By Dele Sobowale
“The Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria is set to take possession of properties belonging to the Chairman, Bi-Courtney Group of Companies, Dr Wale Babalakin, over a N13.4bn debt…But, for “clerical errors”, one of the properties in Lagos would have been taken over on Friday”. PUNCH, Monday, February 11, 2013, p 30.
First it was the cancellation of the badly written and mutually ill-executed contract with Bi-Courtney to re-build the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. The contract was unilaterally terminated by the Federal government of Nigeria – without going through due process. Nigerians heard on the airwaves, from the Minister of Works, that the contract had been re-awarded to Julius Berger, JB.
Like a lot of statements from Jonathan’s administration, it turned out that there is no signed agreement with JB. Having got itself into a tight corner and facing a multi-billion naira law suit from Bi-Courtney, the Federal government had done what governments in Banana Republics do – it has gone on the offensive in a bid to intimidate Dr Wale Babalakin, SAN.
In Nigeria, where someone who, by his own admission, embezzled N23 billion from the Pension Fund, and was almost allowed to go free, a man who had attracted billions into the Nigerian economy is being hounded like a wild animal.
Even any 100 level student knows that the government’s action regarding the Expressway contract was faulty procedurally. The delay in the execution of the contract was as much the fault of governments (federal and states) as well as that of Bi-Courtney. But, the Federal government in a bid to shift the blame to the victim, Bi-Courtney, had attempted to use propaganda to gain cheap popularity on the matter.
Apart from the obvious lie told when the award of a new contract to JB was announced, few people seem to remember that the temporary rehabilitation of the road was supposed to have been completed before Christmas. But, today, work is still going on. Our private investigation reveals that the Federal government had been delaying in paying for services rendered – as usual.
To intimidate Babalakin, the Federal government, using the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, as a fence, had arraigned Babalakin, at the Lagos High Court, Ikeja, on January 17, 2013, together with one Alex Okoh and some companies for allegedly helping Chief Ibori to launder N4.7 billion.
Ordinarily, there would have been no cause for alarm if the EFCC had acted months before the mistake by the Federal government regarding the road contract. But, coming a few weeks after the, perhaps, illegal termination of contract, the measure was suspicious.
The doubt in people’s mind was heightened by the unnecessary drama, orchestrated by the EFCC, once the announcement was first made of Babalakin’s arrest. It was a familiar tale of “giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it”. Newspapers were told that Babalakin had been declared wanted; even when he had not received the summons to appear at EFCC office.
Again, any level I00 student of law, in a democracy, knows that allegation is not sufficient proof of guilt. Furthermore, a person accused by the EFCC, the Police, the NDLEA, or any other security agency, for serious crimes, must protect himself by procuring the services of a lawyer before appearing before them for questioning.
It will be the height of folly for anyone to be called and for the person to march straight to EFCC office without taking this precaution. And, there is nothing in the EFCC Act which stipulates the time available to the accused before showing up at the EFCC office. Despite knowing these facts, the EFCC was all over the media “searching for Babalakin”. Meanwhile, pension fraudsters were receiving lenient treatment and one just got a slap on the wrist – thanks to EFCC mishandling the case.
The truth is, the EFCC cannot, and should not, prevent anyone from taking shelter under the provisions of the law which favour them in their defence. In more civilized countries, an accused person is allowed to remain silent if being interrogated without his legal counsel present. In the USA, that is called the Mirinda Amendment.
Here in Nigeria, millions of innocent people are railroaded into jail by being asked, or forced or intimidated, by law enforcement agents to write statements, which are later submitted as evidence, without a lawyer within ten kilometers of the interrogation room.
Why should Babalakin, a lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, subject himself to that sort of travesty of justice – just to please the EFCC? As for those who would wonder why Babalakin, as a SAN, cannot handle his own case.