• Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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BusinessDay

We and the trials of brother Bello!

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A big drama in town came to the general public’s attention thanks to the encounter on a road called Benghazi in Abuja, Nigeria. In case you missed it, what happened on the road called Benghazi was the failed attempt by the operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to take the former Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, away from his house into, we guess, custody. To do that, the operatives of the EFCC kitted out in full military gear for the operations and laid siege to the home of the former governor. The reason they wanted to take him away was to answer questions on charges of corruption. The amount looted, we hear, is to the tune of 80 billion naira.

For many in the public, the first reaction, the instinctive reaction, was to chastise Yahaya Bello for refusing to go with the operatives of the EFCC when they came for him. Such thinking was that why should he, Yahaya Bello, feel that he is so above the law and not respect the call of the operatives of the EFCC?

To the naked eyes of many, the EFCC was, after all, the law, acting in the name of the law. Beyond instinct, it did not make sense for a former governor to refuse the invitation or be arrested by the EFCC; the history of Nigeria and the chronicles of the EFCC abound with stories of governors, ministers, senators, and other politicians and business people who have been “invited” or outrightly arrested by the EFCC and then come back to continue with their lives.

Some are even in government, in positions of power in politics, and in some public offices in one form or another. The standard practice is “invitation,” or arrest, bail, and finding a way around in court. Why, then, should Akara turn bone when it becomes the turn of Brother Yahaya Bello?

The failed arrest on the road called Benghazi was not an isolated incident but rather the culmination of a series of events that had been unfolding for some time. However, these events largely went unnoticed by the public until this dramatic encounter. This raises the question: What other episodes have we, the public, missed?

The first episode that we missed was that the former governor had gone to the court of law to seek and indeed obtained an injunction that prohibits the EFCC (and presumably others) from arresting and harassing him. As an unrepentant advocate of the rule of law and common sense, I raised the question of why someone would go to court to say, “Please don’t let law enforcement officers arrest me or harass me.” “I don’t do that; who does that?”, was my thinking—the answer I got made me appear naïve even to myself.

A very respected and senior jurist (he was a teacher of law when I was a student) made it clear to me by schooling me on the difference between a politically exposed person and the rest of us. It turned out that the law agrees that politically exposed people might have reasons to be victimised by competitors, disgruntled elements of society, and enemies.

It turns out that the EFCC operatives went to the house of the former governor in violation of a court order. While we, the people, did not know there was a court order, the men and women of the EFCC knew there was a court order restraining them from doing so, and yet they did so. The law is or should be our holiest book and altar in this land: “Shall we continue in sin and that grace might abound? God forbid.”

Let us imagine that the EFCC boss of today is a righteous man with no blemish and full of good intentions who means well for the commonwealth and, therefore, moves for the greater good. Should we, thus, allow and then condone him when he operates outside the law? I think not. That will constitute or consolidate a terrible and dangerous precedent. What if, after him, comes another EFCC boss who is not so righteous and full of good intentions? What if the good man of today goes rogue or mad one day?

We, the people, especially those of us who believe in the supremacy of the law, must insist that everyone who acts in the name of the law must fully obey the law, every line, and every comma of the law. It is only when those who act in the name of the law act in full respect of the law that the law can triumph; shortcuts or outright violations of the law debilitate the law. Any law agency or organ of the state that tries to make us believe that to uphold the law, one must violate the law is not acting diligently and efficiently, and that smacks of mischief or incompetence.

In the specific case of the trial of Brother Yahaya Bello, the diligent and efficient way to go is to go to the courts to seek and obtain a court order to challenge and overturn the injunction obtained by Yahaya Bello. There is no other way to put it; going to a place you have been asked not to go and doing what you have been asked not to do is wrong and debilitating to the law. In this case, the EFCC, by violating the court order, has given Yahaya Bello reasons to argue and present himself as a victim of persecution, not just a reckless or senseless fugitive.

It is worth mentioning here that the EFCC is an investigative agency, not a prosecuting organ; in court, lawyers (hired by the agency) prosecute cases against investigated people, and a judge will weigh all the charges brought against an investigated person. These will happen in a setting wherein both sides are given equal grounds to accuse and defend. Many might not know it, but one of the many things a judge will look at (and that defending lawyers certainly will bring up) is how compliant the investigators have been with the law in their operations.

The judge will carefully look at the process and operations to ensure that there is nothing personal and no trace of persecution on the way to delivering justice. Given what has happened and been said by the EFCC so far, how do you think the EFCC’s operations will look when the time for scrutiny comes up in court?

Prof. Anthony Kila is an Institute Director at CIAPS.