Between Festus Keyamo and Nuhu Ribadu

Festus KeyamoKeyamo was at the forefront justifying and defending the punishment meted out to Nuhu Ribadu, the former EFCC chairman by President Umaru Yar’adua but maintained stoic silence about the extensive acts of corruption and collusion with corrupt serving or former public officials perpetrated both by Mrs. Waziri and Nigeria’s former Attorney General, Michael Aondoakaa. Why?

Between Festus Keyamo and Nuhu Ribadu Written by Daniel Elombah

Nuhu RibaduThe withdrawal of the case of non-declaration of assets instituted against the former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu is seen as a prelude to his appointment as Special Adviser to the Acting President on Anti-Corruption.

But Lagos lawyer, Festus Keyamo has decried the decision of the Federal Government to withdraw criminal charges against Mallam Nuhu Ribadu.

Keyamo said stopping the trial of the former EFCC boss, standing trial before the Code of Conduct Bureau over his failure to declare his assets before assuming office “is totally wrong and ill-advised”.

He queried the basis on which the government based this action and wondered why the boss of the anti-graft body would be treated as a sacred cow in the fight against corruption.

I am not surprised that Festus Keyamo will be alarmed at the possibility that Nuhu Ribadu might come back as the anti-corruption champion of the new administration.

Keyamo was at the forefront justifying and defending the punishment meted out to Nuhu Ribadu, the former EFCC chairman by President Umaru Yar’adua but maintained stoic silence about the extensive acts of corruption and collusion with corrupt serving or former public officials perpetrated both by Mrs. Waziri and Nigeria’s former Attorney General, Michael Aondoakaa.

Why? Because his retainership with the EFCC has become a stumbling block to his continued advocacy for what is right and just. It would appear Keyamo has simply allowed his relationship with the EFCC under Waziri to becloud his sense of reasoning.

Nigerians were generally impressed with Kayamo’s dogged prosecution of the former Chairman of the Nigeria Ports Authority, Chief Olabode George.

Keyamo had also recently written a petition to the Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, to probe without further delay the allegation of certificate forgery levelled against the Comptroller-General of Customs, Alhaji Abdullahi Inde Dikko who had been accused of forging his West African School Certificate, WAEC.

This and other recent courageous Acts has endeared him to many Nigerians. However, on the matter of opposition to Ribadu’s return, Keyamo simply got it wrong!

Why is Keyamo afraid that the current EFCC Chair, Mrs Farida Waziri, may now report to Nuhu Ribadu if he is eventually appointed Special Adviser to the Acting President Goodluck Jonathan on Anti-Corruption?

Keyamo asked: “On what moral or legal basis was the decision taken? In the last ten years in this country, corruption charges have never been withdrawn against any public officer except the court decides the public officer has no case to answer. So, why treat Nuhu Ribadu as a sacred cow when that was the very tendency he was reported to have fought against”?

The simply answer is this: The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria vested in the AGF the power of nolle prosequi to discontinue any criminal prosecution at any stage of the case. It is therefore within the prerogative of AGF under the constitution to decide the cases he wants to prosecute.

Speaking on what prompted the withdrawal of the case against Ribadu, the prosecuting counsel said that before the dissolution of the cabinet, “the former Attorney-General of the Federation, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode (SAN), reviewed the cases on ground and directed that this case should be withdrawn”.

It will be recalled that when the corrupt former governors got the Federal Government to move against Nuhu Ribadu, three allegations were preferred against him:

1)      He did not declare his assets.

2)      He owned foreign bank accounts and houses in Dubai acquired during his time as EFCC chairman. No evidence has been adduced to prove this and the so called houses have been shown NOT to be owned by Ribadu.

3)      Not showing up for duty, and going AWOL when requested to, in Edo State, is a serious complaint for a Senior Police officer and a former Senior Federal Government Director

Of these, the Government went to court on just 1) above: failure to declare his assets. But his lawyer Femi Falana has produced his Asset Declaration Form.

Nigerians believe that the allegations of ownership of houses by Ribadu in Dubai were definitely false; a smear campaign. They made the allegations and when challenged to provide evidence of ownership of houses in a place that you can easily go into their publicly available records and provide records of ownership of property, the story died. There was not an attempt to even provide the addresses of the alleged properties.

If Ribadu had been proved to have any property anywhere, the charges against him would not only have been only failure to declare assets as his enemies were looking for anything to hang on his neck.

Festus Keyamo fumed: “The reported decision of the Federal Government to withdraw criminal charges against Mallam Nuhu Ribadu bordering on failure to declare assets as a public officer is totally wrong, very insensitive, entirely unwise, ill-advised and amounts to an abuse of office and power by the Acting President, Goodluck Jonathan.

He asked: “Why should Ribadu not be held accountable by the same standards by which he also held others accountable? It would appear that the Federal Government has simply bowed to a certain sectional interest in this case, as there appears to be no legal or moral basis for such withdrawal of charges. It is important that Nigeria should not operate two sets of laws and different standards for the citizens and for public officers.”

My dear Keyamo, it is our duty as lawyers to educate the public rather than obfuscate issues: Attorneys General are only expected to prosecute matters that are in the public interest. Public resources should not be wasted on a shameless with-hunt.

The prosecution process is usually enlivened by a suspicion, an allegation or a confession.  Not everyone, however, will result in a prosecution.

“It has never been the rule in this country … that suspected criminal offences must automatically be the subject of prosecution.  Indeed the very first Regulations under which the Director of Public Prosecutions worked provided that he should … prosecute ‘wherever it appears that the offence or the circumstances of its commission is or are of such a nature that a prosecution in respect thereof is required in the public interest’. That is still the dominant consideration.” (Per Sir Hartley Shawcross QC, UK Attorney General and former Nuremberg trial prosecutor, speaking in the House of Commons on 29 January 1951.)

That statement is equally the position in Nigeria. The general public interest is the paramount concern.

The question whether or not the public interest requires that a matter be prosecuted is resolved by determining:

1.      whether or not the admissible evidence available is capable of establishing each element of the offence;

2.      whether or not it can be said that there is no reasonable prospect of conviction by a reasonable jury (or other tribunal of fact) properly instructed as to the law; and if not

3.      Whether or not discretionary factors nevertheless dictate that the matter should not proceed in the public interest.

The first matter requires no elaboration: it is the prima facie case test.          

The second matter requires an exercise of judgment which will depend in part upon an evaluation of the weight of the available evidence and the persuasive strength of the prosecution case in light of the anticipated course of proceedings, including the circumstances in which they will take place.  It is a test appropriate for both indictable and summary charges.

The third matter requires consideration of many factors which may include the following:

3.1          The seriousness or, conversely, the triviality of the alleged offence; or that it is of a “technical” nature only;

3.2          Whether or not the prosecution would be perceived as counter-productive; for example, by bringing the law into disrepute;

3.4          special circumstances that would prevent a fair trial from being conducted;

3.5          Whether or not the alleged offence is of considerable general public concern;

3.6          The staleness of the alleged offence;

3.7          The prevalence of the alleged offence and any need for deterrence, both personal and general;

3.8     Whether or not any resulting conviction would necessarily be regarded as unsafe and unsatisfactory;

3.9     The likely outcome in the event of a finding of guilt, having regard to the sentencing options available to the court;

3.10     whether or not the proceedings or the consequences of any resulting conviction would be unduly harsh or oppressive;

3.11     The degree of culpability of the alleged offender in connection with the offence;

3.12     Any mitigating or aggravating circumstances;

3.13     The alleged offender’s antecedents and background

3.14     Whether or not the alleged offender is willing to co-operate in the investigation or prosecution of others, or the extent to which the alleged offender has done so;

3.15     The attitude of a victim or in some cases a material witness to a prosecution;

3.16     Whether or not the Attorney General’s or Director’s consent is required to prosecute.

The applicability of and weight to be given to these and other factors will vary widely and depend on the particular circumstances of each case.

A decision whether or not to proceed must not be influenced by:

(i)                 The race, religion, sex, national origin or political associations, activities or beliefs of the alleged offender or any other person involved (unless they have special significance to the commission of the particular offence or should otherwise be taken into account objectively);

(ii)               Personal feelings of the prosecutor concerning the offence, the alleged offender or a victim;

(iii)             Possible political advantage or disadvantage to the government or any political party, group or individual;

(iv)              the possible effect of the decision on the personal or professional circumstances of those responsible for the prosecution or otherwise involved in its conduct; or

(v)                Possible media or community reaction to the decision.          

It is recognised that the resources available for prosecuting are finite and should not be expended pursuing inappropriate cases. 

Having said these, the case against Ribadu is NO CASE at all. Only an AG without shame will proceed with that case. Only an Aondoakaa could have taken that case to court in the first place. The AG prosecuting withdrew the case because he had NO case to start with.

Keyamo also said: “The Jonathan administration has shown crass timidity and gross irresponsibility by this decision. No citizen is above the law and none can have immunity against prosecution because of any perceived track record. The withdrawal of the charges against Ribadu is corruption at its best. The only thing Goodluck Jonathan should have ensured is that Ribadu gets a fair trial and that he should not be arrested or treated badly if he comes to face his trial”.

Ribadu had praised the elevation of Jonathan to the position of acting president in February, adding that the resolution of the National Assembly indicated that things were changing for the better in the country.

The former EFCC chairman also said he was ready to return to the country to be part of the process of reconstruction desperately needed in the society.

THISDAY had reported in February that the Federal Government was wooing Ribadu and was ready to drop the “trumped-up” charges against him, in addition to restoring Ribadu’s rank, who was demoted by two ranks from Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG) to Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) before he was finally dismissed for going AWOL (away without official leave) after failing to report for duty in Edo State.

However, the acting president has done the right thing here, and if he decides that Ribadu is needed to give fresh impetus to the war against corruption, who is Festus Keyamo to question that?

The police disciplinary committee that recommended his dismissal was headed by Ogbonna Onovo, who is now the Inspector General of Police (IG).

When Ribadu was denied his certificate by the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) for failing to wear his police uniform – which would have meant donning his demoted rank and subsequently challenged the demotion in court at the time – it was Jonathan who ordered NIPSS to release his certificate.

Keyamo also said: “This singular action of unjustifiably dropping charges against a public officer like Ribadu is likely to open an unwholesome floodgate of demands by corrupt persons who are facing trial for sundry offences to have their charges dropped also due to perceived “political persecution”, and that will be dangerous.

The Federal Government will have no moral basis to deny them their requests,” he stated.

This is laughable and merits no response!

The Lagos lawyer said it is shocking that the same Ribadu, who arrested and detained many public officers for similar offences, can be left off the hook without letting him have his day in court. He recalled that in the past, the former EFCC helmsman, who was on self exile had repeatedly told the the Code of Conduct Tribunal that he was ready to appear before it to defend himself, “but that erstwhile Attorney-General, Aondoakaa was threatening to kill him, hence he refused to appear before the tribunal.”

Keyamo contended that with the exit of Aondoakaa from government, it was only proper for Ribadu to come to court to show his Assets Declaration Forms which he filed at the time he was made Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

To this I posit that Ribadu’s persecution under Yar’adua is both unwarranted and unnecessary. It is an attempt by a selfish and rapacious cabal to preserve their loot. A lot of people saw tangible results from Nuhu Ribadu in his self righteous zeal to rid Nigeria of corrupt practices.

Finally, reason has prevailed! Only God know how much of public resources were wasted on this shameless witch-hunt.

To young Nigeria lawyers, Keyamo is a hero; unknown pedigree, hard working, confrontational – the in-your-eye type, and a radical that cut his teeth under Gani Fawehinmi. There are numerous examples of Keyamo’s fearless pain-in-the-arse prosecution of political shenanigans.

However, many are starting to see Keyamo as a rabble rouser.