• Monday, March 04, 2024
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Judgments and the rule of law

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On Friday, 12/7/13, the court of Appeal discharged and acquitted Major Al Mustapha the CSO to Late Gen. Abacha, who was standing trial for the murder of Kudirat Abiola for more than a dozen years. His case and stay in prison was a complicated issue as he was even accused of attempting a coup while in detention. A high court had actually condemned him to death. Then, suddenly, just suddenly, NGOs started canvassing for his release and even the OPC boss, Dr. Fasheun used every occasion to decry his incarnation. On Friday, 12/7/13, the Appeal Court discharged and acquitted him. 24/48 hours later, there was a high brow reception in Kano and by Tuesday, 16/7/13, there were reports that he was still in the army, that the army would pay him all arrears, possibly promote him to his mates’ rank[Brigadier]and only then, retire him. Those of us not so learned and who have seen Nigerian in and out were puzzled. Why were things moving so fast even when we have not

 heard from the Supreme Court? What of the odium to which he has brought the army? Was he not an ‘accessory to the fact’ before or after, being the CSO? How, why and when did all the mountain of evidence fizzle out? But even the trial itself, lasting 13 years+ was not so ordinary. The Guardian declared that ‘what the judgment has done is to authenticate impunity. It reinforces the conviction that here in Nigeria, only the small man pays for his crimes. above all, it means that all those behind the dastardly acts and litany of woes freely dispensed by the Abacha regime have finally got away, literarily with murder, in a manner that calls to question the essence of government or its readiness or capacity to discharge its basic responsibilities of protecting lives and property and enforcing of law and order’(Editorial, 31/7/13)

But the judicial system gave us a bouquet of more surprises as our collective Christmas gift in December 2013. We all remember how history was made on  Monday, 26/10/09 as Bode George and 5 others were imprisoned without any option of fine over the NPA affair and he went straight from court to prison. His crowd of rabble-rousing followers who usually violated the sanctity of the court environment could not save him; they only wailed and wept and threw verbal Weapons Of Mass Destruction at every body. They were actually sentenced to 2 years on each of the 7 counts bordering on abuse of office[14 years] & another 6 months on each of the 28 charges bordering on refusal to obey lawful orders[another 14 years]. The Daniel who came to judgment on that day on this long-drawn out matter was Justice Olubummi Oyewole. It was the first real high-profile corruption prison sentence because  others- like those of D.S.P Alameiseagha, and Tafa Balogun -were neither here

 nor there. All the efforts by Bode George to upturn the case via appeal did not yield any dividend until he completed his tenure

On the day he came out from prison, an unruly crowd welcomed him from the prison and escorted him to Cathedral Church of Christ, Marina for the thanksgiving. People were at the prison gates at 6am even though he was billed to be out by 10am. He came out by 10.32. There was heavy hold-up and PDP faithful and hangers on came from all the SW states and even beyond, including President Obasanjo, PDP candidates in the pending elections, and several convoys of Siren-blaring cars/rough-riding police/military escorts . It gave the impression that a Nobel prize winner  was being welcomed back home. T-shirts described him as the Joseph of our time and Atona Odua[the torch bearer of Yoruba-land!

Bode George persisted and on 14/12/13: Justice Afolabi Fabiyi led other 3 justices of the Supreme Court acquit Bode judge after he has served his term, saying what he did [Contract splitting]was not an offence as at that time, citing lack of concrete evidence and saying the lower court built its case upon sand! The lower court had declared that going beyond approved contract limit was an offence. the Appeal Court felt likewise or at least did not contradict the Judge. The Supreme Court however says there is no offence. And Bode George rejoiced, declaring: ‘I have seen the goodness of the Lord.. the innocent may fall, the innocent may stumble, but  he will never suffer in vain;;; truth may live a difficult life but it always prevails. I am now out of darkness and the shadow of evil’. The Supreme Court has said it and so it is. The case was ‘historical’ on all counts: the trial, the sentence, the celebration of freedom and the Supreme Court ruling.

 But two issues remain: the court of public opinion and perception and the fact that he had finished serving before the case was overturned!

The 14th of December apparently appeared to be a favourable day for all the accused public servants in Nigerian courts. Our accidental public servant and the Zachaeus of Abuja, El’Rufai, a former Minister of the  Federal Capital also had his day in court on that day. He is somebody who apparently enjoys troubled waters and he has stated in writing that all cases against him were politically motivated. On that day, an Abuja High Court  acquitted Rufai of the charge converting a piece of land belonging to PHCN and allocating same his wife. In effect, using his position as a minister to corruptly revoke a plot of land from PHCN and giving to his wife. The Judge also cleared him of any criminal offence.  I don’t know whether the government will appeal the judgment. But Rufai already had an answer to the matter long before the judgment: that his wife was a Nigerian and that she was qualified! He added for a good measure that the application was there

 before he became a minister. I don’t know how he would have reacted if that[land swap] had been done by another minister and if that minister had given this kind of explanation.

These legal rigmaroles my be the reason why they say that the law is an ass or why some are learned [and are able to appreciate sings and wonders!] while others are just educated but they surely made December 2013, a month to remember.

By: Ik Muo