My conviction was political – Bode George
Chief Olabode Ibiyinka George served as Board Chairman of Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) from 1999 to 2003. In August 2003, talking of plans to privatizs port operations, he said: “The illusion that the NPA is a buoyant and bottomless source of funds, which has encouraged a culture of care freeness in the handling of contracts and materials, the unwarranted external influences to procure materials and equipment that are not required for our operations needs, lack of proper stock taking and modern store management procedures, the poor maintenance and management of our assets, all these must give way to harsh realities of our new role.”
In August 2008, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arrested George in Lagos and arraigned him and four others on a 163 count-charge of conspiracy, disobedience to lawful order, abuse of office and alleged illegal award of contracts worth N84 billion while he was Chairman of the NPA Board. During the trial, EFCC reduced the charges to 63.
In October 2009, Bode George – as he is fondly called by friends and associates – was found guilty and sentenced to jail for 30 months. The sentence was handed out by Justice Joseph Olubunmi Oyewole, who found the defendants guilty on 47 out of the 68 counts. The total sentences added up to 28 years but the counts for disobedience to lawful order were ruled to run concurrently for six months, and the counts for contract splitting then to run concurrently for two years.
In this interview, the controversial politician tells the story of his imprisonment, which he attributes to politics.
Let’s start by looking at why you always say there can never be peace in a state of injustice. Something must have informed that?
I will look at what has informed it in two folds: One, from my own experience and, two, from the Holy Book. The Bible says, first of all, that when the righteous people are in government, there will be progress and there will be peace. But if you have it reversed and you have the evil one in government, there won’t be peace. And so I have looked at it from my experience, to see that once there is no justice in the land, anywhere, there will never be peace.
We don’t need to go too far to understand the depth of what I’m saying where you have people who are to manage the resources for the betterment of the people, who are entrusted with the management of the resources and what you find in return is acquisition; senseless acquisition; thoughtless acquisition. Nobody came into this world with any mansion and nobody will go back with any mansion. So, whatever it is that you have, when you have few that is okay and there are people at the baseline, who can’t even think of what to do, where to go, how to get there, yet you are privileged to put things in place to better their lot and you fail to do so, it is injustice to the people and there can’t be peace under such situation.
Take the Arab Spring scenario for instance. Remember it started in Tunisia and I have been to that country where they had a very powerful civilian president who was totalitarian. In fact, the fear of his name alone was the beginning of wisdom. It took just the anger in a young graduate who struggled and could not get a job. And he bought a cart, pulling it and selling wears; and then the Police came, arrested him and took the cart away from him. Just like what you see in the streets of Lagos. And he became angry and frustrated. He was really angered by that and he poured petrol on himself and set himself on fire. That was the beginning of the Arab Spring and it hasn’t died down.
I am saying this to the privileged, wealthy Nigerians. Let us be our brothers’ keepers. The masses are getting to a point that it will be difficult to tolerate what is happening.
Don’t you see the hands of the Federal Government in the things that can push Nigerians to this point?
People are always looking at President Jonathan as being responsible for these problems. They say,’ ah, Jonathan has not done this, he has not done that’.He cannot do everything. What he is supposed to do to every state and every local government, he has done every month; sharing the resources for the benefit of the people at the local governments and states. It is left to the people at the state level to ensure that they lift up the people under their care, same at the local governments. So many of them are doing it but some are not.
For instance, in my state (Lagos), how many scholarships are being instituted for the children of the under-privileged? You seized their motorcycles, you drove them away from their means of livelihood. What alternatives have you provided for them or are they not supposed to live? But you are there because those people voted for you to manage their resources for them. They are your leaders, not you their leader. You are a servant-leader. But what are the people getting?
You see, a tree cannot make a forest. In the old Yoruba parlance, they say Oba kan otosi mejila (meaning, one king 12 poor). No, that is not the essence of living. And unless there is a deliberate policy of the government of the state to lift the standard of living of the people, they are heading for hell that will come.
We have most of the best governors whose states are making good money turning their states into paradise. Go to Akwa Ibom, go to Rivers, Delta.
And the Federal Government is implementing SURE-P. What is my state (Lagos) doing? Making life impossible for the people? Is that why they voted for you? If somebody entrusted you to manage the resources on his behalf and you now turn around to make the man a slave, even if you can get away with it because of judicial rascality, God will not allow you to do it.
2013 is a track balancing year before we head on to 2015. Everybody must have a thorough retrospection that no, “Is this right? Will I be able to defend this before my creator?” What about those who contorted the so-called NPA case against us?
And what about that? I mean what is your true story, because the NPA issue has remained a subject of argument despite the striking out of your appeal on the judgment?
It would be a subject of argument because we were charged. Now we have taken our case to the people because, vox populi vox Dei, the voice of the people is the voice of God.
What were we charged for? What were the charges? One, that we disobeyed Federal Government circular. There is no criminal law against that at the Fderal level. Our enemies provided their own law in Lagos State that we disobeyed Federal Government circular and so a law made by Lagos State House of Assembly was now applied against us; Federal officers, part-time chairman of NPA. I disobeyed Federal Government circular? Isn’t that a joke? Even the State Attorney-General, Dapo Sasore, who is married to my cousin, now gave the then Federal Attorney-General, Andoakaa, fiat to try Bode George.
The second charge was that we split contract. In his judgment, he said, yes, he agreed that we didn’t do it directly but vicariously that we gave the people the plan of what we wanted, that they did it in a department and to the Board. The man who presented the memo to the board was not even arrested. The contractors were not brought. Nobody was brought to say, yes, we benefited from the contract or any of the members who owned the company. But in their judicial wisdom, we were sent to jail. Let Nigerians judge.
I was in civil service for over a quarter of a century, over 25 years. I served at a high level and retired as a General (Commodore in the Navy). I have been in public service all my years. I had a lot of exposure, thanks to this beautiful country that gave me the opportunity to have been to so many colleges; internationally renowned colleges, to know what formulation and execution of policies are all about. I had managed a state at that level to understand the legislative arm of a federated system. The State Assembly made a law for their public officers. But Lagos State Judiciary, Oyewole in particular, now expanded that public officers to mean Federal public officers. Is NPA under Lagos State Government? So, tomorrow, this same Oyewole can be arraigned in Sokoto on the laws made by Sokoto State and be put in prison. Let them think. And as long as there is injustice in the land, there would never be peace.
They wanted to drown Bode George. The political achievement that I have garnered which they are envying me for is as a result of a mission, not my personal mission. We will liberate our people from the hands of these people.
But before we get off this, the Federal Government circular in question, which they said you disobeyed, what was it actually about?
The circular was about the expenditure level. There was a law; 1991 Decree where the Managing Director of NPA, barring all other process in his office, can award up to N10 million; the Executive Directors can award up to N5 million; all of them sitting together as management can award up to N20 million or N25 million and then the Board N50 million. They now said there was a circular in 2001 which never came to us because it bore the stamp of the Federal Ministry of Water Resources. If it was meant for NPA, it would bear the stamp of the Federal Ministry of Transport and the Minister of Transport by the Act of NPA is the legitimate Minister who can direct the NPA because the NPA is not just an organ, it is like transient parastatal. After NNPC, NPA is next.
This is the same parastatal we put in place, conceptualised and recommended the new operational scheme; where there is a concession, given to established companies to manage the operations of the terminals on behalf of the NPA. The amount of money the NPA makes from that operation from little inputs is almost one thousand percent of what they were making before we did it; the same Board. Today, we are being vilified. Today we are culprits because they said we split contract. Which contract?
The Board’s minutes are so clear: Some firms were recommended to be awarded the contract but we gave the job to the company that quoted the lowest. We didn’t cut it into two. So he (Oyewole) said ‘vicariously’. There was no proof of any benefit. He just pronounced us guilty because we must be sent to prison. Yes, they think they achieved their aim but they are not God. And God is God of vengeance.
But I, personally, because when they criminalise your name, they label you, they want to sink you. They didn’t create me. They didn’t create my family. They should go into record and find out ‘Who is Bode George?’ ‘Where does he come from?’ Both from my father and mother in this Lagos, let them find out their names.
But what happened when you were said to be celebrating criminality upon your release from prison and the whole place was agog just for you? They said you mobilised people. Realising it was in the course of politics that you had the problem, what is your reaction to that and did that in any way demoralise you from wanting to continue to play in the field?
What is criminal in what I did? How could I have mobilised them? The people knew the truth. The News magazine was the first to come out that Bode George was involved in N100 billion contract scam. We sued them but we didn’t know that was the beginning. Nobody will plant evil and reap goodness. You will not plant cassava and reap cocoa yam. What you plant you will reap.
We have gone and come back. We are taking our case now before the Nigerian people. Some of my friends like Dele Sobowale who wrote a lot of scraps about the story; scrap! I’m so sorry for him. I’m saying this in the public now. When I read his report in his column when I was in prison, I shed tears for him, that ah, Et tu Brute, You too, Dele Sobowale! You who know my background? You who know where I come from and yet you got sunk into this nonsense bunch of people? Have they been able to help him?
You are Atona Oodua, crying woes of marginalisation by Federal Government under President Goodluck Jonathan. As a man at the centre of activities up there, where do you think things got wrong and what is the way out?
You know we are where we are because it is self-inflicted. Nobody created it for us. Jonathan did not create it but we created the madness. We played God and nobody plays God and survives. I believe that we have learnt our lesson. The fake Awoists led by Bola Tinubu who suddenly took over and said they were playing Yoruba politics, they don’t even understand who the Yorubas are.
Knowing from the background of what those founding fathers – Papa Awolowo, Papa Ajasin, Anthony Enahoro and all those others – conceptualised in 1951 in Owo, Ondo State; that template that was unveiled at that time is as good today as it was at that time. These guys don’t even understand what democracy is all about.
What is democracy?
It is the management of the resources for the benefit of the people because, democratising means allowing people to choose, allowing people to vote for you to manage their resources and affairs on their behalf. Everybody can’t be manager. Many people go to campaign and they think you are the best candidate who can give them what they want and so they picked you by votes.
But people have now learnt that reverse is the case. Are these people voted into power really managing the resources for the benefits of those people? People have now seen that they are only managing the resources for their own benefits. You can see their acquired mansions; the turns and turns of houses and landed properties, acquiring A, B, C D all over the place. Here in Lagos for instance, they have been acquiring facilities that are meant for the benefits of the people. What happened to the Nursing Hostel? What happened to the land that was supposed to be used for General Hospital for the Lekki Peninsular people? Have they built a General Hospital on the Lekki belt? Bola has acquired them. To do what? How many scholarships have they given to people? To me, people are getting impatient because we have a lot of highly educated people. No scholarship, no bursary, the university fees are shot into the sky, the children of the poor –and he came from that background – have no future. That is injustice and then how can there be peace?
Everybody just shout Jonathan. What is Jonathan’s business about Lagos State? If he does not give them their allocation on a monthly basis, then you can screw him up. Promptly they get their allocations.
When the EFCC Chairman at that time, Mrs Farida Waziri, said her major achievement was that she sent Bode George to jail, what was your feeling and reaction?
I laughed at her. Now she is out of office. If she is strong enough and she is bold enough, let her come for a debate. Now we go to the public domain. Achievement? We have records of what she did.
Why was she removed unceremoniously from office? She convicted Bode George and she thought that’s a pride? Intellectually, morally, we can’t meet. She went to War College from the Police. The fellow who was her teacher there was my own student. I didn’t even know this woman until she met me and introduced herself to me in the Villa. Now she is no longer there. Let her come for a debate, public debate to discuss this issue.
I told you that the report now is in public domain.
Let them go and read the judgment and the charges. I now know that someday they will go to one state, use the law there to prosecute and put her in the cooler. She is lucky that President Jonathan is a coolheaded leader who is godly and so doesn’t want to witch-hunt people. Mrs. Hillary Clinton, as the United States of America’s Secretary of State, came to Nigeria and publicly said that these are not the kinds of character that should be in that office. Wasn’t that what she said?
About Andoakaa, the American government also joined issues with him and they withdrew the visa, which they gave him. The SAN (Senior Advocate of Nigeria) body disrobed him. Did I cause that? He sat down there as the chief law officer of the Federation and now subverted the law of this country. Because I was a part-time chairman of a Federal parastatal, because my greatest enemy politically is in Lagos, they now brought me, made a law and then Sasore, who is married to my cousin, now decided to give Andoakaa fiat to prosecute me and he went ahead to do so. What a charade!
I’m saying it publicly now because all the reports are in the public domain! They are not going to gain anything. What we do today will judge us tomorrow. I have gone and I’ve come back and they have not reduced one pin from me. But I would say it, I would mention it and I would shout it on the rooftop so that the future generation will know those who are genuinely interested in the upliftment of this country.
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