In the last two weeks, we have carefully X-rayed this government, its several gaffes, the victimisation of Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, hate speech, and haters of speech.
One of the tripodal legs on which this government was voted into power was to fight corruption. The other two were to fight insecurity and grow the economy. History will judge if the government has succeeded in these, or any them at all. But some indices will show: are we more secure today than we were in 2015? Can we honestly thump our chests, swear by the Holy Bible or Holy Quran that Boko Haram, banditry, herdsmen’s slaughter spree, kidnappings, murders and suicides are not more prevalent today than in 2015?
Are we happier today and less hungry and poor than in 2015? Has Nigeria not since overtaken India as the poverty capital of the world? On corruption, can we fault Transparency International (TI) that in 2020 rated Nigeria as number 146 out of the 180 countries of the world’s rated most corrupt countries? Nigeria is also the third most corrupt country in West Africa. So, are we less corrupt today than in 2015? The answer is no. Let us see more.
The anti-corruption farce (continues)
In discussing this government’s anti-corruption fight, the case of Senator Shehu Sani, the ringing and resonating northern voice against a fundamentally flawed system, comes to mind. The human rights activist had reported by himself to the EFCC on December 31, 2018, upon reading in the newspapers that he was wanted. He was promptly clamped into the EFCC dungeon where he spent Christmas and New Year. It was through the court that he was later granted bail in self-recognisance, after weeks of illegal detention. What manner of anti-corruption fight is that? Why detain a citizen (the status does not really matter to me) who had voluntarily submitted himself? Why name and shame citizens who are otherwise constitutionally presumed innocent under our Anglo-Saxon-based accusatorial system (S. 36 1999 Constitution), as against the French-based inquisitorial system (presumption of guilt), to tar them with the paint brush of shame, odium, derision and obloquy? But why?
As another example, Abdulhamid Mahmoud Zari, an accomplished Fulani businessman, was first detained by the EFCC. He later briefed me to handle his case upon being invited again. He feared further detention without being charged to court, as the EFCC became infamous for. His home and offices had been marked “EFCC Zone. Keep off”. Himself and his wife, family members and workers had been crudely driven out and their premises taken over and locked up by the EFCC. I personally went to Mr. Ibrahim Magu (rather than heading for court), to seek Zari’s administrative bail. After all, his passport had already been impounded. So, he was not a flight risk. Magu assured me he would not be further detained and that I should tell him to report to the EFCC, just for “mere clarification.” I earnestly believed him. I urged Zari to go to the EFCC, having extracted such a promise from the very Acting Chairman himself. He did. Rather than being interrogated and released on administrative bail as promised, he was promptly clamped into the EFCC dungeon. I felt cheap and dirty. It was like I had personally delivered my own client to the slaughter house, to his traducers. I headed for the court. He was released. That was the day I vowed to always use the court process vigorously for all clients, rather than engage in legally accepted and legitimate diplomatic rapprochement, which has become meaningless to the various government agencies.
Abdullahi Babalele is Atiku’s son-in-law. That status alone was enough to earn him detention for weeks over an offence of allegedly allowing a BDC to make a cash payment of $140,000 to another party. Not that he stole it, or laundered it. When he was eventually granted administrative bail, he reported dutifully on all days he was so invited. His passport was, of course, confiscated. On this particular date, he had been ordered to report to the EFCC, Lagos office, at Okotie Eboh Road, Ikoyi. He promptly flew from Abuja to Lagos, to honour same. Yet, he was promptly tossed into detention. This was a man already on administrative bail, who had reported to the EFCC voluntarily. He was not forced or arrested. It was through the court I secured his release on bail. But why inflict this mental agony and physical torture on mere suspects in the name of fighting corruption? I cannot understand it. I will forever fight against impunity and violation of citizens’ rights. I will forever defend due process and the rule of law. Till eternity. So, God help me.
Col. Ashinze (a serving colonel) was detained in December 2015. He was tossed from one Army cell to the EFCC dungeon and back, vice versa. Without any charges or administrative bail. It was well over three months before I secured his release on bail from the gulag through the court process. But why?
Mr Abiodun Agbele was first detained in Lagos, then dragged like a common criminal to Abuja, where he was locked up in the EFCC dungeon. All pleas to grant him administrative bail proved abortive, till I got him released on bail through the court. I later filed a fundamental rights violation suit against the EFCC. The court, coram, Justice O.A. Adeniyi, awarded N5 million damages against the EFCC. Till date, the EFCC has not paid the judgment debt. Can you file or levy execution on its money and property in banks this deity of an institution?
What about Dame Patience Jonathan, the most traduced and vilified First Lady ever in the history of Nigeria, since Flora Louisa Shaw Lugard first attained that position on 1st January, 1914? All the cases we have won (my humble self, Ifedayo Adedipe, SAN, and late Glanville Abibo, SAN) for her through the court process have never been obeyed by the EFCC. Mere letters from Magu and his “Magu Boys” automatically cancelled such court orders, which directed the banks to refund to her, her legitimate funds, as she never stole from, or defrauded any government, ministry, department, agency or individual howsoever. No one has ever come forward to lay a single complaint against her for any wrongdoing. But she must be humiliated, subdued and mentally punished, to show that “corruption was being fought”. EFCC’s letter became more potent than court orders. Banks promptly obeyed them and ignored valid court orders. What manner of anti-corruption fight tramples on citizens’ rights, due process, rule of law and democratic institutions, arbitrarily, capriciously and whimsically? That is a worse form of corruption. It is cancerous.
Sylvanus Okpetu is a practising lawyer and senior lecturer, with a Ph.D. A mere contractual disagreement between him and Julius Berger Plc brought the EFCC barging into his law offices in Warri, arresting, detaining and then whisking him off by road, all the way to the EFCC Abuja gulag. Aside from getting him out on bail, I slammed EFCC with a suit claiming damages. The sum of N6 million was awarded against the EFCC by Justice A.S. Adepoju. It has not been paid till date. Of course, Magu and his EFCC were and are above the law, and outside its confines.
What about my professional fee of N75 million, representing part-payment for about eight cases I was handling for the then Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose? My bank account had been mindlessly and illegally frozen by the EFCC; and I got it defrozen through a court order. The fee in issue had been legitimately paid to me by Fayose from an account earlier illegally blocked and frozen by the EFCC but which I had successfully moved the Federal High Court, Ado Ekiti (coram, Justice Taiwo Taiwo), to defreeze. Fayose had himself earlier withdrawn N5 million from the same defrozen account before posting some part from it to me, as my fee.
These are just a few examples of the prominent cases I have personally handled, regarding security agents’ serial breaches of citizens’ fundamental rights under this government. There are tens I handle weekly and monthly, which are hardly reported for not being prominent or high-profile.
We cannot go on like this. Fighting corruption and respecting citizens’ rights are not mutually exclusive. Why drag Mr. Patrick Akpobolokemi, former NIMASA DG, on the floor after he had been granted bail? Yet, he has since won this case up to the appellate courts. Why handcuff and bundle to court on a sick bed Olisa Metuh, former PDP National Publicity Secretary, who was not a flight risk? What are compulsory safety guards for these traumatised Nigerians? Why tie a serving Senator Dino Melaye to a hospital bed like an animal? Why take him to court on a stretcher? Why lock him up in his house, and cut off his light and water for weeks? To prove what?
Why humiliate a serving judge, Justice Rita Ngozi Ofili-Ajumogobia, and EFCC prosecutor, Mr. Godwin Obla, SAN, over an alleged N5 million transaction concerning building materials between Mr. Obla, SAN, and a company, which Ajumogobia purportedly had some interest in? When Justice Ajumogobia was discharged of the corruption charges by Justice Hakeem Oshodi on April 16, 2019, why promptly re-arrest and again re-arraign her? To prove what?
What about Justice Adeniyi Ademola, who was put under siege by hooded DSS, charged to court with his wife and Joe Agi, SAN, but all of whom were later discharged and acquitted? How do you make restitution for such grave degrading and inhuman treatment? What about Justices of the Supreme Court and FHC Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, whose houses were wrongly but brutally invaded by hooded DSS in the wee hours of the day, but were later found innocent, without any apology or compensation? What about former Niger Delta Minister, Elder Godsday Orubebe, who was tried and humiliated for over three years, before the AGF withdrew the charges, after discovering that the sum he was accused of stealing was lying pretty idle in the safe vault of the CBN? This is not how to fight corruption sirs/mas, please. This is vindictiveness, sheer selective vendetta. Let government stop it today.
Thought for the week
“On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain: either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow.”