By Kayode Ketefe
It was a carnival-like celebration last Saturday as hundreds of supporters and well-wishers trooped out in blazing costume to welcome back the former Deputy Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party and one time Chairman of the Nigerian Port Authority, Chief Olabode George, who was being released from Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison, after two years behind the bar. The occasion was such a kaleidoscope of colour and glitz that an onlooker, in ignorance of the real happening, would assume that a President is passing-by in his stately convoy. The carriage and body language of George himself, would do very little to dispel the wrong impression. Decked in a resplendent flowing white agbada in an open-roof exotic tinted Black Jeep, George beamed with supercilious smile and raised up two fingers in a victory sign, reminiscent of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s iconic campaign trademark.
Vociferous crowds in ankara uniforms sang and danced while talking drums provided vocalised accompaniments to the invidious lyrics.
Women were wriggling their waists as youths chanted solidarity songs. Some supporters wore T-shirts, face caps and other insignias with flattering inscriptions like “Here comes our Joseph”; “Messiah of our time has come” to add ‘alluring’ dimensions to the magnificent return. George felt like a president, his besotted elation obviously stemmed from enthralling sight of the mammoth crowd, including many political dignitaries like serving governors and ministers, who had come to receive him.
Certainly, the atmosphere had nothing to suggest that a man convicted of reckless mismanagement of one the federal parastatals in the land had just expiated his crime through punitive incarceration. George had been found guilty in the 68-count charge preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. The offences included fraudulent contract splitting leading to loss of billions of naira and disobedience to lawful order. He was sentenced to 30 month imprisonment by Justice Joseph Oyewole on October 26, 2009. George also lost the bid to have the judgement overturned on appeal as the appellate court, on January, 21, 2011, affirmed the conviction. In a nutshell George had the ample opportunity to present his case which was heard, both in the first instance and on appeal, on its merit and determined by courts of appropriate jurisdiction.
Against this background, it appears that the honour shown to George last Saturday is an eloquent attestation to our miscarriage of moral values in Nigeria. Custodial sanction on convicts is, conceptually, both a punitive instrument as well as a measure of rehabilitation to orientate them towards penitence. People go to prison because they have offended against collective norms and values of the society. Granted that an occasion of freedom for anyone is, invariably appreciated, as it fosters opportunity of reunion with family members and associates, but must we superimpose the sentiments of political affinity above the superior sanctity of our mores and values? Shouldn’t the organisers of the reception have at least feel embarrassed to turn the affairs into a royally carnival given the context? In other civilised lands, somebody in George’s shoes would have openly apologised upon being set at liberty, he would have, perhaps amidst tears flowing from genuine contrition, stated he had the good intention and that the misdeeds would not happen again if entrusted with public office; that he would devote the rest of life to pursuit of virtues. None of this was forthcoming, of course. In a pious tone that soared many octaves high on seeing the solidarity by the crowd, George attributed his ordeal to the handiwork of his political detractors.
Well said, the celebration continued! But the youth are watching; looking for whom to follow, and nobody should blame them if they imbibe wrong ideas through irresponsible deification of negative role models. We should learn to dissociate puerile sentiments from our political culture as it can easily befog our appreciation of more sublime issues.
What made the incident so sad is that it furnished an unhappy feeling of déjà vu- that this shame is fast becoming some sort of enduring political culture. It happened in the case of the former governors of Ekiti, Bayelsa and Plateau states, Ayo Fayose, Diespreye Alamieyeseigha and Joshua Dariye respectively, where offensive spectacles of lavish celebration and fanfare greeted each of their return from prison- having served sentences in expiation of embezzlement of monumental sums of money. The Bode George’s episode is a metaphor of the rot in our socio-political culture; it is a wanton display of moral and ethical insolvency and absolute lack of philosophical integrity.
It is sad that political solidarity in Nigeria, in this age especially, is bereft of any enduring ideological conviction; it is often anchored on petty bonds of ethnicity, religious affiliation, or questionable hero-worship. Little wonders then that the only vision that drives politicians nowadays is that of personal aggrandisement. That is why you would see a man who loses in the primary of one party rushing to join another party to re-contest-nobody is so entrenched in a party’s ideological bent to sacrifice personal aspirations.
But things have to change, and we can start by working to strengthen our democratic institutions all of which are weak at present; and we should endeavour to reduce the intertwining scourges of poverty and ignorance which are at the roots of many of our ridiculous political eccentricities.