In Nigeria, the war against corruption has been put on trial severally. Different administrations have undertaken different approaches to get rid of this hideous monster of corruption that is, in most cases, responsible for political thuggery and violence, denying millions of Nigerians access to even basic education and health facilities.
Two important epochs come to mind when recounting vendetta between anti-graft agencies, especially EFCC, and political office holders accused of corruption or crimes of the same nature; and the setbacks the commission experienced: the reign of Nuhu Ribadu and that of Farida Waziri.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which came with one but forceful mission statement: “To rid Nigeria of economic and financial crimes and to effectively coordinate the domestic efforts of the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing”, was established in December 2003 by the Obasanjo administration and Nuhu Ribadu was made its pioneer chairman. The former police officer was out teeth and nail to challenge the impunity many Nigeria’s political elite enjoyed.
EFCC, as Human Rights Watch observed, was left with battered reputation and uncertain record of accomplishment. Why? The EFCC’s record was ridiculed. More than 30 political figures had been implicated yet none of them was probably serving a prison term.
Many a pundit was of the opinion that Ribadu’s efforts were frustrated by the very powers that be, which thought the former EFCC’s boss was overstepping his limits by clamping down on their political associates. Sadly, Ribadu was shown the door.
Farida Waziri’s reign as the EFCC’s chairman was characterised by lethargy and timidity. Yes, political figures were convicted, but most of the sentences looked and sounded a mockery of the whole object of the commission.
One thing that is taken little notice of while discussing the EFCC’s losses during the time of the former two EFCC bosses, Ribadu and Waziri – even these days, as alleged by Ribadu himself, was how courts, lawyers and the accused oftentimes conspire(d) to derail or frustrate many trials of national significance. Judicial scandal of two top judges, Adeniyi Ademola and Rita Ofilli-Ajumogbia, are pointers to the heart of the matter.
This leads to the question of why high profile corruption cases move at snail’s pace or are swept under the carpet. As Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye argued in his Justice or Impunity? High Profile Corruption Cases Crawling or Gone to Sleep, there is the suspicion that zero level of high profile conviction raises fear of possible manipulation and/or frustration to ensure that substantive cases are never tried on their merits until the trials are derailed to the detriment of the economic well-being of the country.
A clear example is that of the charges the former governor of Delta state, James Ibori, went away with in Nigeria with the aid of the judicial system of those days. He was cleared by a federal high court at Asaba, only to own the charges up, at far away England, where he served three years in jail out of the 13 he was sentenced to.
As if that was not enough a cleaver attempt at frustrating justice by high profile Nigeria’s political elite, with that sense of mordant wit and artfulness, a theatrical performance is being enacted by the same class that deliberately sought to evade justice.
Many were surprised that Dino Malaye, a showy, pompous and exuberant Nigerian politician, was being revived of a sudden asthma attack and later taken to a police hospital as widely reported.
The police had declared Melaye wanted for alleged supply of illegal arms to his political supporters. Many a scandal was attributed to Melaye that when arrested by the police, he had to jump out of the window of a moving police vehicle.
The outspoken chap, once more, refused to leave his hospital bed to appear before a Lokoja court where he was being tried for criminal conspiracy and attempted culpable homicide.
Malaye’s skillful dramatic performance could not end there. From leaping into a court room to breathing heavily, the former senator appeared in court on September 13 in a wheelchair. Of a sudden he had lost the use of his feet. Nigeria is a land of wonders that nothing is virtually impossible.
Corresponding theatrical performances were and are being acted out by Nigerian political elite being accused of malfeasance to ridicule the country’s judicial system.
On Thursday, November 7, 2019, the former Chairman, Pension Reform Task Team, Abdurrasheed Maina, armed with a medical letter, was wheeled into Court 6 of the Federal High Court, Abuja. He looked pensive and excessively sick.
Maina was arraigned alongside a firm, Common Input Property and Investment Ltd, by the EFCC. He is being charged with 12 counts bordering on money laundering, operating fictitious bank accounts and fraud. Ill-health is building a rocky wall between justice and Maina.
Dramatic scripts by both Maina and Melaye were formulaic: that is, enacted to align with a particular and pre-existing pattern tried out by some Nigeria’s political elite accused of money laundering, fraud or other crimes and it gave an escape from the court’s clutches.
In the same vein, in 2018, as if to mark the continuation of his trial before the Federal High Court, the former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Olisa Metuh, arrived in a wheelchair. His health was falling, too. An exhibit he tendered to the court testified that Metuh required urgent treatment.
Prior to this, Metuh had appeared before the court one day in a siren-mounted ambulance after the judge threatened to revoke his bail on the basis of his refusal to appear before the court.
Metuh was hale and hearty before EFCC prepared seven-count charges against him and his firm, Destra Investment Limited. Before the 2015 presidential election, EFCC alleged, Metuh received N400 million from the Office the National Security Advisor without executing any project.
The former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety (NIMASA), Patrick Akpobolokemi, did so much trust on crutches to evade justice. He mimicked the disabled by putting the support fittingly under his armpits and trudged into the court to face his fraud charges.
Akpobolokemi was tried alongside a former militant, Tompolo, for allegedly stealing $108.7 million from NIMASA.
Halliru Bello was not an exception. The former PDP chairman in 2015 appeared before the Federal High Court in a wheelchair looking dejected, too. EFCC had filed four-count charges of money laundering against him for his alleged role in the diversion of funds meant for arms procurement during the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
This drama of all-time is not only slowing the progress of the trials of political office holders accused of shady deals, but will, in no smaller proportion, give aspiring politicians a new vigour of hoping to use wheelchair as a shield against the mighty EFCC and the courts of justice.
I think the ‘doctrine of necessity’ should be invoked to put the minds of corrupt Nigeria’s political elite off this saviour wheelchair rather than allow the drama to dent our collective image and destroy the country the more. Those who have the audacity to steal should be made to face the consequences (even if they are on death throes!).