By Odimegwu Onwumere
It was Abraham Lincoln who said that Truth is generally the best vindication against slander. With the Economic and Financial Crime Commission’s (EFCC) renewed efforts to curb corruption in the country, Nigerians are not doubtful about the seriousness of the agency. It has shown that the war against corruption is endless.
It has been doing this by arraigning ex-governors, bank chiefs, inter alia in different courts for allegedly embezzling public funds while they were in office. Nigerians are told that those fingered embezzled money to the tone of billions. The agency arraigns those arrested before pressmen, giving their arrests wide coverage, before arraigning them before any court. As a result, Nigerians have been mangled with pity. And calls for the immediate incarceration of such leaders have been made, even before any competent court could hear their cases.
The entranced Nigerians showed their mettle on Friday April 27, 2012, when the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, granted that a suit against former governor of Abia state, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu brought to it by the EFCC would be retried. All the online discussion forums since then had sent Kalu to the gulag because the EFCC had long clogged on their psych with its media trajectory hostilities against Kalu. And the persona dramatis had replied that he remained stoical.
The EFCC made Kalu a culprit whereas no court has said so, which is against the Nigerian judiciary notion which says that a suspect remains innocent till convicted by any court of competent jurisdiction. This is even when the Abia State High Court had on May 31, 2007 issued a motion on the matter: the Federal High Court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the case. Hence, Kalu’s fundamental human rights were trampled with his arrest, detention, and arraignment over four years ago.
Kalu, without doubt, was a politician who had established very well, businesswise, before he was elected to be governor in 1999. Slok Nigeria Ltd and his conglomerates of business were established before 1996. It’s on record that the Peoples Democratic Party is his brainchild, a party that was formed in his room, and he gave the party about Five Hundred Million naira (N500, 000, 000) cash during one of the party’s events leading to the buildup of 1999 elections. Kalu was not governor then, but he coughed out this huge sum of money. Is this not evidence that he was already rich before he was governor?
But Nigerians wouldn’t see that because a Justice had ‘unanimously ruled and read’ in the Kalu’s case that he should be retried, forgetting that it was a reprobated one to humiliate Kalu on behalf of the EFCC. All and sundry forgot that the EFCC disobeyed a court order on July 27, 2007 and arraigned Kalu before an Abuja High court and celebrated a 107 count charge on him. To draw the people’s sympathy, the EFCC told Nigerians in a well circulated media coverage that he was arraigned of “money laundering, official corruption and criminal diversion of public funds totaling over five billion.” Continue to name them. Is this not a case of giving a dog a bad name in order to kill her? The EFCC criminalized Kalu when the agency cannot boast of any genuine document to substantiate its claim.
The disrespectful EFCC even relegated the ordinance of the then President Musa Yar'Adua, in a reply to Kalu’s letter of August 5, 2007, urging him (Yar’Adua) to order the EFCC to discontinue the trial, complaining that the Commission failed to obey a May 31, 2007 Abia State High Court order for stay of proceedings pending the determination of a motion before it. Through the then Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Mike Aondoaaka, Yar’Adua said that the Abia High Court ruling would be respected. But, did EFCC respect that court ruling? It did not!
Does it not take clean hands to go before equity? Does it not take absolute morality to expose absolute immorality? So, where is the EFCC’s morality to fight corruption when it can’t respect court orders? That it was said that the EFCC Establishment Act and the Money laundering and Prohibition Act, (MPLA, 2003, 2004) had given the Commission power to prosecute offenders and that the EFCC derives its aptitude to prosecute from section 6 and 7 of its Establishing Act, the definition of economic crime was supposed to be succinct, instead of “quite wide” as was expressed by those who wanted Kalu maligned by all means necessary and unnecessary.
In the same manner the EFCC had been disobeying court orders with a Justice’s declaration that “economic crime was quite wide” the agency as well, didn’t respect the September 3, 2007 motion filed by Kalu at the Abuja High Court asking for an order to strike out all EFCC charges against him and to resign from the terms and conditions of the bail earlier granted by the court. This was evidence in the September 5, 2007 hearing of the Kalu's motion, an attorney from the then AGF’s office appearing for Aondoakaa, urged the court to comply with the Abia High Court ruling, a saying that irked the EFCC lawyer and the EFCC clashed with the Justice Minister's representative.
Any person saying that the Abia High Court order was intended to protect Kalu from prosecution and that the Appeal Court ruling had exposed the position of the former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Michael Andoakaa, was just being biased and teleguided. This is the view of detractors who want to see Kalu pulled down by all means because he is Igbo? During his period of stewardship as governor, a president from the Yoruba ethnic group used the same EFCC and confiscated virtually all his businesses. His airline, a bank he had a greater share in was impounded, among others. Conversely, Kalu said that notwithstanding the verdict of the Court of Appeal that he is just being witch-hunted for being vocal and always contribute his own opinion to any Nigerian discourse without seeking any premeditated advise from those who feel that they are powers that be.
Is the EFCC aware that Kalu remains unshaken in his position, because said that he did not pilfer the public coffer? So, is the EFCC tampering with the common Human Rights of Kalu for his decisions to stand against some people whom he said were bent on tarnishing the country while they were in power? It is imperative that this EFCC works on facts instead of on fiction. Did investigations not reveal that Kalu received N2.8 billion? Was this amount not the eight year Security Vote he received as then Governor of Abia State, whereas their EFCC is bloating the world with the tale that Kalu stole N5 billion? Can the EFCC tell what this amount N5 billion is for? Can the agency prove itself right with facts and figures instead of compounding its claim that Kalu was charged for “money laundering, official corruption and criminal diversion of public funds totaling over five billion”?
Using preposterous media war to draw public sympathy is not good for EFCC or using the powers that say they are to fight perceived opposition politicians is nonsensical in this titular and one-sided fight against corruption in Nigeria. People of Abia State have not hidden their voice that Kalu’s records and his achievements speak for themselves while he was governor of Abia State to demonstrate that he did not take the people’s money. The problem now is that as Kalu has said that he was prepared to prove his innocence, whether the EFCC was also ready, without engaging its media machinery against Kalu for Nigerians to still hope that it is working, which media machinery has been fingered is sponsored by a governor in the South-East and some Igbo sons and daughters at the seat of power in Abuja. They are afraid, saying that Kalu poses a threat to them because of the 2015 elections; hence they want him down with libelous tendencies.
Such acts pose great dangers in a democracy. The EFCC should stop bringing itself to the gallery always with its “media trial” of Kalu. The president in whose time the agency was formed is still working the street of the world a free man, yet the EFCC continued to do eyesright on him of any corrupt practice while in office, but Kalu. One comment that every Nigerian should hold Kalu seriously against the EFCC is: “Let the EFCC prove that I am guilty based on facts and figures and not just mentioning ridiculous figures it claimed I stole to draw public sympathy…” Nigerians should also watch this EFCC closely if it is not indeed longing for public commendation that it is working assiduously by debasing the name of Kalu, because from Kalu’s “over-publicised arrest” in the past, even when he was always available, the EFCC created lies and fabricated a feeling that he was on the run from the Commission to forestall arrest.
For this reason, the unwarranted negative publicity the EFCC always gives Kalu should be a pointer to Nigerians who have always shouted when it hears the EFCC’s verbalization of the amount of money it says that Kalu stole that the agency has no fact to sustain its ‘insults’ against Kalu; it is just massaging the wishes of those perceived were behind it against Kalu always, like a hunter-dog. Has Kalu not said that he is waiting for the EFCC to prove its case? Like Abraham Lincoln would say, Truth is generally the best vindication against slander.
Odimegwu Onwumere writes from Rivers State.