By Josef Omorotiomwan
NORMALLY, we don’t have to justify telling the truth but we do have to justify not telling the truth. The plain truth is that from the beginning, these smart guys — men who at times even attempt to outsmart themselves — have the same modus operandi. They think they are bold and with their boldness, they can intimidate the rest of society and browbeat all of us into submitting to their whims and caprices.
One good attribute of the truth is that it is empirical and verifiable — bend it whichever way you like, it remains constant; and crush it to death, it will await you at the next corner.
In ancient times, Atakpalakpa existed in a rural setting. He was a notorious thief whose stock-in-trade was around goat thievery. He was a menace to the entire community.
On that fateful native Sunday, Eken Market Day, a general meeting of the villagers was called to consider what to do with Atakpalakpa. As soon as the villagers converged at the village square, Atakpalakpa came out and warned that nobody should talk about him. Whosoever dared talk after a stern warning from a terror would have done so at his own risk. It was like removing the clothes put in the sun by a witch. That was the end of the meeting.
During the period 1999-2007, Dr. Peter Odili was the Governor of Rivers State. He was a damn good Governor. Seven years after, many Rivers State indigenes, particularly those who worked with him, hold him in high esteem. If you were to go to a street in Port Harcourt today to proclaim otherwise, you would probably be lynched. That is how far street loyalty can take anyone.
On the debit side, quite early into the Odili administration, tongues wagged that the Governor was stealing the State blind. EFCC was quite vocal on this when in the interim report of its investigation, it asserted unequivocally that Governor Odili had diverted over N100 billion of Rivers States fund into his personal accounts. The report contained serious allegations of “fraud, conspiracy, conversion of public funds, foreign exchange malpractices, money laundering, stealing and abuse of Oath of Office” against Dr. Odili.
In the tradition of Atakpalakpa, Odili rushed to the court to stop the security agencies, including the EFCC, from investigating him for corruption and from further probing his administration.
On February 22, 2007, the then Rivers State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice filed Suit no. FHC/PHC/CS178/2007 — Rivers State Vs the EFCC and 3 others — challenging the powers of the EFCC to probe the affairs of the State, claiming that the activities of the EFCC were prejudicial to the smooth running of the Rivers State government.
The case was given accelerated hearing and was apparently decided ex-parte. Thus, on March 23, 2007, Justice Ibrahim Nyaure Buba, sitting in the Federal High Court, Port-Harcourt, swiftly granted all the declarative and injunctive reliefs sought by the plaintiff, declaring that the EFCC investigations were invalid, unlawful, unconstitutional, and null and void. The injunction restrained the EFCC and other defendants from publicising the report of the investigation; and also restrained the EFCC from any further action in relation to the alleged economic and financial crimes committed by Dr. Odili.
Not too surprisingly, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the Federation who also doubles as the Law Officer of the Federation and the guardian of the public interest failed to file any defence to this thoroughly outrageous claim. The EFCC filed a preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court to oust its statutory powers, particularly after its investigation had established prima facie case against Dr. Odili.
It was soon to be technicalities-galore, including that the EFCC’s objection was filed out of time. In a ruling delivered on March 5, 2008, the Judge held: “The subsisting judgment of March 2007 by this court is binding on all parties. Therefore, there is a perpetual injunction restraining the EFCC from arresting, detaining and arraigning Odili…”
A UK-based Nigerian, Osita Mba, has since fired a petition against Justice Buba, to the NJC and Justice Buba has been queried as a result.
Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan, in his usual magnanimity has given Odili and his likes the opportunity to acquit themselves. Former Governor of Bayelsa State, DSP Alamieyeseigha, who was convicted by EFCC, has since been granted State pardon. These men and their likes are the bunch at the ongoing so-called National Conference writing your Constitution. Why wouldn’t they write themselves into the Constitution? If they work hard enough, they may abrogate or substantially weaken the anti-graft agencies. That’s Nigeria, our Nigeria!
Section 88 of the Constitution of Nigeria, 1999, mandates the National Assembly to look for a rat whenever it smells one. The National Assembly has smelled a big rat – the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, has been accused of squandering a whopping sum of N10 billion in hiring taxis (air taxis)! She too has approached the courts for immunity from investigation.
The penultimate week, they flew a kite: We woke up one morning to find virtually all the media awash with news that the Petroleum Minister had slapped a perpetual injunction on the House of Representatives, barring them from investigating her. With all the denials and counter-denials, the resort to Atakpalakpa is just a question of time.
Who is deceiving whom? Even where the power of investigation is a potent instrument in the hands of the legislature, the body language of our legislators clearly indicates that where the looter is prepared to part with part of his loot, the rest would simply be story-story! Otherwise, even if the Farouk Lawan saga was clearly a case of entrapment, the House of Representatives should, at least, have been seen to mete out some semblance of discipline on him.
On balance, these black market injunctions are injurious to the health of our democracy. They fuel corruption and destroy the very essence of the doctrine of Separation of Powers.