Being a Keynote Address Presented by the Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Public Interest Development and Litigation(NBA-SPIDEL), Dr Monday Onyekachi Ubani at the Law Week Ceremony of the NBA Badagry Branch on the 22nd June, 2022.
My EFCC experience and my task of investigating the invasion of the home of Hon Justice Rtrd Mary Odili, JSC.
Having suffered military rulership for great number of years after independence, Nigeria under civilian regime is yet to imbibe the basic principles of democracy. Despite returning to democratic governance, rule of law and rights of citizens are still being breached at will and often with impunity.
If the military regimes before our nascent democracy were regarded as bad, our experience under our present democracy is worse than what was obtainable under the military regime.
The signs for such brazen disregard to the rule of law and rights of the citizens were quite early under this present regime of President Muhammadu Buhari. As lawyers we could recall the first NBA conference that took place in Abuja after President Buhari became president in 2015. He came in person with his Attorney General Mr Abubakar Malami SAN and when given the opportunity to speak did not hide his feelings in letting the whole world know the direction of his government whenever the rule of law clashes with an alleged national security.
According to him the rule of law and the rights of the citizens will be subsumed to the notorious national security whose description and meaning are known only to those at the helm of affairs of the State.
To the amazement of some of us in that Hall in Abuja, we were shocked to see some lawyers in the hall gave the President a standing ovation for such a dangerous statement that eventually became the fulcrum of his governance.
Rule of law took a terrible back seat under this present democracy.
It is very painful for me as a person because I was one of those who marketed the candidacy of President Buhari for solid 3 years under several platforms including a well known radio station in Lagos before he was chosen as a candidate of APC in 2014.
The present lack of observance of rule of law and the trampling of the citizens’ rights have taken us several years backwards for a nation that is in quest of nationhood.
We have advanced to nowhere, and even the little progress made by the judiciary during the military regime have been wiped away by the reign of pervasive lawlessness all over the place.
My experience with EFCC under Mr Ibrahim Magu the then Chairman of the Agency is apposite here.
My patriotic zeal to see that an accused person is given a fair hearing having being accused of taking so much out of the system landed me into efcc cell for 23 days without any trial or conviction. What happened is like those fairy tales you watch in Nollywood. A certain lady who was part of President’s Jonathan’s regime was accused of taken 69 billion and later reduced to 1 billion from the Nigerian Social InvestmentTrust Fund NSITF while she was the Chairman of the Agency. She screamed that she was innocent but was abroad while claiming innocence. She was introduced to me as one seeking for a human rights lawyer for her defence. I convinced her to come back from abroad and she did and I presented her to efcc for inestigation and prosecution. Instead of investigation and prosecution, efcc was interested in intimidation, detention and harassment. Having detained her for 14 days without any charge, I proceeded to court to enforce her fundamental human rights against unlawful detention without a charge. They reluctantly agreed to grant her administrative bail on the grounds that since i was the person that brought her back I was in a better position to stand surety for her temporarily pending her formal arraignment.
I felt obliged to her, having been the one that convinced her to come back to face her trial in Nigeria. Secondly since she was to to be arraigned shortly, my suretyship will be discharged and she will get her reliable surety while I will defend her during the trial.
All these permutations did not materialise as Efcc and Magu had a different sinister agenda. Instead of arraigning her as agreed, the agency was interested in tormenting and engaging in psychological warfare. From December to May no charge until one day I learnt that efcc invaded her home, searched the whole house for a period of 12 hours, harassing and intimidating the woman to confess to a crime that was purely a civil issue and which was not the reason why she came back. The new matter which arose from Enugu was that she borrowed money from a fellow politician who felt that he has long legs with efcc and used them to intimidate the poor lady. When she got a reprieve from the invasion she bolted out of the country back to her base abroad citing the fact that the agency was no longer interested in investigation but to eliminate her. I have no reason to doubt such assertion as their search for 12 hours corrobated that fact.
Having driven her back abroad, EFCC suddenly woke up one day that they were ready to charge her. They demanded her from me as her surety. I made them realise that (1) they were the one that drove her back to abroad without letting me know the reason why they did that (2) the matter for which they came for her was a purely civil case for which they had no reason to meddle into and (3) they had over 5 months to have charged her but was foolishly delaying the charge purely out of malice and sheer intimidation to satisfy their overbloated ego and evil machinations.
Despite what I consider EFCC stupidity, I still went after the woman through interpol and got the woman to be placed on Red Alert, meaning that she can be arrested anywhere she is seen in any of the countries that have mutual covenant on interpol matters with Nigeria.
Having discharged my obligation as a surety to show cause why I cannot be held liable for her disappearance, efcc in their lawlessness and brigandage felt otherwise. I was hurled into their cell for clear 23 days despite a court order obtained on my behalf by my lawyer Chief Mike Ozekhome SAN that I should be charged for offence, if any, or be released from detention.
Notorious with disobedience to lawful court orders, Mr Ibrahim Magu refused to accept the order let alone obey it. Magu in his glory felt that he was above the law especially when he knew that he was kept as Acting Chairman for years despite non-confirmation by the Senate as required by the constitution and Efcc Act. He felt untouchable as he knew his master, the President does not believe in the rule of law and has no respect to the rights of the citizens.
To cut a long story short. After my release I went back to court and sued the Agency for violating my right as a patriotic citizen who did no wrong. Recently the judgement was delivered in which I was awarded the sum of 12 million for the wrongful detention. Up till now the said sum has not been paid but I am believing that the last has not been heard about that case. The day of reckoning is coming especially when a government that respects the rule of law is enthroned.
My second experience with this government which I am asked to share is my investigation of the invasion of the home of Hon Justice Mary Odili, the just Retired Justice of the Supreme Court.
Recall that NBA appointed me as the Sole Special Investigator of that invasion that got the entire nation infuriated because of the brazen manner of the said invasion by alleged security agents of the present government. On October 30, 2021, security operatives made up of soldiers and police officers had stormed the Abuja residence of the Supreme Court Justice over an allegation that illegal activities were going on there.
Hon Justice Mary Odili, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court and a wife of former Rivers State governor had her Abuja residence raided by a team of security agents headed by one Lawrence Ajodo, a fake police officer.
Amid the outrage triggered by the raid on Mrs Odili’s abode in the upscale Maitama area of Abuja , the Supreme Court condemned the incident which it said “depicted a gory picture of war”, “appearing like a mission to kill or maim the jurist”
NBA condemned the brazen raid and appointed me as the SPECIAL INVESTIGATOR to unravel the circumstances that led to the incident and which government officials authorised it.
Even though my report exonerated the government officials for lack of verifiable evidence linking them directly to the invasion, there is an aspect of my findings that were not emphasized and brought to the attention of the members of the public. In that report I said this and I quote ” Persons in the Federal Ministry of Justice have an inkling of the illegal activities of Mr Lawrence Ajodo(the fake policeman) and his collaborators and perhaps they have one way or the other consented or collaborated with him in some of his illegal activities”. I revealed further ” Some persons in the Federal Ministry of Justice may have benefited directly or indirectly from the illegal activities of this syndicate that hangs around the Ministry while using its name to create an official toga in their nefarious activities. The Federal Ministry of Justice officials cannot completely deny that they do not know some members of the syndicate”. However the absence of any shred of documentary or oral evidence linking the culprits exculpated the initial suspects like Abubakar Malami SAN and the Efcc officials. Even if Abubakar Malami SAN was exonerated, the officials of the Ministry were not exculpated. They were implicated by implied evidence generated from my findings.
My Recommendation therein were emphasized. Having interfaced with several persons and institutions in the cause of the elaborate investigation, I came up with some of the recommendations which if applied or enacted into law will go a long way in the administration of criminal justice system in Nigeria.
- I suggested that substantive and procedural laws with elaborate processes and procedures for the issuance of search warrants, arrest warrants, detention orders, extension of detention orders amongst others be enacted into law for the States and the Federal Government.
- The independence of the Judiciary should not be a matter for negotiation. It is either we have an independent judiciary or we choose not to have it. The advantages of an independent judiciary cannot be over emphasized. The independence of the Judiciary should not be only on paper but should be practicalised. The administrative, operational and financial autonomy of the judiciary should be total and exhaustive. The Federal and State Government should not be allowed to pay lip service to the independence of the Judiciary and the welfare of the members of the Bench.
- Government Agencies or Security Agencies that tolerate or harbour criminal gangs, touts, or law-breakers in and around their offices should be made to answer to their illegal activities by being summoned by the various committees that superitend over them in the legislature.
- Ensuring obedience to Court Orders and respect for the rule of law should remain the eternal pursuit of NBA and other professional bodies until these become principles by which every government in Nigeria should abide.
For me the last recommendation makes the day for me. Obedience to court orders and rule of law should be a directive principle of state policy.
Absence of law is anarchy and no meaningful development will ever take place in Nigeria if the government derives pleasure in encouraging lawlessness and wanton disregard to the rule of law and rights of the citizens.
NIGERIA quest for nationhood must be one based on respect to rule of law and enthronement of democratic principles in the polity. As we approach the 2023 General Election, Citizens are urged to participate in the civic responsibility of chosing their leaders who they know will pursue the primary purpose of government which is the protection of lives and property and the provision of welfare services to the entire citizenry. Observance of rule of law and respect to rights of citizens come with good governance. Good governance is a product of good and quality leadership and quality leadership can only be given by leaders carefully chosen by the people who know the antecedent of these leaders before voting them in.
It is a foundational issue. Except the foundation is right, we will continue to doubt the soundness of the building. If the foundation be destroyed what can the righteous do? I am afraid not much!
I want to thank the Chairman, the Executives and the entire members of the Badagry Branch for this great opportunity to share this brief thought on this topical issue in our nation today. I am grateful.
Dr M.O. Ubani