The Sun News

Gov Umahi and the cocoyam thief

umahi

I know this headline reads like something straight out of children’s storybook. But it’s no fiction. It happened last week in Ebonyi State, where the Nigerian Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had visited the Abakaliki Prison and met with all manner of detainees, including a man, who had been awaiting trial for eleven years now. Yes, that same notorious Abakaliki prison, where they had gone to inject Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua to death, for allegedly sponsoring a coup, which we now know was a phantom after all. But we’ll return to the story of this Nigeria’s judiciary and this 103-year-old prison later.
However, having been a direct and indirect victim of the corruption in the judiciary, I would be the last person to stick out my neck for those of them currently smelling the rod – especially when I know that, at least, one of them has an estate  that should normally raise a few eyebrows.
Of course, I vehemently disagree with the approach of their arrest and subsequent media trial and conviction – even before their pleas had been taken at any court. But that is exactly how the anti-graft war has always been prosecuted in this country. I remember that, several years ago, the EFCC even pulled down the gate to the home of one of this country’s richest men, shot its way into his premises and literally took him out barefooted from his house. We all kept quiet.
Since we have failed to unanimously stand up to the EFCC antics, it has taken the drama a notch higher, as it ‘investigates’ dozens of other judges and senior lawyers. At the last count, I learnt, several of them had been invited by the anti-graft commission.
Now, it would seem, every payment a lawyer makes to a judge – or vice versa, is meant to compromise the recipient?
I’ve been waiting to see the billions the judges collected in bribe money, but all I’m seeing the two SANs being charged with is N2.9 million. All other funds have been those recovered from the Gestapo-like raid on the judges residences. Now, don’t ask me why they had so much money at home; for then, I would then ask you why it is acceptable for certain persons in the executive arm to have cash-laden bullion vans permanently parked at their residences and then criminal for judges to keep a few millions at home. But that still does not justify the mind-boggling find.
Tracing the transfers between one particular SAN and two judges, I reliably learnt, it was discovered that when the judge, who is a long-standing friend of the SAN, was bereaved, the SAN sent him N100,000 to support him. Similarly, when the SAN was bereaved a short while later, his Judge friend (a civil servant, who is not nearly as wealthy as the SAN), reciprocated by sending him  about N20,000 or N30,000. Similar exchanges of gifts go on between the lawyers and judges, many of whom could have been classmates, either at the university, the law school, or even childhood friends.
Is there anything in the statutes or ethics that says judges and lawyers must never fraternise and socialise with one another?
If a judge or lawyer is mourning, bereaved or is giving a child away in marriage, celebrating a landmark birthday, etc., how does one show solidarity with the other?
If there is the likelihood that the receiving judge would be biased when the giver’s case is brought before his court, how then do we interpret EFCC’s friendship with some of these same judges?
How then do we investigate, and arrest, an EFCC that not only sends money gifts, but also a covering letter, in some instances, to the judges? Is that also supposed to compromise the judges, since the EFCC has hundreds of cases in the Federal High Courts? Or is that why the agency insists on shopping for courts and judges, insisting that certain judges and courts handle its cases? Is that why crimes, which are committed in Delta (like James Ibori’s) are taken to as far as Kaduna? From Edo to Lagos? From Abia to Kaduna, Abuja, Lagos etc.? But that’s matter for another.
So, are judges also barred from giving and receiving gifts – even from friends and family members? Because all the givers would end up, directly or indirectly, at the courts of their Lordships.
I know there is a big problem of where to draw the line between gift and bribe, but it would be naive to regard every payment between judge and lawyer as bribe. I guess this is because the real bribe does not go straight to the banks.
But then, it still ends up in the bank, in one form or another. What then makes the EFCC an agency worthy of its anti-graft name, is the ability to carefully disentangle the labyrinthine movements (and detours), trace the movement of the funds and build credible cases against suspects. It is not in EFCC’s place to jump to conclusion like us lesser mortals of the beer parlour parliament. For the current resort to ‘torture’ and intimidation (by working from the answer to the solution) just does not seem to belong to this civilisation anymore.
But it is also good that judges are at the receiving end of this unconscionable use of power, as the case in the Abakaliki Prison clearly points out.
Last weekend, Governor Dave Umahi, had to personally intervene in the inhuman detention of a mother of two at the Prison.
Probably driven by hunger, the poor woman was arrested for allegedly stealing N400 worth of cocoyams. And since there was nobody to cater for her two infant children while she’s in detention, the two kids were also sent to jail with their mom. Yet, some judge, who heard her case, still imposed an unbelievable bail condition, which included that she brings two sureties, who must be Level 16 civil servants. As if the woman would be stealing N400 cocoyams if she had any such benefactor. Yet the judge went home to his/her own family – and slept with both eyes closed. How else can we define callousness?
And to further underscore the enormity of the judge’s powers, an all-powerful ‘executive governor’ (and the NHRC) still could not just open the jailhouse for the poor woman to walk out free. They had to go through the Ebonyi State attorney-general to actually secure the Level 16 civil servant sureties, as ordered by the fearsome judge.
If there is one lesson to pick from what the judges are facing today, it’s the age-old saying that what goes around, comes around. That all the people oppressing us with power today, will surely be at the receiving end of this same abuse tomorrow or the day after.

 Osita, a star, turns 50
Sometime last week, when I called my brother, Osita Izunaso, the distinguished Senator, who once represented my Imo West Senatorial District, to felicitate with him on his 50th birthday, he was his usual self. The same lively but focused person I’ve always known.
He jokingly told me he was not calling a party for the privileged people like me (a bourgeoisie, by his definition) to come and drink choice wines and serenade our palates. He was going to mark it with hundreds of less-privileged persons, pointing out that whatever little help we can send their way in these tough times would go a long way. That’s what Osita has done with his Kpakpando Foundation for physically challenged persons for over 10 years now.
Again, last Sunday, he dragged out all his friends and associates (and even political leaders) to extend yet another helping hand to these people tied to the wrong end of the social and economic ladder. Happy birthday, our own humble Kpakpando!
But, Distinguished Senator, you must also realise that the economic hardship in the country now has turned most of us into beggars. We are all less-privileged, since those of us who are not physically handicapped have now become financially handicapped, as a result of recession.
Happy birthday, dear brother. But you still owe me my glass of wine, and a plate of Abakaliki rice. But, in the spirit of Audu Ogbeh and this new buy-Nigeria campaign, I can manage a plate of potatoes and one big mug of burukutu.

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