An Ikeja High Court in Lagos yesterday convicted Bode George, former chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority, and five others on a 23-count charge of abuse of office. Mr. George was found guilty for disobedience of lawful orders and the awarding of contracts to the tune of about N100 billion.
Others convicted along with him were former managing director of the authority Aminu Dabo, Olugbenga Abidoye, Zanna Maideribe and Sule Aliyu, who were members of the board.
All were accused of flagrant abuse of office and the splitting of contracts to make it possible for the board to award for a total sum that was far above its authority to do. It took 15 months to arrive at yesterdayâ€™s judgment with the trial going through twists and turns and delay tactics on the part of the defence.
At a time the case was almost brought to a halt but justice though delayed was not to be denied. The fact that the case was finally adjudicated upon and the accused sentenced should be a lesson for public office holders, to know that they serve in trust for the people.
The conviction of George and the others may be the beginning of a return to sanity and a signal that there are those who will hold the Umaru Yarâ€™Adua administration to its mantra of respect for the rule of law.
In passing his judgment, Justice Olubunmi Olugbade said, â€˜â€˜When public office is abused, the entire populace is assaulted. This must not be condoned or treated with kid gloves. If the quality of service in our public life is to be altered to the appreciable standard of the civilised world, the right deterrent should be given.
It is because many of them have gone unpunished for such abuse that it continues to fester. Mr.George as a leading member of the ruling Peopleâ€™s Democratic Party, PDP, is not a modest man. He is flamboyant and his trial was almost turned into a circus by his coterie of supporters.
Apart from being a former deputy national chairman of the party, he was in the run up to the 2007 election the director general of the Yarâ€™Adua-Jonathan Presidential Campaign Organisation.
By holding such sensitive posts and being a former military governor, he was by no means just an ordinary party member. His conviction should serve as a lesson to other public office holders: the abuse of office and peddling of influence do not in any way advance public good.
Apart from that, it should also serve to teach a lesson or two to those who appoint party members into positions of public office. They should be wary of the choices they make. Mr. Georgeâ€™s corrupt tenure at the ports has demonstrated the limit to which such patronage should be tolerated.
National agencies that exist to preserve and prosper the public interest should not be regarded as the personal property of politicians and businessmen who finagle their way into high office.
“Our primary agencies of government clearly need technocrats with the skill and the know how to work for public good. We trifle with our future when we allow corrupt individuals to loot at will.