Nigeria: Outsourcing Justice
Saturday, June 29th, 2013
“Arise oh compatriots”. That sentence has never seized to ignite in me a feeling of compassion, commitment, and unending dedication to the good and prosperity of my fatherland Nigeria. I am proudly Nigerian, and I will jump at any opportunity to let the world know. But, sincerely, there are times when I feel a rush of negative emotions like anger, pain, helplessness, and above all, shame, at the mere mention of the name ‘Nigeria’. I last experienced one of such moments on Tuesday, March 26, 2013 when I got the news of the conviction of Henry Okah by a South African court for acts of terrorism in Nigeria. That should ordinarily have been good tiding to my ears but the fact of Nigeria’s over-dependence on other countries in the fight against corruption and insecurity hit me like a blow. My memory did an automatic flashback and the first stop was 2005. So, what about that year, you may ask, I’ll remind you.
In September 2005, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, who had been elected Governor of Bayelsa State in May 1999 as a member of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and re-elected in 2003, was detained in London on charges of money laundering. At the time of his arrest, the Metropolitan Police found about £1m in cash in his London home. Later, they found a total of £1.8m ($3.2m) in cash and bank accounts. The ultimate shock came when he presented himself as an object of national disgrace by jumping bail in December 2005 and escaping from the United Kingdom by disguising himself as a woman, though Alamieyeseigha denied this claim. On July 26, 2007, he pled guilty before a Nigerian court to six charges and was sentenced to two years in prison on each charge; however, because the sentences were set to run concurrently and the time was counted from the point of his arrest nearly two years before the sentences, his actual sentence was relatively short. On July 27, just hours after being taken to prison, he was released due to time already served. In my state of mental sojourn, the past is linked to the present, as we forward to March 12 2013 when President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan announced the grant of Presidential Pardon to Alamieyeseigha.
I paused to catch my breath, and I took the time to ponder on this; Alams (as he is popularly called) must be a very smart man to have endured the shame of disguising as a woman, only to plead guilty before a Nigerian court. I bet he must have seen his “conviction” and subsequent pardon coming. If he had stayed in the U.K., the story would have been completely different.
I had rested enough. From March 12 2013, I ran back to the not too distant past in 2012 and stopped at the door of April 17, only to look in to see a man from whose grasp a U.K. court had rescued Nigeria; our very own James Ibori. Earlier in 2007, Justice Marcel Awokulehin of the Federal High Court sitting in Asaba, Delta State, had discharged Ibori of a 170-count charge bordering on corruption and related offences, by reliance on the inapplicability of a rule of interpretation of statutes (the ejusdem generis rule) to Section 14 of the Money Laundering Act of 2004. He escaped conviction in Nigeria, only to plead guilty to the same offence in London, where he was sentenced to a 13-year jail term.
And now, the more recent incident of Henry Okah, whom a South African court sentenced to a 24-year jail term for offences revolving around the March 15 2010 and October 1 2010 bomb attacks in Nigeria and several threats to the Nigerian government. According to the judge, the UN Convention against Terrorist Bombings, to which South Africa is a signatory, allows South Africa to assume jurisdiction over the convict, even though the offence was committed in Nigeria.
I really have no issue with the role being played by other countries in the fight against corruption in Nigeria. What is of great concern to me is the fact that the Nigerian judiciary seems to be ill-equipped to fight corruption within its own borders. If it was not so, why would nationally acclaimed corrupt public officers like Bode George, Dimeji Bankole, Farouk Lawan, and Uncle Alams be free men today, and why should Ayo Fayose be standing trial since 2007 without a conviction.
Perhaps Henry Okah should not have fled the country; he should have stayed to either get bail, amnesty, or even a presidential pardon, which seem to be more readily granted these days than a conviction. Nigeria is yet to start the fight against corruption and terrorism. No, not until the judiciary truly assumes the role of the blindfolded Lady Justice, who dispenses justice without recourse to the political, financial or other standing of the offender.
Tags: Africa, Africa and Development, Africa and Legal development, Alams, Amnesty, Bode George, Corruption, Dimeji Bankole, Farouk Lawan, Feyi Ogunmola, Goodluck Jonathan, Henry Okah, James Ibori, Lady Justice, Law, Law and Justice, Legal Development, Money Laundering, Nigeria, Presidential Pardon, South Africa, United Kingdom
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