Home Opinion Time to review the impunity of immunity

Time to review the impunity of immunity

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To begin with, let me ask whether you knew that abusing the Naira is a worse offence than stealing or embezzling the Naira? You can steal billions of Naira and walk away free. But abuse the Naira and end up in jail with automatic alacrity! Worse still, you can leverage the riches so suddenly acquired to contest election into high office and become anything – President, Vice President, Governor, Senator, Honorable – just anything!

Only a few persons in high office in this country today do not fall into this category. When you steal so much, you intimidate the authorities; the anti-corruption agencies negotiate with you; the courts respect you and the populace worship you. Spiritual leaders grovel for a piece of the cake. Crumbs from your table ensure that the masses flock to you and do your bidding.

An uncountable number of our leaders have corruption allegations and cases running for years hanging around their neck. In the interim, they walk the street; stand for election, win and are, today, “their excellencies” “distinguished” and “honourables”. This is very much unlike the automatic alacrity with which Bobrisky was sent to jail and the Cubana Chief Priest was hauled before the court on charges of abusing the Naira.

The seriousness with which the authorities now pursue selective cases of abuse of the Naira suggests that this offence destroys the economy and impacts Nigerians more negatively than the stealing of humongous sums from the country’s coffers. This is quite unfortunate as it smacks of a deliberate diversionary tactic to shift the people’s attention from more serious matters.

Someone said Bobrisky quickly went to jail maybe because his lawyers were B. Sc. in Law lawyers! Were they the ones who advised him to plead guilty, thinking that would earn him pity and soft-landing? He was like a person that enemies wanted to roast alive who now doused himself with petrol and stood before the fireplace. The Cubana Chief Priest must have learned lessons from Bobrisky’s error. Maybe his lawyers had authentic LLB. Law! If you know, kindly tell me why the Dunamis pastor apologised to the lady who bagged B.Sc. Law degree from National Open University!

While Bobrisky cools his feet in jail, the Cubana Chief Priest roams freely, having been admitted to bail, which was denied to Bobrisky. Because he pleaded not guilty, the Cubana Chief Priest is considered innocent until the contrary is proven; unlike Bobrisky who pleaded guilty from Day One and the judge only had to fix a date to sentence him – and the sentence pronounced was harsh, in my view.

Bobrisky’s lawyers appeared lazy. I will love to see how the Cubana Chief Priest and his lawyers tackle the prosecution. What is the evidence that the person caught on video abusing the Naira was the accused and not a look-alike? Remember the drug-related charges that dogged the steps of Kashamu Buruji until his death. How are they sure that what was abused was real Naira and not fake, look-alike Naira? Will exhibits be presented in court, with serial numbers to boot? What if rats or snakes – or even monkeys! – are later announced to have devoured the exhibits? Will electronic evidence (a relatively new source of evidence) suffice in this case? In a democracy, there is the need to stretch the law to its elasticity level and not take anything for granted.

I love the song “apostle must to hear this” by portable but warn him not to fall into the same pit as Bobrisky. I will loan him the wisdom of the elders as Grandma told me. There was a wicked king in one town and people only murmured behind his back as none could summon the courage to confront him. One day two friends bared their minds about this wicked king in a gathering of friends. Unknown to them, one amebo carried the tale to the Kabiyesi. Pronto, he sent messengers to bring the twosome to his palace. Everyone knew what the outcome would be.

So, one of the friends went into his inner chambers and behaved like a man, as they say. He committed suicide rather than stand the indignity he would be subjected to before being beheaded at the palace. So, only one offender was hauled before the king, who was surprised to see that he did not committed suicide like his friend. “Coward”, the king yelled at him. “Why did you not summon the same courage as your friend?” The king was surprised at the response he got: “Only cowards die before they see the death that would kill them”! But I digress!

One day late into the night some years back, we were unwinding in the Dining Room of a governor, as was our practice, when his phone rang and the person on the other end was frantic. It was an SOS to His Excellency by the Apostle, who was in the state for a three-day crusade, to come to the rescue. It was a “come-to-Macedonia-and-help-us” kind of shrill cry. The ‘Man of God’ said his hotel had been surrounded by security operatives from Abuja and were banging on his door, threatening to pull it down if he failed to open it.

His Excellency, an action governor, immediately sprang to action; mobilised his security aides and all of us headed for the hotel. His Excellency, commando-style, stormed the hotel, yelling and stomping: How dare you! You want to create a crisis in my state? How dare you invade my state without my knowledge? Not even the courtesy to put me in the know? I am the Chief Security Officer of this state! Ad infinitum!

As His Excellency was raking, he was pushing his way towards the Apostle’s room. The security operatives from Abuja were taken aback. They were armed to the teeth. The governor’s security aides were also armed. Thank God there was no shoot-out between the two opposing groups. What would have become of “bloody civilians” like me? The governor got to the Apostle’s room, wrapped his arm around him, led him down the stairs, and hauled him into his official car and we drove away, straight to the Government House.

That was my first time seeing Apostle Joshua Suleman. Was the governor’s action right? Yes, I think it was, but was it dangerous? Yes, it was! What if a shoot-out had occurred? But why should security agents storm a state without the knowledge of the governor who is touted by the country’s Constitution as the Chief Security Officer of the state? This is one area of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) that needs further amendment.

If we can excuse what the governor in question here did to rescue Suleman, can we, in like manner, justify what the Governor of Kogi State did to smuggle his erstwhile boss, Yahaya Bello from the net of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), as it’s being alleged? I do not think the governor did the right thing. So also do I not think Bello himself did the right thing trying to run away from the law. How far can he run? And for how long will he hide? Has he not made his case worse now that he has been declared wanted by the EFCC?

For how long can the incumbent Kogi governor provide his political godfather a safe haven? If Bello is innocent, why is he running? Has it not been said that a clear conscience fears no foe? After all his grandstanding, why is Bello now developing cold feet? Why is he now hiding under the cover-cloth of his successor? Again, for how long will he do this?

In 2018, the then Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose was taunted by the EFCC: that his immunity would soon expire as his tenure expires; that he would be hauled before the court; and that he would rot in jail! Fayose told them he was not on the run but would turn himself over to the EFCC – all by himself. He was man enough to honour his words. He went to the EFCC office in Abuja by himself. I was one of those who followed him there. He was detained by them. He was charged to court and was remanded at the Ikoyi prison for a while. I visited him there. When the case began, I followed him to court on a countless number of occasions. Fayose defended himself. The case is still on but Fayose is not in hiding like Bello has now done. He did not run from the law. Fayose was outspoken but not lousy like Yahaya Bello.

Bello has been declared wanted. That is the right thing to do but that is not all. If it is true that the Kogi State governor was the one who, hiding under the cloak of immunity, shielded him from arrest by the EFCC, then, that is a serious matter. In so doing, the governor has shown that he is not fit for the high office he occupies. He has to be removed by all means possible. Was that not the same man who prostrated before Bello after the state governorship election? What, then, should we expect? What a shame! If removing the governor is what must be done to gain access to Bello, so be it! This is one of those rare occasions that you regret that Olusegun Obasanjo is not the President!

Then, the security aides that the Kogi State governor used to frustrate the EFCC must be sanctioned. We have had too many cases of security officials acting unprofessionally and at cross-purposes in a way that does them little or no credit. An end must be put to this. There is also the embarrassment of judges giving conflicting orders that make a mockery of the judiciary. What is the function of the National Judicial Commission in this regard?

Importantly, the time is now to review the immunity clause in the Constitution; either we totally remove it or we strip it of its omnibus status. The spirit and letters of the immunity law aim at allowing those enjoying it the opportunity to focus on the task of governance without distraction but now that it has become an instrument for criminality, something must be done about it.

We used to give ourselves the consolation that presidents and governors, the clan that enjoys immunity, have expiry date, after which they can then be called to account, but with the Yahaya Bello incidence where spirited efforts are being made to still cover the former governor with the borrowed cloak of immunity belonging to his successor, then, this has become a serious matter that we can no longer gloss over.

Do not think sitting and former governors are not watching. If Bello gets away with this, it will very soon become the order of the day all over the country.

Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of the Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Bolawole writes the On the Lord’s Day column in the Sunday Tribune and the Treasurers column in the New Telegraph newspapers. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television. He can be reached on turnpot@gmail.com +234 807 552 5533

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