Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Representatives of civil society in the country have described as ‘abuse of judiciary, and the desecration of the nation’s institutions, the non-prosecution of a former governor of Rivers State, Peter Odili, alleging that the judiciary was being used to thwart the course of justice in the land.
The CSOs were reacting to Odilli’s suit against Chidi Odinkalu, a human rights lawyer over a book he co-authored with Ayisha Osori.
Odili said the authors ridiculed him and soiled his reputation in the book titled “Too Good To Die: Third Term and the Myth of the Indispensable Man in Africa”.
The former governor is demanding an apology and N1 billion from the writers of the book, and also requested that further publication of copies of the book must cease immediately.
The group demanded that, “All Nigerians of conscience, all anti-corruption activists, all jurists, all lawyers and judges disgusted with how our judiciary – the last bastion for justice for the people – has been abused to thwart accountability, to call for the injunctions in favour of Dr. Odili to be reversed.
“We call on our partners and anti-corruption crusaders across the continent and the globe to speak against this injustice and demand that the Judiciary wake up to its responsibility and provide the platform legally available to EFCC to appeal the order which restricts it from prosecuting Dr. Odili on the basis of its report from 2007.”
The group also said, “We are Nigerian citizens, tax payers and representatives of civil society who wish to see a better country for ourselves, our children and our communities.
“Today, we seek to address the historical and continued abuse of our judiciary and the desecration of our institutions as typified by the libel suit filed by Dr. Peter Odili, former governor of Rivers State, against the authors of ‘Too Good to Die – The Myth of the Indispensible Man in Africa’, Chidi Odinkalu and Ayisha Osori.
“The case, recently instituted in a court in Rivers State, is only the latest attempt by Dr. Odili to add to his growing number of trophy cases where the courts had been successfully used to thwart and subvert any chance that Nigerians can hold people like him accountable for their tenure in office.
“In the case against Odinkalu & Osori, Dr. Odili claims that he has been libeled because the book states, amongst other things that his tenure of Governor was “marred by widespread evidence of corruption, mismanagement, organised political violence and electoral fraud.
“This is an understated description of the Rivers State that Dr. Odili ruled. Should we be unable to say so because someone like Dr. Odili has found a way to purchase our judiciary to do his bidding?
“We are outraged that through these manufactured judicial proceedings, Dr. Odili wants to force-feed to our posterity his own self-serving version of our recent history.
“It is a notorious fact that the Rivers State that Dr. Odili ruled was dominated by criminal gangs and militias, many of them with support from the Governor’s office.
“Often, competition between these gangs made life in Port Harcourt and many other parts of the state impossible.
“In a responsible clime, these facts will be the subject of judicial notice An attempt to controvert them will be laughed out of court with deserved ignominy.
“The vision for Nigeria in the National Anti Corruption Strategy 2017-2021 is “[A] Nigeria free of corruption through preventive measures, law enforcement and the rule of law for human development.” Nothing could be further from the truth in practice.
“On paper and at first glance, Nigeria is serious about tackling the corrosive culture of impunity for corruption in every facet of our society.
“In addition to our executive, legislative and judicial institutions naturally responsible for protecting and safeguarding the commonwealth, Nigeria has various agencies specifically tasked with checking corruption yet the will to meaningfully reduce the entitled looting of public wealth is completely lacking.
“Such a will would have made it impossible or at least a thing of shame that any court in Nigeria would consider granting to a former public officer a perpetual injunction restraining the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from investigating, prosecuting or arresting him for anything done by him during his tenure as governor.
“This is what Dr. Odili got in 2007 and despite EFCC’s appeal against this order in EFCC V. AG RIVERS STATE & ORS, CA/PH/622/2008, filed in May 2008, as we speak, 10 years later, EFCC’s appeal has not been assigned despite the best efforts of anti-corruption advocates who have petitioned, without success, the President of the Court Appeal and the Chief Justice at the Supreme Court where his wife, Justice Mary Odili sits.
“The corruption and violence that characterises Nigerian politics and governance is well documented.
“In its 2008 report Politics as War: The Human Rights Impact and Causes of Post-Election Violence in Rivers State, Nigeria Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported (p. 2).
“Rivers’ wealth has not just been squandered; it has also been put to work sponsoring violence and insecurity on behalf of ruling party politicians.
“Prior to the 2003 elections, then-Governor Peter Odili and his political associates lavishly funded criminal gangs that helped rig the election into a landslide victory for the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
“Those gangs used the money at their disposal to procure sophisticated weapons; some of them are now better armed than the police.”
Two years before the HRW Report, Nuhu Ribadu, then Chair of EFCC used the EFCC’s “Interim Report on the Investigation of a Case of Alleged Conspiracy, Abuse of Office, Fraudulent Conversion of Public Funds, Foreign Exchange Malpractice, Stealing and Money Laundering” to persuade President Obasanjo on the eve of the PDP convention in October 2006 to change the vice presidential nominee – this change and the reasons why are captured in several books including Governor Nasir el-Rufai’s ‘The Accidental Public Servant,’ Olusegun Adeniyi’s book, ‘Against the Run of Play’ and Prof. Wale Adebanwi’s book, ‘A Paradise of Maggots’, among others.
“What Odili is doing with this latest libel suit is to deny our country a memory in order to avoid political accountability.
“As citizens, we have a duty to stop him and his agents in the judicial system. This is what he has done consistently for over one decade with the court orders he has been granted and the refusal of the court administration to allow EFCC to appeal the order of 2008.
“This amounts to flogging a child and demanding that the child must not even whimper. This political muzzling of the right of Nigerians to hold public officers accountable for abuse of power and public trust is injustice of the highest order and frankly, it makes a complete mockery of any and all discussions about anti-corruption deterrence mechanisms.”
The statement was signed by Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA Resource Centre), Public Interest Lawyers League (PILL), Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Partners for West Africa, Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) and Socio-Economic Right and Accountability Project (SERAP).
Others CSOs who signed are Zero-Corruption Coalition (ZCC), Accountability Maternal New-born and Child Health in Nigeria (AMHiN), Partners on Electoral Reform, State of the Union (SOTU), African Centre for Media and Information Literacy, National Procurement Watch Platform, Say NO Campaign—Nigeria, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civil Education (CHRICED), Social Action, International Press Centre, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), WANGONET and Community Action For Popular Participation.