Ex-convict and former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Bode George, has described his imprisonment as a huge joke, saying his initial reaction was that he was being cheated and thanked God there was no gun nearby, otherwise, he could have done something terrible.
“I remember the first few days when we were convicted, I was shell-shocked,” he started. “The initial reaction was being cheated as a soldier, and once someone does that to you, your adrenalin rises. Thank God I couldn’t get an AK 47 (there) and we eventually settled down, and my wife brought my usual prayer book,” he said.
Mr. George, who was chairman of the board of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), was indicted by the Nuhu Ribadu-led Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, in 2005 for contract splitting and inflation of contract price in utter disregard to laid-down government rules and regulations.
However, it was not until 2009 that Ribadu’s successor, Mrs. Farida Waziri arrested and arraigned the PDP chieftain and four others on 63 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 NPA.
Mr. George and his co-accused were found guilty on 47 out of the 68 counts and was sentenced to jail for 30 months.
But he said his conviction was like a joke. “It was like a huge joke. First of all, the management team (NPA) had some disagreement among themselves.
“They were fighting. They came to report to me what was going on and I tried to intervene but the friction was getting bigger and I tried to report to the president (Obasanjo). I said ‘sir the management in NPA are having problem among themselves, I don’t know what to do’. He said I should tell the minister.
“Thank God that minister is still alive today. So I reported to the minster that you need to intervene in this management friction. Eventually they set up a committee which found nothing with the board or me. We were told that baba said they should do a forensic examination. And they did forensic investigation.”
He said this investigation found nothing on him as he quoted then EFCC chairman, Ribadu, as saying “That if you have any political problem with Bode George, you go and solve it with him, if you have any information you can come with it. It is systemic failure.”
He attributed his travails to the intriguing power struggles that played out soon as late President Umaru Yar’Adua won the 2007 presidential election, of which he was the director general of the campaign organization made that possible.
“There were manoeuvrings, the usual petty fighting, and innuendos. That wasn’t my stuff. So I went abroad to have a break. I thought the chairmanship of the party was going to be zoned to the South-West but somehow it was taken to the South east, which was an abnormality.
“So, I went away to cool off and by the time I returned, we had a meeting at the party secretariat where they said they were going to hold another national convention. I told them, we have just finished one convention, why another one? Particularly, they were going to look at the issue of the BoT.”
According to him, there were fears that the powers wielded by the BoT chairman (then ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo) were enormous and needed to be expunged from the constitution. He said his pleas to tread carefully fell on deaf ears.
“I remember that day as I left, somebody told me that something was brewing in EFCC about NPA and said I should go and find out. I went to the office of Minister of Justice and Attorney General that was (Mike) Aondoaka.
“That night, there were some people from EFCC in my house. You would think it was a war, knocking and shouting. I came out and asked what do you want? They said Mrs Farida wants to see me. See me at this time? That was the beginning of the convoluted conspiracy.”
Mr. George, whose appeal of his conviction at the Supreme Court has received a December 13 judgment date, said looking back now, he realized that certain interests wanted him out of circulation because late President Yar’Adua found in him an ally and was going to work with him.
“… After the late president told me himself and myself would work together, the invitation that Farida wanted to see me and for what? Now I can now look back and tell the world the conspirators. Farida might have played a very key role because she was in charge.”
On his relationship with ex-President Obasanjo, who famously retorted that he was ‘tricked’ into attending an elaborate thanksgiving service organized immediately after his release from prison, Mr. George said, “Baba (Obasanjo) will remain baba. It cannot be like before. I was baba’s man Friday in the party and I have no regret about that.
“Because like I always tell people, it is turn by turn Nigeria limited. You need your trusted people in certain areas in this country. Even in America.
“For me and baba, no love lost. Baba is no longer president; I am no longer deputy national chairman. But as an African, you must give respect to elders.
“I am not bitter. You remember the day we came out, at the church service, the President sent a representative. At the reception here, the first lady came. What other encouragement do you need?” he asked rhetorically.
Dismissing insinuation in some quarters that he is looking for compensation following his incarceration, Mr. George responded, “I don’t need compensation. The fact that I went there, came out, I didn’t suffer any disease and my faculty is still razor sharp, what other compensation? The only compensation that I need is to be able to tell other Nigerians to learn from this and to tell those in authority never to use their positions to oppress others.”