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25 October 2017
On October 3, 2017, a Federal High court sitting in Ibadan, Oyo state capital, and presided over by Justice Ayo Emmanuel, sentenced Prof B.A Ogunbodede, former Executive Director, Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (IAR&T), Ibadan, an affiliate institution of Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife, and two other persons to 40 years imprisonment over 16 count charges bordering on conspiracy, unlawful conversion and stealing of the institute's subventions. The other two persons are Mr Zackeus Tejumola and Adenekan Clement, former chief accountant and a staff of the institute respectively.
This judgement, despite its limitations, is a victory for mass of workers in IAR&T. It will be recalled that the petition against Prof. Ogunbodede and two others was written by the three staff unions in the institute about four years ago to the EFCC, which later charged them to court. This is after Ogunbodede had been ingloriously removed as the Executive Director on May 20, 2013 following a protracted struggle of the entire workers of the institute (See: http://www.socialistnigeria.org/page.php?article=2253).
This struggle actually started on June 11, 2012 after some workers institute stumbled on documents showing the claim of the IAR&T management that it had paid a huge sum of N177, 571,609.50 as Hazard Allowance to staff of the institute on 27th December, 2010, whereas no single staff member of the institute was paid any amount.
However, the judgement could not achieve the original motive for the petition which was to seek an order of the court for the refund of the stolen money by Prof. Ogunbodede and his allies and payment of the same to the workers.
Nevertheless, the judgement is by far an improvement over similar recent cases of corruption charges against top civil servants in the country, especially when compared with the case of one Mr John Yakubu Yusuf, who was accused of illegal diversion of over N40billion from the Nigeria Police Pension Funds. After confessing before an Abuja High Court that he connived with the others to steal only about N23billion out of the entire money, he was however sentenced to two years imprisonment with an option of N750, 000 fine.
Therefore, to be commended for this judgement is workers of the institute who exhibited a high level of resilience and determination throughout the period the case lasted in the court. Up till the day, the judgement was delivered the leadership of the three unions in the institute always ensured that at every court sitting, substantial numbers of workers were mobilised to attend the proceedings. Without this kind of courageous effort it is not impossible the outcome of the trial would have been otherwise.
The case of IAR&T management is very instructive in the sense that it underscores the high level of corrupt practices that are often perpetrated by heads of the public intuitions including vice- chancellors of the universities who are often appointed by the political office holders. For instance, Prof. Ogunbodede was reported to confess, having pleaded guilty to the entire allegation levelled against him, that "a huge part of the money was used to bribe members of House of Representatives and some staff of the Federal Ministry of Finance who usually help to facilitate the release of funds for the research institute".
It is obvious that corrupt practices are perpetrated by the heads of public institutions largely because there is absence of democracy in the running and managements of all these institutions. The prevailing situation today is that heads of public institutions are often appointed by political office holders through whom they derive their authority without any regard to the view and opinion of workers. Under this kind of situation, no amount of imprisonment can forestall the act of corruption and mismanagement of public fund in the institutions.
Therefore, the imprisonment of Prof. Ogunbodede which, as stated by Justice Ayo Emmanuel while delivering his judgement, is meant to serve as deterrence to all heads of public institutions, can hardly achieve the purpose. The public institutions have to be structured in such a way that allows democratic management and open running of the institutions to involve elected representatives of workers and students, as the case may be. This must also include the emergence of heads of institutions through election by workers of the institution with a right to recall.
This is a very crucial lesson to unions particularly the Academic Staff Union of Universities, (ASUU), which have for years agitating for adequate funding of public education. As much as this struggle is very desirable and needed, it is very important to state that, except such struggle is linked with struggle for a full democratisation of university system, it will just end up being a means to make more money available for the vice-chancellors and allies in administration to loot and mismanage without any sense of accountability to the rank and file workers and students in the system.
Again, the role played by the rank and file workers in IAR&T is also worthy of emulation especially by workers in other institutions like CRIN where there were similar allegations of corruption against the former Executive Director of the institution Prof. Malachy Akoroda who was similarly removed from the office on December 2, 2015 following over 6 weeks mass action embarked upon by mass of workers in that institute. In a similar vein, workers at Federal College of Agriculture, Ibadan, one of the institutions that share same premises with IAR&T can also follow suit especially now that there are allegations of abuse of administrative power and mismanagement of fund against Dr Adelekan, the provost of the college.