I get bemused when hitherto respected columnists allow their political and other undisclosed partisanship to so becloud their senses of judgment that, in their analysis of issues, they consign logic, morality and objectivity to the dust bin of history. Such is the searing pain with which I read the opinions of my good friends, Owei Lakemfa (Vanguard, April 10, 2017); Sam Omatseye (The Nation, April 17 and 24, 2017 (twice in as many weeks); and Gbenga Omotoso (The Nation, April 13, 2017). That the barbs, except one, are coming from the same source, is quite understandable. No problem.
As a social critic and multi-columnist (every Wednesday The Sun and Sunday Telegraph), I have learnt to develop thick skin against criticisms. Because they constitute the manure, the elixir, that nurture plurality of views, and thus, progress and development.
However, when such opinions run counter to objectivity and the laws of the land, it is safer to correct them, lest silence is mistaken for acquiescence; and reticence for truth. In recommending me for the position of Attorney-General “to take the anti-corruption war to a new phase”(a veiled pun), Omotoso is uncomfortable that I am defending “Chief Raymond Dokpesi, who is charged with alleged corruption of collecting about N2.1 billion from the office of the NSA”. Thank God, Omotoso concedes that it is “alleged corruption”. Till date, the EFCC is still battling with their third witness, one and half years later! Omotoso thinks I was “once popular for his (my) rights advocacy”. I do not know his scale for measuring popularity (forget that I am not in any popularity contest with anyone). But, this: If public reactions, vide emails, sms, letters, phone calls, the social media and personal contacts are anything to go by, I believe, in all modesty, that Nigerians believe in my “rights advocacy” today more than ever before. Yes, for standing for the truth, speaking truth to authority, no matter whose horse is gored. Yes, for proffering solutions, whenever I critique.
Owei Lakemfa surprised me more when he said my legal fees of N75 million “must have infuriated many Nigerians”. Not done, he pontificated:
“If one lawyer earns so much as legal fees, what will be left for other lawyers to share? I know that Baba Ozek, as some of us call him, is a brilliant lawyer, is that why he should receive so much? Some believe that such a huge sum will go a long way in reviving our hailing (sic) economy and floating the Naira, which had almost drowned before a life jacket was tossed at it.
“The danger to the country is that if lawyers earn so much, almost everybody including medical consultants and Area Boys (street boys or urchins) would abandon their practice to read law. So, from the moral perspective alone, such money should be seized.” Incredible!
“Street boys and urchins” are hereby welcome to the legal profession. If this view had emanated from the olden days popular Onitsha market literature peddlers, I probably would have ignored them. But, coming from a seasoned trade unionist and opinion moulder, I am alarmed. Lakemfa shocked me further:
“My reaction is that strong suspicion by the populace should be enough reason to convict (sic) the judge, after all, there is a popular saying that ‘there is no smoke without fire’. But why was such a rickety case construed? Is corruption not fighting back?
“As things stand, Mrs. Jonathan and Chief Ozekhome now have access to their unfrozen accounts, Justice Ademola may return to the Bench and Orubebe may be singing songs of praise; where do these leave the millions of Nigerians, who believe they are guilty? We need to amend our Constitution and laws so that in corruption cases, those condemned by popular opinion would be guilty as charged.” I cannot believe this.
Lakemfa is simply advocating mob irrationality, trial and conviction by the media and a worked up populace, without granting any hearing at all, let alone a fair one. Nigerian citizens should be “condemned by popular opinion”, even if the opinion, as later shown in established courts of law after public trial, is predicated on blatant falsehood and sheer emotions. He believes “strong suspicion by the populace should be enough basis to convict”, because, after all, “there is no smoke without fire”. Good gracious! This is a ready recipe for indiscriminate mob “lynch-all-suspects” hysteria. Every Nigerian will be endangered, because it will be easy for people to simply tar their enemies and opponents with the paint brush of criminality, and “fiam”, such people are lynched with burning tyres, or guillotined. Even God, as omniscient and omnipresent as He is, never condemned Adam and Eve without a fair trial in the Garden of Eden.
I laughed when Lakemfa believed (was he kidding?), that though I am a “brilliant lawyer”, N75m professional fee was too much, as “the sum will go a long way in reviving our hailing (sic) economy and floating the Naira, which almost drowned before a life jacket was thrown at it”. Incredible! When did a citizen’s professional fees, mutually agreed upon with his client (like doctors – patients, accountants – clients, labourers – contractors), become public money that should be used in reviving Nigeria’s ailing economy? Here, the facts: I currently handle about eight cases for Ayodele Fayose, sitting Governor of Ekiti State, covered by immunity under section 308, 1999 Constitution, and his friends and aides, like Abiodun Agbele and Chief Femi Fani-Kayode’s wife. I move, at least, five lawyers down to Ado Ekiti, Akure, Abuja and Lagos, where the cases against them by EFCC are scattered in various courts – Federal High Court, FCT High Court, Lagos High Court, FHC, Akure, Court of Appeal, Ado Ekiti, etc. I bear logistics, flight tickets, accommodation, out – of – station allowance, et al. I defeated the EFCC before Justice Taiwo O. Taiwo of FHC, Ado Ekiti, who unfroze Fayose’s account, earlier frozen by Justice M.B. of FHC, Lagos. The Judge had found that the earlier freezing order of Justice Idris was obtained by fraud/misrepresentation of material facts. Fayose withdrew N5m from his defozen account with Zenith Bank (the 2nd Defendant). Contemporaneously, he posted N75m to Mike Ozekhome’s Chambers (MOC), who had laboured all along on all the cases with a retinue of lawyers without pay. EFCC appealed. But, without waiting for the outcome of its appeal, it rushed to FHC, Lagos, before Justice Abdulazeez Anka, and like it did before Idris, obtained an exparte order to freeze MOC’s account. It suppressed the fact that it had personally appealed Taiwo’s judgment; that the N75m paid into MOC’s account on 15th of December, 2016, had since been used by me, before obtaining a fresh exparte order on 7th of February, 2017, 53 days later.
Justice Anka, in a well considered ruling after hearing EFCC and me, described EFCC’s action as diabolical, especially as it had appealed the judgment of Justice Taiwo. He accordingly unfroze my GTB account. And someone is inventing separate meanings into this clear case of EFCC’s vendetta, “bad belle” and vindictiveness?
If Lakemfa merely surprised me, Omatseye shocked me with his alarming thesis:
“Behind every big case of fraud is a SAN, and behind any judgment that liberates a thief is a judge with a callow mind. Shakespeare’s Henry the VI character, Dick the Butcher, said “the first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” He meant it in jest, but the quote has endured through the ages because of the intellectual duplicity of wigs. Our SANs are great bane of the age. Hence Jesus poured woe on lawyers because they have “taken away the key of knowledge. You have not entered yourselves, and you have hindered those who are entering.” The verdicts on Patience Jonathan, Ozekhome, Ademola point to this general decadence. To save the law, we have to first save the lawyers. The society has a role to play. The lawyers have fallen short, so have our judges. The judges failed in the three EFCC cases because they did not apply the principle of hermeneutics for justice.”
Which justice is Omatseye referring to? He simply means justice according to the rule of the thumb, not rule of law. Justice of whimsicality and capriciousness. But, surely, Omatseye must be fully aware that the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption (PACAC), has since set up an 80 man Panel of eminent lawyers, headed by 20 SANs, to prosecute cases for EFCC and other anti-graft agencies .
Is he suggesting that justice is only served when the accused persons are thrown into the gallows without also being defended by lawyers against EFCC’s prosecuting lawyers? Does he prefer persecution to prosecution? He believes that “the lawyer rely (sic) on the western dictum that everyone is presumed innocent before they are guilty. That works in their societies because the law abides in their hearts.” Not quite so. Have these writers ever read section 36 (6) of the 1999 Constitution?: “Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be entitled to – (c) defend himself in person or by legal practitioners of his own choice; (d) examine in person or by his legal practitioners, the witnesses called by the prosecution before any court or tribunal”?; and that “every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty (section 36 (5)? Section 36 of that Constitution, which PMB swore to defend, has merely enacted into the ground norm, the Anglo-Saxon criminal justice system, which is accusatorial (presumption of innocence), rather than the French model, which is inquisitorial (presumption of guilt). Perhaps, to satisfy these “anti-corruption” Czars, we should abolish courts (the judiciary) and enthrone martial law or military dictatorship and Mussolini’s fascism. Perhaps, to “fight corruption”, PMB’s puritanic government and its idol worshipers should dissolve the entire corrupt Nigerian populace and elect or select another!
This knee-jerk approach to fighting corruption is not working. That is why EFCC loses cases with the ease with which hot knife cuts through butter. The government and its apologists deceive themselves when they resort to the “corruption is fighting back” mantra whenever they lose cases they never properly investigated in the first place.
The losses (these will continue), have nothing to do with Bassanio (Merchant of Venice)’s “avenging Angels of technicalities, who bend the law for justice”. There can be no justice in vacuo. There is a difference between the “lexlata” of a law (the law as it is), and the “lexdelegeferenda” (the law as you would want it to be). One is real; the other illusory. Let me remind my trio “anti-corruption” crusader friends that Nigeria operates a constitutional democracy; and that strict observance of citizens’ fundamental human rights, and the rule of law constitute necessary and indispensable imperatives and adjuncts of democracy. The alternative is chaos and anarchy, reminiscent of the Hobbesian state of nature, where life was short, nasty and brutish.
In a decent and civilised society, the government would have effortlessly tendered a public apology to: Mike Ozekhome, for freezing his hard earned professional fees paid from a court-ordered unfrozen and unencumbered account earlier frozen nichodemusly by the very EFCC he had defeated in a legal battle); Orubebe, former Niger Delta Minister, who was demonised, humiliated, tried and convicted in the media for over one and half years, only for the Attorney-General (God bless him), to honestly discontinue the charges, because the very N1.9 billion Orubebe was said to have pilfered sat pretty tight in government coffers, untouched; Patience Jonathan, who had her account frozen exparte, in absentia, without any hearing at all, even when she is alive! Justice Ademola, his wife and Joe Agi, SAN. Ademola was captured (kidnapped is better), in a Gestapo-like manner by hooded DSS operatives and subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, between the unholy hours of 12 midnight and 5am. He was whisked away like a common criminal and forced to abdicate his judicial functions. A frenzied section of the public, fired by sensational media trial, bayed for his blood. Guess what? The 18 charges filed against him collapsed like a pack of cards, on a mere “no case submission”, as there was no scintilla of evidence to support them.
IPOB’s Nnamdi Kanu has been granted bail repeatedly by different courts. The messianically redemptive “anti-corruption” government refuses to release him. It has become an appellate court! Colonel Sambo Dasuki has been granted bail by three courts, including the regional ECOWAS court, with damages awarded in his favour. The government says it knows better than courts. He remains detained nearly two years later. Elzakzary has been ordered released, with his house guarded (if the government so desires). No. The executive is omniscient and omnipotent. It would not obey court orders.
Many appointees of government so far indicted by many Nigerians in multi-billion naira sleeze petitions currently pending before the anti-graft agencies, luxuriate in office. The government even rolls out drums of defence for them. It fights other people’s “corruption” with sweet smelly sasarobia perfume, while attacking “corruption” of opposition, critics and dissenters with herbicides, pesticides and insecticides. Worse forms of corruption surely reign in tribalism, cronyism nepotism, favouritism, unchecked heldsmen, worsening insecurity, intolerance, hunger, disease, squalor, melancholy, fear, haplessness, hopelessness, prostrate economy, browbeaten judiciary, emassulated legislature and embattled Press.
Nigerians have since become unshockable with the “discoveries” of orphaned monies, running into billions of naira. But, pray, where are all these “recovered” sums and attached properties? I thought transparency and accountability were necessary ingredients in any anti-corruption broth?
Wake up, guys. Remove hypnotism freckles from your eyes and see clearly, before we are completely eclipsed in an inextricable quagmire.