By Muyiwa Adetiba
The great Cassandra, the legendary columnist of the British Daily Mirror and one of the best journalists of his time, once said it was no use being a columnist if you could not use it to fight your battles.
He was probably talking to old school journalists like me who shy away from talking about issues that directly affect them. But sometimes, you have to talk because you are involved – apologies to late Ikemba Ojukwu. Especially on causes that affect other people as well.
We all know that the Nigeria Police are often used to settle personal scores. The impromptu judgements ‘or solutions’ arrived at police stations don’t always further the cause of justice but the cause of the connected and the mighty. I was almost a victim of one of those hasty ‘judgements’ when a former staff used his ‘connections’- they happened to belong to the motor section of a Police station – to try and collect a severance pay. I was fortunate to have known the overall boss of the Command who got the DPO involved.
The tide changed and the hunter became the hunted. I wondered what would have happened if he had taken me to another division to push his unjustified demand. And don’t ask me what a motor section had to do with investigating staff pay – not that any investigation was done. I was simply supposed to write a cheque from which they would probably collect a certain percentage or else… That was the level of impunity our Police Force have long been known for; the lack of due process they have long been associated with. EFCC was seen as a different ball game. At least at the beginning. After all, it was an organisation that was born because of the deficiencies of the Police. And for years, it managed to escape the image of being used to settle personal scores, especially private personal scores. For many, the fear of EFCC was the beginning of wisdom. I had no such fears since I have never worked with government nor have business deals with government. Neither do I involve myself with high stake transactions. So I have had no occasion to visit its premises nor meet its agents until I was vicariously drawn in some three years ago.
It is well known in Nigeria that where two or three are gathered, there will be divisions, cabals and backbiting. With these come accusations and counter-accusations. I live in a fairly big estate that managed to push its founding Estate Manager out because of what was seen as a lack of transparency. It was a bitter fight that left collateral damages including pending court cases. One lingering collateral damage was a deep schism among the residents because he had his own loyalists. Succeeding executives were distrusted by this group and often heckled at general meetings. Sometimes you wondered if the estate was a home or a war zone.
This led some capable residents to pull back from serving the estate. Four years ago, some people were virtually begged to come out to ensure some continuity. They didn’t last a year before the now familiar rumblings started. Preposterous amounts were said to have been misappropriated or stolen downright. I won’t dignify my column with some of the amounts mentioned. They were obviously bandied to whip up sentiments among the gullible. Some people must have decided inviting the police wouldn’t do. It had to be EFCC. And the amount had to be big enough to impress EFCC.
The amount alleged by EFCC as missing in the letter inviting the executives to its office was just about the entire revenue of the estate for the year. Someone should have asked during investigation how the estate managed to run its affairs for that year if such a huge amount left its coffers. I have always believed that whoever alleges must prove. It should not be the other way round. Otherwise we would be encouraging frivolous petitions which could damage hard earned reputations and end up with unnecessary libels all over the place. And in a country where an EFCC invitation is seen as an indictment of sorts, the investigators should be wary of inviting people to their offices unless a prima facie case has been established. This however, is just my opinion.
I came into the picture because it turned out that the executives needed to be bailed before being released after they had honoured an invitation. Were they arrested? I was surprised. These people live in the estate. They honoured the invitation willingly and no reason to suggest they would not honour other ones willingly. The surety had to be landed property. Another surprise. How many Nigerians have landed property? Of the few that have, how many own papers to them? We ran around. We supplied photocopy of a property. It was rejected. We suggested a certified true copy. Again to my surprise, it was rejected. So the original papers to the house I lived in for almost thirty years, the house into which my children were born and which they regard as home had to be deposited. This was about three years ago. Since then, all has been quiet on several fronts. Two different sets of executives have since taken office. Different audit reports have been done.
The instigators are no longer bragging about EFCC. Maybe the purpose which was to intimidate has been achieved. They must have known from their sources that there was nothing in their allegations. Just as I have also found out. But someone in the legal office at EFCC is allegedly sitting on his report. I don’t know whose script he is acting. His or the instigators? His options are pretty simple. Follow the investigators’ report and discharge. Or disagree with their report and go to court. Maybe the latter would allow those aggrieved to sue for libel if necessary. But to refuse to write a simple report in three years boggles the mind and smirks of impunity.
I don’t want the original papers of my property to go missing because an office was burnt down, or someone has retired or simply because it was mishandled. Three years is a long time to hold on to someone’s papers without any cogent reason. A lot of funny things can happen in three years.
The young Chairman has started well. He has impressed many people. I hope he continues well for the sake of his generation. He needs to watch out for certain happenings that could tarnish the image of his organisation. Like forcefully entering homes in the middle of the night as recently reported. He should also watch out against his organisation being used to settle personal scores. There should be statutes in place on how long a case should be pending. I sincerely hope my next article on this issue will offer a positive closure.