Godwin Emefiele, Abdulrasheed Bawa: Mr. President, They Are Laughing At Us

By Nnanke Harry Willie

Dear President Tinubu, “Power at its best is love implementing the demand of justice.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Justice is the pivot upon which societal advancements and economic development revolve and evolve.

Nigeria is in interesting times. The erosion of trust in the justice system has grown to embarrassing levels where the system is itself facing trial in the “People’s Court”. This situation is a dangerous tilt towards the perilous cliff of societal self-immolation.

In every serious society aiming to develop and attract the best of talents, the deepest of capital and the greatest of minds, that society must operate a social justice system that is fair, equitable and transparent. Most of Nigeria’s young professionals are joining the ‘Japa’ syndrome in a desperate search for self-fulfilment. Any serious government should know that this is a bad sign for national development.

Lofty policies, grandiose infrastructure, delectable culture, as well as warm and welcoming people count for nothing if the social fabric is stiff with obnoxious or opaque laws and seeming or real authoritarianism. The much-desired goal of attracting and keeping the best of everything from around the world will also be a fleeting illusion.

The world must be laughing at us as we keep inviting them to come over and invest and thrive in Nigeria while our most virile and best professionals are fleeing to other countries. The cases of Nigeria’s suspended Central Bank Governor (CBN), Godwin Emefiele and suspended Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Abdulrasheed Bawa, have further left a bad stain on Nigeria’s brand across the world.

These two illustrious Nigerians who were privileged to have served their country at the pinnacle of their careers have both been in detention for about 30 days each. The case of Emefiele has been particularly riveting. The DSS, under the Buhari administration, had made a concerted effort to arrest Emefiele over allegations of terrorism and a nebulous case of stamp-duty fraud. Apparently, DSS failed to receive Buhari’s approval and when they approached the federal high court to obtain a court order for his arrest, the court was vehement in turning down their prayers.

Justice M. A. Hassan of a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in December 2022 restrained the State Security Service (SSS) also known as the Department of State Services (DSS) and four others from arresting or detaining the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN’s) Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele over alleged trumped-up charges bordering on terrorism financing.

“The judge held that the DSS, “acted wrongfully and illegally in instigating President Muhammadu Buhari against Mr. Godwin Emefiele in respect of the exercise of his statutory duty relating to the issuance of monetary policies and directives in the interest of the National Security and economy.”

Justice Hassan further declared that in view of the ruling of the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho in SSS Vs Mr. Godwin Emefiele in suit no FHC/ ABJ/CS/ 2255/2022 delivered on December 15, 2022, any continuous harassment, intimidation, threats, restriction and free movement, abuse of right of office, surreptitious moves to arrest, and humiliation of Mr. Godwin Emefiele over trumped up allegations of terrorism financing and fraudulent practices etc, by the 2nd, 3rd and 4th respondents and their offices were “vindictive, unwarranted, abrasive, oppressive and same constitute a flagrant breach of his rights to personal liberty, dignity and human person and illegal and unconstitutional.

“An order of perpetual injunction restraining the 2nd, 3rd and 4th respondents, their agents, servants and all officers under their command from instigating the arrest or arresting, interrogating and detaining Mr. Godwin Emefiele in respect of any matter or policy decision on the economy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or any connected purposes.”

Strangely, after Emefiele’s arrest, the world was told that the DSS obtained a court order for Emefiele’s arrest and detention from a Magistrate’s Court! Conventional logic would have been for DSS to proceed to the Appeal Court. This seems to give credence that there are other reasons not publicly declared for Emefiele’s ordeal. This is especially so because it is on record that through the orchestration of political players in the run-up to the election, Emefiele was thoroughly demonized and made the scape-gate for virtually all the failures of the Buhari administration.

Though this is not correct, a simple administrative process would have sufficed to deal with his perceived failures and/or inefficiencies. It is however also suggested in some quarters that Emefiele is being ‘punished’ for daring to throw his hat in the political ring in the APC presidential primaries in 2022. Again, I believe that an administrative process conducted by the Code of Conduct Bureau should have sufficed to deal with this if, indeed, there is any wrongdoing.

Several eminent Nigerians, including lawyers, politicians, and other pundits, have come forward to declare that Emefiele and Bawa are facing persecution for stepping on powerful political toes. This perception is not just bad for the Tinubu presidency, it is also bad for Nigeria! In Bawa’s case, it is said that his suspension and detention is on the ground of “weighty allegations” according to your administration.

Nigerians are aware that Bawa has been the target of a vicious propaganda attack by politically exposed persons who were being investigated by the EFCC under his watch. It is curious that the same DSS that fought hard (and succeeded) to unseat the immediate past Chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Magu is once again using the same template against Bawa. A court just cleared Magu of those allegations by the way.

While not holding brief for anyone, it is imperative that the DSS and any other law enforcement agency should do a thorough investigation first before making arrests and rushing to the media with allegations that will not stand the scrutiny of the courts. The unfortunate impression it leaves is that some agencies of government may be working towards a desired end of political actors to unseat individuals who hold offices that refuse to do their bidding. This, even if untrue does not inspire confidence in our justice system.

Other Nigerians, especially the less privileged citizens as well as foreign investors and talents in various fields who might wish to target Nigeria for long-term investments, and tourism, will surely be scared of the prospects of their well-being and investments if there seems to be such scant disregard for fundamental human rights even for eminent personalities who were simply doing their jobs.

They would be wondering “If it can happen to such well-placed Nigerians, then what hope is there for them?”

This piece should not be misconstrued to mean that VIPs should not be made to pay for their misdeeds or crimes. Such individuals, including other Nigerian citizens, however, deserve their fundamental human rights preserved and protected at all times even while being investigated and prosecuted. Also, very importantly, the prosecuting agency involved ought to do a thorough job of the investigations before rushing out to arrest, detain and make “weighty allegations” which may only exist in the imagination of Whistle-Blowers.

As President, it would be tough for you to receive unfiltered information and the true position of things but right now we (The Bola Tinubu brand and the Nigerian Brand) are not looking pretty over the state of our justice system. The time to start working to fix it is yesterday!

In a fast-evolving world, the developed economies of the world are in no hurry to lose their status as the preferred places to attract and keep investment and human capital. Nigeria is blessed with natural resources and brilliant people, but we cannot get the best out of our assets if we do not elevate the state and perception of our justice system. No nation can become great without an effective, trusted justice system.

Emefiele, Bawa and indeed all Nigerians being detained unduly should have their cases treated expeditiously. They should promptly be charged with their alleged crimes or freed from detention without further delay if they are not found wanting.

Political leaders must learn to be accommodating to opposing views and perceived political enemies. They should avoid the misuse and abuse of power because as the great Nelson Mandela put it “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

To this end let me paraphrase Thomas Hobbes thus: “Without Justice, life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

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