Wednesday, March 9, 2016 5:42 pm
By Celestine Okonkwo
Suddenly, obedience to court order has become the only yardstick for measuring adherence to rule of law and sustenance of democracy. According to such definition, a governor or president or any person can go against the constitution by stealing, extortion, embezzling of public funds, and not even paying workers’ salaries but once he obeys court orders especially granting of bail to anyone accused of such misdemeanour, he is in the right books of the pro-rule of law exponents.
Under such definition too, the government or its agencies will be adjudged keeping to the ‘rule of law’ if they do not challenge an order of a court restraining them from ever arresting and or investigating an official accused of embezzlement or mismanagement of public funds.
Therefore, the Economic and Financial Crime Commission was deemed to be obeying the ‘rule of law’ and in order when it complied with the bail orders for the former speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole and Faruk Lawan, who were standing trial as well Chimaroke Nnamani and Joshua Dariye, former governors of Enugu and Plateau States respectively who were in court for embezzlement of state funds even when those cases are currently suffocating in courts. Rule of law advocates applauded and looked the other way since the ‘rule of law’ has been obeyed by allowing the suspects to go on bail even if that meant an apparent end to the cases.
All of a sudden too, the refusal of the bail order for Dasuki for allegedly diverting funds meant for arms purchase has given birth to an avalanche of ‘rule-of-law’ defenders. They have inundated the nation’s media with comments, articles, arguments, and calls for the crucifixion of the present government for being dictatorial and for derailing the country’s hard-won democracy because it failed to allow Dasuki go on bail.
“Yes, we want to fight corruption but not with the corruption of the very sacred democratic and constitutional values without which this government or any other one can come to being,” Onome Osifor-Whiskey of TELL magazine, writes in one of the articles condemning the government for not allowing Dasuki to go on bail.
“The president is both the nation’s chief security officer and chief law enforcer and as the chief law enforcer, he doesn’t have the option of not obeying the constitution, which he swore to uphold the day he assumed the office. The constitution legitimizes our democratic system of government by anchoring it firmly on the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.
Just like the president, those who support him in his fight against corruption the way he is going about it are impatient with those who insist that the fight should not be an excuse for undermining the rule of law, which is fundamental to the democratic system,” Nosa Ighiebor also of TELL magazine, wrote in one of his numerous articles condemning Buhari for not adhering to the ‘rule of law.’
Fayose, the Ekiti State governor, also a defender of the ‘rule of law’ is of the opinion that the EFCC cannot even investigate military Generals accused of diverting funds meant for the purchase of arms to fight the Boko Haram because, according to him, the highest-ranking EFCC personnel is the acting chairman of the commission who is an assistant commissioner of police.
“If he would be participating in the interrogation of the generals, that will be the first time senior military officers will be subjected to intense grilling over an allegation by a team of interrogators outside military officers and led by an assistant commissioner of police and his team of police interrogators,” he argues. Fayose probably forgets that the generals are being grilled under a democratic dispensation.
He, therefore, throws salient posers over the issue. “How does it feel for serving military generals to be interrogated by an assistant commissioner of police?” He believes that dragging the officers before the EFCC amounts to ridiculing the military. By this argument, Fayose would recommend that for a Magistrate’s Court to try a retired army general, the magistrate must probably be made a field marshal before he can perform such task in a civilian court.
“I think that we should not destroy our democratic institutions, especially the judiciary and Armed Forces because we are fighting corruption,” Fayose had continued. This is ‘rule of law’ a la Fayose indeed.
The National Daily in one of its editorials, also carpets the current administration’s method of fighting corruption. Again, its grouse has to do with the issue of refusing bail order by the EFCC. “Take the issue of Colonel Dasuki, for example, the ex-NSA has consistently been arrested, arraigned, and granted bail only to be re-arrested by the EFCC. Both President Mohammadu Buhari and the EFCC chair have indicated that there is no let off for Dasuki and that the pattern would continue ad infinitum, perhaps until conviction against the ex-security adviser is obtained,” the paper had said.
The editorial also cited the case of the former director general of the Nigeria Safety and Maritime Agency [NIMASA], Dr Patrick Akpobolokemi, who has been denied bail by the crimes commission in spite of the order of a competent court. “Instead, the EFCC, in flagrant disregard for the law, captured him in a court premises as proof of the desperation to keep him in the cooler.
Perhaps, more pronounced is the trial of the PDP spokesman, Olisa Metuh, which was preceded by a media trial. The EFCC obviously, acting out a script from Aso Rock, denied Metuh bail by frivolously splitting the charges in a desperate move to keep him out of circulation, ostensibly because the authorities consider his recent statements as being too harsh and overtly critical,” the editorial said.
Bola Bolanle, another ‘rule of law’ activist in an article in The News magazine, thinks that the government, in refusing to grant bail to those who are standing trial for allegedly looting the national treasury, is acting outside the law. He says that Buhari got it all wrong to think that he has the right to bend the laws to achieve his purpose.
“Government, in the exercise of its duties, may not abridge, tamper or interfere with the rights and privileges of a citizen as preserved by law. The government has no choice in this matter. It is bound by law to respect the legally-prescribed rights of the citizen,” he posited.
“Where a citizen falls foul of the law and the government moves to hold him accountable, the government, in doing so, must itself act strictly under the law; otherwise, we have a case of one criminal trying to subject another criminal to the law. It is trite that you cannot give what you do not have and he who comes to equity must come with clean hands,” he further argues.
“In fighting corruption, which is laudable and which this writer supports, the government must do so under the law. A lawless government is a danger to the entire society – the lawless and lawful equally. Therefore, it is wrong to presume that government, just because it is fighting corruption, will ride roughshod over the rights and liberties of citizens,” Bolawole contends.
Again, Nosa Igiebor wrote. “His (Buhari’s) war is beyond any reproach, period! It becomes more frightening when even lawyers, including senior advocates, endorse the flagrant undermining of the judiciary by executive agencies disdainfully ignoring court orders under the guise of fighting corruption.”
Igiebor accuses Buhari of being impatient with the slow methodical grind of due process in his fight against corruption and that his template for dealing with suspects leaves no room for innocence to be proven even in the courts as he has complained that the judiciary is not on the same page with him on the graft war. “So, what is the big fuss about the government also breaking the law by ignoring due process and defying court orders?”
Luckily, for the EFCC and the administration, an Abuja Federal Capital Territory High Court judge, Justice Peter Affen, has ruled that the continued detention of Dasuki did not violate the order granting the ex-NSA bail on December 21, 2015. Justice Affen dismissed the application by Dasuki seeking to stop his trial for alleged diversion of N19 billion arms funds on the grounds that his re-arrest on December 29, 2015 violated the order of the court.
Earlier, Justice Baba Yusuf of the same court had on February 8, made a similar declaration that the detention of Dasuki was not a breach of his order granting him bail on December 18 2015. Justice Affen ruled that Dasuki’s application lacked merit and ordered that the trial should commence.
He ruled that since it was clear that the former security adviser was not re-arrested by the EFCC but the DSS, the EFCC cannot be said to have violated the order granting him bail. He ruled that though the DSS and the EFCC were both federal agencies, the action or inaction of one could not be blamed on the other. He also ruled that the order granting bail to Dasuki did not preclude him from being re-arrested by other agencies of the federal government in respect of other alleged crimes.
But whilst this article is not in support of the government disobeying court orders especially bail orders, it is, however, concerned and is asking why the sudden birth of such critics when, in reality, the rule of law had all along been suffocating and had suffocated in this country. Where were the current crusaders when the rule of law was being murdered all these years?
Where were they when court orders were ridiculously dished out? Where were they when a court ordered the EFCC never to arrest or investigate former Rivers State governor who was standing trial for embezzlement? Where were they when former Enugu State governor, Chimaroke Nnamani, standing trial for embezzlement, was granted bail many years ago and was even elected a legislator, making laws for this country?
They will of course argue that he was not convicted and, therefore, presumed innocent. But with that type of case hanging on his neck and the necks of others, could the ‘rule of law’ advocates not have argued or fought that they be suspended until they clear themselves in order to respect the sanctity of the constitution?
Where are the current ‘rule of law’ crusaders when a former internal affairs minister, Abba Moro, conducted a deadly interview and was never even questioned for that offence? The interview, conducted in several stadia, forced candidates to pay N1,000 each for forms for a federal civil service job recruitment. Did these new rights crusaders raise any dust or is the offence not contrary to their own ‘rule of law?’
How many articles did these ‘rule of law’ crusaders write condemning former Zamfara State governor, who married a 13-year-old girl? This is against the constitution of the country but the ‘rule of law’ activists did not raise an eyebrow. Yerima claimed that his religion allows such and that the law was not domesticated by his state, hence it should not be counted against him.
Why did the ‘rule of law’ soldiers not fight or argue that his religion, not being against it is not an excuse to commit such a crime against the constitution? Why did they fail to point out that an African traditional religion worshipper is not free to kill or sacrifice human beings even though his religion permits it because the constitution frowns against it.
Again, Yerima, the man who made the sharia court system the government judicial system of trying thieves is currently being tried for alleged stealing in a conventional court and our ‘rule of law’ choral singers have not raised any dust even though many poor peoples’ hands have been amputated for stealing even goats in the same state.
What have the ‘rule of law’ crusaders done when more than 80 percent of inmates in our prisons are awaiting trial? What did they do when some persons are spending more than 10 years for an offence they would have been jailed for 10 months? What did they do when an armed robbery suspect was executed on the orders of a director of public prosecution before his appeal was scheduled for hearing only to be acquitted at the appeal hearing?
These are some examples and instances of rights abuses and miscarriage of justice that escaped the attention of our present born-again ‘rule of law’ fighters. These offences are bound by law to “respect the legally-prescribed rights of the citizen” or are they not citizens of the same country?
What did the fighters of ‘rule of law’ do when former Edo State governor, Lucky Igbinedion, was fined N3 million after being found guilty of stealing billions of naira? What did our ‘rule of law’ legion do when former minister of aviation, Stella Oduah, allegedly bought two cars for N225 million and was not even questioned or removed from office? Or are these not instances of breaches to the rule of law?
What did these rights fighters do when Abacha’s son, the custodian of his father’s loot was made to spill just a little of the loot to the government so that he can contest election to the governorship of a state? ‘Rule of law’ brigadiers did not see anything wrong with a Nigerian court acquitting a former state governor only to be jailed by a foreign court for the same offences.
The attitude of these ‘rule of law’ crusaders reminds one of the story of some blind men who went to see an elephant. One touched the body of the elephant and declared that the animal was like a wall contrary to the views of the one that touched the ear and said that the elephant was like a piece of cloth. Yet, another touched the tail and was convinced that the animal was like a snake.
Though these blind men touched different parts of the same elephant, they could not put their findings together to give a correct picture of the animal. But they are all correct because the parts they touched belong to the elephant.
The elephant here represents the constitution of the country and the blind men are everybody trying to interpret it. But unlike the blind men in the story, who highlighted different parts of the elephant, our ‘rule of law’ exponents only touch the tail and want everybody to believe that the elephant is not just like a snake but that the animal is a snake.
For them, obeying court order especially bail orders represents rule of law and nothing else. For them too, anyone who flaunts this order is a dictator.
The constitution, like the elephant in the story is made up of different parts that are mutually exclusive but form one body of laws. Therefore, highlighting only the obedience to court order as the be all and end all of the constitution or the rule of law is like making the tail of the elephant the only and most important part of the animal.
By keeping quiet when all other aspects of the constitution or the rule of law are being trampled upon is like saying that all other aspects of the constitution can be treated anyhow but not court orders especially granting bail to alleged wrongdoers more so if they are politically-exposed persons. It gives the impression that their grouse against the current government for not allowing alleged wrongdoers to get bail, roam the streets, and flaunt their wealth is politically-motivated.
It also gives the impression that governments, including past ones can commit any offence but once they obey court orders by allowing alleged looters to go on bail, travel out of the country, and stall prosecution, they are in order. For the ‘rule of law’ advocates, there is nothing wrong with that and our democracy is blooming even if it takes 30 years to convict a suspected thief or recover the loot so far he is allowed to go bail.
Therefore, by the same token, allowing a suspect to pay almost nothing as fine as in the case of Igbinedion is not corruption of the constitutional and democratic values. To our apostles of ‘rule of law,’ granting bail to accused persons and allowing the cases to pail into insignificance does not amount to corruption of democratic and constitutional values.
All these anomalies transpired within Nigeria’s democratic space and the present day ‘rule of law’ defenders did not raise such hue and cry either because they were either not yet born or they had not yet acquired the born-again spirit to fight for the rule of law. Some of them do not mind the number of years it takes to try alleged looters or recover the loots as long as they are granted bail and the government obeys. That is perhaps why some of them condemn Buhari of being impatient with the “slow, methodical grind of due-process.”
But must rule of law be at whose expense? Rule of law is good but it depends on its interpretation. If stealing and getting court bail is the most important part of the rule of law, then the country is run in disorderliness. If rule of law or respect for the constitution, according to its present day proponents, allows for people to share $2.1 billion and nobody is to account for it because accused persons have been granted bail and some even allowed to travel out of the country for medical reasons because of ‘human rights,’ then how do these apostles of ‘rule of law’ recommend to the government to fight corruption and other crimes?.
Celestine Okonkwo is a retired Editor, News Agency of Nigeria (08023905440)