Big Boy George has inflated and split contracts at NPA as Justice Olubunmi Oyewole ruled, then one can only imagine what he did to Ondo state coffers when he reigned as military governor (1988-1991).

The defunct African Concord news magazine in its February 11, 1990 edition, published a story titled "Bode George, Governor of Ondo State (1988-1990) - Scandals of an Era" and detailed how the former governor awarded questionable contracts in the old Ondo State. According to the magazine, George's government had an agreement with a company, Trobell International Nigeria Limited, for the purchase of three speedboats for N2 million each.

The speedboats were meant to provide transportation at Igbokoda-Aiyetoro area of Ondo state and were to be of fibre glass tops, steel bodies, double engines and to carry 60 passengers each. But the boats supplied were made of plywood and were alleged to be improvisation of flat barges, used by oil companies to transport equipment.

This is not the first time Bode George has been accused of financial profligacy as PDP supporters in Lagos state, especially, accused him of mismanaging funds meant for the governorship campaign in the 2003 and 2007 elections despite huge sums released for the campaigns. For a man whose dying fortunes were resurrected by Obasanjo's presidency, George remained Obasanjo's prominent foot soldier as he dominated PDP politics in the Southwest.

"No matter who writes the history of Nigeria, even if it is Obasanjo's greatest enemy, would you erase the fact that out of 140 million people, God gave him an opportunity to mange this country three times.... It is not is making," he retorted in an interview. His unalloyed allegiance to Obasanjo was only a survival strategy to feed a hungry belly and massage a bloated ego.

Not averse to controversy, Bode George has marched his navy white jackboots on many, many toes that only those who still feed from his palms are left to mourn his recent ordeal. With Obasanjo in Aso Rock, Bode was well-protected and can afford to swagger and prance across the corridor of power, not just in the Southwest but in Aso Rock.

His present predicament is an indication that he has fallen out of favour with the present power structure; he has served his purpose and must be discarded like a used tissue paper. The garrison commander of Southwest politics who failed to deliver his home state, Lagos, has now been turned a prisoner in his own garrison. What a world.

Many analysts have tried to understand where George got it wrong. After all, what he did in NPA they say, is child's play with what happened in the Ministry of Works under Mr. Fix-It. Or is this a renewed attempt and a new found political will by the present regime to confort corruption head-long?

Whichever it is, Bode George's travails are a silent reminder of how transient power is and how not to use it. Power belongs to the people and should be used to serve the people and improve their welfare. Anything other than this is an anathema sound reasoning and abhorrent to all right-thinking individuals. It is instructive to point out that Uncle George remains just one out of the myriad of public officers who have abused their positions and devoured the public wealth kept in their care.

For a man who has had several brushes with controversies, Bode George refused to learn humility and adapt to a change in the political drummings. His failure to recognize that the farmer that was in Aso Rock has left for his farm in Ota, Ogun state, may have led to his grandstanding and showmanship that his connections, no doubt, will free him.

He underestimated the desire of the present administration to undo the corrupt past which he featured prominently in. That was why he sued TheNews magazine when it broke the story of his financial misdeeds in NPA. Audacious George has never failed to throw his weight around as he savoured the beautiful and expensive things of life. Each political dispensation throws up colourful characters who enliven the polity and provide discussion points, and Chief Bode George is indeed a colourful political character, one who jumped into the fray and never knew when to lay low.

Maybe Lagos boy may learn a lesson in humility and leadership in his incarceration. He should reexamine his tenure in public office and congratulate himself if he really lived up to his oath of office. Or maybe, he may learn nothing. After all his former party leader learnt virtually nothing despite his narrow escape from death while on death row. He still acted like a man on a revenge mission, when he became free.

There is no doubt that whatever becomes of his appeal, Big Boy George will never be the same man again. The wind has been taken off his sails. His sparkling white uniform has been stained. His ego has been deflated and his reputation as an untouchable, in tatters. He may not recover from this. Though he claims that he is being politically persecuted for reasons best known to him, it is evident that he is a victim of his political miscalculations and deceit.

The incaceration of Bode George and others have left many politically exposed individuals with cases in court very frightened of their fate. If it could happen to Big boy George, who then is safe? It may not be business as usual as the polity is in dire straits to shape up or ship out. After George, who next? Maybe the ex-governors who are making laws, writing leadership series and delivering lectures. Who knows.

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