This was another “celebrity case” and what I may call another “celebrity sentence”. In Nigeria, it is becoming a norm to give “high profile people/politicians” a soft sentence, for example Tafa Balogun (former Inspector General of Police). This is not the first time neither shall it be the last. Our dear George was given only two and half years imprisonment for his disservice (N85 billion naira fraud) to his motherland. I am sure that if it’s an ordinary Nigerian that committed this crime, he might be given a very long sentence. So sure also that, some people who have spent more than two and half years or more in detention or awaiting trial did not steal up to N1 million naira, but someone that embezzled N85 billion was given only two and half years. This is an indication that, laws are like cobwebs, strong enough to detain the weak and too weak to hold the strong.
I will not question the wisdom of Justice Olubunmi Oyewole in giving two and half years as the punishment for Olabode George, but as an ordinary person, I think that only two and half years might be too small for an offence of this magnitude. I also think that this judgement might be counter productive in that people might not be deterred enough from such offences in the future, knowing that the penalty will not be much. We have to remember that the greatest incitement to crime is the hope of escaping punishment. Also the actions of people like our Olabode George runs contrary to what the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo said, “Don’t enjoy in public office what you cannot legitimately enjoy in your private life” He abused office and public trust.
Nigerians will like to see the plans made by the court to recover the money, because this amount (N85 billion naira) can do a lot in terms of generating electricity or providing direct employment. On the other hand, N85 billion can deny and deprive millions of Nigerians what would have been their means of survival. One wonders why many of our people have taken to crime etc as a means of survival. Many people (Olabode George & Co) are actually responsible for the sufferings of Nigerian masses. He (Olabode George) has nothing to loose. He has retired from the Nigerian Navy and a former governor of Ondo State. Became the deputy national chairman (South West) of Peoples Democratic Party and later chairman of board of directors of Nigerian Ports Authority where the abuse of office took place. Simply speaking, this imprisonment will be a good way for him to start his over due retirement.
This now throws a big challenge to Nigerians, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), our judiciary and our government. Nigerians should keep pressure on the government to be serious with her fight against corruption. I understand the frustration encountered by many people who do not see any serious commitment on the part of the authorities to tackle corruption. Nigerians should never, never give up but rather think of how we as individuals or groups can contribute to the fight against corruption. People should volunteer any information that will support the fight against corruption. Though that majority of corrupt cases emanates from top government offices, Nigerians can still do a lot in this struggle against corruption.
The present situation at home (bad roads, unemployment, fallen educational standards, irregular power supply, high crime rates, etc) should be a recipe for all of us to join the fight against corruption. We should realize that these societal problems mentioned above, have direct or indirect linkages to embezzlement of funds. Do we fold our hands and watch while the country collapses? My answer will be no. Lets say no and continue to say no to corrupt officials. I also understand that Nigerian authorities are partially deaf, that means we have to shout out louder till our voices are heard. Let us also take our case to our law makers and our representatives. Who is representing us/our constituency at the House of Representatives? Does he have any contact address (constituency office, telephone, fax, web addresses etc) it might be a good idea to engage our representatives, perhaps put pressure through them. Good people will emerge or bad ones might be converted through our actions.
Things must work in Nigeria because the alternative will be worst than disaster. Every one has a role to play. Politicians must constantly be reminded not to mess about with the future of millions of Nigerians. Each stolen national wealth sends Nigeria and Nigerians backward. I need to remind Nigerians that there is nothing the civil society cannot do, more especially now that we are in civilian rule in Nigeria. With our join efforts, a lot could be achieved.
The Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) owe Nigerians a duty to seriously and honestly fight crime, irrespective of who is involved. EFCC should strengthen their commission and be able to catch the big fishes. I need to remind them of what President Obama said in Ghana, that Africa needs strong institutions and not strong men. They (EFCC) are trying but Nigerians expects more considering the level of our decay. Without doubts, the EFCC has the resources to carry out their jobs, but they also need the support of Nigerians. But the problem might be on the will power of their leadership. As it is, the EFCC will have no other excuses to give especially now, that our president has promised not to interfere with their duties.
As a way forward, I will suggest the EFCC to increase their surveillance over banks and other financial institutions. The emphasis should be on crime prevention. As you will agree with me that, prevention is better than cure. The EFCC should infiltrate the financial institutions overtly and covertly. The EFCC should initiate legislation were necessary to boost their operations. The law requiring banks to declare certain amount of monetary transactions should be strictly enforced. Nigerians should try as much as possible to volunteer information to the law enforcement agencies. The authorities cannot do their work very well without the public participation and support. I will suggest that the EFCC should undertake training in China as to how best to fight corruption. Chinese experiences might be a useful one.
The Nigerian judiciary remains the last hope of common people. The efforts of our judiciary have gone a long way towards saving our democracy. Examples include judgement that restored Peter Obi (Anambra State governor), Amaechi (Rivers State governor), Adams Oshiomhole (Edo State) etc. Nigerians will appreciate if the same spirit could be applied to deliver judgements on several corrupt cases against former leaders who looted the national treasury. Justice delay is justice denied. In future, let the Nigerian judges draw lessons from how Justice Olubunmi Oyewole discharged Olabode George’s case in record time (14 months), compared to other Nigerian cases. The Nigerian judiciary should also look at how the American judiciary sentenced Bernard Madoff. He was given over hundred years to serve in prison. This will obviously deter people from committing such crimes in future.
The Nigerian government should listen to the yearnings of the people to make corruption a capital offence. Also the Nigerian government should realize that there is one way to restore the confidence of Nigerian people, and that is through political will and absolute determination to get things done. Former British Prime Minister (Margaret Thatcher) is an example of a leader whose determination transformed the United Kingdom. Finally, I wish to appeal to Nigerians to participate and join the fight against global warming. Turn off your electrical appliances/lights when not in use. Plant a tree or sponsor one to plant on your behalf. Government and companies should send less paper work and do more email, telephone, and sms. May God bless Nigeria.
Chinedu Vincent Akuta
An activist and leader of “Support Option A4 Group” Leicester-UK