Nigerian Public Officials, Beware Of Kenneth Starr
Attorney Aloy Ejimakor
Washington DC United States
I am not your very talented run of the mill glorified peddler of slogans, but I chose to eat humble pie (or is it play grandiose?) for once, and challenged my close buddies to a snap head game, a trivia pursuit I called “Show me your favorite Nigerian bumper sticker of the moment”. It was initially meant as a dry humor at the expense of Nigerian politicians and public officials concerning the recent revelations of high level corruption by President Obasanjo. Here is how it panned out. The first speaker, a Nigerian dentist with his own lucrative waterfront office by the Navy Yards in Washington, DC, scarred the heck out of me when he yanked through the air in an extracting gesture and said, “Politicians, my name is Ribadu and it is teeth extracting time”. Well, I don’t know about you, but I thought I have enough worries and frayed nerves when time comes for occasional visits to the downtown dental office, especially if root canal is part of the package. But for this dentist guy to say what he said and hitting it with those suggestive arm movements confirmed my suspicions that dentists secretly contemplate our childish fear of them and the jagged instruments of their trade with some sardonic amusement. As my other pals fidgeted and politely debated the humor value of what the dentist just said, I proceeded to write it down for the records. As soon as the nervous laughter died down, I turned my attention to my oculist friend. This youthful guy, though not exactly an eye surgeon, played surgeon anyway and intoned nasally, “Go OBJ, extract eyes so senators see no evil”. While you are probably squirming already with the morbid value of this dry humor, again about extracting of vital body parts, take a moment to read this one, and that is: “Please promote Nigerian lawyers by exposing your politicians”. As you might have already guessed, I snickered inwardly at this line, partly because it is coming from one of the lawyers amongst us. Here is this lawyer proudly waxing capitalistic and playing into the hands of those who are convinced that lawyers will never go to heaven unless they win their ‘joint motion for admittance’ at the Pearly Gates.
All these guys, including my humble self are what have come to be generally known as ‘Nigerians in Diaspora’. Whether this characterization is really accurate to describe those of us domiciled outside Nigeria, is a matter for a journal-length discourse, because my pals told me, and I agree that some of the so-called Nigerians in Diaspora spend more time visiting (or is it partially living?) with their extended relatives in Nigeria than the ‘executive’ time spent by some of Nigerian state governors in Nigeria. And that, apart from just visiting, most of the Diaspora crowd have one ongoing hard currency-financed project or the other – a palatial suburban home in the making or some duplex in one of Nigeria’s sprawling metropolitan cities, as opposed to some Governors who are said to be building their Naira-financed mansions in the chilly suburbs of United States and Europe. My buddies swore that these Governors are now called ‘Nigerian Governors in Diaspora’ behind their broad backs, because they travel outside Nigeria so frequently that they have even beaten out the competition to accumulate enough ‘frequent flyer’ miles to last them a lifetime of reduced first class fares. Once I heard the coinage – ‘Nigerian Governors in Diaspora’, I immediately saw a new opening for further digression and more lively talk, and proceeded pronto to press the advantage without blinking. So, waxing suddenly creative, I tabled the suggestion that the coinage be burnished to ‘Nigerian Governors in Diaspora Organization’ – NIDO.GOV, for short, which seems to have a better and more inflammatory ring to it; plus the value added when some smart alec makes a domain registration of it and turns a huge internet profit on ‘NIDO dot GOV’. Someone agreed that this has a rather fancy ring to it and sounds pretty smart to boot.
But I wasn’t done yet in this ideas challenge when despite myself, I told my now quizzical audience that the mother union or organization, the real authentic NIDO could be convinced to send a high powered delegation to this proposed NIDO.GOV and recruit their loaded members to become the ‘frequent flyer chapter of NIDO’. After all, the other NIDOE – the one in Europe, acted truly Nigerian when it differentiated itself from the one in the United States by tagging the letter “E” at the end of the abbreviation. Pretty soon, we might just wake up to see NIDOA, meaning NIDO in Asia, but the real branding war will begin once Nigerians domiciled in Australia and Africa get in the fray to quarrel over which NIDO is legally entitled to the first use of the letter “A”. That is how self-contradictory we can be about our quest for national unity and cohesion when we always seem to find it necessary to stress our differences each time the opportunity comes for working together. It was at this point that it dawned on me that my pals were now starring and sizing me up as probably someone who suddenly got hit by a flash of ‘branding’ genius – an Albert Einstein wanna-be or that I have all along been a self-regenerating alien from the outer galaxy who landed somewhere on the peaks of the Zuma or even Aso on an UFO and assumed the bodily form of a clone Nigerian male. I contemplated my next move, and inwardly decided to oblige them their quiet assessment of me and leave NIDO the well alone for the moment. After giving them ample time to decide in what category to confine me – genius or alien, I digressed again, this time just a wee bit to goad them to name the “competition” they previously alluded to as a comparism to Nigeria’s over-traveled Governors. To my surprise, they mentioned Nigeria’s own celebrated Ajala, who was said to have traveled ‘all over the world’, and that his travels were so famously frequent that some renowned Juju musician waxed the bragging rights into an LP that sold platinum. I told them that they might have made a mistake because Condoleezza Rice, the current US Secretary of State is seen to be junketing a whole lot since making Secretary from NSC Advisor, and that to me is the real ‘mother’ of all frequent flyers put together. But they would not budge. Was I surprised? No, because it is typical of Nigerians in Diaspora to be overly patriotic when it comes to motherland Nigeria and her citizens being in competition with ‘outsiders’ for any coveted trophy or honorable mention. Someone even made the point that the distinguishing feature of frequent overseas travels by some Nigerian governors is the uncanny coincidence of those travels with the period the states received their whopping monthly allocations from the Federation Account. Sounds like flight capital of the unjust enrichment kind. Well, for what it is worth, this remark, and the lingering thoughts it etched in our minds seemed to have nailed the topic and freed us to come back to the trivia of the moment: bumper stickers.
Some may ask, ‘What are bumper stickers anyway’? Well, for those of us who don’t drive around much, whether in Abuja or Washington DC, ‘bumper stickers’ are those neon-colored one-liners you are wont to see pasted to the rear license plate or panels of your everyday sedans and other vehicles plying the roadways. It is supposed to be an American fad, but I noticed that Nigeria has decided to go hip and joined the craze. So, you are likely to see a great deal of them shouting at you from all manners of commercial vehicles, with the most common ones containing religious slogans - a short prayer or even a warning to walk a straight path or else. And that the two dominant religions – Christianity and Islam, are well represented can be said to truly reflect the ‘secular character’ of Nigeria. There are even some in the Arabic script, most probably unintelligible to an Arab speaker because what the stickers say are actually in our own Hausa language, but the Arabic script was chosen for its facility amongst Nigeria’s Muslims who know the script well enough to use it as the standard for writing a whole lot of things in the Hausa language. And ditto for many Yoruba Muslims who are said to have a flair for the Arabic script as well. Well, that got me to thinking that the subject of bumper stickers has reached an ‘age of enlightenment’ of sorts, to the extent of being readily available in two scripts – one, Latin or Roman and the other, Arabic, but both foreign anyway as far as Nigeria, in her pre-colonial and pre-conquered indigenous glory, is concerned. I am not too sure which of these was first in use by post-conquest black Africans or what significance it bodes for our national search for cohesion, but I am almost cock sure that there was a native script in use amongst the Bini and Igbo (Igboukwu) linguistic groups. And that was why I wondered when our own creative Onitsha stationery printers will wake up to the true profit potential of producing a line of bumper stickers in these truly two indigenous African scripts; or for our security forces to commission their use as the standard issue for encrypting our military secrets and codes in times of foreign aggression, much like the Americans used native Cherokee to befuddle Japanese counter-intelligence code breakers during the Second World War. They called that very successful operation ‘Code Talkers’. You need to see the movie version of it with Nicholas Cage as the super action hero, but don’t buy the pirated version from a street vendor because the blurred imagery may befuddle you to.
At this point, my other pal, who has been itching to bring us back to the final category of the core trivia so that he can avail us of what he thinks the bumper sticker of the moment should be, cleared his throat to get my attention. And once he had my attention and that of the rest of the bunch, he wasted no time in blurting it out; and here it goes and it is the winner: “NIGERIAN PUBLIC OFFICIALS, BEWARE OF KENNETH STARR”. Now, don’t tell me this guy is the real genius amongst us, because I already figured that he must be one. What with his being right on the money with a cliché that accurately captures what has been widely acknowledged to be the headline news of the moment in motherland Nigeria. What is this headline news, you might ask. Well, in case you have not heard, let me respectfully inform you that the number one news of the moment about Nigeria is Obasanjo’s international attention-grabbing crusade against corruption. It is big news here in the United States, and if you listen to BBC on the web, it is certainly big news with the Brits. And in our own motherland Nigeria, it is not only news, but the next big thing, bigger than 2007 and the early presidential crowd. Still don’t get it? Well, take just a moment to count from the get-go when it all began – beginning with mass retirement of ‘political soldiers’, Ezekwesili’s due process; El-Rufai’s ‘I ain’t giving no freaking Ghana-Must-Go’; and now, the numero uno of them all – an unknown young cop called Nuhu Ribadu, AKA ‘Kenneth Starr’, the ‘Independent Counsel of Nigeria’ or ICN, if you like short forms. But please don’t confuse the ‘AKA’ with the assault rifle genre. In this context, it is used to illustrate that Ribadu could well choose to be ‘also known as’. In another context, AKA, as also applied to Ribadu, the super cop could also mean the assault rifle, assuming the man got moved to the anti-political assassination squad and he proves his mettle one more time by containing the bane of political assassinations that have been our lot lately. Now back to Ribadu’s connection to that other man, also an attorney named Kenneth Starr. If you have heard of the charismatic wordsmith named President Bill Clinton, chances are that you have also heard of Kenneth Starr, who beat out Obasanjo as far as making ‘public and international ridicule’ of politicians goes. And you might have also surmised that Clinton once ruled America for two terms, and he was way too popular with ladies, including a voluptuous brunette, by name of Monica Lewinsky, who was said to have made out with Clinton in the White House while the highly classified nuclear briefcase lay close by. And to cap it all, that was when Boris Yeltsin was still at the helm in the Kremlin with his own trigger-ready nuclear briefcase and all his famous boozing and unpredictable ways, not only with the restive Chechens but also with matters of nuclear relations with America. This was why Rep Henry Hyde, the lead Republican House pursuer of Clinton slammed liberal Rep Conyers of New York for charging derisively that Kenneth Starr was conducting himself as a ‘federal sex policeman’. The Republicans, a very puritanical bunch, countered and reminded their Democratic colleagues and the rest of a mortified America that the ‘the sexing was done with the nuclear briefcase close by’. Needless to add that this counter punch held much more water and terrified a whole lot of Americans to boot. I don’t know whether Americans were terrified because they believed that the illicit action going in their White House will emit enough hormonal heat to trigger the hyper-sensitive circuitry that controlled the nuclear briefcase and inadvertently launch some uranium-laced warheads from America’s robust arsenal towards the direction of Russia. And with Yeltsin in charge over in Russia, Americans might have also feared that retaliatory strikes from Russia’s fearsome Black Sea fleet would have been swift, guaranteed and deadly. Talk about MAD – the now largely moribund Mutually Assured Destruction concept of balance of nuclear terror. Therefore, for many Nigerians, the whole Lewinsky episode might have appeared to be too much ado about presidential peccadilloes, but to a bunch of Americans, especially the extreme right wing ‘conspiracy’, the scary imagery of the nuclear briefcase being in close proximity to the disagreeable conduct of their President heightened their sense of outrage to the point of unrelenting in their dogged quest to see to the President’s impeachment.
From what I have been telling you in the foregoing paragraph, you might have started wondering whither the head game – final category. Well, before we get to the heart of that, let me tell you the connection between Prosecutor Kenneth Starr and the now super cop, Nuhu Ribadu that singularly scored the last bumper sticker so high in the final category. It is not only in the functional similarities of a ‘briefcase’ to ‘a Ghana-Must-Go’, but it is in varying twists and turns. So, just bear with me because what I am going to tell you now are germane or have some nexus with Nuhu Ribadu and Obasanjo’s unusual preference to thread the path of public revelations. Here it goes. Once upon a time in Little Rock, Arkansas, there was this minor real estate deal by the Clintons – Hilary and Bill and some attorney, by name of Webster Hubbell, also former assistant attorney-general of the United States. There were other parties in the loop, and if my memory is about right, I believe one of them was named McDougal, and he brought his delectable spouse along to partake in the deal. The deal was over some backwater piece of real estate called Whitewater, and the Clintons, when they were in charge in Arkansas, were supposed to be buying the land with some small loan from a ‘mom and pop’ federal savings bank (FSB or SA) – the type that took billions of greenbacks down the drain when they went burst, just like their close cousins followed suit in our own Nigeria a few years later. To make burnt depositors whole again, America quickly set up the FIDC – Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. And back home in Nigeria, we typically mimicked America by setting our own NIDC – Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation, but that was as far as that exercise in mimicry went because the equally injured depositors in Nigeria never got as near as being adequately recompensed as was the case in the America we love to emulate. Anyway, the Websters and McDougals, and the prestigious Rose law firm where Hilary and Webster reigned as tenured partners were all somehow, by a legal spinning of the webs, connected to the jinxed deal. The deal was hardly lucrative, if at all, but within the framework of an institutionally puritanical America that requires her public officials to live by example and play by all the arcane rules governing everyone else, a pressing need was felt once Clinton became President, to appoint an Independent Counsel with broad powers to go back in time and investigate whether the Clintons and their partners broke some public ethics code (or ‘public corruption law’, as Nigeria might say) by deploying the unique leverage and instrumentality of their public office to strike a failed ‘sweet heart’ deal that would have been beyond their reach, were they to be ordinary Americans. Now, I will wager that you are probably beginning to see that the connection to Ribadu is becoming clearer by the moment, in the general sense that the EFC statute also gave him broad powers to investigate public officials reasonably suspected of abusing the powers and privileges of their office for personal gain.
Well, once Starr went to town with his hard charging young Ivy League prosecutors, armed and flush with a federal statute that gave him enormous investigative and prosecutorial leeway, he stumbled on some gray areas along the trail, including an average beauty named Paula Jones; her wild accusations of sexual harassment; and Presidential subornation of perjury. The man, like our own Ribadu, smelled plenty of rats and like every good prosecutor, he somewhat veered of course to investigating ‘extraneous matters of prurient interest’. That was when Lewinsky coincidentally went gossipy and squelched the lurid details of her tryst with the ‘leader of the free world’ to a very bitter dame named Linda Tripp, who probably out of sheer jealousy that she was not the one groped, turned federal informant and contacted an overzealous Starr. Then a pandemonium that also played in front of television klieg lights was let loose. The man, Starr soon gave Americans pause to rethink their Independent Counsel statute when he transformed into a blood hound to the hilt and began a relentlessly nasty pursuit of Clinton, his kitchen cabinet, and his presidential DNA that almost stripped the President of his immunity from criminal prosecution. The grueling impeachment saga, the thousands of legal briefs, the political careers ruined and cut short, and all the ‘talking points’ trailing the President are now either history or confined to humorous mentions by America’s late night stand-up comedians like Jay Leno, Letterman, and the bunch. Yet, rightly or wrongly, some truly humbling lessons were learned by those at the receiving end, and that is: first, if you are a public official, you don’t mess around with the ‘common’ ethics code; and second, if you are serving in America, you don’t mess around either with women who are not your wives. Well, it seems to me that Ribadu, the honorable ‘Independent Counsel’ of Nigeria has latched on to the first lesson and he is trying dispassionately to teach it to Nigerian public officials in the language they will understand – the language of presidential public disclosures of high level official corruption. Unlike the real Starr, Ribadu would make a mistake to pursue that other ‘official corruption’ involving matters of ‘prurient interest’, because that is sure to boomerang and earn him some derisions and caricaturing for having an inordinate interest in a matter as mundane as public officials ‘allegedly’ abandoning pressing national legislative business to chase young skirts around the boulevards and back alleys of Abuja. Someone might have even fancy him the glorified ‘federal sex policeman’ of Nigeria, in a typical mimicry of Conyers’ epithet for Starr. So, Ribadu took his own counsel and wisely avoided those distracting temptations and stayed on course with the clear mandate enshrined in the EFC statute, which precisely is to expose financial crimes regardless of how highly the culprits are. To this extent, a good case can be made that Ribadu and his boss, Obasanjo are far more discretionary and self-restrained in their pursuit of pathological ethics violators than Starr, who kept going and going like the Energizer battery until he made Americans so queasy to the point of taking a bipartisan stand against the excesses of the Independent Counsel statute.
So, Ribadu, the adjunct ‘Federal Sheriff’, armed with a law passed by the very National Assembly he is now hounding, plus a good dose of Presidential nod, and the outrage of a nation wounded, left 419ers alone for the moment to chase bulging Ghana-Must-Go duffels to their ultimate (illicit?) destinations. Well, with so many of those Naira-laden China-made duffels being passed around with a knowing wink in the hallowed halls of the Assembly, it was a matter of time before Ribadu ‘struck pay dirt’ - as a Californian prospecting for gold in the old Wild West would say if he got lucky with some gold dust. And lo and behold, he reported his findings to the President and a shocked nation that an unethical activity was indeed afoot all along and some very senior public officials had their fingers in the cookie jar. He went on to prove it by carting away to the exhibits labs, wads of notes that most lawyers will call ‘smoking gun’, a ‘heck of a booty’ or even ‘corpus delicti’, if you will. Talk about the fictional Perry Mason and his wisecracks about open and shut cases. And instead of heading to the courts, or the National Assembly’s ad-hoc quasi-judicial committees – the Idris Kuta type that felled the late Okadigbo, the President took his case to the Nigerian public. Some fringe unrepentant ‘conspiracy theorists’ snickered that Obasanjo went public and deadly serious to play to Nigeria’s highly skeptical external creditors. Well, if that is true, and doing so will bring these guys to go gung ho and finally consider Nigeria fit for debt cancellation, then by all means, the President should go public each time our public officials indirectly decide to help Nigeria’s external debt profile by dipping their itchy fingers in the public till. But the one complaining that rankles more than the others is the one that charges that the President ‘convicted the accused on national television’; and that he subjected the National Assembly to ‘public and international ridicule’. Well, truth be told, that might be so to some limited extent, but only because it was Ribadu or Ehindero, and not the President that was supposed to be doing the public disclosing, ‘convicting’, and ridiculing. Yes, Ehindero, acting IG and the new kid on the block, would have loved to be the one reeling out the names, if only to seize the moment to rub it our face that it is not only the office of the IG that tries to reap where it did not sow. Yet, despite the complaints about public ridicule, nobody has really offered any rebuttal of substance to the damning evidence unearthed by Ribadu, except for a letter (or is it an internal memo?) Osuji is now offering in preponderance of the evidence that some shadowy guys tried to finesse a few grand from him by flaunting their connections to the Presidency. Tried as he may, this letter hardly goes to the material issue which Osuji is trying so hard to lay before the courts, and that is: Obasanjo’s public airings were primarily motivated by political witch-hunt to punish some purported dalliance between Osuji and Atiku. Talk about reckless name dropping and the man Atiku must be grumbling quietly that he has had one too many to last a lifetime. In these turbulent times, it seems that the best defense politicians love to peddle is this timeworn innuendo that the President will go to any length, including compromising his anti-corruption crusade, to punish any Nigerian who admits of ever making Atiku’s acquaintance. Please give me and Nigerians a break, and think of something much more creative than that, like the ex-PDP chair, Audu Ogbeh, who presented a threat so credible that the President felt the immediate necessity to ask for his job. Therefore, unless Osuji can prove that the guys who tried to pry those thousands from him are actually authentic folks from the Presidency, and the President really kept a blacklist of Nigerians he is plotting to methodically witch-hunt for rooting for Atiku, then he can kiss the political witch-hunting defense goodbye, unless someone with lots of clout like Chris Uba brings back Egbo Egbo to hear the case ex parte in the wee hours of the night. And talking about blacklist would normally remind people of former US President, Nixon, The Sly, and his gangling burglars, torchlight in hand, furtively bugging hotel rooms at the posh Watergate hotel, near Foggy Bottom in the Southwest quadrant of Washington, DC. That ‘ethical’ mistake was made because Nixon’s favorite idea of keeping the Democratic opposition in line comprised mostly of covert break-ins and the vilest form of invasion of personal privacy through the relatively easy facility of concealed bugs. But like all high level ‘mistakes’, Providence intervened when a humble African-American dude doing his normal graveyard shift as a night janitor or something like that got ‘clumsy’ enough to stumble on the miniaturized bugs, and as you would expect, some Independent Counsel came along to investigate “what the President knew about the bugs and when he knew it”. Well, Nixon knew enough things in secret places to try playing hardball with the legal discovery process, pleading some legal fiction called ‘Executive Privilege’, but once that defense failed to hold water, the cookie crumbled and along went Nixon’s presidency into the ash heap of history. Unlike Osuji, but more like Wabara, Nixon didn’t want to hang around to be impeached or ‘fired’. But since Americans used the apt cliché – Watergate to capture the unique locale of their own scandal, perhaps in an attempt to etch it into the consciousness of generations yet unborn, we might have to borrow a leaf as usual, and call this one Osujigate, since no five star hotels, like Sheraton or the Hilton was involved in the secreting of the fifty-five odd millions. And we have to do this right away before Americans beat us to it by usurping the exclusive naming rights and proceed to name the scandal something as Anglo-Saxon and outlandish as ‘Nollywood’, when it should have been ‘Kilowood’ – as a quaint recognition of the lively suburb of Surulere where the founding fathers of Nigerian home video made their tentative debut and quickly redoubled to show the fine stuff they are made of in a new Nigeria of deregulated cinema.
So, I tell you one thing, Dr. Osuji: if by some lucky stroke you prove to the court that the President kept a blacklist of Atiku lovers he is going to witch-hunt with phantom Ghana-Must-Go or GMG – which sounds like the dreaded SMG - Nigerian army’s standard issue in skirmishes gone by, then you can turn it over to the court and to the uncompromised Nigerian public and let them judge. That is the only option – the courts, and then Nigerians as the only judges of last resort, because Nigeria has no statutorily created Independent Counsel like the real Starr that is presently empowered to investigate “what President Obasanjo knew about the blacklist and when he knew”, unless the ongoing National Conference breaks political customs to create one. And you cannot turn to the National Assembly either, because it has long been neutered, and as if that was not enough pain and suffering, this Ribadu ‘enfant terrible’ came along to do some more ‘surgical’ neutering with mankind’s greatest instruments of earthly fear – the black letter law. After all, that other accused guy, I believe the one with the Germanic-sounding title of vice chancellor (or is it “vice chancery”?), has resigned his fate to God, thus confirming one of two things: it is either he did it or he doesn’t trust the Nigerian system to exonerate him and make him whole.
Now, back to the President, and the allegation that he ignored settled procedures by going public with Ribadu’s report. Oh, please, give me a break. Show me the pertinent provision in the EFC statute that impliedly or explicitly bars the President from being a whistleblower-in-chief. If you show me, I will show you the money. By a stretch of the modern rules of syllogisms, the President as Commander-in-Chief can also be the Whistleblower-in-Chief. And anybody can be a whistleblower – from your lowly Average Joe, minimum wage-earning custodian of records, who missed Udoji Award by the whiskers, to just about any chief executive, including Obasanjo himself. It is not as if the President’s public disclosures amounted to any sanction as close to a criminal conviction, contrary to the senatorial misuse of the word ‘conviction’ to characterize the net effect of the ‘south paw’ strategy the President preferred. Neither did he summarily hand down life imprisonments without parole at some dingy federal penitentiary or sudden death at the presidential dining table, like Amin used to do in Uganda of the old. All the President did to draw this senatorial ire was to name names already implicated in a report that is supposed to be public information anyway. And there is more. The President has the additional common law defense of acting in the public interest, because those he allegedly ‘defamed’ or slandered are all bonafide public officials, and thus a fair game. There is even more wiggle room for the President to solemnly swear that he did not act out of political malice or reckless disregard for the truth – the supposed truth being a ‘report of record’ officially presented to him by a law enforcement officer Nigerians empowered by statute to pursue dirty money. By the way, the report is easily admissible in evidence either as probative of the alleged corruption or as rebuttal evidence to impeach anyone who dares suggest that the Ghana-Must-Go and its unsavory contents are the figments of the President’s imagination.
The only mildly aggrieved person here is Osuji who lost his plum job all in a puzzling attempt to boost appropriation for his ministry, and not to boost his personal till. Though, he did make a credible point, but sadly vague and only in passing that he caved in to the demands of the National Assembly to do some ‘fifty-five millions counts of public relations’ before his ministry could get its fair due. Credible only in the remote sense that what he said indirectly underscored the immediate need for a comprehensive federal political lobbying statute that will painstakingly, but clearly define what is graft or vice when time comes for doing ‘public relations’ for honorable members. Presidential system of government is inherently prone to this sort of abuse – vice, avarice, and the warts and all, which is partly why the Americans who invented it saw fit to codify the rules of engagement in their campaign finance and congressional lobbying statutes. Perhaps, it is time for Nigeria to acknowledge that the presidential system of government does not only take a mere proclamation of a presidential constitution to really flourish and live out its full potential but also requires lots of ancillary laws that make sense. It might be a little off mark, but the absence of enabling laws in our presidential environment is more like a man getting newly married to hot blooded damsel without making a gallant effort to consummate the marriage. So, because nature in all its ramifications abhors a vacuum, sooner or later something gotta give – potentially decent people like Osuji are tempted to take matters in hand to the point of compromising their principles, their vows, and their oath.
This brings us back to Osuji, the ‘prima donna’ in all this ‘political opera’. Well, the last I heard, he appeared to be suing to have his job back, suing for respect, suing to seek assurances on his liberty, and suing for whatever, far and in between. His lawyers might have told him, but still, Osuji needs to be reminded again that it makes no sense for him to waste his precious breath and meager severance pay trying to make an international case out of losing his job. As a federal minister, he served at the pleasure of the President, who can get in a firing mood anytime anywhere, including going public with it in front of international television cameras. Osuji was what first year law students will call ‘employee at will’, except that there is this nuance in his own case, which might have even watered him down to employee at ‘political will’, thus probably depriving him of eligibility for any arcane common law remedies, like front pay, which might be otherwise available to your everyday employee at will. So, unless the President kowtows to critics and turns merciful to ask Ribadu and his battle-ready legal eagles to exercise prosecutorial discretion to go easy on pressing charges against Osuji, you can expect the full onslaught of Nigeria’s criminal justice system to take over to assuage the outrage of a nation feeling quite ripped off. But don’t lose heart, Dr. Osuji, because you might just have a lucky break with some activist federal judge who may be willing to consider your hair-splitting defense of ‘senatorial public relations gone wacko’ as an issue of first impression and let you off on that score. If you are reading this and your name is Dr. Fabian Osuji, tell the judge that “it appears that the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that none of that extra earmarks for my ministry (which Americans might call “pork”), would have had any fair chance of coming to my personal benefit or unjust enrichment, either directly or indirectly”. In lay terms, a certain Dr. Osuji, formerly of the Federal Ministry of Education, stood to gain nothing for his personal financial wellbeing from going this far to persuade the Assembly to approve a statutory appropriation for the government unit he headed. But be prepared to quickly rehabilitate yourself once the prosecutor charges that personal gain was your sole motivation because there is this scintilla of evidence that you pursued the extra cash only for the departments within your ministry that you exclusively controlled. If you want American lawyers with their fine reputation (or notoriety, if you will) for hair-splitting and word parsing, then by all means go and consult Martindale’s, where you will find plenty of them looking sharp and cute in their Armani suits, and ever willing to be retained at hefty fees, most probably more than the odd fifty-five million naira that is currently at issue. I assure you that they will confidently strode into Nigerian courts on a special motion called ‘pro hac vice’, and as quick learners you are guaranteed of their easy grasp of all the loopholes still embedded in the Nigerian penal system. And before your very eyes, they will painstakingly begin to split hairs, play hardball, stonewall, and use all known dilatory tactics under the sun until Ribadu’s own hair splits and grows gray with age, the case turns stale by passage of time, and that is when they will go for the kill and win your acquittal by attrition. But right at this moment, you seem to be losing because Nigerians are more inclined to believing their President than you, not because of the extra credibility the President might have garnered lately but rather because he is riding high on the coattails of a very credible cop, by name of Ribadu, alias ICN.
But what about the Senators’ beef with the President’s bad press? Well, what is it about Ribadu’s report that should make it a classified national security secret? Ordinary folks can understandably complain of being ridiculed if some vested reputation has been unfairly marred. Senators are not ordinary folks, so one would expect that they should carry a reputation that is not only vested but also way ahead of that of ordinary Nigerians by any comparism. After all, it is the frequency of corruption in high places that tips the scale so badly each time Transparency International (TI) comes to town to rank Nigeria. The day Nigeria will rank in the same category with the Holly See is the day TI decides to go to Nigeria’s grassroots to see how decent and hardworking our average folks really are. So, when these Senators complain of tarnished reputations, they need to take a moment to picture someone like Clinton waxing self-righteous on American soil over the Lewinsky scandal and rabble rousing that his fine reputation for piety and fidelity has been tarnished. Well, you can ask Hilary, the closest ‘verifier of that reputation’ and see whether she will agree, and of course, millions of Americans he looked in the eye and intoned ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Lewinsky’, only to totally recant days later under the pain of perjury.
What about the aside that the President’s public disclosures amounted to playing federal judiciary? Well, that may be so to some degree, but consider for a moment what form the alternative must take if judiciary is to be played to the hilt in strict accordance with the laws of the land. In that case, barring any immunity that might inhere in the office of the Senate President, Ribadu or Ehindero will be cuffing these guys by now, and that might even end up having the executive wings of Abuja holding cells overcrowded, considering the sheer number of officials implicated. Next, as is typical of others previously booked by the EFC, motions for bond may be summarily denied across the board on grounds of flight risk, and as a creative American prosecutor might add, 'heightened public interest'. A good and mean prosecutor might even tag along ‘danger to the community’ just for the extra effect or if he felt certain that these guys might become lose cannons and play Mafiosi with witnesses. This is certainly an argument that might fly on merely taking judicial notice of the wave of political assignations coursing through the country in recent times. Okay, assuming that none makes bail, you will have another El Mustapha and Bamaiyi musical chair of sorts or that other EFC one that concerned a late federal representative who died in custody while awaiting trial for alleged financial crimes. And from the moment bond is finally denied on appeal, anything can happen – all of them potentially disadvantageous to the accused. Any marginally good defense counsel, whether rookie or seasoned, will tell you that it is pretty tough trying to defend yourself from behind bars. So, what to do? You wait it out, and get to appear in court as required in those drab prison uniforms that rob of your dignity and really make a pathetic inmate out of a human being. Then, one day, sooner or later, but sooner if you are lucky, the judge finally decides that you are guilty of breaching the anti-corruption laws of the land, whereupon someone might make a ‘political’ decision to confine you in the common areas of the notorious Abakaliki Prisons, the Alcatraz of Nigeria. If you are lucky to get recruited for the prison chain gang, you can then count yourself opportune to have some exercise to shape up for once, otherwise you might just end up reading newspapers with myriad reports of Ghana-Must-Go duffels that managed to miss Nuhu Ribadu and hit bull’s eye. With some basic research skills, you might go back in time to re-read an old newspaper that was gracious enough to publish this satirical piece, and with hindsight, you might agree that as a public official and thus a fiduciary, you should ‘Beware of Kenneth Starr’ and his Nigerian variety, Alhaji Nuhu Ribadu, who got so good at his job that he influenced the possible coinage of a new word of art in the lexicon of Nigerian political scandals, and that word is: ‘Osujigate’.
By: Attorney Aloy Ejimakor
Washington DC United States