Friday, May 23, 2008

Iyabo Obasanjo: From cave to custody

FOR once in her eventful life, Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello cut the image of a pitiful but penitent woman as she appeared before an Abuja High Court on Monday this week. Her presence before the court marked the last rites in the mortification of this supercilious senator who boasted so much, achieved little and eventually fell to the same institutions she criticised publicly.
Last Monday, in full view of everyone, Iyabo emerged from her cave, scooped her own phlegm and swallowed it shamelessly in public. The humiliation of Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello is now complete. The fact she was remanded in police custody, under the taunts of the public, the celebratory winks of officers of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the embarrassing gaze of her senate colleagues, has further shredded whatever reputation she might have in her closet. Iyabo's public rating has hit an all-time low point.
While she was in hiding, Iyabo talked so loosely about how she was being persecuted unjustly by the judicial process and the EFCC. But her criticisms were delivered in the manner of the leader of an underground movement. Well, she was physically underground for five weeks during which she thumped her nose at the nation. This is the same woman who had rubbed her painted finger nails into the eyes of virtually every institution of authority in the country. She is now paying the price for insubordination.
While she danced owambe in her cavern, obviously to the admiration of her nocturnal fans, Iyabo propagated the weird philosophy (known to her alone) that she was being hounded and singled out by the EFCC because she was the daughter of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. It never occurred to her that the EFCC which she vilified so openly was set up and used by her father to silence the opposition, especially those opposed to her father's phantom idea of prolonging his presidential tenure illegally.
Now, Iyabo the "Saint" wants us to perceive the EFCC as an Alsatian gone wild because Umaru Musa Yar'Adua's government has failed to put this dog called EFCC on a leash. One day, Obasanjo himself would stand up and criticise the EFCC for badgering him with requests for information about his financial dealings during the term of his presidency. That would happen when the EFCC develops teeth strong enough to bite high-status politicians.
Iyabo's arrogant element popped up almost instantaneously when she was asked by the Abuja High Court how she would like to plead - guilty or not. The weight and strength of her arrogance could be gleaned from her unequivocal answer. Iyabo has never really accepted that she committed any crime against the country or that her behaviour and utterances in her hiding place amounted to contempt of court. Iyabo has failed to elevate her thoughts to the level where it would be possible for her to understand the degree of damage her conduct had inflicted on the institution she represents and her role as the chairperson of the Senate Health Committee.
While other members of that committee made themselves available for interrogation by the EFCC, Iyabo lived in her little world of fantasy. She hung on to her narrow view that her position as a senator and chairperson of a senate committee should buy her freedom from trial in court. But she forgot that grilling by the EFCC is not evidence of guilt but merely a part of the process of gathering information and evidence that could lead to prosecution or discharge.
By defying the judicial system and the EFCC, Iyabo conveyed a superficial or one-dimensional message about how she felt the children of former presidents should be treated. In her judgment, children of former political and military leaders should be granted automatic immunity from prosecution for any crime they commit. Before that law is enacted, Iyabo wants to believe that her status as the daughter of a former President entitles her to unlimited privileges and respect even from the High Court.
Irrespective of how she feels about herself, Iyabo's conduct has dented the image of the National Assembly, not to mention the integrity of her colleagues in the Senate. Here was a woman who was elected to participate in the making of civil laws for the good governance of the country openly violating the foundation of our legal system. Here was a woman who was appointed to lead the Senate health committee abdicating the responsibility assigned to her directly by her fellow senators and indirectly by her constituency.
When Iyabo appeared before the Abuja High Court four days ago, Justice Salisu Garba took time to call Iyabo's bluff: "it is not right for an accused person to stay at home and ask her counsel to represent her in court." By ordering Iyabo to be remanded in police custody, Justice Garba also sent a clear message to Iyabo and all those who defended her ludicrous behaviour during the days of her hiding: no one runs away from justice forever. You can run away momentarily but justice will always prevail.
As Iyabo reflects on her conduct in the past five weeks, she must be informed she has set a very bad example to aspiring senators and politicians. By staying in hiding, Iyabo demonstrated her high level of political naivety. Consider the following. For the period she was in hiding, for the period she was absent without official leave, Iyabo abandoned her responsibilities in the Senate. The senate must not pay Iyabo for the period she abandoned her job. To do so would signal an endorsement of truancy and illegal behaviour. Iyabo must not be remunerated for doing nothing. No daughter of any former president should be entitled to unlawful conduct.
Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello is a political tragedy, a liability to the Senate and a disgrace to her constituency. Iyabo's appearance in court this week, the fact that she was remanded in police custody even if for 48 hours serves to show that pig-headedness is not a desirable quality in anyone, senators included.
Why would a senator who has not yet been pronounced guilty by any law court in the country opt to go into hiding and in the process avoid her colleagues and her family and her job? Only Iyabo knows why she opted to run and run and run without looking back. Now the law has forced her to slow down so she could have a chance to answer serious questions about her integrity and financial accountability.
One of my nephews used to remind me, with the aid of a proverb, that the curved shape of the crayfish must be attributed to unnatural causes. In her dogged but failed determination to stay away from prosecution, Iyabo knew the weight of evidence against her would one day pull her down. Her trial, acquittal or conviction, is still a long way ahead. But she would have saved herself all this nonsense - the drama, the public embarrassment and the humiliation - if she had behaved responsibly, accepted good advice and reported to the EFCC for questioning.
By choosing to elope when the EFCC hasn't even started her prosecution, Iyabo has cast doubts on her innocence. As the saying goes, the guilty are afraid. It must be said that some of our female legislators have not been living up to public expectations of exemplary conduct. In the second half of 2007, a woman known as Patricia Etteh, the na?ve speaker of the House of Representatives, defied decorum and parliamentary procedures in her attempts to quash the evidence of corruption and improper conduct levelled against her by a panel that was set up by the House.
In the end, after months of unnecessary arrogance and stubbornness during which she held the nation hostage, Etteh was forced to quit her exalted office by a combination of public pressure and the strain of watching her family name sink with the corruption scandal. Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello seems determined to snatch the prize for political disrepute from Patricia Etteh.

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