By Daniel Nengak Gondyi
In 2004, Joshua Dariye jumped bail in the UK and “illegally and clandestinely found his way back to Nigeria”. In 2005, DSP Alamieyeseigha jumped bail fleeing the United Kingdom allegedly disguised as a woman and carrying a fake passport. What do these 2 men have in common, jumping bail? Well that is one point.
Let’s be clear though, it is not some uncommon love for the Fatherland that drives them to pass through valleys and shadows of the Metropolitan Police to come to Nigeria. Instead, it is likely to be a shared belief that one way or the other, they could remain on the correct side of justice once in Nigeria. And they were right: Dariye has gone on from being Governor to serving in the Senate while Alamieyeseigha too is rumoured to be headed into the Senate.
James Ibori inverted the logic with severe consequences; he fled Nigeria in 2010 when he was wanted on corruption charges. Before his case was reopened in April 2010 though, Ibori triumphantly shook off a whopping 170-count charge of corruption in March 2010.
But even Ibori knew that there is a limit to how much “justice” one could buy, even for one as rich and as skilled as he was. So he took off to try his luck elsewhere. Although he is the thief who almost became our President, he ended up convicted and sentenced to 13 years in a UK jail.
By 2011, Ibori might have received the news of Dariye’s election to the Senate and sadly lamented “mea culpa”; his chief regret could easily be his decision to flee Nigeria in the first place.
In the wake of the state pardon granted to the same DSP Alamieyeseigha and others in March 2013, Nigerians have expressed their outrage in different ways. I heard a problematic call for all children of all Nigerian politicians studying abroad to be deported back to Nigeria.
But that is not all; a few days ago, I was invited to sign a petition posted by Enough is Enough (EIE) Nigeria to “deny visas to those convicted of looting public funds” in Nigeria. These kinds of calls are severely deficient in many ways, especially in their moral and legal foundations. Making claims that could not be supported in law is likely to be the greatest shortcoming of the budding “activism industry” in Nigeria.
The National Judicial Commission (NJC) is in the news for recommending the sacking of some judges whose handling of previous cases it questions. Generally, I think that in Nigeria, judges who handed out questionable judgments usually end up disciplined – often having their careers terminated. I wonder though, why higher courts would not just nullify the ‘wrong’ decision and have the case retried from scratch.
But in spite of this consequence, the embarrassment continues. Consider the case of John Yusuf who was sentenced to 2 years for his role in defrauding the Police Pensions Office the sum of NGN 27.2 billion. He was given an option to pay a fine of NGN 750,000 which he paid up and walked away (he didn’t get very far before he was back to court on fresh charges though). But here is what happens: a man steals 27,200,000,000 and he is fined 750,000 – do the math (I know you can).
Across Nigeria there are many corruption related cases lingering in courts. For example, the cases initiated against the Governors who left office and lost immunity from prosecution in 2007 have been dragging slowly in the courts while some of them (covered by the inviolable presumption of innocence in law) have gone on to become Senators etc.
While we can point to many examples of ‘justice from abroad’, I cannot name a single individual standing trial for corruption before a Nigerian court today whose case has been scuttled because they legally went abroad. So what is this visa ban all about?
What exactly does EIE Nigeria want? “We would like the US, British, Canadian, German, South African & Emirati governments … to desist from granting visas to ANY persons, and members of their families, convicted of stealing public funds or acts that violate fundamental human rights”.
A careful review of the petition reveals worrying array of assumptions whose premises are contrary to the principles of justice, fundamental human rights and of democracy – I think we should look at them.
For a convicted person (not a suspect or an accused person) to present himself/or herself to request for a visa to travel out of Nigeria, I would imagine that such a person has already completed a jail term or done whatever society demands as punishment for their wrongdoing.
If this is so, then between conviction and the visa request, there is a thing called punishment. The desire to continuously punish individuals for offences that they have made amends for is unconstitutional and against the principle of human rights.
Of all people and groups, Enough is Enough Nigeriashould know this! The idea of prisons and convictions is not to mark anyone as criminal in perpetuity but to provide for atonement and then to reinstate past offenders in society with as much rights as they had before convictions – including the right to freedom of movement and the presumption of innocence until further convictions.
There is also the barbaric demand of ‘justice by proxy’ or by association in the petition. To punish an individual merely and simply because the lottery of birth placed them in the same family with someone else convicted for an offence is something one finds mostly in dark history books chronicling the regimes of mad dictators.
Am I not unaware that proceeds of corruption are often liberally distributed among family and friends, but should we consider relatives (including spouses) of corrupt persons to be corrupt without ever trying them in court? No. I argue that that should not be the default position; but if there are reasons to suspect that specific family members, friends or associates are involved on specific corruption cases, then judicial procedures should be initiated against the specific suspects.
I don’t know about the fellows at EIE Nigeria, but my “family” in its widest sense is made up of probably a thousand loved ones. To deny me a visa if one of them is convicted or to deny them visas if I am convicted is easily the most outrageous proposal one can place on the table; it is more outrageous if this is proposed while still holding up an activist banner.
Still on this “justice by proxy” problem; I should point out that proceeds of corruption are not often limited to the family, in fact they are often ‘outside’ the family. Long before James Ibori was even arrested, a number of his “associates” were convicted; including his lawyer Bhadresh Gohil – only one of those convicted is called ‘Ibori’.
On the other hand, Joyce Bamidele Oyebanjo – an associate of Joshua Dariye was convicted for money laundering in the UK. One could make a long list of non-family members involved in aiding and abetting crimes. So what exactly does EIE Nigeriahold against the families of convicted persons?
It is very funny that although EIE Nigeria is aware, and admitsthat “Mr Alamieyeseigha is still wanted abroad” yet they plead that he should not be granted a visa to go abroad. If he never got a visa out, he would never answer to the charges abroad.
Question: is Enough is Enough Nigeria working for Alamieyeseigha these days, or is it solely coincidental that their petition has the effect of shielding him from answering to the case against him abroad?
The last time I checked; the petition has been signed by 1,612 out of the expected 50,000 signatures. That is progress and it is perfectly in keeping with the clicking generation. Some of the comments added by those signing the petition are, like the petition itself; short of ideas.
Consider for example these claims: “Because it will reduce significantly the impact corruption has on the ordinary Nigerians”, “BECAUSE I WANT CHANGE IN MY COUNTRY”, “To save Nigeria from Fraudsters” and “To contribute positively towards the birth of a NEW Nigeria where Corruption, No respect for God and mankind, Nepotism, equal chance and self inflicted slavery will be thing of old”.
A future Nigeria where citizens mobilize and invite foreign governments to strip Nigerian citizens of their constitutional and fundamental rights is not really a better version of Nigeria. The right to freedom of movement; non-discrimination; presumption of innocence are all fundamental human rights and secured by the Constitution of Nigeria.
These rights are under threat thanks to hasty activism. I think that the EIE Nigeria petition was ill-conceived, terribly worded and not hinged on any law, convention or practice that one is familiar with. In fact it is seeks to subvert the liberties that the laws of Nigeria upholds.
At its core, the EIE Nigeria petition makes 3 demands for: (a) continued punishment of already convicted and punished offenders by denying them visas; (b) shielding persons wanted abroad from justice; and (c) passing a guilty verdict on relatives of convicted persons solely on account of their relationships with the convicted.
How an organization could make such demands on one day and then go back to working on ‘good governance and public accountability’ in Nigeria as stated on the EiE Nigeria’s website is very confusing to lesser brains like mine. But also confusing, is the continued endorsement of these demands both by the media and by those who sign the petition.
What the petition does not say and which bothers me very much is what EIE Nigeria intends to do with all these convicts and their family who would conceivably be ‘trapped’ in Nigeria. Then what?
In a broader sense, the civil society in Nigeria has come under critique in recent years. Much of the criticism had focused on the alleged secrecy that shrouds the work of the civil society.
The much read “How to become a Nigerian activist” by Elnathan John told us of about the kind of activism that sells but which we all want to avoid. But I think that the beginning of any sensible ‘activism’ is in the law.
You don’t have to agree with the laws – in fact you are welcome to write proposals to the National Assembly to change the laws you oppose. But you have to know the books, activist.
Nengak Daniel Gondyi is presently a post-graduate student in International Migration and Ethnic Relations at Malmö Högskola in Sweden. He is also a Senior Programme Officer of the Abuja based Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD. He holds a Bachelors’ in International Studies from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria.
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