Bode George and the Lagos show of shame

All through last week the mass murder of defenceless civilians protesting lack of freedom in Libya captured the world’s imagination. It has become apparent that Ronald Reagan (God bless his soul) and Margaret Thatcher were very right in regarding Muammar Gadaffi as a mad man unfit to rule a people, the reason why in the 1980s when they were in power respectively in the United States and the United Kingdom they tried to dislodge him from power.

The initial intention was to give the Libya uprising the attention it eminently deserves but that would have been ‘Afghanistanism’ that Nigerian writers and columnists took recourse to in the early 1990s when it was safe only to comment on issues happening outside the shores of Nigeria for fear of repression from the then military dictatorship.

On Friday last week, Lagos was virtually shut down. There was no movement. Traffic was very tight. Some people didn’t get home until the wee hours of Saturday. The cause was a simple natural phenomenon that is as old as the universe itself. Because it rained heavily in the city, it seemed as if a natural disaster had occurred.

Despite the great strides he has made in Lagos, traffic hold-ups and poor drainages remain major challenges in the state. Federal roads in Lagos are even worse that state roads. A good example is the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway which links the nation’s busiest airport, Murtala Muhammed International Airport to the Apapa wharf, Nigeria’s gateway to the maritime world. Road users in Lagos and elsewhere in Nigeria go through nightmare because of the obscenities the likes of Bode George unleash on the country. When they are in positions of authority, they steal both the fruit and the seed so that tomorrow will not be assured, the reason why contracts awarded to construct or rehabilitate roads never get executed.

On Saturday just after the Friday gridlock, the ruling PDP, in an election year, chose to insult the sensibilities of Nigerians. Live on television was a thanksgiving service for a convicted thief, Bode George, who was driven straight from prison to church. Before then, thousands of PDP members waited outside Kirikiri prison in Lagos to receive Bode George. Bode George, a retired naval commodore, was national vice chairman of the PDP for Southwest when Olusegun Obasanjo was president. He was also chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), a position from where he soiled his hands to prison.

The only recent comparison to the kind of carnival that heralded Bode George’s release from prison after completing his jail term, was the reception and thanksgiving service organized in honour of former President Olusegun Obasanjo on May 29, 2007 in Abeokuta after he handed over power to the late President Umaru Yar’Adua on that day. He had governed the country for eight years and it was expected that he and his people needed to thank God for seeing him through Aso Rock.
When freedom fighters or prisoners of conscience are released from prison, there is normally wild jubilation. There is carnival, there is conviviality. There is thanksgiving and the people will be united in outpouring of emotion like when Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 in South Africa.

But what was the thanksgiving service at Cathedral Church of Christ, Marina, Lagos for? George and five others were on October 26, 2009 sentenced to two years in prison without an option of fine by Justice Joseph Oyewole of the Ikeja High Court for abuse of office and award of N100bn contract without due process when he was chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). In a nutshell he was jailed for misappropriating NPA’s money.

So why did Obasanjo grace the occasion? For a man who set up the EFCC that prosecuted George, his presence in the church on Saturday was confounding. And what point did President Goodluck Jonathan want to prove by dispatching one of his ministers, Kayode Adetokunbo to attend? One may not bother about the presence of other PDP stalwarts. Everyone knows that it is a party that has underdeveloped Nigeria and has continued to trample on Nigerians because of the lack of unity among the opposition parties. The physical presence of Obasanjo and that of Jonathan by proxy at the show of shame is a great disservice to Nigeria and Nigerians.

The PDP right from when Obasanjo was president has been known for impunity but this one has been taken to a ridiculous level. What moral right will the Jonathan administration have to preach the need for honesty to young men who may want to go into crime? What incentive does the government have for thousands of Nigerians who engage in honest living if a looter of public treasury could be celebrated so brazenly, so openly?

And to make matters worse, Bode George appears not to have learnt anything from his prison experience. The words of Venerable Tayo Aduloju, who officiated at the church service did not make any meaning to him. The clergyman had admonished him in his homily: “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. It does not belong to PDP. It does not belong to any president. 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.”

But talking with journalists later in his Ikoyi, Lagos residence after the church service, George boasted “Now there is a job at hand for us to win Lagos State… President Goodluck Jonathan will be around on Tuesday (March 1), we have to cause Tsunami in Lagos so that other parties will get the jitters.” Does this man not think that Nigerians are fools?

The logical impact of the tacit official endorsement accorded to the Saturday show of shame in Lagos will negatively affect Nigeria’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI), from which Transparency International annually ranks countries on corruption. That should be expected. How can the government convince anybody that Nigeria is serious about fighting corruption with what happened on Saturday in Lagos?

In traditional African society, when a man was caught stealing, he would be paraded through the market square with jeers and boos after which he is isolated in his house. Generations of his family will bear the shame and such a person will never rise to say anything in public. In most cases, the psychological trauma of the public odium arising from such a transgression could drive the person to early grave. That happened in the years of innocence when people had a sense of shame but not anymore. An ex-convict leaves prison, drives to church in a motorcade like a triumphant war general and celebrates with the leaders of the country. This is an abomination.

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