By Tabia Princewill
IF “stealing isn’t corruption” perhaps this is why a section of the country is intent on ignoring allegations of wrongdoing and insisting their kinsmen can’t be investigated or tried, otherwise there’ll be “trouble.” Many people don’t hate corruption, they simply despise being left out of it and it is now commonplace to hear excuses replace important questions such as: are the allegations true?
If a person did break the law, then why shouldn’t a trial take place? Using the accused’s ethno-religious identity as a shield is a typical way, in Nigeria, of manipulating the public. Why not prove your innocence in court? Why ignore the facts presented by the prosecution? Why attempt to scuttle a process before it even begins?
Politicians would rather shield individuals from investigation (who is to say whose turn it will be next if one case is successfully tried) but one of the strangest customs in Nigeria has to be the repeated denial of guilt based on the following warped logic: “why him? Why should he or she be investigated? Why now? Is he or she the only one? How about all the others …”
If a hundred people get away with murder does that mean that on the discovery of a new murder (let’s call it murder number 101), the case should be ignored because it’s unfair to the accused as hundred other murderers walk free?
Discovery of a new murder
Everyone in Nigeria imagines they are being witch-hunted the second they are asked to account for anything: Nigerians must decide, do we want change or continued impunity?
Under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the EFCC was also accused of going after the President’s enemies. Nigerians have a curious habit of defending the rights and freedoms of politically exposed persons (very often this amounts to the right to defraud the country and get away with it) while ignoring the facts pointing to their possible guilt. Then and now, the anti-corruption fight is always perceived as a personal attack on individuals while the question of whether the accused is guilty or not rarely features in conversations.
Instead, they shouldn’t be investigated because they’re Igbo, marginalised, Muslim, etc. Why disregard alleged evidence of wrong-doing based on tribe? Why have a legal system at all? According to reports, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Walter Onnoghen, didn’t disclose his assets as required by the law. One would think there would be more than enough checks to ensure the supreme guardian of Nigerian law would himself be “law-abiding”. But that is the irony of Nigerian life where doctors practice for years without going to medical school and lawyers forge certificates for themselves and their clients.
When the Federal Government charged the CJN to court, the usual apologists resumed their duty, ignoring the central question: are the facts presented true? If they are, why should they be ignored? Lawyers protested, saying a complaint should first have been filed before the National Judicial Council, NJC. But the CJN is the Chairman of the NJC: in the Nigerian context, how many subordinates can accuse their bosses of anything, and how would such an investigation go, realistically?
We confuse the occupant of an office with the institution itself. Trying a Senate President or a Chief Justice, with evidence supporting accusations, doesn’t discredit the institutions they temporarily represent. Donald Trump is still being investigated in regards to his presidential campaign ties to Russia, and despite his protests, the investigation wasn’t shelved because “he’s a good Christian” or a “white American”.
Do we see how ridiculous these fake ethno-religious markers of innocence sound when transposed to America? Despite some of his supporters calling it a witch-hunt, the investigation wasn’t shelved: the evidence can’t and won’t be ignored. The American people want to know the truth, one way or the other: the Presidency as an institution doesn’t start or end with Trump.
Every time we confuse a search for truth and justice with “intimidating” individuals, we set Nigeria’s democracy back. Contrary to what Senator Ike Ekweremadu seems to assert by asking the government to “apologise” to the Judiciary (even before the trial begins, before it is concluded for that matter!), such trials aren’t a danger to democracy. What is dangerous is ignoring allegations that our laws were broken: that is why Nigeria is where it is today.
These calls on the government to “apologise” for doing what a majority of Nigerians voted it in for, which is, to lead the fight against corruption across industries and sectors, is doubly interesting, given the tendency to protect and excuse corruption in Nigeria based on ethno-religious allegiance.
Niger Delta militants threatened the government following the CJN’s “harassment”. No word from them on the allegations themselves. Don’t they wonder how a public servant “acquires” and then “forgets” hundreds of millions of Naira equivalent and houses?
One would have to be as rich as Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates to forget the existence of such sums. But Nigerians are to ignore it all because Onnoghen is their “brother”. Others stated Justice Onnoghen’s trial is connected to the 2019 elections or that the petitioner knows Buhari. The petition could have been written by the devil himself but the questions raised must still be answered.
This is an excerpt from the Code of Conduct for public officers: “Any property or assets acquired by a public officer after any declaration required under this Constitution and which is not fairly attributable to income, gift or loan approved by this code shall be deemed to have been acquired in breach of this code unless the contrary is proved”.
Legally, onus is thus on the accused to prove his innocence given the alleged discovery of money and properties beyond the income of a Chief Justice. Dennis Aghanya, the Executive Director, Anti-Corruption and Research Based Data Initiative, ARDI, who wrote the petition against the CJN said: “People are leaving the substance of the case to pursue shadows. People haven’t looked at the merit of the case. Before he was sworn in as the CJN, cases were established against him, but nobody had the courage to take them up”.
South-South governors asked Justice Onnoghen to ignore his summons by the Code of Conduct Bureau. How can Nigeria progress if ethnic support keeps replacing the will for justice?
PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, asked the Governor of Anambra to stop supporting President Muhammadu Buhari. Isn’t Willie Obiano a member of APGA, not PDP? Atiku claims supporting Buhari is contrary to Igbo interest: tribal rhetoric should be left in the past, so should the narrative of Igbo marginalisation.
So, we can focus on the real issue. Governor Obiano praised Buhari over the completion of the Zik Mausoleum “abandoned” by previous administrations, and the work done on the Second Niger Bridge.
Under Jonathan, the financial and security apparatus was controlled by the South-East and the South-South. Did this better the lives of the poor? Igbo/Nigerian interest is to support who performs well based on evidence not ethnic sentiment.
SOCIAL media users declared him an “Oscar winner” following pictures of him sleeping on the floor in the Department of State Services, DSS, medical facility.
The police say he’s fit to stand trial (which he disputes) over allegations surrounding arms possessions and an altercation which led to the death of an officer last July.
Ben Bruce attempted to support his colleague, stating Senator Melaye’s children “don’t have light” following the raid on their father’s property to which Twitter users responded: “Neither do we. E don tey!”
Ironically, the privatisation exercise has a lot to do with the current state of affairs. Politicians’ defence often opens them up to more scrutiny.
Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.