Twists and turns in EFCC, Fayose tango
IMMEDIATE past governor of Ekiti State, Peter Ayodele Fayose, is one opponent the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) will not forget in a hurry. The enfant terrible was, and still is, a torn in the flesh of Mr Muhammadu Buhari. Fayose started tackling Buhari seriously the moment he emerged the presidential flag bearer of the then opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2015 presidential election. In Nigeria, most political opponents backpedal once the opponent wins the election and begin to mend fences so as to worm their way into the heart of someone who, the day before, was considered an inveterate foe.
Not so, Fayose! His criticism of Buhari became more strident even after the APC candidate won election and had even been inducted as president and commander-in-chief. While civil society organisations and pro-democracy activists, which were upbeat during the period of erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan, went silent with Buhari in the saddle and the toppled Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) became too shell-shocked, disoriented, disorganised, disarrayed, and cowered to offer meaningful opposition, Fayose rose eminently and gallantly to the occasion to fill the yawning void. His became the lone voice crying against the many shenanigans of the APC/Buhari administration. He was the only tree standing in the aridity of principled opposition to impunity. EFCC would have none of that; so it combated Fayose ferociously. Still, Fayose would not budge but became quite a mouthful for the APC, Buhari and EFCC all rolled into one.
There was a day he stormed the premises of a commercial bank in Ado-Ekiti, his state capital, to free the wife and infant son of erstwhile Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode. Fani-Kayode’s wife had gone into the bank to cash a cheque when she was reportedly detained on the orders of the EFCC. Fayose would have none of that! He stormed the bank and ordered the release of the detainees. He had his way. There was another occasion when he went into another bank and presented his cheque over the counter. The EFCC, in its many-pronged and long drawn-out battles with Fayose, had ordered his accounts frozen. Again, Fayose would have none of that. He approached the courts and after legal fireworks, he won and the court ordered that his accounts be de-frozen. A triumphant Fayose stormed the bank to savour the fruit of his victory. He told journalists he wanted to see if the EFCC and the bank concerned would obey court orders. It was a spectacle as the governor emerged from the bank clutching bulging polythene bags containing Naira notes in their millions.
Perhaps the most audacious of Fayose’s tango with the EFCC was as his tenure grinded to an end last year. After the orchestrated and heavily-compromised July 14, 2018 Ekiti State governorship election where Fayose’s party and candidate were arm-twisted by Federal might and INEC connivance, the EFCC mocked at Fayose, saying they were waiting in the wings to haul him into prison. If anyone thought the governor would be cowered, they were mistaken. Fayose not only replied them in his own characteristically audacious style, he also jolted everyone by asking the EFCC to prepare to receive him on a specified date, place and time. Here, governors on EFCC’s watch-list find a way of escape while they still enjoyed immunity. The EFCC had expected Fayose to do no less, especially with the no-love-lost between Fayose and government. Few, least of all the EFCC, believed Fayose; explaining why the commission took the widely-condemned action of declaring the governor wanted while he was still in office. When the time came, Fayose not only shamed the EFCC, he did so in style. He was in Abuja before the stated date. He went by himself to the EFCC office, accompanied by a few friends, and got there 10 minutes ahead of the time he had given. He wore a black t-shirt on which was written “EFCC: Here I am” and had a packed bag slung across his shoulder.
He had since been charged to court by the EFCC after a few weeks first in EFCC detention and later at the Ikoyi Prisons, Lagos. A case of money-laundering preferred against him by the EFCC is being heard at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi before Justice Mojisola Olatoregun. Since the matter is “sub judice” we may not comment on its merits or demerits but suffice it to say that every day in court has thrown up dramas and theatrics that have made the trial the delight of news hounds. Little wonder, then, that every hearing has made Justice Olatoregun’s court look like a beehive. Cameras are stationed outside the court to capture every movement and moment while the courtroom becomes too small to accommodate those who throng it.
The last hearing on March 20th was particularly explosive. The judge, after a number of admonitions in chambers, finally expressed her frustration with the EFCC’s lead counsel in open court, leading to what reporters would describe as “cross-fire” or “bust up” between both. As if possessing the air of clairvoyance, the judge said the EFCC counsel, if dissatisfied, could write a petition against her to the National Judicial Council (NJC). Days ago, news started flying on social media and the newspapers that the EFCC had petitioned the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court asking that he transfer the Fayose case from Olatoregun to another judge of the Federal High Court. The EFCC’s petition had since set tongues wagging for many reasons.
One: It allegedly did not put the other party (that is, the defendant) on notice. This is seen as an ambush or back-hand tactics meant to take the defence by surprise and gain undue advantage over it. It is said also to be a breach of due process; once a case is on-going before the court, every process ought to be served on the other side, they said. Two: The EFCC reportedly failed to state in its petition and letter of transfer request that it had already called about 10 out of 14 listed witnesses in the case in question. The position of the law under the new Administration of Justice Act, according to a Court of Appeal ruling, is that cases in which witnesses have been called cannot be whimsically transferred. This is to arrest the problem of delay tactics which lawyers and litigants employed in the past to keep cases going back and forth. A cardinal principle of the administration of justice is that justice delayed is justice denied.
Three: The EFCC alleged the likelihood of bias against Olatoregun because, according to it but showing no proof, the judge is from Ekiti like Fayose (“in fact, a princess of Ijero-Ekiti”). If the principle is established that a judge may not preside over a case involving someone from his or her state of origin, then, the entire judicial system will collapse like a pack of cards. Four: That the face-off between the judge and the EFCC’s lawyer was proof that the commission would not likely get justice in Olatoregun’s court. This particular reason got me wondering what had come over us and whether the EFCC’s petition was written by a lawyer. As a lay man I do know that judges have no talking shop except when they sit on the Bench. That is where they bare their mind, display their oratorical prowess, showcase their brilliance, and wield the whip. I remember the likes of Kayode Esho, Chukwudife Oputa, Akinola Aguda, among others. If a judge can refer to the late legal titan, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, as “busy body and meddlesome interloper;” if a judge could look the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, straight in the eyes and tell him “You cannot build a house and turn round to pull it down;’ if a judge can describe some attorneys as “professional litigants, meddlesome interlopers and the cranks,” what did Olatoregun say to the EFCC lawyer that can be termed as going overboard?
In the on-going extradition case involving Julian Assange, the Wikileaks co-founder holed up in London these many years, District Judge Michael Snow described Assange’s behaviour as “the behaviour of a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interest.” Olatoregun has not said as much to the EFCC’s lawyer. The EFCC must watch it! It must quickly act to arrest the notoriety it is fast gaining for forum shopping. The complaint is all over the place that rather than diligently prosecute its case in open court, it goes about looking for judges that will do its bidding willy-nilly. This not only compromises willing judges, it also perverts the cause and course of justice.
All those involved in the temple of justice must note that they have a bounden duty to do justice to all. Justice is not only for the prosecutor or State; it is also, importantly, for the accused. Getting conviction by foul means and by hook and crook diminishes everyone – the Judiciary, the EFCC itself, the accused, and the society as a whole. The EFCC/Fayose case comes up again tomorrow; with the new twist and turn to it, the courtroom will be crowded more than ever before and reporters will have a field day. Will Olatoregun recuse herself; meaning, will she on her own volition step down from hearing the case and send the case file back to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for onward assignment to another judge? Or will she insist, like a countless number of judges have done, on continuing with the case? Will the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court dance to the EFCC’s tune by taking the case off Olatoregun and assigning it to another judge? What is the position of the law on this issue? Finally, how will the latest EFCC move affect the cause/course of justice and the right of Fayose to fair and speedy trial?
Everyone having a case in court has his or her liberties curtailed one way or another. The back-and-forth is gruelling enough. The cost of litigation is prohibitive. It also tells on the health of those involved. The psychological trauma is better imagined than felt. Many litigants have their travelling documents seized with their freedom of movement thus curtailed. The bail conditions tie down properties and monies which cannot be otherwise put to productive use. Getting quickly done with and moving away from court cases serve the interest of everyone concerned – except where there are ulterior motives not known to law and commonsense.
Sudan’s Omar el-Bashir: To ICC straight!
Babylon is falling, is falling, is falling! Omar el-Bashir has fallen, has fallen, has fallen! Next step is to haul the vile dictator before the International Criminal Court and make him answer to charges of crimes against humanity. He never thought a day like this would come; hence, he thumbed his nose at the ICC. el-Bashir et al must be reminded of the words of Karma – “I saw that” Karma saw all that el-Bashir did to Southern Sudan and Darfur with his Janjaweed militia. Karma sees on-going atrocities in Nigeria. Karma serves up “justice one asshole at a time” Idi Amin Dada. Milton Obote. Mobutu Sese Seko. Charles Taylor. Robert Mugabe. After the asshole called Omar el-Bashir, who is next?