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All the drama around Emefiele

All the drama around Emefiele
July 29
23:00 2023

When you think you have seen it all in our dearly beloved country, you realise you ain’t seen nothing yet. Every day, we keep coming up with the silliest of things. The spectacle at the federal high court, Ikoyi, Lagos, on Wednesday, July 25, wherein officials of two government agencies openly re-enacted a scene from WrestleMania, is one of the many things that make you thoroughly embarrassed being called a Nigerian. Is this the best we can do in a country of highly educated, enlightened and well-travelled people? Is this the limit of our capability? Or are we simply determined to turn Nigeria into a complete jungle where anything goes? No low is too low for us. When we go low, we go really low.

Mr Godwin Emefiele, the suspended governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), had finally been charged to court by the Department of State Services (DSS) after what looked like an eternity since his arrest. The judge granted him bail in the sum of N20 million and ruled that he be remanded specifically in Ikoyi prison — or what we have fancifully renamed “Correctional Centre” without substance — while perfecting his bail conditions. But as we have now become fully accustomed to, the DSS waited outside the courtroom to re-arrest Emefiele on another allegation that is not yet public. That makes it look like they were trying to hold on to him by any means necessary.

But wait for this. Prison warders started tussling with DSS operatives over Emefiele’s custody. Is there no formalised process of handing over a suspect from one agency to the other, with the help of paperwork? As some lawyers have pointed out, if the DSS refused to obey the court order, it was not in the place of the warders to seek to enforce it. It is Emefiele’s lawyers that would have to apply to the court for contempt proceedings against the secret police. The way the prison officials were hustling to take Emefiele away suggested that they had hit a jackpot. It was like a hunter catching a big game. The prison officials felt someone was trying to deny them their monumental catch.

A senior official of Ikoyi prison suddenly showed up at the court to help extract Emefiele from the DSS. The whole world ended up seeing his underwear as his uniform was ripped in the WrestleMania. Actually, the underwear of the Nigeria Correctional Service (NCoS) was also on display. In a viral article, a former Kuje prison detainee, who gave his name as Emeka Ugwuonye, said prison officials make a lot of money when a “big man” is detained at their facility. “They go out of their way to curry favour from such big men,” he wrote, listing some of the mutual benefits on offer when someone of Emefiele’s status is with them. These are things you can’t make up about Nigeria.

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We have been hearing unpleasant tales of corruption in Nigerian prisons. Mr Femi Falana, a senior lawyer, alleged some time last year that some convicts never serve in jail. “When a judge pronounces a jail term,” he said, “before getting to Kirikiri, warders have an arrangement whereby some prepared young persons will replace the convict. That is the person that will enter the prison. He’s paid. Also, there’s a syndicate run by the defence counsel, prosecutors, warders and court clerks at court premises. Once the judge turns his back, the convict will pay these officials and walk back home.” The prison authorities have always denied these allegations. I wish I believed them.

The DSS, I now have to say, has not covered itself in glory in recent times with the way it has been handling certain matters, particularly issues bordering on the rule of law. While the service continues to insist that it has not broken any law and that it has continued to act within its legal mandate, that is not exactly the picture we are getting from the outside. There has been a slew of court orders which we believe the DSS has refused to obey, and re-arresting Emefiele in the court premises without informing us of the basis is not going to win them friends or earn them points. Nigerians deserve to know and understand why DSS does what it does. We don’t need the sensitive details.

There has been a running battle between the DSS and Emefiele since at least 2022 when the service sought a court order to interrogate him over allegations of terrorism and economic crimes. The court did not grant the order. Protesters believed to be working for Emefiele took to the streets to lampoon the DSS — something I think was unprecedented — and the battleline became very visible from then. Seeking to arrest a sitting CBN governor was also unprecedented. A Yoruba proverb, simply translated, says when you do what nobody has done before, you will see what nobody has seen before. It has been one bizarre drama or another since this cat-and-mouse game started.

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I know that under the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), suspects can be detained for only 48 hours before they are charged to court. However, they can be further detained for 14 days based on a detention warrant obtained from a court of law. This can be extended by another 14 days after which the suspect must be charged to court or released. The intention of the lawmakers is to make sure no citizen is detained endlessly. You either establish your case against the suspects or let them go. The law does not envisage the arrest and detention of a citizen for 30 days over one allegation, and a continuous re-arrest and re-detention every 30 days over every other allegation.

The Terrorism (Prevention and Prohibition) Act allows a suspect to be detained for 60 days with a court order. The suspect can be held for longer if investigation is still ongoing, but with a court order. We do not know under what law the DSS is holding Emefiele. We have not been told. But whatever it is, the tide is turning against the secret police and Emefiele is now enjoying sympathy from many quarters. Before the 2023 general election when Emefiele fronted the traumatic naira recolouring policy, he was easily one of the most disliked men in Africa. Nigerians were directing acidic insults and curses in his direction as they went through hell trying to access their cash in the banks.

Although Emefiele said the policy was routine as currencies are redesigned at regular intervals, he also made statements about stopping vote-buying which many read to mean he was targeting a particular candidate. In fact, Candidate Bola Ahmed Tinubu pointedly said the policy was directed at inflicting hardship on Nigerians to stop him from winning the presidential poll. But we all know that the way the presidential system works in an underdeveloped democracy, it is impossible for the CBN governor to change the colour of the currency without full presidential authorisation. Whether or not it was his idea, Emefiele could not have done it without President Muhammadu Buhari’s say-so.

Emefiele was so vocal that he became the poster boy of the devastating policy. Many branded it the policy of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). It became a major campaign tool against Tinubu, the party’s candidate. The APC subsequently lost a significant number of votes especially in the north, believed to be the hardest hit region because of the heavy reliance on cash transactions. Tinubu still won. We didn’t need any prophecy to know that Emefiele would pay dearly. There was wild jubilation in the land when Emefiele was suspended by Tinubu on June 9 and arrested by the DSS the following day at his house in Ikoyi. It was as if Nigeria had won the FIFA World Cup.

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But the way the DSS went about it — leaking the video of Emefiele’s arrival at the airport in a Hilux van before he was loaded on a jet to Abuja, with an operative showing off handcuffs that many believed would be used to chain him on board — got some sympathy for the CBN governor. Many felt this was an unnecessary humiliation and a raw display of power. And by keeping him for so long amidst running and confusing legal battles, the DSS has inadvertently diverted more sympathy to him. The longer the drama lasts, the more sympathy Emefiele gets — except the DSS is able to come up with loads of earth-shattering allegations that will be clear to all that Emefiele cannot defend.

In sum, none of the combatants in the Ikoyi WrestleMania should be given a medal. For one, the correctional service needs to undergo a customised overhaul. The rot stinks to high heavens. Also, the DSS should stop acting like they do not owe Nigerians any explanations. If there is a new offence they are investigating, we need to know. We don’t have to be told the fine details. Many were disappointed that Emefiele was charged with illegal possession of firearms rather than some horrendous crimes. I guess this is just a “holding” charge to keep him in detention while investigation continues. Something tells me they are still searching for the smoking gun (not literally) to nail him.

This is where the whole affair gets clumsy. In a modern society, a security agency should have enough on you before arresting and detaining you. And there is a limit to the length of detention before you are charged to court. Even then, you are still entitled to bail if it is a bailable charge. But in Nigeria, it seems you are first arrested and the search then begins for the evidence to keep you in detention and charge you to court. It is not just the DSS that does this. It has become the established order for Nigerian state agencies. Detain first, search for evidence later. We can do better than this. Because it is Emefiele that is at the receiving end in this instance, many people cannot be bothered.

Nevertheless, if the DSS doesn’t have any concrete case against Emefiele, they should just let him go. Otherwise, the only way the Emefiele drama will be read is that this is all about vendetta, and such a reading is not good for the Tinubu administration, for the DSS, for the judiciary and for the country. The DSS remains one of the most professional and efficient government agencies. They must not drop the ball. It is not about Emefiele. It is about law and order. It is about how a democratic society should run. The Ikoyi drama is too bizarre to be laughed off. It is too embarrassing to be wished away. It is too damaging to our justice system. It is too dramatic. No, Nigerians deserve better than this.

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AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…

MINISTERIAL MESS

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu finally sent the ministerial list to the senate on Thursday — one day to the constitutional deadline. It was incomplete and was tagged “first batch”, albeit the constitution does not say “send the first batch before 60 days”. We seem to have overlooked that. In any case, I am still trying to understand why it took Tinubu forever to name a cabinet. This is someone who said being Nigeria’s president was his life ambition and had been declared winner since March 1. If there was no constitutional timeframe, he probably would have beaten President Muhammadu Buhari’s “GWR” cabine-thon set in 2015. Buhari sent his own list four months after inauguration. Startling.

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PETROL PARTY

Obviously, it was not just our neighbouring countries that were having a ball with our petrol subsidy regime. According to a Reuters report, many refineries in Europe were also feeding on our ineptitude and the billion-dollar bazaar. But the removal of the subsidy — which has badly hit millions of Nigerians, especially the poorest, as a result of increased transportation and feeding costs — has left many European refineries vulnerable as demand has dropped by a quarter. The oil traders would also lose: we were giving them crude in exchange for petrol, which is just one of the thousands of products from a barrel. We can now export our oil properly and earn some revenue in forex. Sense.

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THE JACKBOOTS

On Wednesday, soldiers from Republic of Niger’s presidential guard said they had deposed President Mohamed Bazoum in an apparent coup. This is yet another affront on democracy by ambitious soldiers. West Africa is increasingly becoming a hotbed of military rule, with similar coups in Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad and Guinea in recent years. Some of us who grew up under military regimes in Nigeria can relate with the impact on the people. The soldiers usually come with beautiful promises. The gullible warmly embrace them. It does not take more than a year or two for many citizens to realise that the worst form of democracy is better than the best military dictatorship. Fired!

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AND FINALLY…

Did you see the video of Mrs Stella Okotete, former executive director of Nigeria Export-Import Bank (NEXIM), when news broke that she had made the ministerial list? If you didn’t, what a miss! She lifted up holy hands, broke into tongues, psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in her mouth to the Good Lord who does wonders without number. The Delta state nominee acted like someone who had been praying all her life to have the opportunity to serve her country and put her quota into national development. She was so emotional. The only charitable conclusion is that she loves Nigeria so patriotically and would serve the country with heart and might. LOL.

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