- Category: Ephraim Emeka Ugwuonye Esq.
- Published on Wednesday, 25 April 2012 11:53
- Written by Ibekwe Obiora
INTRODUCTION: This is an interview granted by Emeka Ugwuonye in Lagos, where I was able to track him down in his hotel for a two-hour face-to-face. This is my second interview of Ugwuonye: The first was on March 15, 2012, during a similar stay in
Lagos. For those who have never met Ugwuonye, it will be hard to know how witty he is, how polished and debonair he is and how thoughtful. For almost every question you pose, Emeka pauses in suspense, then smiles, and takes his time to answer. He gives the impression that for each answer he gives, there is some deep thought behind it. It would seem that he has to consider many alternative answers and chooses carefully. Again, I have the pleasure of meeting this confident and brave man, who seems to be virtually beyond pain. The date is Friday, April 20, 2012. The venue is his hotel suite in Victoria Island (I am not allowed to disclose the name of the hotel. His staff warned me strictly about that). As seemed so well practiced by his staff, a waiter on a room-service order offers me tea or coffee. I choose coffee. We have some general talk about the weather and Lagos traffic before settling down for business.
QUESTION:Good morning, Sir. It is a pleasure to meet you again.
ANSWER:The feeling is mutual, Ibekwe. And how do you do?
QUESTION:You have been in Nigeria for the past one-week. You have appeared for trial in two cases – one in Lagos and another in Abuja. Is it fair to say it has been a busy week for you?
ANSWER:You can say that again. But that is something I have gotten used to now. Apart from my cases, it has been a hectic week for most Nigerians in view of the shocking revelations emanating from the National Assembly in relation to fuel subsidy expenditures, or corruption, if you wish. Also, there has been some hearing on the pension scandal, which led to the Senate Committee recommending that both Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde and Mrs. Farida Waziri be probed for allegedly taking bribe from people under EFCC investigation. Also, I read yesterday a message from Ngozi Iweala, a full-page advertorial actually, in which she thanked Nigerians for supporting her bid for the World Bank top job. She made a point of saying to the people that “we did not lose. Rather, God wanted me to return to do great job for Nigerians”. (Laughter). I would say it has been actually a wrenching week for all of us.
QUESTION:How did your cases go?
ANSWER:I am particularly pleased with the cross-examination of the EFCC witness on Wednesday, April 18, in Abuja Federal High Court. I think it went well. I knew that there were delicate and complex fact patterns that needed to be fully established and I needed to bring those specific events to light through cross-examination. I don’t wish to prejudge anything, but I feel the cross examination was an effective one. You must take the entire process in the context of a weak and weakened legal system. The law in question is new and mostly untested. The EFCC as the prosecuting authority is the most dubious, inept and corrupt organization in Nigeria today. So, we have to approach it with certain degree of balance of expectations.
QUESTION:We gathered it was a full court. We also learnt that your questioning thrilled the audience. But it was also said that the cross-examination lasted longer than was expected and the judge had to observe that the record of cross-examination exceeded all the case-related documents put together.
ANSWER:Well, you are right on all account. The cross-examination lasted for nearly 5 hours, which could be tedious in a setting where the judge has to manually record every question asked and every answer given. In that regard, I must commend the judge. It takes considerable energy and patience for anybody to write down all that was said for an entire period of 5 hours. This was also a lesson for me as I re-enter the Nigerian legal practice. Judicial resources are very peculiarly precious in Nigeria and one must bear that in mind all the time.
I had known that the cross-examination would take that long. If you recalled, in February, when the case was last heard, I had requested for an entire day for cross-examination. That was why the case was adjourned to April 18 so I could have a whole day. I knew I needed at least 3 hours and I did not want the court to adjourn in the middle of cross-examination. That would normally have given the witness and his lawyers an opportunity to estimate where I was going and the ability to anticipate me. Also, you may know that the case is much larger than what was charged. There is no doubt that the case they put together against me was skimpy on facts and evidence. It was merely pursued to victimize me. But they had opened themselves up in many ways they did not realize. The case is not just about asset declaration, as it goes. Rather it is going to be a trial of the EFCC regime under the Constitution of Nigeria. So, at this point, I know that the case is going to involve fundamental legal questions such as the supremacy of the Constitution, the scope of judicial review in Nigeria, the scope of the powers of the prosecutorial authority of the state, and of course the factual determination of the evidence before the court. So, my questions were calculated to elicit evidentiary predicates for the moves I plan to make as the case progressed.
QUESTION:What about the case in Lagos?
ANSWER:That came up on Tuesday, April 17, 2012. I wish I could be more optimistic about the Lagos case. We clearly had an advantage on the motion to quash for lack of territorial jurisdiction. We had argued that none of the elements of the alleged offenses occurred in Nigeria. It is always a delicate question of proper marriage of law and facts. I would have liked for us to demonstrate, even beyond the narrower question of the elements of the alleged offense, that no aspect of the transaction occurred in Nigeria. And we had all the evidence and opportunity to do that. But you know that when a lawyer represents you, it is the lawyer that would make the argument in court, not you. I would have liked to be more confident of victory on the motion than I am at present. The dicey thing is this: It is always easy for even a good legal mind to confuse the analysis of jurisdiction in a criminal case with that in a civil case. In a civil case scenario, the court is looking at the entire transaction. But in a criminal trial, the court should be looking at a narrower range of facts, which relates to the element of the offense in question. Anyway, we shall now wait for the judge to make his ruling in May.
QUESTION:What about the second case in Abuja?
ANSWER:That actually is supposed to be the main case, involving the alleged 1.5 million dollars that I was supposed to have allegedly stolen in Washington. That will be coming up again in the second half of May.
QUESTION:What is the posture of the case at this moment?
ANSWER:The case is still gathering momentum. I believe the next issue coming up in May would be to hear the court’s ruling on the petition for contempt, which we filed last year. Once that is disposed of, I believe the court would set the case for trial, unless by then there are other motions to be disposed of. As you know, I am still represented by counsel on that case and as such, my lawyers may have some other plans or suggestions. I would be able to say more about that case as we approach the next court date. Otherwise, I have maintained that this case was not filed in good faith. It was all an effort to victimize me.
QUESTION:May I take you back to the events in the United States. Since A week or two ago, it seems you have been embroiled in a lot of controversies with Saharareporters and one Professor Bolaji Aluko.
ANSWER:(Chuckle) For the past 3 years, I have been embroiled in the same controversies with those individuals. What you must have seen in the past weeks was only a flashpoint, which may have very little to do with me, really.
QUESTION:What then is the problem, Sir?
ANSWER:You are probably the only one that has no idea about the said controversy. But let me tell you something: I am not here to talk about Professor Bolaji Aluko. As a matter of principle, I don’t want to talk about him here and now.
QUESTION:That will be a surprise, given that you have been fighting with him all this while.
ANSWER:That’s actually not entirely correct. If you look at the origin of my disagreement with Bolaji Aluko, it appeared to be simple. I knew that Aluko has been a rather divisive figure and has had running battles with certain people on the yahoo forums. But really, I hadn’t been a part of that situation. His unfair activism on the side of Ambassador Rotimi and his Embassy regarding the false allegations that there was fraud in the Embassy property transactions was what angered me. I had hoped to get Aluko to clarify his position and avoid the interpretations being given to his comments. You would expect that a reasonable person would clarify such a thing and resolve any confusion fairly quickly. But that did not happen. I went to court to seek some clarity on the matters and to achieve an authoritative narrative of what happened. Aluko reacted in ways I did not expect, all towards a dangerous escalation of the dispute. (Indeed, one of his associates later boasted that she had warned me that Aluko would spend everything he has got just to fight me). Well, I don’t really want to talk about Aluko now. He ought never to have been that important to my story. He ought not to have been any part of the highly complex political dynamics and intrigues within which I acted as counsel in Washington, DC for the Nigerians. I bet that even today, Aluko would not understand these dynamics. So, let’s not talk about him.
QUESTION:Aluko and his supporters have blamed you for the adverse publicity his divorce case has received lately. Do you have any role to play in that?
ANSWER:This is really the dilemma for me. I do not wish that Bolaji Aluko should remain important in the discussion of Emeka Ugwuonye’s experiences. Yes, that man has caused a lot of mischief and resentments among various people, in my opinion. But otherwise, he is really inconsequential in the big picture. There is no reason for me to get involved in Aluko’s divorce cases. The Bolaji Aluko that I knew is a rather unremarkable personality. Even within the circles of scholars and intellectuals in the Diaspora, Aluko, to me, has been only a marginal figure of little consequence in real terms. I say in real terms because it is easy to decipher that Aluko had managed to become some big man in the squabbles among Nigerians on the Internet since the 1990s. In that circle, he is influential. But that’s really the circle. Let’s call it my fault or my lack of perception. But the point is that really underneath this whole thing, Aluko is a figure that would normally not feature in my story. So, his family life, his sex life, etc, are things that I would have considered uninteresting. And I don’t want to talk about him here.
QUESTION:What then do you think is driving Aluko’s problems over his divorce, if not you or your supporters?
ANSWER:Come on, what a question! The person who stands to benefit from the divorce should have driven Aluko’s divorce problems. Aluko is not married to me. So, what is my interest in his divorce? Divorces are driven by the parties who filed them. You really have to look at Mrs. Aluko and find out from her why she filed a divorce petition against her husband.
QUESTION:It is reported that Mrs. Aluko filed divorce against Aluko for physical or sexual abuse of herself or their minor child. Would that not be a damaging allegation against Professor Aluko at a time he seems to be settling down in a new job as a Vice Chancellor?
ANSWER:Well, I am glad that you seem to have come to the reasons for the divorce. I really don’t know anything about the Alukos’ personal lives. I don’t know if he abused his wife sexually or otherwise. I really didn’t even know how many children the Alukos had until I read about their divorce case. Also, it is only recently that I became aware that Aluko and his wife were married for 30 years and now with one-sided plan to renew that marriage for another 30 years. These were matters I would never have bothered myself with. How damaging the allegations may be to Aluko depends on what Aluko meant to you before now. If you had seen Aluko as an exemplary figure or a leader, then his personal failings would be a matter of importance to you. On the other hand, if, like me, Aluko had been just a regular person, it will not be surprising that he is encountering this sort of problem. I really believe that Aluko has received far more mention in my cases than he deserves. It has been said that the problem was because Aluko had held himself out as a paragon of virtue and ought to be held to some high moral standards. I think that sound bizarre in some sense. Even if Aluko had tried to hold himself to such high standards, there is really no basis to take him seriously on that in view of the mountain of evidence to the contrary.
QUESTION:Aluko’s supporters tend to think that he is an important figure, especially in his new position as a Vice Chancellor. Aren’t you understating his status?
ANSWER:Oh no! I think that every view derives its meaning from a certain context. In the context of what his supporters think, yes, he is a great man and that is why they support him. In the context of the rank of a Vice Chancellor, I am sure he is important to those who consider such office the pinnacle of distinction or achievement. But, let’s look at other contexts at play here. I have seen and worked with many scholars, including Noble Price winning scholars. Indeed, during my years in the academia, I worked closely with the most outstanding scholars in the world. Bolaji Aluko may not be considered a notable figure when placed along side these people. Even in my relationship with governments of the world, I have advised Presidents and top government officials of many countries. In the Nigerian political or official circles, I have equally dealt directly with Presidents, Vice Presidents, Ministers, etc. So, you can see that I would not be among those who would be awed by a Vice Chancellor’s position just for the sake of it.
I hope you don’t get me wrong: Every person is important in his own rights, even the garbage collector. In that sense, Aluko has done well for himself. However, he hasn’t really surpassed any expectations at all, if you look at the opportunities he has had in life. He has never really faced any adversities, except perhaps what he may be going through now in his personal life. To the best of my assessment, the story of Aluko is the story of the son of a pampered and privileged politician/professor who had everything he needed in life at his beck and call, and who ended up a professor of Engineering at Howard University. That’s not an outcome to celebrate really unless you are totally without any imagination. I should not have much cause to dwell on him. And to any extent that I might have considered him worthy of my time in the past, it must have been by mistake.
QUESTION:But really, if Vice Chancellor Aluko is determined to have sexually abused his family members, wouldn’t that be a matter of public health concern now that he is heading a university?
ANSWER:At a micro level of analysis, it would be. But again, on any basis of priority, that should not be my worry at this moment. There are several Nigerian officials with serious problems. There are so many other problems in Nigeria. There is crisis in the educational sector as a whole. There is crisis in the power sector. There is crisis in pension. There is crisis in the health sector. There is crisis and abysmal failures in the justice sector. Corruption has worsened to a level where those appointed to fight corruption have become the most corrupt. We have violence tearing the country apart at all joints. So, with all this, why should I focus my attention on a Vice Chancellor in an isolated enclave known as Otuoke? I just hope he would not engage in those acts that people now fear he is capable of. Otherwise, his sexual dispositions or orientations are of little moment in the Nigeria’s list of problems.
SNAPSHOTS AND INTIMATE PORTRAYALS OF EMEKA UGWUONYE
(A PERSONAL ACCOUNT OF CONFLICTS AND HARD CHOICES)
By Ibekwe Obiora
April 20, 2012