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Saturday, June 17, 2017

MURDERED HOPE OF HAPLESS NIGERIANS By Wale Adegoroye

Pearl Magazine Blog Guest Writer Wale Adegoroye writes on corruption and governance in Nigeria in thus article titled MURDERED HOPE OF HAPLESS NIGERIANS. Read, enjoy and learn.

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Corruption in Nigeria is a scourge which has assumed a life of its own. As such, many Nigerians had lost hope that the nation could ever wriggle free from the deadly grip of corruption. However, the long suffering masses suddenly became imbued with renewed hopes of delivery from institutionalized graft when Muhammadu Buhari won the APC presidential primaries. Passionate interests of Nigerians in the process and intrigues leading to the primaries at Teslim Balogun stadium reflected their utmost faith in the ability of General Buhari to give corruption a technical knockout. Hope of many hapless citizens were so high that they stayed glued to their television sets all night monitoring the imminent victory of their perceived deliverer from the stranglehold of corruption.

The hopeful masses had eagerly awaited the election date of March 28th, 2015. They had gleefully trooped out in their millions and in high hopes before they eventually casted 15,424,92 valid votes for General Buhari. Reassuring words were dished out by the President during his inauguration at the Eagle Square. He promised to fight corruption vehemently because the scourge was sure to kill the country if not killed. President Buhari coined and gave another reinforced message of hope that he was for nobody and was for everybody. In all, Nigerians went home with an assured hope as given by President Muhammadu Buhari on May 29th, 2015.

Hope can make a good breakfast, but will definitely turn out a bad dinner the moment expectations are far from being met. Lack of political savvy on the part of President Buhari probably made him played into the hands of Dr Bukola Saraki in the run up to the election of senate leadership. Buhari made a major political miscalculation by declaring that he was prepared to work with anyone as the senate president. His earlier declaration of being for nobody and for everybody had further encouraged Dr Saraki to maneuver his ways to clinch the senate presidency against the run of play. President Buhari soon realized that it would be difficult for him to achieve success in his avowed war against corruption with Saraki as the senate president. Saraki was soon hurriedly arraigned before the Code of Code Tribunal to pave way for for Senator Ahmed Lawan, the preferred candidate of the APC national leadership.

Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months and months turned into years in the Code of Code Tribunal's trial of Dr. Saraki. Rotimi Jacobs, the prosecuting counsel of the EFCC gave hope to Nigerians that a barrage of overwhelming evidence had been gathered against Saraki to achieve a water tight case and successful prosecution. Sadly, the Code of Conduct Tribunal  led by Mr Danlandi Umar in its wisdom discharged and acquitted Dr Saraki of all the 18 charges preferred against him on Wednesday June 14, 2017.

Acquittal of Dr. Bukola Saraki has since been greeted with outrage across the length and breath of the country. Hope of many Nigerians that the monster of corruption could be curtailed if not killed by President Buhari got dashed with the discharge of Saraki. Hitherto hapless but overly optimistic citizens were supremely confident that a dogged war against corruption would be a major achievement of Buhari's government. In of the fact that the nation's economy has been battling with recession, job loses, unfavorable foreign exchange rates and hyper inflation; yet the masses kept hope alive that Buhari would win the war against corruption for them as a compensating achievement.

Needless to say that the verdict in favour of Saraki has  dealt a deathblow on the anti corruption war in the minds of many Nigerians . The verdict of no-case has largely eroded the confidence of many Nigerians in the resolve of President Buhari to uproot corruption from moral fibres of the nation. Acquittal day of Bukola Saraki of all charges preferred against him was indeed a black day for the anti-corruption stance of President Buhari. No Nigerian is interested in the technicalities of why Saraki was left off the hook; they were simply expectant of the course of justice being served in the case.

There is no doubt that the Nigeria judiciary has become a stinking haven of corruption where judges have turned themselves to vendors of favourable judgements to highest bidders. This much was attested to by Okoi Obono-Obla, the 
Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Prosecution. According to Obla,
“It is unfortunate that the NJC is not interested in the cleaning up of the judiciary and we ought to clean up the judiciary and it is important we clean it up". Obla had expressed shock at the ruling of the Tribunal because the amount of evidence against Saraki was overwhelming. He further stated that a crime was a crime no matter who had committed it.

It must be pointed out that the prosecuting team of the federal government gave room for corrupt  exploitation in the trial of Dr. Bukola Saraki. The team was not diligent enough in putting together a water tight case. A corrupt judge will ordinarily look for a hole to explore in any case. The last prosecuting witness that came before the Tribunal did not helped the cause of the prosecution at all. The witness openly declared that Saraki was never invited before the CCB and that there was nothing in the assets declaration form that he did not declare. This alone was enough to have killed any good case.

Bottom line of the series of poor prosecution outings of the anti-graft agencies is their failure to assemble a team of "Ogbologbo" lawyers. A question begging for answer is when will the government wake up from its slumber to heed the advice of former President Olusegun Obasanjo? The "Ebora Owu" had advised that a crack team of "Ogbologbo" lawyers must be assembled by the federal government if success is to be made of the anti-graft war. So many high profile cases of politically exposed persons in the country had been lost, yet the regular reactions of the anti-graft bodies is to blame the lost cases on judicial corruption. Nigerian judiciary was probably more corrupt during the time of Mallam Nuhu Ribadu as the pioneer Chairman of EFCC, yet he managed to secure many convictions in high profile cases.

Prosecuting teams of the anti-graft agencies must strive to reinvent themselves and make meticulous effort to gather enough evidence before taking anyone to court for trial. It is a general belief that anyone taken to court by the FBI in the United States is already jail bound, unless such an offender immediately takes the option of plea bargain. It is so saddening that security and anti-corruption agencies in Nigeria would first make arrest and arraign offenders in court before they begin their search for evidence. Cases can never be won in this manner! Mockery of prosecuting strength of the anti-graft bodies were made in the words of the counsel to Dr. Bukola Saraki, "This is the first time that CCB will take anyone to court without first asking him to come and write a statement. This is the first time that EFCC will prosecute a case at CCT. So many things in that trial are abnormal. People who have been following that case already know that it has collapsed. So, I have no fear about it and we will not put it on the table. Certainly, we were not pleased by it, to see the head of one arm of government sent to a trial that is more political than anything else".

Line of thoughts of many Nigerians was that the acquittal manifested political expediency for the 2019 presidential election. After all, two years is down in the life of Buhari's administration and it cannot afford to bicker with the legislature for another year before going into the presidential contest in the last one year. It is a fact that a house that is divided against itself will not stand. Many Nigerians and social right activists have described the acquittal of Saraki as a gruesome murder of their hope to free Nigeria from debilitating corrupt practices. It is no gainsaying that the hope of many Nigerians that still have shreds of faith in the system had been painfully and brazenly dashed.

Condemnable rhetorical reaction of the presidency to the Code of Conduct Tribunal verdict will not in any way reverse the negative public perception by the populace. This is undoubtedly one lost trial too many. Confidence of the people in the war against corruption had been lost; just the same way their morale is at its lowest ebb. One continue to wonder what the government at the center will flaunt as its major achievements by the time 2019 election come calling.

The poor masses of this country have suffered major heartbreaks of failure to to deal ruthlessly with corruption which has kept them depressingly impoverished. They were trying to term with the reality of this murdered hope when news frittered in that the court of Appeal had upturned the conviction of Godsdey Orubebe by the Code of Conduct Tribunal. An overkill of their hopes came again when the All Progressive Congress, APC, in Bebeji Local Government Area of Kano State, announced the expulsion of Abdulmumuni Jibrin, the suspended member of the House of Representatives.
Jibrin was the whistle blower who accused the leadership of the House of massive budget fraud. Jibrin's offence according to the party was his involvement  in anti-party activities. Nigerians were shocked to their marrows that whistle blowing on corruption has suddenly become a major offence in an administration that vowed to uproot corruption. 

It will only be an understatement to say that the faith reposed in the government of Buhari on anti-corruption war has evaporated. Inaction on the part of the government has also reached a frustrating height. Judges that were arrested on the ground of corrupt enrichment were not taken to court nine months after. Justice Adeniyi Ademola was taken to court but poorly prosecuted. Whether the justices protected one of their own or not, fact remains that diligent prosecution of Adeniyi Ademola was lacking.

In fairness to Buhari, the retired army General had made efforts to confront corruption head on at the early stage of his administration, but corruption is seriously fighting back. Resolve of Buhari has further become weakened by the crop of corrupt people he surrounds himself with and his failing health.

Hope has indeed been murdered, crushed and burnt; still the fight is not totally lost. Redemptive efforts could still still be mustered. Buhari  needs to set up a special court for corruption cases and stamp out technicalities from the prosecution. Corruption cases must be given a limited time frame to discourage endless prosecution. Ingenious effort must be made by the Executive to cleanse and purge the judiciary of corrupt elements. It is never too late for President Muhammadu Buhari to turn a fierce heat on corruption so as to regain already lost confidence of the masses.

Wale Adegoroye is a social critic. 
waleadegoroye@gmail.com

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