By Ismail Omipidan
When American comedian, Groucho Marx, defined politics as “the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies,” he may not have had Nigeria in mind. But this definition aptly describes the situation in the country.
Here the powers-that-be not only do anything they like but also use everything at their disposal to settle perceived scores, in the name of politics. And they do not remember whatever favour done to them. Perhaps, former Abia State Governor, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, would tell this story better, having been a victim of politics.
First, he is in trouble for fighting for democracy, against the powers-that-be, who wanted to subvert democracy. Second, he was betrayed by a man he laboured, spent his time and resources, to put into office. And he is still paying a price for his audacity, 10 years after leaving office.
The story of how Kalu became a multi-billionaire, in his 30s, long before going into politics, is well known in Nigeria, just as the story of how one of the former leaders of Nigeria suddenly became a billionaire only after leaving office, is well documented, both by Nigerian journalists and the country’s historians.
Ironically, while Kalu, whose sources of wealth, were known before he became governor in 1999, is standing trial for alleged fraud of N2.9 billion, the said former leader, who is the architect of his travails, walks the streets of Nigeria, a free man.
After a Supreme Court judgment, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) resumed a case filed against Kalu last year. The case was re-assigned to Justice Anwuri Chikere of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court for “expeditious trial.” Kalu and his co-defendants were re-arraigned on 34 counts before Justice
Chikere on September 27, 2016.
However, in a rather surreptitious manner, the case, which had all along been going on in Abuja, was transferred to Lagos. The EFCC had applied to Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta to withdraw it from the Abuja division and transferred it to Justice Mohammed Idris, of the federal High Court in Lagos. Kalu’s protest that such transfer was “forum shopping” was ignored. And by October 31, 2016, Kalu and co-accused appeared before Justice Idris, as they were again re-arraigned.
Upon their re-arraignment, they were allowed to continue on the bail condition, earlier granted them by Justice Adamu Bello, in 2009, just as the court fixed December 13, 2016 for commencement of trial.
However, on the adjourned date, even when Kalu and his counsel were in court, the trial failed to commence, due to the lateness of the prosecutor and the absence of the first prosecution witness.
Observing that the prosecuting counsel was not in court, Kalu’s counsel told the court that since his client travelled all the way from Abuja, despite flight difficulty, to be in court, Justice Idris should dismiss the case for want of diligent prosecution, especially because the prosecuting counsel did not give prior notice that he was not going to be in court.
Ruling on the matter, Justice Idris, who rebuked the prosecution counsel, said: “It is clear that the prosecution, which was represented on the last adjourned date, had the due notice of the time and place of hearing. By Section 351(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, where the court receives a reasonable excuse for the non-appearance of the complainant or his representative, it shall adjourn the hearing to some future date or such time as the court may deem just. Again, no reasonable excuse has been put forward for the non-appearance of the prosecution team; this is an unacceptable conduct and one that will not be condoned by this court.
“This is a court of law and one of justice; such attitude towards the prosecution of cases, especially by the prosecution, will not be tolerated. Having looked at the case, being a transferred matter and being the second time the matter would be mentioned in court, and the first time to be called for trial, I shall, in the circumstances and in the interest of justice, exercise my discretion, pursuant to the provision of Section 351(2) of the ACJA and adjourn the matter for trial. This will be the last of such adjournment, in situations such as this. In the interest of justice, I shall direct a fresh date be taken for trial to commence.”
Just when the court was about to decide on the next adjourned date, the prosecutor entered the courtroom and apologised for being late, saying he was held up in traffic, just as he explained that the first prosecution witness was sick.
“Yesterday, I still spoke with the sectional head of the unit where the witness works and I was assured that the witness will be available this morning. I went to the office of the EFCC this morning, hoping that the witness will be there, so that we can come to court together. I waited till a few minutes to 12pm. I kept calling and I could not get through to him. I was later informed that he was indisposed and will not be able to make it today,” he told the court.
The matter was consequently adjourned till March 6 to 10, 2017 and April 10 to 13, 2017, following a request by the defence counsel for the case to be heard on a daily basis for 10 consecutive working days.
Ironically, penultimate Thursday, during the trial, Onovah Oghenevoh, the first prosecution witness, said none of the defendants had link to the fund withdrawn from Abia State Government House’s account. Oghenevoh, who was led in evidence by the EFCC’s counsel, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) admitted, under cross examination, that neither Kalu, nor Udeh Jones Udeogu and Slok Nigeria Limited had any involvement in the 27 bank drafts raised through the account of Abia State Government House and issued by the defunct Manny Bank Plc.
The witness also told the trial judge that no payment was made to the former governor from Government House account between 2002 and 2005.Oghenevoh was cross-examined by Kalu’s lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) and the two other defendants’ counsels, Solo Akuma (SAN) and KC Nwofo (SAN) respectively, over a document containing information relating to 38 bank drafts issued by the Umuahia branch of the defunct Manny Bank Plc, within the period.
Insistently, Ogonevoh said no draft was either paid by Kalu or issued in his name. “There was nowhere in the documents where the names of Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu and Slok Nigeria Limited were mentioned, as those who gave instructions on the drafts. Between 2002 and 2005, I was in Corporate Audit Department of FSB International Bank; I was not working with Manny Bank in Umuahia at the time. I never, at any point in time, worked with the bank.
“The Government House account was domiciled in Umuahia, and I never, at any point in time, worked under Abia State Government or Orji Uzor Kalu’s administration. The account was specifically managed by an account officer, and I never, at any point in time, personally handled transactions of Government House account.”
The witness further said that all of the drafts were purchased across the counter, except two, which were by cash, adding that the purpose for which the drafts were purchased was not known.
However, on a further scrutiny of the document, the witness admitted, while being cross-examined by the counsel to the second defendant, that there were other people who requested for drafts apart from the four names he earlier mentioned. He also said he did not know the contractual relationship that existed between those who applied for the drafts and those in whose names they were drawn.
While being cross-examined by lawyer to the third defendant, Nwofo, the witness said none of the drafts were issued personally by him and that Slok Nigeria Limited was also not involved in the issuance of the drafts.
Kalu was the first person to earn the accolade “Action Governor,” during his first term, from 1999 to 2003. And it was former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who described Kalu as such, owning to the former governor’s exploits in Abia State, at the time. But by the time Kalu returned for a second term, the songs and dancing steps had changed.
Kalu was one of the over 20 Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governors, who supported former Vice President Atiku Abubakar then, to almost stop Obasanjo from getting a second term ticket of the PDP. Therefore, once Obasanjo returned for a second term, after senior party members got the governors too, to back down, he drew the battle line with all his perceived political enemies, Kalu inclusive.
Kalu’s case was worsened by the fact that he was at the forefront of the campaign against Obasanjo’s desire to get a third term. Unlike a few other governors who opposed the project only at night, but canvassed support for it in the day time, for fear of Obasanjo, Kalu was not only openly canvassing against it day and night, he mobilised men and resources against the project, including using his influence across the globe to speak to African and other world leaders, to talk sense into Obasanjo’s head, so as not to lead the country into another avoidable civil strife, a thing that may have been the outcome, had the project sailed through.
Again, Kalu dared Obasanjo, and contested against his preferred candidate in a presidential contest, that saw Kalu coming third, trailing behind incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, who was then a candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). In the said contest in 2007, Kalu, who contested on the platform of his Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA), which was just a few months old, garnered over five million votes. His party was also able to win the governorship seats in Abia and Imo states, which put into office, Chief Theodore Amaefule (TA) Orji and Chief Ikedi Ohakim respectively. The duo later dumped the PPA and joined the PDP.
The Abia governorship victory in that 2007 election was phenomenal, as the candidate, TA Orji, was not available for campaign, during the electioneering. He was held by the EFCC, an action believed to have been orchestrated by the then Presidency to ensure that the PDP candidate, Chief Onyema Ugochukwu won the governorship election. Yet, Kalu secured victory for TA Orji at the poll.
In spite of the fact that he enjoys immunity, several unsuccessful attempts were made to get Kalu arrested outside the shores of Nigeria. Unfortunately, Obasanjo did not get the required support, largely because leaders of those countries at the time knew he was carrying out a political persecution against Kalu. This much, was revealed by Kalu, on Monday, March 20, 2017, in Washington DC, United States, during a dinner, hosted by another illustrious Nigerian, Chief Daniel Eke.
The former governor, who called on Nigerian judges to emulate their US counterparts, by applying the laws, and not sentiments, revealed: “Yes I am being tried by the EFCC, but I have people who work with British intelligence. I have people who work with United States intelligence and they know that even when President Obasanjo wrote to Tony Blair about me, Tony Blair told him they won’t arrest me in London because I was not corrupt. When he also wrote to President Bush Junior, he (Bush) wrote him back and told him they won’t arrest me because I hadn’t committed any offence.”
Kalu, while recounting the genesis of his ordeal with the EFCC, went further to say at the same event: “We need to know that living on rumour and accusing people of something they never did, accusing genuine leaders who mean well, of alleged wrong they never did, will not help our country. All of you know that if the PDP was a company, I ought to own 90 percent of it, because in 1998 I gave the party its first N500 million. By then, I wasn’t in government. I also gave the presidential candidate, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, over N100 million in1998.
“How many Nigerians would have done that? Yet the same government, the same PDP, took my bank, took my airline, took my oil licence, to put me out of business entirely because I proposed that I must run for President in 2007, I also opposed the 3rd term, which they are denying today.”
While not seeking any favour or cover from prosecution, so long as it was not persecution, Kalu further said: “I also believe that if I am wrong I should be punished and if I am right I should be asked to go to my house, because, I have suffered, internationally. I have lost all the credit lines I am doing business with. We have lost reward from international business people. We have lost doing business with them for the past 10 years and we have lost almost everything. But we give thanks to God. Obviously, I cannot talk about this (the case) now because we are already in the court of record and court of competent jurisdiction. I believe the court will decide who is right and wrong. I believe in the liberty and profoundness of the judiciary and I believe in the sanctity of the law and I believe that the law should not be a respecter of anybody; people should respect the law and not the law respecting them. “
Before his trial commenced, Kalu had lost much. President Obasanjo, using the instrumentality of government, clamped down on him. Nigerians will not forget how the federal Government under Obasanjo woke up one morning and revoked the licence of Slok Air, an airline, in which Kalu had interest. The airline had acquired aircraft, set up offices across the country, recruited staff and went into many obligations when the licence was revoked.
An unattainable excuse was given for such action. As if this was not enough, Hallmark Bank, where Kalu had interest, was also dealt with. Kalu lost his investments in the bank, as part of the plot to cripple him economically. Even businesses, where he was not a shareholder, but which the then government perceived as his, were not spared, as they were listed as assets to be forfeited by the former governor.
Kalu had expressed confidence in the judiciary, believing that the court will do justice to the case based on the facts.