By Olu Peters
It would have been the greatest miracle of our time if Chief Olabode George, the Atona Oodua of Yorubaland, who, ironically, has been unable to identify or chart a clear political, ideological or moral path for himself personally, had not seized the opportunity of the current #End SARS crisis to launch a vitriolic but largely comical attack on his eternal nemesis, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, National Leader of the APC.
Bode George is so pathologically obsessed with Tinubu that it has obviously badly affected his mental health and emotional stability. We will recall that after his release from prison following his conviction for criminal enrichment through ‘contract splitting’ as Chairman of the Board of Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), Chief George granted an interview to a national newspaper, which ran the story under the headline – “Tinubu, others sent me to jail – PDP chieftain”. Now, we can see how utterly delusional Bode George has become as regards anything concerning Asiwaju Tinubu. Was Tinubu the one who leveled allegations against him, put him to trial and later sentenced him to prison having found him guilty of acts of colossal corrupt enrichment?
Now, let us look at the path that led Bode George, who now waxes so moralistic and self-righteous on the #EndSARS protests, to prison. In April 2005, a newspaper had published a story that the NPA Board that George presided over had been involved in a massive fraud to the tune of N85 billion.
An incensed George threatened legal action against the newspaper, describing the allegation as “senseless, baseless and thoughtless”. However, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) under the Chairmanship of Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, investigated the issue and on 1st April, 2005, issued a report that indicted George and members of his Board for deliberate and flagrant violations of government rules and regulations resulting in splitting of contracts to facilitate grand larceny. For some inexplicable reasons, nothing was done about this report until August, 2008, when under Mrs. Farida Waziri, Bode George was arrested in Lagos and arraigned along with 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.
At the start of the trial, the EFCC reduced the charges to 63 counts and in October, 2009, Bode George was found guilty on 47 of the 63 counts and sentenced to jail for 30 months. It was an indelible stain, a shattering blow to the over bloated ego and psyche of one of the most arrogant and insensitive men to ever don the uniform of the Nigerian Navy. Even though, luckily for him, the Supreme Court on December 13, 2013, discharged the conviction of Bode George on the technical ground that the charge of ‘contract splitting’ was unknown to the law, the Atona-Oodua of Yorubaland has been unable to live down the traumatic experience for which he inexplicably holds Asiwaju responsible. When he was released from prison, Bode George, with characteristic lack of shame and a sense of proportion as well as restraint, organized a noisy and showy ‘Thanksgiving Service’.
Disturbed by this, a concerned Nigerian youth, Isaac Asabor, in a public commentary on Wednesday, March 2, 2011, wrote: “Personally, I do not know why his release from Kirikiri Maximum Prison was celebrated with fanfare. At a point I do not know what message he and his praise singers were trying to pass to gullible Nigerians…However, I am using this piece to inform Nigerians, particularly the youths, to shun crime in all its ramifications. Crime does not pay. Crime can never make one a hero. The only benefit of a crime is that it can make one to be notorious. Finally, I am begging Nigerian youth who may have been gingered by the razzmatazz that greeted Bode George’s release from prison to ignore such motivation. They should strive to be hardworking and honest in every position they may be appointed to in the future”.
In his opportunistic and hatred-induced attack on Bola Tinubu with regard to the #EndSARS protests, Bode George refers to himself severally as an original Lagosian. But beyond flaunting his Lagosian indigene credentials, even though his family lineage can be traced to Ogun State, what has Bode George ever contributed to the development of Lagos State despite his occupying positions that should have enabled him to do so in the last 30 years? For instance, the Nigerian Ports Authority where he was Chairman between 1999 and 2003 reaps more revenue from Lagos in one quarter than Lagos State earns in a year. What steps did he take to help Lagos benefit financially from the location of the NPA within its territory both when he was Chairman of the parastatal’s Board and during the 16 years that the PDP was in power at the centre despite the enormous influence he wielded in the party? All the federal roads in Apapa had collapsed and were abandoned throughout the 16 years of the PDP in power between 1999 and 2015, largely because of intensive heavy duty vehicular activity at the ports, thereby destroying and paralyzing one of the most critical and important economic zones of Lagos State. What did Bode George do about this?
What did Bode George do to get the PDP-controlled Federal Government to reconstruct the Lagos-Badagry Expressway? It was the Lagos State government that had to take on the burden of rehabilitating and reconstructing this Federal Government road, which is so critical to the economy of Lagos and Nigeria, a project that is ongoing. The rehabilitation of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway was virtually abandoned and was at snail’s speed throughout the 16 years of the PDP in power. Yet, this is another road of monumental significance to the economy of Lagos State and Nigeria. It is the APC controlled government that has since 2015 accelerated work on the reconstruction of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, intensified work on the Lagos-Badagry Expressway while also vigorously pursuing the rehabilitation and expansion of the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway. Yet, Bode George has the temerity to talk about development in Lagos State?
Indeed, when the Bola Tinubu administration created 37 new local government councils in Lagos State in 2001 bringing the total number of Local Government Councils and Local Government Development Areas in the state to 57, Bode Geoge was one of those who vehemently resisted the initiative. He was one of those who pushed the then President Olusegun Obasanjo to seize the local government funds of Lagos State for over four years despite the ruling of the Supreme Court that this was illegal and thus inflicting unimaginable hardship on millions of Lagosians. I challenge Bode George to name even one concrete way in which he has contributed to the development of Lagos State in the last 40 years that he has been in the country’s public life.
The Tinubu administration campaigned vigorously that Lagos State should, as the economic capital of the country with the largest population comprising all ethnic groups making their living in the state, be given special status. Asiwaju argued that Lagos should be given special allocation for derivation just like the oil producing states because a substantial percentage of revenues that go into the Federation Account come from tax, port, petrol consumption and other funds derived from Lagos State. This would help the state meet the heavy infrastructure, social services, environmental management, security and other burdens on its shoulders arising from its huge population density. Bode George not only never lifted a finger to help realize this, he even fiercely opposed it.
Between 1993 and 1997, Bode George was Principal Staff Officer to General Oladipo Diya who was Chief of General Staff in the General Sani Abacha dictatorship. Here was a man who never lifted a finger to contribute to the struggle against the annulment of the June 12, 2003 presidential election even when hundreds of pro-democracy protesters were gunned down on the streets of Lagos by the government in which he served. By the way, Bola Tinubu was right on the streets with those pro-June 12 protesters throughout that dark period until he was arrested and detained along with other pro-democracy activists before he fled the country to continue the struggle in exile after his house was firebombed by Abacha’s agents. Who, therefore, has a greater moral right to identify with the #EndSARS protesters between Bola Tinubu and Bode George whose ideology, outlook and temperament are essentially dictatorial and antithetic to democratic tenets?
Bode George served as the 9th military governor of Ondo State between July 1988 and September 1990. When he assumed office, he declared to the press that “by the end of my tenure, Ondo State people will know that a Lagos boy was here”. True, the poor people of Ondo indeed did know that a self-proclaimed ‘Lagos boy’ once governed them but not in terms of good, accountable and progressive governance. Rather, Bode George’s government was one of the worst examples of the reckless, irresponsible, monumentally corrupt and incompetent attributes of military rule. An online report states, “George treated the state budget as his own, spending lavishly and handing out inflated contracts in return for large kickbacks. In a July 2002, interview, Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu, said, “Bode George should have faced a criminal tribunal for his activities in Ondo State”.
As military governor of Ondo State, Bode George claimed to have bought 100 speed boats for the riverine areas of the state for a sum of N1 million each. At the end of his tour of duty, less than 50 boats could be accounted for and were hardly functional. It was widely reported at the time, that not only were the boats extravagantly overpriced, they were bought second hand. Again, his government sold off one of Ondo State’s choicest properties on Victoria Island in Lagos in shady and suspicious circumstances. Although these atrocities generated intense controversy and protests at the time both within and beyond Ondo State, they were largely swept under the carpet in the fear-ridden, autocratic atmosphere of military rule. It was not surprising that nemesis was to catch up with Bode George over three decades later during his tenure as Chairman of the NPA.
Given his unflattering, dictatorial and corrupt antecedents, it is not surprising that Bode George has been a colossal failure in the politics of Lagos State since 1999. Parties led by Bola Tinubu – AD, AC, ACN and APC – have trounced Bode George’s PDP soundly in every election in Lagos State since 1999. You can thus understand the Atona-Oodua’s bitterness. This is obviously why he probably goes around Lagos blindfolded and cannot see the tremendous progress made in diverse sectors of the state since 1999, particularly the breath-taking and still ongoing infrastructural transformation. He refers to the huge internal revenue generated by Lagos State, which he puts at N50 billion without stating his source. Yet, he is silent on how the state achieved this feat as if it happened by magic. When Tinubu assumed office as governor in 1999, the Internally Generated Revenue of Lagos State was N600 million monthly. By the time he left office in 2007, the state’s IGR was over N10 billion monthly and successive administrations have continued to enhance the revenue generating capacity of the state phenomenally. Bola Tinubu’s creative financial engineering astuteness laid the foundation for the ever-increasing economic prosperity of Lagos today. Lagos is perhaps the only state in Nigeria today that can exist independent of the Federation Account.
Bode George talks about continuing problems of roads, schools, the environment, etc in Lagos as if in any jurisdictional entity, even the richest ones, ever completely solves all their problems once and for all. Again, he evidently lacks the mental acuity to appreciate the humongous resources needed to address the infrastructural and other challenges of Lagos State relative to what he naively and lazily perceives to be the superfluous resources available to the state.
Since Bode George cannot credibly deny the stark reality of the unprecedented progress recorded in Lagos since 1999; a feat which no other part of the country has equaled, he would rather seize on the emotions of the moment to demonize Tinubu and live in a delusionary world. His wild tales, petty gossips, beer parlor assertions and baseless allegations against Tinubu are unworthy of attention. They are the putrid offerings of a disturbed mind. Bode George repeats the same unproven lies against Tinubu that have been circulated without success over the last two decades. He should be left to persist in his unfruitful venture.
But will this anti-Tinubu diatribe be Bode George’s political last gasp lifeline and saving grace? It is unlikely. He is already seen as a veritable liability even within his own party. George is currently at loggerheads with the Lagos State Executive of the PDP led by Mr. Adedeji Doherty. He had to be rebuked by the National Executive of the PDP, which in a statement on December 10, 2019, lamented that under George, the party in Lagos remained “eternally polarized, balkanized and stifled through continuous decimation of her membership due to unwarranted wrangling”. In a press release on June 5, 2019, the PDP’s gubernatorial candidate in Lagos State in the 2019 election, Mr. Jimi Agbaje, warned: “People should please tell Bode George to shut up and leave PDP if he lacks any value to add to the party instead of being a dog in the manger hampering the progress of the party in Lagos State”.
Referring to Bode George, Jimi Agbaje said further: “These are people who feel that they want to continue business as usual within PDP. All their interest revolves upon sharing campaign and election funds without giving any thought to how to elevate the party’s chances at the polls or adding value to the process”. And on September 30, 2020, the former governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, unequivocally declared: “I am Ayodele Fayose, you can quote me anywhere. I said, you must retire Bode George if you want progress in the PDP in Lagos”. Beleaguered on all sides, Bode George now desperately tries to climb back to relevance utilizing the demonization of Bola Tinubu as a tool. It cannot work. We are witnessing the pathetic political death throes of a moral and ideological dinosaur, which Bode George has become. It is a great pity.
- Olu-Peters, a Public Affairs Commentator, writes from Lagos.