By Josef Omorotionmwan
WHEN certain things happen, we just wonder whether we have not yet arrived at the 21st century. Nigeria, like every other country, is supposed to be mutually inclusive – excessive gains on one side would be deprivation on another.
Did former President Olusegun Obasanjo say he had deliberately set out to create 50 billionaires during his presidency? What a hopeless height of indiscretion! It is still worse if he did not realise that in a country of 170 million citizens, he had, by that singular declaration, also set out to create more than 169.99 million paupers.
Wittingly or unwittingly, he set out to create 50 billionaires who must be tightly protected by the security agencies to the detriment of the 169.99 million paupers.
Essentially, with the Government Reservation Area, GRA I, where the billionaires live and operate totally protected with all the available manpower, the only natural option for the criminal elements was to move to the safe zone – the Government Rejected Areas, GRA II, where the paupers live and struggle for their bare existence.
Is anyone still pondering over the preponderance of crime and criminality in the ghettoes of our cities, when the common wealth of 170 million people had been deliberately swept into the hands of just 50 billionaires? And who is still wondering why there is mass poverty in the land?
Just when we were beginning to forget the Peter Odili perpetual injunction, our curiously on the matter must be re-awakened. More than six years after the Odili saga, the Senate says it is now set to upturn the perpetual injunction. And suddenly, the EFCC wants to reopen the case.
Hear the Chairman, Senate Committee on Anti-corruption and Financial Crimes, Senator Chukwuka Utazi: “Nobody should stop an organ of government from performing its duties. We want to empower the EFCC to work. They cannot work with one hand tied to the back”.
It is still another case of the more you look, the less you see. There could be no better indication of hints that the loots have been properly insulated. After all, the accounts could not have been dormant all these years!
For the purpose of clarity, the Odili Affair, which looks like a throw-back to the stone age bears repeating anytime:
During the period 1999-2007, Dr. Peter Odili was the Governor of Rivers State. Quite early into his 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. On the eve of his departure from Government House, 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 22 February 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 23 March 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, 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 doubled as the Law Officer of the Federation 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 5 March 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…”
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 former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, had squandered a whopping sum of N10 billion in hiring taxis (air taxis)! Like Peter Odili, she too quickly approached the courts and obtained immunity from investigation.
These black market injunctions are injurious to the health of our democracy. They fuel corruption and destroy the spirit of the Judiciary as well as the very essence of the doctrine of Separation of Powers.
In all fronts, our Judiciary is drifting towards total anomie. In this raw exhibition of primitivity, what role for the professions? We have now got to the point where Supreme Court Justices and other Judges of Courts of Superior Records are hounded like Motor Park touts – perhaps another case of engineering the engineer instead of his engine!
At the lowest base of human existence, things are still alright. The cleaners and wheelbarrow pushers still have a way of pointing their erring members to order. But in our Judiciary, things have gone haywire.
It is so confounding that a branch of government that is so touchy about its independence would stand aloof while its name goes down the drains.
In sum, we see a totally rotten system where, like in any con-game, those who should have cried out are also part of the rot.
Where do we go from here?