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Why The Nigerian Government Is Losing Corruption Cases – Femi Falana

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Femi Falana

This is text of a Keynote Address delivered at the Training of Trainer Programme under the auspices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA) held at Lagos from 12-14 April, 2017.

Introduction

As a result of the loss of corruption cases last week, many civil society organisations (CSOs) appear to agree with the federal government that corruption is fighting back. However, before engaging in escapism by accusing the judiciary of compromise, it is pertinent to examine the facts and circumstances of the loss of these cases. I shall predict that the federal government stands to lose more corruption cases unless the authorities are prepared to reorganise the anti-graft agencies and review the anti-corruption policy in line with the proposals designed by the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) on the prosecution of politically exposed persons.

Concern Over the Loss of Prosecution Cases

Following a string of court rulings against high profile corruption cases last week, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has called on President Buhari to “adopt a revolutionary approach to his government’s fight against corruption by referring high-level official corruption cases to the International Criminal Court for investigation and possible prosecution”. It may interest SERAP to know that I actually submitted a petition to the office of the Special Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in October 2015 on the same subject matter. My petition had alleged the commission of crimes against humanity by military officers and other police officers who engaged in the criminal diversion of $15 billion earmarked for the procurement of arms and ammunition, which led to the brutal killing of over 25,000 people and the displacement of two million persons by the Boko Haram sect. Even though the petition is said to be receiving attention, I have been reliably informed by a top official of the ICC that the Rome Statute does not cover large scale corruption.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has equally expressed concern over the loss of corruption cases by the federal government. While blaming the development on lack of proper investigation and poor prosecution, Chief Obasanjo has asked the government to rely on “ogbologbo lawyers” and stop the practice of farming out corruption cases to external lawyers. With profound respect, the “ogbologbo lawyers” that President Obasanjo has in mind are no longer easy to come by in the public service. Hence, under the Obasanjo administration, both the ICPC and EFCC led by the Honourable Justice Mustapha Akanbi (retd) and Mallam Nuhu Ribadu respectively, engaged the services of external lawyers in the prosecution of many high profile cases. In fact, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), an external lawyer, has successfully prosecuted more corruption cases than any lawyer in the country.

Having reviewed the circumstances under which the corruption cases were lost by the federal government, I can say, without any fear of contradiction, that there is no basis for blaming the judiciary. It is also not a case of corruption fighting back. Or if corruption is truly fighting back, it is from the government. From the information at my disposal, the cases were lost due to official negligence and lack of inter agency cooperation on the part of the Federal Ministry of Justice, the anti-graft agencies and the State Security Service. In order to appreciate the basis of my submission, it is pertinent to review the facts of the cases which were lost last week.

  1. FRN v Mike Ozekhome

In the course of investigating the criminal diversion of the sum of $2.1 billion from the office of National Security Adviser (NSA), the EFCC claimed that it had traced N2.3 billion to Mr. Ayo Fayose, the governor of Ekiti State. On the basis of the finding, the EFCC applied for and obtained an order ex parte from Idris J. of the Lagos judicial division of the federal high court to freeze the accounts of Mr. Fayose at Zenith Bank. The application to vacate the order filed before the Ado Ekiti judicial division of the court was granted by Taiwo J, but the EFCC also promptly appealed against the newer order.

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However, further investigation revealed that N75 million was paid as legal fee to Mr. Mike Ozekhome, the counsel to Mr. Fayose. At that juncture, the EFCC applied for and obtained an order ex parte to freeze Chief Ozekhome’s account from Anka J. of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos. The senior counsel applied to set aside the order. In setting aside the ex parte and unfreezing Chief Ozekhome’s account, Anka J. held that he could not sit as an appellate court over Taiwo J. who had ordered that Mr. Fayose’s account be unfrozen. All hope is not lost as the EFCC has appealed to the Court of Appeal to set aside the order of Taiwo which unfroze the account of Governor Ayo Fayose.

  1. FRN V Orubebe

The Defendant was charged with criminal diversion of N1.9 billion from the money earmarked for the construction of the East-West road. The ICPC was prosecuting the case. But at the resumed hearing of the matter last week, the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation filed a nolle prosequi seeking to withdraw the case pursuant to his powers under section 174 of the Constitution. Consequently, the case was struck out while the defendants were discharged. Once the case was discontinued by the prosecution based on the instruction of the Attorney-General, the trial judge had no choice but to strike it out.

  1. FRN v Mrs. Patience Jonathan

The EFCC traced the sum of $5.9 million to the account of the respondent. Convinced that the fund was a proceed of crime, the EFCC applied for an order freezing the account. The respondent filed an application to unfreeze the account. As no counter-affidavit was filed challenging the application, it was granted by Olatoregun J. last week. Instead of pursuing an appeal, the EFCC may wish to consider all available options in the circumstance. In particular, an application may be made before the same court praying that the order be set aside based on cogent reasons.

  1. FRN v Justice Adeniyi Ademola & Two Ors.

Following the raid on the homes of seven judges last year, the defendants were arraigned in court on an 18-count charge. When the prosecution closed its case, the defendants filed a no case submission. In a marathon ruling delivered last week, the learned trial judge, Okeke J. upheld the no case submission struck out of the case and discharged the defendants. With respect, the learned trial judge ought not to have considered the merit of the case and the credibility of witnesses in the ruling. Having regard to the facts and circumstances of the case, coupled with relevant decided authorities on a no case submission, I am of the strong view that the government has an arguable appeal.

I suggest that the appeal already filed against the ruling of the learned trial judge by the government should be pursued with vigour. My belief in the possibility of the success of the appeal is anchored on the cases of Olawale Ajiboye v The State (1995) 8 NWLR (PT 414) 408 wherein the Supreme Court had this to say:

“It must be recognised that at the stage of a no case submission, the trial of the case is not yet concluded. At that stage, therefore, the court should not concern itself with the credibility of witnesses or the weight to their evidence even if they are accomplices. The court should also at this stage be brief in its ruling at too much might be said which at the end of the case might fetter the court’s discretion. The court should again at this stage make no observation on the facts. (See for example R. v. Ekanem (1950) 13 WACA 108, Chief Odofin Bello v. The State (1967) NMLR 1, R v. Coker & Ors. 20 NLR 62.”

Limited Capacity of Anti-graft Agencies

On a dispassionate consideration of the afore-mentioned cases, it is my submission that the courts cannot be blamed for the official negligence, as well as lack of inter agency collaboration and coordination of the investigation and prosecution of corruption cases by the federal government. On some occasions, the State Security Service has refused to produce accused persons in court without any reason whatsoever. The development has led to unnecessary delays in the prosecution of very serious corruption cases. It is obvious that the federal government wants to eat omelette without breaking eggs. It won’t work. Was it not because the accused persons had put together teams of senior and experienced lawyers that the federal government decided to set up of a national prosecution agency? But as no fund was made available to the agency, corruption cases have not been assigned to the members of the agency. With the virtual collapse of the agency, the anti-graft agencies have been left on their own.

No doubt, the lawyers of the anti-graft agencies are largely industrious and committed to the fight against corruption. With a few investigators and persecutors working under a hostile environment, the EFCC has almost performed miracles! In other words, the investigators and prosecutors are hampered by the lack of experience and exposure. They are also overstretched and overwhelmed. In spite of such shortcomings, the EFCC has secured not less than 200 convictions in the last one year. In fact, some of the convicts are politically exposed persons, including an ex-MD of NIMASA, an ex governor, four former chairmen of local government councils and some fuel subsidy importers. Funds and properties worth hundreds of millions of dollars and billions of naira have been seized and forfeited to the federal government on the orders of the federal high court.

As I did advocate in another forum last year, the military officers who diverted billions of dollars and naira earmarked for procurement of arms and armament should be charged before courts martial “for the serious offences of aiding the enemy, mutiny by impeding or sabotaging the counter insurgency operations and stealing of public funds in contravention of sections 45, 52 and 66 of the Armed Forces Act. The proposed trial before such military courts will meet the justice of the case and the expectations of the public. More so, that the Rules of Procedure applicable in courts-martial have no room for frivolous adjournments, motions for bail, interlocutory appeals and preliminary objections.” With the handling of cases of indicted military officers by experienced military police investigators and prosecutors before courts-martial, the lawyers serving in the anti-graft agencies will have more time to concentrate on other cases.

Illegal Opposition To Bail Applications By Anti-graft Agencies

One of the reasons why I have never prosecuted for the anti-graft agencies is the lackadaisical attitude of the government to the prosecution of corruption cases. I also cannot support the media trial of criminal suspects and the official policy of opposing the bail applications of criminal suspects. In Ameh Ebute V State (1994) 8 NWLR (Pt 360) 66 it was held that a suspect who submits himself to the police voluntarily is entitled to bail. In Ibori v. FRN (2009) 3 NWLR (pt 1127) 96 the Court of Appeal held that a person accused of economic crime is entitled to bail. Both decisions are binding on all authorities and persons, including all trial courts and prosecutors.

Yet, the anti-graft agencies direct lawyers to oppose all applications for bail filed by suspects who might even have been granted administrative bail by them. Why should a serious lawyer go to court to ask a judge to lock up a suspect who has been granted bail and has never interfered with the investigation or attempted to jump bail? Instead of saving precious time and resources by asking for hearing dates, prosecution counsel prefer to file copious counter-affidavits and written addresses in opposition to bail applications of accused persons.

Since bail has become automatic in the country, let the anti-graft agencies stop opposing bail applications filed by suspects unless there are genuine grounds for filing these objections. Bail should not be opposed as an official policy of a responsible government. The government should stop playing into the hands of some persons accused of criminal diversion of public funds by refusing to comply with the orders of courts admitting them to bail. For some inexplicable reasons, the government has refused to comply with the orders of the ECOWAS Court, the FCT High Court and the federal high court to the effect that the former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) be admitted to bail. In a similar situation, the federal high court did not allow the government to arraign Commodore Umar Mohammed (rtd) until the order admitting him to bail was complied with.

The Buhari administration has directed the anti-graft agencies to ensure that corruption cases are not lost again. It is doubtful if the federal government is aware of the limited capacity of the anti-graft agencies. For instance, the ICPC receives an average of 100 petitions daily. The EFCC receives many more petitions from members of the public. Yet, the current EFCC leadership inherited a staff strength of 2,173. Even with the plan to engage 750 more staff, the EFCC will still have less than 3000 staff. The implication is that with such a few investigators and prosecutors, the success rate of the agency is bound to be extremely limited.

While the concern of President Buhari is appreciated, it ought to be pointed out that without adequate funding of the anti-graft agencies and motivation of investigators and prosecutors, many more corruption cases are going to be lost to accused persons who have access to well prepared and well paid teams of lawyers. The British government spent millions of pounds on the investigation and prosecution of a former state governor from Nigeria. If the government is genuinely desirous of winning corruption cases, it should be prepared to invest in the anti-graft agencies. The British government was reported to have spent about £20 million pounds on the investigation and prosecution of the said former state governor from Nigeria. As a matter of urgency, the government should immediately set aside part of the recovered loot to fund the investigation and prosecution of corruption cases.

Autonomy of Anti-graft Agencies

It was recently reported that the EFCC had submitted a report of the investigation of the criminal diversion of N19 billion from the London/Paris Club loan refund by some governors. Other reports of serious economic crimes have also been submitted to the presidency by the EFCC. It is my submission that the practice of submitting reports of the investigation of economic crimes to the presidency or any other authority should stop, as it is not provided for under the EFCC Act. It is not even in the interest of the presidency as it may give the impression that the anti-graft agencies are being used to settle political scores. In order to discharge their statutory functions effectively, the anti-graft agencies should be freed from executive control and interference.

It has been observed that the majority of the board members of the anti-graft agencies are appointed from some ministries and departments of the federal government. It is my humble opinion that the constitution of the boards makes them susceptible to government influence and control. It is therefore suggested that the boards should be composed of nominees of credible civil society organisations like the Nigerian Bar Association, International Federation of Women’s Lawyers (Nigerian Chapter), Nigerian Union of Journalists, Nigeria Labour Congress, the Nigeria Police, Institute of Chartered Accountants, Federal Executive Council and representatives of private anti-corruption organisations.

It is not in doubt that there are adequate opportunities within the system to expose and shame corrupt people. It is noteworthy that a few CSOs are taking advantage of the openings in the system to expose corruption. For instance, SERAP has obtained a court order to compel the federal government to disclose the recovery of looted wealth and asset recovered since May 1999. Similarly, LEDAP has obtained a court order to compel the National Assembly to disclose the salaries and allowances of all federal legislators. A few other CSOs have secured court orders to compel the disclosure of information on contract sums in respect of certain projects. Since the commitment of the federal government to the anti-corruption policy cannot be taken for granted, CSOs owe it a duty to mobilise the Nigerian people to take over the fight against corruption and own it.

Recovery of Looted Wealth

In a letter addressed to the minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun in March 2016, I pleaded with the federal government to recover about $100 billon withheld from the federation account or stolen from the public treasury by local and foreign economic saboteurs. In the letter I sent out the details of the recoverable funds. In particular, I asked that the sum of $30 billion withheld by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) be recovered and paid into the federation account. Apart from acknowledging the receipt of the letter, the government has not acceded to my request. However, in the 2016 annual report presented last week at Abuja, the National Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI) revealed that the NNPC and NPDC have withheld the sum of $21.7 million and N316 billion from the federation account.

On that occasion, the NEITI Executive Secretary, Mr. Waziri Adio, recommended to the federal government to recover the amount due and channel it to stimulate the economy. To ensure that the report is not treated with disdain by the federal government, I am compelled to call on the Attorney-General of the Federation to initiate legal proceedings for the recovery of the fund pursuant to section 3 (f) of the NEITI Act, 2007, which imposes a duty on the government to “monitor and ensure that all payments due to the Federal government from all extractive industry companies, including taxes, royalties, dividends, bonuses, penalties, levies and such like, are duly made.”

On the eve of an anti-corruption summit in London last year, the then British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron described Nigeria as a “fantastically corrupt” country. President Buhari reacted by requesting the British government to return the country’s wealth which has been looted and kept in the United Kingdom. Mr. Cameron has since left office without taking up President’s Buhari’s challenge. In the same vein, the immediate past president of the United States, Mr. Barack Obama never fulfilled his promise of assisting Nigeria in the recovery of her looted wealth. As the beneficiaries of grand corruption will not assist the victims, the federal government should set up a team of lawyers to pursue to recovery of the looted wealth warehoused by Western countries and the United Arab Emirates.

Instead of embarking on the aggressive recovery of the looted wealth of the nation and the huge fund withheld from the federation account, the federal government has opted to mortgage the destiny of the nation by taking jumbo loans from China, the World Bank and the African Development Bank for infrastructural development. It has also been reported that talks have reached an advanced stage in the negotiations for a loan of $1.4 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with dangerous conditionalities, including the further devaluation of the beleaguered national currency. The CSOs should mount a vigorous campaign against the pauperisation of our people through indiscriminate external indebtedness.

Immunity for Corrupt Public Officials?

President Buhari has said that corruption is fighting back. This is not unexpected given the enormous resources in the soiled hands of the politically exposed persons who have been investigated or charged to court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent and Corrupt Practices and Other Offences Commission. However, the federal government too has joined the forces of corruption by frustrating the anti-graft agencies from prosecuting indicted public officers. Even though the government has repeatedly assured the Nigerian people that there are no sacred cows in the fight against corruption, the presidency has casually dismissed serious allegations of corruption and abuse of office by certain public officers.

When a serving minister was implicated in the report of the procurement of arms and ammunition, the federal government claimed that the probe panel had not concluded its assignment. Was the panel not disbanded thereafter? When a top army officer was accused of buying properties beyond his legitimate income, did the Code of Conduct Bureau not absolve him without conducting any investigation? When the Senate indicted the secretary to the federal government, Mr. Babachir David Lawal over his involvement in the criminal diversion of about N200 million set aside to cut grass in the camps occupied by internally displaced persons in the North-East region, did the federal government not say that he was not given fair hearing!

Over six months ago, seven judges were arrested after the raid of their official quarters by operatives of the State Security Service. Only two of the judges have been charged to court even though the nation was informed by the State Security Service that the government had water tight evidence of corruption against them. If there is no evidence to back up the allegations of corruption against the judges, why have they not been cleared and allowed to resume duties? Meanwhile, the judge who was alleged to have kept a bribe $2 million in his official residence has not been subjected to any interrogation. Even though his arrest was botched by the governor who was alleged to have given the bribe, why has the judge not been questioned?

It was announced last year that the National Judicial Council has dismissed a judge of the high court of Kano sState for allegedly receiving a bribe of N197 million from a litigant and retired a Justice of the Court of Appeal for demanding a bribe of N200 million in an election petition. Why have both of them not been arraigned in court by the Attorney-General of the Federation? It is public knowledge that two Senior Advocates of Nigeria are currently standing trial in the Lagos high court for allegedly bribing four judges, including a Justice of the Court of Appeal. Why has the EFCC refused to charge the indicted judges to court for receiving bribes from both lawyers? I hope it is not true that the indicted judges are not going to be charged to court on ground of primordial considerations!

Conclusion

In x-raying the loss of corruption cases by the anti-graft agencies, it has to be realised that the ruling class did not enact anti-corruption laws out of its own volition but due to pressure from the victims of economic and financial crimes and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which had blacklisted the country. Because of the credibility of the EFCC under Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, a number of funding agencies in Western countries contributed to the training of the agency’s investigators and prosecutors. Unfortunately, the EFCC lost its trained and committed personnel when it was taken over by powerful criminal suspects in connivance with a former Attorney-General of the Federation. Under the pretext of fighting corruption in line with the rule of law, they castrated the EFCC. It is going to take some time to rebuild the Commission because the damage is enormous.

Finally, realising that there are powerful forces in the public service who are currently profiting maximally from corrupt practices, the government cannot be fully relied upon in the fight against the menace of corruption. However, CSOs can take advantage of the political will of the nation’s leadership to push for radical reforms in the fight against corruption. But in order to promote public accountability CSOs should link up with the labour movement and other popular forces. It is only when that has been done that the Nigerian people can frustrate the agenda of the government to shield corrupt members of the ruling class from prosecution. The mobilisation cannot afford to wait!

Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), writes from Lagos.

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Opinion

Let Me Shine!

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Nigeria

By Odunayo Oluwatimilehin

I am a little creature,
created to fulfill a special purpose on earth.
I am a product of human consummation.

I developed first as a foetus, and progressed gradually,
into a living being composed of a spirit, soul, and a body.

I am the long awaited bundle of joy,
A symbol of conjugal completeness,
A magical color that beautifies Marital vows.

I brought joy, happiness, and change of status to the family I was delivered to.
I was the reason behind the bright moon smiles on faces.
I was cherished, loved, and cared for at my arrival.

Now that my parents desire to have me has been granted.
I have just “One wish”.
Just one wish and I’ll be fine.

One wish to express my inert dreams.
One wish to be ‘Me’.
One wish to leave an indelible mark on the sand of time.

One wish to dazzle like Diamond.
One wish to shine forth as Gold.

Please, strengthen me when I’m weak.
Counsel me when I’m discouraged.
Hold my hands often, and affirm your love to me.

Just like houseplants,
Nurture me to grow on the right path.
Do not spare the rod when I’m wrong.

Release me like an Eagle when the time is right.
No matter the heights I’ll reach,
I will forever remain your little child.
Let me Shine!

Dedicated to Children all over the world, in celebration of May 27th, 2020 Children’s Day

HAPPY CHILDREN’S DAY!

Odunayo Oluwatimilehin, OYEWOLE.

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Opinion

An Open Letter To Governor Ifeanyi Okowa

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Your Excellency Sir,

This open letter is a direct response to the official press statement that was made by the secretary to the state Government, Mr Chiedu Ebie on the 19th of May. In the press release, he announced that the government of Delta State is putting measures in place in other to establish a security organization which will be positioned to combat the rising insecurity in the State. I agree with your decision considering the porous security situation in the country and coupled with the covert moves of the powers that be to export hundreds of Almajiri folks to states that are unconnected to their political and economic misery.

Indeed, your decision is commendable but there is an observable error in it. This error is not telling good about us. Gains will not be made if what was mentioned in that press statement should come to be. People who are fighting for survival must apply common sense when it comes to their security. This letter is simply designed to remind you that the idea to include some Northerners into the yet to be established Office of Special Adviser on Peace Building and Conflict Resolution calls for a serious concern.

Your Excellency Sir, there won’t be any need for me to start schooling you again about insecurity in the country. You are the chief security officer of your state and moreover you duly understand the security situation in the whole of Nigeria. I still don’t understand the rationale behind the planned inclusion of some Northern extraction into the Office of Special Adviser on Peace Building and Conflict Resolution. After examining the decision, I can prognosticate dark days ahead. Things are not done that way. The decision of your government is somewhat misplaced and makes us to look like people who can’t do things on their own.

Dark days are truly ahead. We the Easterners should stop acting to love Nigeria more than others when at the end the people whom we are trying to align ourselves to doesn’t care about our ‘one Nigerianness’. Damning this mentality of ‘let’s do it this way so that nobody will see us as divisive people’ is one necessary thing that must be done. We owe no one apology or explanation on how we can go about our security in as much as it’s done according to the extant laws. Perhaps, it’s a matter of survival and not a cry for political correctness!

There is hisbah police in the North and Amotekun in the Southwest, how many Easterner can we see both in Hisbah and Amotekun security formations or any of their affiliated committees? Can they even conceive such dastardly idea? These people for a minute don’t trust us but we easily trust and unnecessarily engage them into sensitive issues about us. This is a country that thrive on suspicion. No oneness! No trust! So I wonder what your government is planning to achieve by getting these Northerners involved in the so called committee. Don’t quote me wrong. I’m not trying to say that your government shouldn’t engage the stakeholders in consultation when it comes to matters like this. But the main point is that limitations should be defined in sensitive issues like the one at hand. Some people are meant to stand outside while certain problems about us are being discussed.

We know the solution to farmers and herders clashes in the region. Open grazing should be completely banned in the state. A defined space should be made available for grazing of cows. 24 hours surveillance should be mounted in the place. Any herder caught with firearms should be arrested and prosecuted without minding who is infuriated or not. As the chief security of your state, you are constitutionally responsible for the security of your constituents. Adequate security decisions and actions should be made to work in consonance with the present security reality.

On several occasions, the marauding herders have killed and displaced hundreds of farmers in the Eastern region with little or no actions by the governors to arrest the escalating tension. Without minding the damage the activities of the herders have caused on the region, you unfortunately fell to the trick of wanting to involve a total stranger into the Office of Special Adviser on Peace Building and Conflict Resolution. It is unacceptable Sir! That decision can blatantly result to self sabotage.

However, when Hisbah was formed, no Easterner was there. And when Amotekun was constituted, they never invited an Easterner to be a member of any committee so why are we inviting strangers into important issues about us? Remember, he who sups with the devil should have a long spoon. The purported plan of involving some Northern elements into the Office of Special Adviser on Peace Building and Conflict Resolution is a slap on us. The plan should be revised. There is no benefit in it. It will only complicate matters and magnify the arrogance of these tormentors. Don’t make the mistake of buying a baby lion that will grow and turn around to devour our flesh.

In conclusion Sir, I will suggest you reassemble your security tink tanks. All of you should sit and do a deep brainstorming on your decision. Weigh the future implications and make proper amendments. Let’s avoid the issue of had I known.

Yours sincerely

Kalu Nwokoro Idika

Kalu Nwokoro Idika is a political analyst, investigative and freelance journalist. He can be reached via email: Kalunwokoroidika@yahoo.com

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Opinion

‘If You Can’t Take Blows, Don’t Throw Blows’

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femi adesina

By Femi Adesina

Let me start by giving due credit for this headline, which is not original to me. I lifted it from the 1983 song by reggae star, Peter Tosh, in the album titled Mama Africa. The song is Glass House, and it goes thus:

“If you live in a glasshouse

Don’t throw stones

And if you can’t take blows brother

Don’t throw blows.”

I’ve recently found out that it’s the opposite that some Nigerians want. They want to use foul language, harangue their President, abuse him, and then, nobody must respond to defend the President. They want to dish out blows, and they don’t want to take any.

But it doesn’t work that way. If you can’t take blows brother don’t throw blows. That’s the way life goes.

For about five years, some people have made it a pastime to talk about President Muhammadu Buhari anyhow. They attempt to lead him by the nose, order him around, and call him names. The man just ignores them, and continues to work calmly for the country. And he’s making the difference in different spheres of national life. Steadily.

Last week, I chose to give out some light blows. Very light ones. That was when I realized that those who had been dealing out the blows for years have nothing but glass jaws. They collapsed, and saw stars.

I had got a request to appear on the breakfast show of Naija Info FM. There were initial scheduling difficulties, but eventually, we found a mutually acceptable time.

It was like the station was the bastion for some angry Nigerians, the type that saw nothing good in government, and who took delight in negative criticisms. No problem. We have learnt to deal with all sorts.

I responded to questions from the show presenter, the relevant and the not so relevant ones. And then the phone lines were thrown open.

One man first charged that the interview session was a waste of time, as I had parried all the questions thrown at me. Oh ho. What did he want? Dabble into issues that do not involve a presidential spokesman, and then make a mess of eating an egg? I simply referred the interviewer to those who could answer his questions in government. As spokesman to the President, you were not Jack of all trade, otherwise you would end up being master of none. Whatever was outside your purview, just refer to the right quarters.

Another man came on the line. When would the President talk to us, he charged. At least we voted him into office, so he has a moral duty to talk to us. He said he was a school principal, and he talks to his students every morning at the assembly hall.

Wrong premise. Wrong conclusion. You can’t parallel a President leading 200 million diverse people with a principal superintending over less than 500 or 1,000 students, who were even half paying attention, or giggling, and poking fun at the shoes or shirt, or tummy of the man talking to them.

Now, this narrative of ‘he must talk to us’ is a common one in the country. I’d responded to it more times than I could remember. But what made it a bit irksome last week was the fact that the President had just made three major national broadcasts over the previous four weeks. And here was a man commanding him to ‘come and talk to us’ once again.

I threw my own jab. Why was the man sounding like a broken record, repeating itself endlessly? Before the series of national broadcasts started, you said President Buhari was not talking on the COVID-19 pandemic, when he had set up a team of experts and professionals, who were handling the emergency adequately, and briefing Nigerians daily. Then he makes three broadcasts, and you still say he’s not talking. He must do a media chat. You want a talkative President? Soon, you would say again that he talks too much.

I explained that it was not the President’s style to chirrup like a cockatoo. He is a man of few words, who preferred action to words. I even pleaded that we should understand the nature of the man we have elected to lead us, and let him do the work.

You know what? If it was former President Olusegun Obasanjo that had come under the ‘you must talk to us’ barrage like that, and on live television, he would have first cleared his throat noisily, adjusted himself in his seat, and then bellowed:

“And who are you, that I must talk to you? I say who the hell are you? Who is your father? Who is your father’s father, that you are commanding me to talk to you? Were you born when we fought a Civil War to keep this country together? Where was your father when I received the instrument of surrender from the Biafra Forces? Don’t come here and tell me nonsense. Talk to us, my foot!”

But President Buhari would not upbraid anyone like that. He rather keeps his peace. And some people have now taken liberty for license, till they begin to sound like broken records. Yes, no apologies. That’s how they sound.

The fact that you have voted a man into office is not carte blanche for you to lead the man around by the nose. A leader worth his salt would not even submit himself to such cavalier treatment. Definitely not President Buhari. I made that point clear on the program.

Another caller came. Why are you talking to us like used toilet paper? You are too arrogant.

Oh, really? Well, if you see yourself like used toilet paper, then, I can’t help you. ‘If you don’t say you are, nobody would say thou art,’ goes a popular saying. If you see yourself like grasshoppers beside the giants in Canaan, just like 10 of the 12 sons of Israel sent to spy the Promised Land, then you can’t be helped. You will end up like grasshoppers. Like used tissue paper.

Then came another angry man. Things are not going well in this country. We are even tired of this government.

We? Does a single man use that collective pronoun for himself? The man could only talk for himself, but why was he talking for other people, without a power of attorney? I calmly told him: another election is due in 2023. Who says you can’t be President? You should simply run for office.

The Good Book says by the measure with which you mete to others, so shall it be meted back to you. The callers chose to be pugnacious, unruly, and I didn’t go back home to fetch replies for them. That was what they asked for. Part of the duties of being a presidential spokesman is that you must defend your principal, particularly if you had calmly explained for years, and some people chose not to listen. If they throw blows, then they must be ready to also receive. Once in a while.

Some people revel in trying to bring down those in government. The moment you choose to serve your country, they try to position you as enemy of the public. They try to dress you in borrowed robes. Oh, he’s a liar. He is in government to feather his own nest. He has become pompous and arrogant. He talks to us anyhow. He will end badly. Didn’t the ones before him end in oblivion?

Hateful people. Envious souls. In vain do you wish some people reversals in life. And let me tell you: my destiny does not rest in the hand of any man. Yes, not you, evil wishers. You missed it this time. My case is different, because God has got my back. He brought me into government at a time I didn’t aspire for it, didn’t even want it. He is the master of my fate. The Master Mariner will land me on halcyon shores, however stormy the voyage could be. And President Buhari will succeed.

My friend, Kurtis Adigba, a dyed-in-the-wool Buharist, not like some fair weather supporters we have known, was the first person to call my attention to an attempt to demonize me on social media, arising from the interview.

“They want to bring you down, smear your reputation,” he told me on phone. He said they were already sharing video clips of where I spoke sharply to people, and saying I was rude and arrogant. I laughed, and thanked him. Adigba went ahead to mount a robust defence of me on his Facebook wall, as did many others. I thank them. There are friends that stick closer than brothers.

My family, relations, acquaintances, all got the video clips home and abroad. They called, asking if I was allowing some nasty people to get under my skin. I explained to each one. I was firmly in control of my emotions, and what I did was deliberate. The President has been insulted enough, and it was time we fought back. He that throws blows must be ready to receive. It’s only pathetic that they have glass jaws.

I remember a story I heard in the late 1970s.I actually knew the couple, and the woman was like four times the size of the man. But the husband was always rough-handling his wife, beating her up at will.

One day, the woman was said to have purchased Indian hemp worth sisi (five kobo). She smoked it. And there came the husband to beat her up again. The woman simply packed the man, spun him round and round on her head, and threw him against the wall. The man saw stars, but he thought it was a fluke. He got up, attempted to lay his hands on the wife again, and the woman gave him a bear hug. After almost choking him to death, she threw the man against the wall again. When the man managed to get up, he took to his heels.

That was the last day he ever raised his hands against the woman.

You Tarka me, I Dabo you, God no go vex (the younger generation may not understand this. A story for another day). What am I saying in summary? Those who run down our President on every platform for inexplicable reasons should not think they will always get away with it. If you live in a glasshouse, don’t throw stones. And if you can’t take blows brother don’t throw stones.

United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, recently warned against what he called the “virus of hate.” His words: “We must act now to strengthen the immunity of our societies against the virus of hate.”

Yes, that virus is well and alive in Nigeria. It is even deadlier than Coronavirus. But those who harbor it will not always get away with it. There will always be a fight back.

~ Adesina is Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Buhari

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