Since the BIG news broke, I have been agonising. I don’t know whether I should consider this as a victory, justice, retribution, or insult. Like many Nigerians, home and abroad who heard or read the news of Bode George and his co-conspirators’ conviction and sentencing, the news was met with mixed feelings.
On the one hand, I was actually happy and felt good to know that a man of Bode George’s standing and calibre in Nigerian society and politics, could be convicted in our corruption-ridden judiciary, coupled with the normal inevitable bungling of the law enforcement agencies involved in his investigation and prosecution, knowing what we know of how they have been deliberately bungling the prosecution of the biggest thief of them all, James Ibori (pardon me for the name-calling, but this is the mildest phrase I can use for him here)
On the other hand, I, like many Nigerians felt aggrieved at the size of the punishment, that is, sentencing to only 30 months imprisonment, stealing billions of our money, Nigeria’s money, that belongs to you and I, that is meant to develop our country, that is meant to alleviate or poverty and other problems. We all feel that the punishment is not commensurate with the crime, for indeed, stealing of public funds is one big crime in most parts of the world, but maybe not in Nigeria. We really need good and severe examples to be made in Nigeria in the fight against corruption. We perhaps need to see some blood (not necessarily the human blood, but maybe stiffer sentences and punishments) that will endure as deterrents.
Truth be told, many of us would like to see the likes of Bode George, Peter Odili, many Northern ex-and present Governors, some former Heads of State and Presidents and Vice-Presidents, civil servants, etc, lined up against a wall and shot, but we will not get that wish in a very long time, not as long as their cabal of evil still run the roost over our lives and country. No, we won’t get that wish. Also, I don’t think we are that blood-thirsty, though I believe it is about time we got sanguine about this.
Look at it this way. Since Yar ‘Adua was elected in May 2007, the corruption war has waned, what with a corrupt Attorney General and Minister for Justice in charge of fighting the same corruption; what with corrupt ex-Governors still calling the shots, either in the background in the seat of power or in the legislative arms of government; what with these thieves calling the shots in their respective states.
In fact, in Bode George’s case, it is a widely held belief that he was only convicted and sentenced because he was an ex-Obasanjo man who had fallen out of favour with the current PDP-led Government. If he had been in the good books of current PDP top hierarchy, like Ibori is, Bode George would not even be arraigned in court, would he?
The Bode George saga has made me take a very deep look at the issues of the rule of law, crime, justice and punishment in Nigeria.
The rule of law may very well prevail in Nigeria on paper, but in practice a quite different picture emerges - one of arbitrary arrest, incompetence and indifference. This begs the question as to whether Nigeria is a democracy. We are not confronted here with a few rotten apples spoiling the contents of the barrel but with a system which tolerates corruption, where massive bribery, embezzlement, looting and pure, unadulterated incompetence and mismanagement of funds meant for the public are accepted oiling of the machinery and where an appropriate ethos of professional pride is entirely lacking.
Citizens, whatever their faults, should not be regarded as prey, as easy game. Criminals, in this case, corrupt government officials, should not be allowed to wander about unpunished. A remedy must be found.
As we know and have experienced thousands of time, not everyone is equal before the law in Nigeria. The lust for gain and the lack of brakes on the exercise of power on the part of the government and the law enforcement agents have always been a recipe for disaster. Yet another flagrant abuse supplied to me on an anecdotal basis concerns an infamous local part-time political thug and part-time armed robber in a small town in South Eastern Nigeria. Everyone knew him, as he drove around in brand new cars, rubbing the noses of law-abiding citizens in the sad truth that crime does pay with his conspicuous and arrogant display of prosperity. When he was finally arrested, he faced the prospect of serving a lengthy sentence. The narrator of the tale bumped into him before he was taken into custody, and quizzed him over whether he was worried that his beautiful cars might be stolen whilst he was doing time. The reply came that it did not matter, as he would be free within a couple of days. His prediction was correct: a few days later he indeed resumed his normal routine, cruising through the dusty streets.
When I was growing up in South West Nigeria, most people believe that judges are honourable people. Unfortunately, nowadays, we’re ruled by laws that are controlled by those who hold power over us. Furthermore, the judicial system that we placed so much faith in isn’t set up to protect our rights. It’s controlled by people who have turned the system into a racket that benefits the politicians, the elite and the crooked, not the people.
Corruption in the judiciary damages a range of development goals: it denies poor people access to justice, it undermines the credibility of the political leadership, and it makes the country insecure for economic investment. Corruption occurs in numerous guises – bribery, nepotism, and influence trading – and affects different parts of the judicial process. Pliant prosecutors, judges and court staff may ignore criminal acts of corruption or have them improperly dismissed. Relevant evidence may conveniently disappear, or prison sentences curiously reduced. Corrupt appointments, promotions, and disciplinary actions mean that justice sector staff may be ill-equipped to handle complex cases, including those involving international corruption.
Corruption, dishonesty and unethical behaviour amongst public officials represent very serious threats to the basic principles and values of government, undermining confidence in the democratic process and threatening to erode the rule of law.
Incidentally and ironically, Transparency International, in a report published a few years ago reported that despite widespread problems with corruption in Africa, especially Zimbabwe, there are examples in Nigeria where trial times have been improved and judges are more rigorously screened before being appointed.
At the time, the report made a number of recommendations to strengthen judicial independence and combat corruption:
• Judicial appointments should be made by independent bodies
• Judges should be appointed on merit
• Judicial salaries should reflect experience and performance
• Judges should be liable to prosecution if corruption is suspected
• Allegations against judges should be investigated by an independent body
• Judges should be removed or transferred in a transparent manner according to fair standards
The above recommendations, if adopted by our various governments in Nigeria would surely go a long way in restoring our confidence in the judiciary.
Having said these, we really must give credit to Justice Olubunmi Oyewole of the Lagos High Court. Justice Olubunmi Oyewole, mild as the sentences he pronounced are, has served notice that a few judges with courage and probity can still be found in Nigeria’s citadels of justice. He must be commended.
Also worthy of commendation is the EFCC, who saw this through with better results than expected. However, they still have the Ibori matter hanging around their necks like a stone mill. Perhaps this should spur them on.
In our society's criminal justice system, justice equals punishment. You do the crime, you do the time. You do the time, you've paid your debt to society and justice has been done. But justice for whom? Certainly not the victim, who are the Nigerian people.
There certainly is a need for punishment for corruption in Nigeria. It is perhaps more so because it is corruption in high places that has created a lot of the social problems we have today in the country.
Collective academic thoughts on punishment are of the opinion that the need for punishment can be for three main reasons (Marty Price, 1997):
Punishment as a need to incapacitate.
Incapacitation, unfortunately, must continue until we can learn how to generate change in such individuals. However, the need for incapacitation must be understood as separate and distinct from the need for punishment. When we focus on punishment and incarcerate offenders who are not dangerous, including those who have committed victimless crimes, we consume precious correctional system resources which should be reserved for those offenders who must be incapacitated for our protection.
Punishment as a deterrent to crime.
If punishment deters crime, we should be the safest nation in the world. If punishment deters crime, then the answer to our out-of-control crime problem must be that we need to lock up more people still. How far should we go with this approach?
Punishment for the purpose of rehabilitation.
Relatively few offenders are rehabilitated in prison. The vast majority pass through the "revolving doors" again and again. Offenders are "warehoused" in institutions where violence, meanness, deceit, manipulation and denial are rewarded by the culture within. In most cases, offenders return to the community as individuals who are then even more antisocial than before they were incarcerated.
Then why punishment? If punishment is not really about incapacitation, deterrence or rehabilitation, then what is it about? Punishment is primarily for revenge (or retribution.) Victims of heinous crimes commonly demand revenge. It seems like a natural response. (And we must acknowledge that the crimes of corruption perpetrated on us by our leaders are indeed heinous – how many lives have been lost directly or indirectly as a result of their misdemeanour and flagrant abuse of power?)
Price, 1997, further pointed out that social research is suggesting that for many crimes, sentences of from one to two years are the most likely to be effective, while longer sentences may be counter-productive to rehabilitating offenders. He argued that what society should be implementing is “restorative justice” rather than “retributive justice”. A restorative justice approach concerned with righting the wrongs to victims and making amends, repairing the harm done (in whatever ways possible, including victim compensation) and restoring the lives affected by crime, offers us a much more hopeful vision for the future.
Furthermore, wrote Shaswata Dutta, each society has its own way of social control for which it frames certain laws and also mentions the sanctions with them. These sanctions are nothing but the punishments. ‘The first thing to mention in relation to the definition of punishment is the ineffectiveness of definitional barriers aimed to show that one or other of the proposed justifications of punishments either logically include or logically excluded by definition.’ Punishment has the following features:
• It involves the deprivation of certain normally recognized rights, or other measures considered unpleasant.
• It is consequence of an offence
• It is applied against the author of the offence
• It is applied by an organ of the system that made the act an offence
The kinds of punishment given are surely influenced by the kind of society one lives in.
The way I see the Bode George punishment, much as I have argued in the past that corruption in Nigeria needs to be dealt with as strongly as possible, so as to serve as deterrent to current and up-coming treasury looters, is that the fact that an irresponsible, corrupt and useless old man has been convicted, sentenced and jailed is indeed cause to renew our belief that all hope for redemption of our country is not lost. Tafa Balogun got 6 months, Alamieyeseigha got about a year, Lucky-boy Igbinedion was even given the option of fine and a slap on the wrist, but the old fool Bode George was not even given the option of a fine, and straight to jail he goes. Of course, he has the right to appeal against his conviction, but for now, the word “Convict” will forever be etched in our memory of him. We know this, as opposed to that of James Ibori, which we are still finding difficult, for one reason or the other, to prove.
Perhaps Lagos-boy Olabode George should be ashamed, but the Nigeria of nowadays does not recognise the word “shame”, and thereby we saw his supporters in court still hailing him. Fifty years ago, he would have been hounded out of town in shame. That says a lot about our societal norms and a departure from our cultural, religious and moral values. This is why I will not blame him, but instead blame our society. Why, in 2 years time, upon his release, he will go to his church and do a thanksgiving service, attended by his family, friends and other supporters, and his pastor will be heaping praises and prayers on him, blaming his detractors for his prison sojourn.
However, I still would not like to gloat about Bode George’s travailsl, if indeed we can call it that, after all, it can be said he brought it all unto himself (as most thieving insincere politician in Nigeria are wont to do), and believe me, he thoroughly deserved what was coming to him, and more, but what about many past corrupt governors who are still roaming the streets of Abuja and Lagos. Tafa Balogun , the former Inspector General of Police is free , James Ibori is free (and actually surreptitiously running the affairs of this country), Peter Odili has a court order that prohibits the EFCC or any other law enforcement agency from investigating or arresting him, Chimaroke Nnamani (he of the over 200 properties in one city) is a Senator , Achike Udenwa is a minister , Luky Igbenedion is free, Babangida is Free , Obasanjo is free , Tony Anenih is free , Professor Egwu is a Fedreal Minister, Orji Uzo Kalu is Free , Bola Tinubu is still making billions in Lagos, David Mark is our Senate president . So why would only Bode be the scapegoat? How much money did he steal that Ibori did not exceed 100 times?
These people and many of their ilks got us in the mess we are in today and actually are the causative agents of the Nigeria’s bad international reputation. I don’t know how you feel, but if thieves are ruling a country, how do you want the international community to view the ordinary citizens of the same country, re-branding or no re-branding?
However, Nigerians have become cynics, and I don’t blame them. This is because for the past forty-nine years, we have come to realise that our leaders never tell us the truth, or exhibit any behaviour which will let us have any confidence, trust and faith in them. Therefore, we view anything that comes from governments, politicians, civil servants with a high degree of cynical wit. Already, concerning the Bode George issue, we have a lot of conspiracy theories; some are of the view that he was only convicted because he had fallen out of favour with the current Presidency and PDP hierarchy because he was an Obasanjo man; yet another theory is that it was just a show from the Government to make people think that the war against corruption is still very much on their priority, and thereby a convenient scapegoat like Bode George need to be made; another one is that PDP wanted to sacrifice Bode George to launder their image; another is that the trial judge was instructed not to be too harsh on him and that was why he got only 30 months.
Well, who knows? In Nigeria, anything sure can happen, or be made to happen, especially when we are being ruled by thoughtless, cruel, vicious, murderous, corrupt, dishonest, insincere, inconsiderate, selfish, insensitive, sadistic, Vagabonds in Power. Sadly, how can we trust anybody in power?
Let the truth be said always.
Marty Price, J.D, 1997. “Punishment - What's in it for the Victim? A Restorative Justice Discussion for Crime Victims and their Advocates”. Published in Kaleidoscope of Justice, Vol. 5, No. 1, March/April 1997 (Maine)
Shaswatta Dutta, undated“Theories of Punishment: A Socio-legal View” quoted from Legal Service India.com (http://www.legalserviceindia.com/articles/pun_theo.htm
Akintokunbo Adejumo lives and works in London, UK. A graduate of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria (1979) and University of Manitoba, Canada (1985), he also writes on topical issues for newspapers and internet media including Nigeriaworld.com, Nigeria Today Online, Nigerians In America, Nigeria Village Square, Champions Newspaper, ChatAfrik.com, African News Switzerland, New Nigerian Politics, Gamji.com, Codewit.com, etc. He is Codewit Favourite Author of the Month, March 2009.
He is also the Coordinator of CHAMPIONS FOR NIGERIA, (www.championsfornigeria.org) an organisation devoted to celebrating genuine progress, excellence, commitment, selfless and unalloyed service to Nigeria and Nigerians.