Opinion

Levi Obijiofor: Dimeji Bankole Bouncing Back?

As the 2015 general elections draw nearer, all kinds of political permutations are beginning to emerge. Some of them are ludicrous. Others are absolutely mindboggling. Almost everyone is interested in competing for one political position or another. None of the contestants is driven by altruistic objectives. If elected in their party primaries and if victorious in next year’s elections, they all want to be served rather than serve people in their constituencies.

As at the time of writing, there were conflicting reports about whether the disgraced former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, would contest the governorship election primaries of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Ogun State. That election was scheduled to take place two days ago, that is, Monday, 8 December 2014. For some inexplicable reasons, the PDP hierarchy in Abuja said the primaries would be postponed but the Ogun State party leaders went ahead and conducted the election anyway.

If anyone had predicted that Bankole, who was discredited and humiliated three years ago on charges of financial impropriety but later acquitted by an Abuja Federal High Court, would resurrect from political death to place himself in a strategic position in which he would even consider contesting as a candidate to represent the PDP in the governorship election in 2015, that fortune teller would have been cast aside as fake and misleading. And yet that is what is about to happen if we must believe one speculative news report last weekend that suggested that Bankole had been selected by the PDP leaders in Abuja to contest next year’s governorship election in Ogun State as the PDP flag bearer.

Yet another report headlined “Ex-speaker Bankole knocked out of Ogun governorship race”, published last Sunday (7 December 2014) in the online edition of The News, quoted the Ogun State chairperson of the PDP, Chief Adebayo Dayo, as saying that Bankole was not one of the 11 candidates who will contest the governorship election primaries. He even said the PDP was not aware that Bankole had an ambition to compete for the lofty position.

Dayo appeared to be unhappy with Bankole when he accused the former Speaker of trying to cut corners to emerge victorious in the PDP governorship primaries rather than observe due process. Dayo told journalists at the PDP state office in Abeokuta, Ogun State, that: “When you see somebody who is only trying to take a short cut, I can tell you there is no short cut to a good job. If you want to do a good job, you start from the scratch. You must follow due process. This young man is not following due process, he is only looking for a short cut and there is no short cut in politics.” He emphasised that “… Dimeji Bankole did not obtain expression of interest form from Ogun State. Until that is obtained, I wouldn’t know him as one of our aspirants”.

Despite this denial, a report published in The Sun last Friday (5 December 2014) indicated that “Bankole was selected as the PDP flag bearer for the state after several hours of deliberations between the PDP national leadership and the party’s stakeholders in the state.” The report also mentioned that Bankole was anointed as the party’s governorship candidate in the 2015 election at a meeting that took place at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, last Wednesday night.

These reports are no doubt conflicting. Until Bankole clarifies his position, it is difficult to establish whether or not he has thrown his hat into the ring of the governorship election primaries in Ogun State.

I have seen politicians who rose metaphorically from the dead to contest elections at the federal level but none has had as much a numbing effect as Bankole’s reported renaissance seems to suggest.

It is unthinkable that the PDP should consider Bankole as the most suitable of all the candidates seeking to represent the party in the Ogun State governorship election in 2015. The idea that the PDP leadsership is liaising with Bankole to revive the man’s political vocation says a lot about the dark politics within the PDP. Bankole’s political antecedents are so unremarkable they are unlikely to impress anyone with ethical principles or integrity.

Bankole’s term as Speaker of the House was as undistinguished as it was controversial. During that period, the House often went out of control as members engaged in a free for all, in arm wrestling, in disorderly conduct and infantile exchange of insults. That was the riotous House that Bankole presided over as leader.

Bankole’s fall in 2011 was celebrated by many people. He crashed from a position of nobility, a highly respected status from which many people believed his political career would never be revived. That spectacular plunge into worthlessness gave a lot of his enemies sufficient tool with which they mocked him in public.

When the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) under the leadership of Mrs Farida Waziri apprehended Bankole in 2011 and took him to court, the EFCC presented a 16-count charge against the man, including charges relating to financial misdemeanour, as well as unwarranted and misleading increases in contract funds totalling N894 million. The charges, it must be pointed out, did not include accusations of a N10 billion loan scam.

Bankole’s apparent re-emergence will disappoint many of the people who celebrated his arrest in 2011. His adversaries were infuriated when Bankole was set free in February 2014 by a Federal High Court for lack of evidence. In fact, Justice Evoh Chukwu of the Abuja Federal High Court said categorically that the case against Bankole ended almost as conspicuously as it started simply because the EFCC did a second-rate job when it failed to assemble unassailable evidence which could have led to successful conviction of Bankole.

While ruling in favour of Bankole, Justice Chukwu said: “There is no justification for the continuation of this trial, the prosecution failed to disclose a prima-facie case to warrant the court to demand explanations from the accused person. There is no nexus connecting the accused with the alleged offence… Besides, none of the witnesses linked the accused with the award of the alleged contracts or showed that he entered into collusive agreement with anybody with regard to the offence contained in the charge… It is my considered view that the prosecution has not disclosed any corrupt, unlawful influence, bribery or corruption by the accused in the award of the contracts… Section 35(6) of the 1999 Constitution placed the onus on the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused person who by law is presumed innocent until otherwise proved.”

Justice Chukwu reinforced the poor quality of evidence presented by the EFCC when he ruled further: “The prosecution failed to prove that the accused person acted with the intent to defraud. There is no evidence that the accused unilaterally or in conjunction with anybody inflated prices of contracts. Evidence of the prosecution never showed that the accused entered into agreement with either the supplier or contractors.”

It was a devastating judgment but the court had made its decision. Like it or not, the basis on which the judgment was delivered was incontestable. The EFCC bungled the case. For that reason, Bankole, whom many people wanted to see jailed in order to serve as a lesson to other high profile politicians who abused their high offices, was set free.

To some people, Bankole’s freedom was an anti-climax. It was also an oxymoron. It represented the defeat of the law by a man who was smart enough to understand how to beat the law. However, some people have justifiably accused the EFCC of negligence, when it failed to demonstrate the highest standard of professionalism in prosecuting Bankole, when it failed to gather and present sound evidence with which to successfully convict Bankole.

Some people have alleged, rightly or wrongly, that the EFCC set up the case against Bankole so it would fail, so that Bankole would scale the legal hurdle easily and scream hallelujah. This line of reasoning seemed valid at the time because Justice Chukwu made it quite clear in his judgment that the EFCC ruined the case by presenting weak evidence.

Bankole’s acquittal staggered many people. It would be odd and depressing, against this background, if the PDP leadership in Abuja ignored due process and imposed Bankole on the Ogun State branch of the party so the man could contest the governorship election in 2015. If Bankole emerges the governorship candidate of the PDP in Ogun State through some kind of political magic, the PDP leaders would have planted the seeds of intra-party discord that would tear the party apart and hand victory to an opposition candidate in next year’s governorship election. With or without party dispute, there is no guarantee that Bankole would win the election in 2015, if he contests.

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Article written by Levi Obijiofor

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