By Peter Duru, Makurdi
Mr Mike Gusa is the Benue state Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice. In this interview he spoke on the efforts by Benue State Government to get Justice for the late 13 year old serial rape victim, Ochanya Ogbaje, the state government’s case against the EFCC, the alleged harassment and persecution of government’s officials by the commission, release of prison inmates on death row and lots more. Excerpt:
What is the Benue State Government doing to ensure that justice is dispensed in the Ochanya’s rape case?
Governor Samuel Ortom is deeply concerned about the Ochanya’s case and other related rape cases in the state. He has directed that we should take over the prosecution. As I talk to you, there are two cases against the perpetrators of the act. One is the culpable homicide and then the rape aspect of it. We are following it up diligently. The police have done their arrest, their investigations and filed in their papers and we are going to continue from there. Apart from the national outcry, Governor Ortom is very passionate about the well-being of the girl child. When the alleged rape case came up from somebody who is supposed to be a father to the small girl, he felt very bad and immediately directed me to personally take over the matter and supervise the prosecution of the case. We are assuring the world that Justice would be done to that matter. In fact, that is being done already, we are on it.
Benue State Government has been involved in several court cases including those instituted against the EFCC and the APC National Chairman. Are these cases not a distraction to the government?
No. In a democratic setting what obtains is rule of law and not rule of might. We cannot go to fight anybody when we feel that our rights are being trampled upon. The only arbiter you can resort to is the court which is the hope of everybody. So when you have issues that you feel very strong about, the only thing you can do is to go to court. Just like you have rightly said, we have noticed a lot of persecution and intimidation from very high quarters particularly when we defected from the APC to the PDP here in the state. We took the EFCC to court when we noticed that an investigation that was done in 2016 and we were exonerated was reopened when we moved from APC to PDP.
You know that at the time we came in, the paramount ruler of the Tiv nation, the Tor Tiv died. A committee was set up for his burial, which is the normal thing that should be done. The committee came up with a budget and the Governor in his own wisdoms sat with them and looked at the entire budget vis a vis our own income and they came to a figure of N120million. N20million was to go for the resettlement of the family of the late Tor Tiv. It is very sad that even the widow of our deceased paramount rule was invited to Enugu by the EFCC for questioning. Can you imagine the trauma that they now put this people into? She was invited to Enugu on the pretext that they were carrying out an investigation. That was done and no prima-facie case was established. Just because we now moved from APC to PDP, they now went back and reopened the case and invited for questioning all the local government council chairmen in Benue state who are now reporting to EFCC office in Abuja.
All the treasurers in the local government were also invited. And then you have other subcommittee members also reporting. If you collected N100,000 to dig the grave you are invited to explain how you expended the money. That is what is happening now. If you collected N500,000 to buy casket, you are going to Abuja to explain how and why you collected the money to purchase a casket to bury the paramount ruler of the Tiv nation. So that is persecution. The Tiv people have become endangered species. That is what is happening. So we went to court to seek redress. Can you imagine operatives of the EFCC asking our staff here to produce minutes of Security Council meetings? We went to court and the court dismissed our claims because we went to say that by virtue of the provisions of the constitution the EFCC has no right to audit our account, but the court saw otherwise. We have gone on appeal. We will hear what the court of appeal will also say.
What is the state government doing in the area of prison decongestion as being done in other parts of the country?
We have been doing a lot in that area. The Chief Judge here is heading the Criminal Justice Committee. During the prison visits by the immediate past Chief Judge, several inmates were set free. Between April and now, over 40 inmates were set free. In the last three years, the Advisory Council on the Prerogative of Mercy which I head, has commuted several death row sentences to life imprisonment. Others who had stayed in prison for up to 15 years were also set free. On the whole, 40 inmates benefitted from our assignment. Governor has been giving life to people who ordinarily would have died.
Some judges have been accused of subverting Justice through corrupt practices. What is your take on the matter especially in Benue state?
Well, that is very wide because I can only talk about the judiciary in Benue state, I can only be specific and I know of the integrity of our judges here in Benue State. I can vouch for them. In know that in whatever you do, you still have some bad eggs but I don’t think we have had an incident like that. I can vouch for the integrity of the Judiciary in Benue state. And you can see that as reflected in their performances, when they are called upon to perform any national duty like election tribunal members or chairmen they have down very well. They have done their assignments without any blemish. At the state level here you will see them dispensing justice and you have had occasions where lawyers will confess that it is always difficult to upturn their judgements at the appellate court. There may be mistakes here and there but by and large I think I can score them 90 percent.
What would you say are your greatest challenges in the process of administration of Justice in the state?
The problems of administration of Justice in Benue State just like in any other state in country are so many. It is not peculiar to Benue State. We may have our own local peculiarities here but most of these problems are common. Basically our challenges stem from scarcity of resources.
Prosecution is not just an event, it’s a process. When you talk of criminal cases, you start with the arrest, investigation, arraignment in court and then the actual trial then subsequent conviction. And when you talk about civil cases, you talk about filing of these cases, hearing of the matters and all that. And then you talk of the arresting authorities, they are part of the prosecution and then in criminal cases that require our taking over because it is the office of the Attorney General that prosecutes for the state, you are part of the prosecution and then the arraignment and actual trial in court and the aspect of the bench that is presiding judge or magistrate.
So the problems are there because you start from the arrests, sometimes a crime is committed it becomes even very difficult for the police to affect arrested
sometimes. Sometimes even when arrests are made, one or two things will be required to carry out investigation and they may not be there. But again our Governor is always handy and if in the course of the process there is any challenge and he is aware of either in the police or even the DSS or Civil Defence in the line of arraignment and prosecution, he is always prepared to come to the rescue. So I want to say that whereas things would have been extremely difficult for us, he is always there to assist. We are doing our best in the midst of these scarce resources.
At the end of your tenure as AG what would you want to be remembered for?
I want appreciate God who made me Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice through Governor Samuel Ortom. It a rare privilege to be so appointed from so many people that are qualified to occupy an office. When you get there it’s a call to service and you will do everything to give that service to the people because you are holding that office in trust. So I give the Governor a lot of appreciation for the opportunity.
I want to say that if there is anything I have done to add value to this administration I give the credit to the Governor who is a boss that is very unique. He is ever ready to listen to you anytime you call on him about any challenge in your office.
You know that we came to government in a period of recession where everyone including the Governor is battling several challenges and trying to execute one capital project or the other and the resources are not there.
But I know of a fact that so many things have happened in my own Ministry here since I came and I want to say that I give credit to him because if not that he has been listening to my complain this wouldn’t have been possible.