Bala Mohammed: When Justice is the Victim! By Emma Agu

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Bala
Bala

That the anti-graft posture of the Muhammadu Buhari Administration is desirable cannot be disputed. That the campaign has recorded some remarkable successes is also a statement of fact. In spite of the face-off between the presidency and the senate over the confirmation of the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, and leaving aside political considerations, it can also be acknowledged that the fight against corruption has received renewed vigour under his leadership.

Come to think of it, through the anti-corruption campaign, Nigerians now know that not only human beings are susceptible to being orphaned; even money can become an orphan, a very pitiable one indeed. Imagine millions of being disowned by everyone. For another, vendors of whistles now smile to the banks with hundreds of thousands of naira, even dollars. And you no longer have to qualifier as a referee to make a living, blowing whistles. You are not even required to belong to the Nigerian Referees’ Association. Just the ability to blow the whistle and you are a millionaire! That is on the lighter side of the matter. But considered seriously, the admission of wrongdoing by public office holders, leading to conviction as in the case of the staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) simply underscores the enormity of the challenge as well as the prospects of real deterrence which, by itself, should be a significant deliverable of the anti-graft war.

From that perspective, many Nigerians will agree that Magu and his colleagues deserve our commendation and for the same reason, no patriotic Nigerian will oppose the anti-graft war of the administration. At any rate, we should never lose sight of the fact that this war is work in progress. Think about it: the EFCC was established by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP)-led Olusegun Obasanjo Administration, not the Buhari Administration. By the same token, the first high profile victim was a serving minister of the federal republic in the Obasanjo Administration, the late minister of internal affairs, Chief Sunday Afolabi. What has changed is the commitment and scope of the present campaign which, pursued to its logical conclusion, could lead to a new moral order, a new ethical environment that is a sine qua non for development of the society.

For now, let us limit this discussion to the present campaign which, in spite of its desirability, has left a sour taste in the mouth of civilized society by the sheer magnitude of the human rights abuses that it has left in its trail. As has been severally bemoaned, the sheer magnitude of impunity unleashed on suspects can only compare with similar situations in a military dictatorship.

A very clear example of this sordid spectacle is the plight of former minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Senator Bala Mohammed who has been subjected to endless psychological torture by officials of the EFCC. To set the records straight, the former minister has not for once questioned the anti-corruption posture of the Buhari Administration. For another, he has always submitted himself to all investigations relating to his tenure as minister of the FCT. We should recall two prominent investigations, the one on the land swap program and the other on the centenary city project. His posture is undergirded by the philosophy that those who have been privileged to hold public office should also be prepared to submit themselves to scrutiny after service. He has always acted within the law.

Thus, when the EFCC detained him for forty-five days while investigating allegations against him, he has sought and obtained a court bail against his detention. Unfortunately, his freedom of movement has been severely abridged: his passport was seized while he has been reporting to the EFCC every week. But in another curious twist, the agency has again detained him since last Thursday over the same charges for which he was granted bail. The question is: what is the justification for re-arresting and detaining a man who, for all practical purposes, has not done anything to suggest that he will jump bail? For another, barring some mischievous desire to humiliate him, what is the rationale in detaining him for a bailable offence that has already been charged to court? If this is not persecution, what else could be? With every sense of responsibility, this case reeks of a clear abuse of the court process and a flagrant disrespect for the judiciary. It is throwback to the days of military dictatorship and an affront to constitutional democracy.

For a man who voluntarily returned to the country to defend the charges against him and clear his name, for a man who has never flouted his bail conditions nor is he about to do so, for a man whose travel documents are securely with the EFCC, to be subjected to this treatment, beats the imagination and raises serious questions about the method and motives of the campaign.

Senator Bala Mohammed is happy that, at last, the EFCC has brought formal charges against him. Yet, that does not warrant the pretrial humiliation and incarceration, the gross violation of his fundamental human rights and the negation of the foundation of our jurisprudence, the principle that the accused innocent until proven guilty. This is one case, like others, that calls for the prompt intervention of the National Human Rights Commission, the presidency, and other forces of society. It is possible that President, as in the case of the Punch newspaper correspondent, is not aware of the persecution that Bala Mohammed and some other suspects, are being subjected to. It is even possible that Magu is not aware of the gross human rights abuses taking place under his watch. That is the nature of a large bureaucracy.

“I want to conclude by taking an excerpt from the speech I gave at the biennial convention of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, in Lagos on May 1, 2017. I said: In spite of observable and worrisome implementation drawbacks such as disobedience of court orders, trial (including conviction!) by media and the incomprehensible arrest and detention of suspects before concluding investigations, the anti-corruption campaign of the federal government can be said to have recorded good success. For sure, the campaign needs an overhaul to divest it of rights abuses and engender greater public confidence. Yet it goes without saying that this is a project around which the media must create a stakeholder aura, if recession is not to become a permanent way of life in Nigeria.”

That summarizes my position on this matter. Even as our law enforcement agencies should be encouraged in the arduous task of fighting corruption, even as whistle-blowers should bask in this new enterprise, never should we allow our sense of humanity to be beclouded by the euphoria of momentary applause or that base human craving for vengeance, justified or not. The truth is that, irrespective of where we stand on this matter, for now, Bala Mohammed is a suspect, not yet a criminal let alone being a convict. To accord him that right is to defend the law, the constitutional liberty of all of us. At the moment, the law, not Bala, is the victim. That is a frighteningly ominous development, not just for the present but regrettably for the future society of our dream because, as always, what goes round, surely comes around!