BY Ifeatu Dickson
The story of the ordeal of Alhaji Attahiru Dalhatu Bafarawa, the former Governor of Sokoto State, in the hands of his prosecutors over alleged financial crimes while in office makes an interesting reading. The story has all the trappings of moviedom. From the Sokoto State Government to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), the story is a classic example of a concentric circle of conspiracy.
Each of the aforementioned trio is an interested party in the case and they have been playing ping-pong with the freedom, reputation and integrity of Alhaji Bafarawa. We need to remind the general public about how it all started. Alhaji Aliyu Wamakko, the Governor of Sokoto State had, on assumption of office on May 29, 2007 claimed that he inherited an empty treasury from his predecessor, Alhaji Bafarawa.
The claim ran counter to that of Bafarawa who held that he handed over the sum of N11,893,624,428.54 (Eleven billion, eight hundred and ninety three million, six hundred and twenty four thousand, four hundred and twenty eight Naira, fifty four Kobo). Obviously piqued by Wamakko’s claim, Bafarawa swiftly petitioned the EFCC on 30th May, 2007, a day after he left office, urging the commission to freeze the accounts of the state government and investigate the claims made by him and the incoming governor. Curiously, however, the EFCC did not act on Bafarawa’s petition. It allowed Wamakko to get away with the spurious claim.
But the watching world was taken aback when the EFCC, on 6th May, 2008, one year after Bafarawa’s petition, invited him (Bafarawa) for an interview “to shed more light on the issue under reference”. But what baffled the civilized world was that Bafarawa, on honouring the invitation, was detained by the EFCC and his International Passport seized. The result was that the complainant had become the accused. But it was not difficult for people to understand what went wrong.
The EFCC was not prepared to investigate Wamakko’s claims because it knew quite well that they are hollow. It therefore turned a blind eye to the issues raised by Bafarawa. But when Wamakko set out to hunt his predecessor for political reasons, the EFCC made itself a willing tool in the hands of Wamakko. It decided to harass and embarrass the former governor so as to weaken his political strength and followership. That was the witch-hunt that Bafarawa was subjected to. However, as a law-abiding citizen who believes in the rule of law, Bafarawa went to court to seek redress.
The court ruled in his favour and he had his passport released. Beyond that, the court was scandalized that Bafarawa was held by the EFCC without charges. The court therefore ordered the commission to bring charges against Bafarawa. Again, and even more curiously, the court could not come up with any charges against Bafarawa for one whole year. The questions that then arose were: why did the EFCC detain Bafarawa if it had no charges against him?
Why did the commission arrest and detain a complainant while doing nothing about the accused? These were some of the questions that agitated those who took interest in the matter. But apart from the worry which these issues generated, the action of the EFCC lent credence to the suspicion that Bafarawa was being hunted and stigmatized for political reasons. But the real regret in the entire scenario was that the commission made itself look like a conspirator in the drama of the absurd.
Then, when EFCC decided to take Bafarawa to court, it still had no charges against him. It was only in court that the charges were read. But again, much more curiously, the charges preferred against Bafarawa were based on an audit report brought to the EFCC by the Attorney-General of Sokoto State. It is significant to note that Bafarawa was never invited by the Attorney-General’s audit committee to explain anything or defend himself. He was tried and convicted in absentia by a committee set up by a government that is bent on giving him a bad name. Then we ask again: why did the EFCC choose to rely on Sokoto state government’s audit report? Why did the commission not carry out its own independent investigation as Bafarawa requested in his petition of May 2007? These questions cannot be answered satisfactorily by the EFCC.
If anything, attempts to provide answers to them will only prove to discerning minds that the commission is working in concert with the Sokoto State government to nail Bafarawa over spurious allegations of financial malfeasance. However, Bafarawa, while still relying on the rule of law, petitioned the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, intimating him of the injustice he was suffering in the hands of Sokoto State Government and the EFCC. Specifically, Bafarawa asked the office of the Attorney of the Federation to transfer his case to a federal High Court instead of the Sokoto State High Court where he is currently being tried. Bafarawa’s argument is simple. Since he stands accused by the Sokoto State Government, the government will be acting as a judge in its own case if he is tried in the State High court. Besides, all EFCC cases against former governors are all in Federal High courts.
Why then should Bafarawa’s case be different? That was why he approached the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation to intervene. But the matter is getting curiouser and curiouser. Since June 2012 when Bafarawa petitioned the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, no word has emanated from that office. The number one law officer of the Federation has not responded to such an important petition. We then ask: Why? Is it proper for Bafarawa to be tried in a State High Court instead of a Federal High court where cases similar to his are being handled? Is it justifiable for Sokoto State Government represented by its Attorney-General to be a judge in its own case as obtains in the Bafarawa affair?
What, indeed, could be responsible for this silence? No answer appears to be forthcoming from the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation. But we are constrained to say that the action of the AGF has completed the concentric circle of conspiracy. The conspiracy has assumed a triangular shape. From Sokoto State Government to EFCC and then to the office of the AGF. We hold strong to this conspiracy theory because the case in question is between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and 19 accused persons, with Bafarawa as the principal accused.
This being the case, it is the office of the AGF that should be the prosecutor in this case, not the Attorney-General of Sokoto State. It is also significant to note that the number of accused persons has continued to decrease. The number thinned down at first from 19 to 15. Now, Bafarawa is standing trial with less than half of the original number of accused persons. The Sokoto State Government and the EFCC have been dropping charges against some of them for curious reasons. But the major consideration to qualify for reprieve is an accused person’s readiness to jump ship to the side of the state government and join in the conspiracy to nail Bafarawa.
This is the travesty that is going on in Sokoto State. This unjust treatment of Bafarawa is not only reprehensible, it exposes the hypocrisy in high places in Nigeria. We can understand the desperation of Wamakko and his hirelings to send Bafarawa to jail. Wamakko as Bafarawa’s deputy was a disaster. He could not manage his relationship with his boss owing to disloyalty and lack of respect for constituted authority. He therefore fell by the wayside before the expiration of Bafarawa’s second tenure. Obviously, Wamakko is on a revenge mission.
He wants to humiliate Bafarawa if only to remind him that he (Wamakko) is now in charge. However, we consider this petty because vengeance belongs to God and not men. But where do the EFCC and office of the AGF come in? Why did they make themselves accomplices in a matter where they are supposed to play moderating and impartial roles? That is the question. Dickson writes from Abuja