The simple news that the office of the Attorney General of the Federation on behalf of the Federal Government has applied to withdraw criminal charges against Malam Nuhu Ribadu bordering on failure to declare assets has set many pulses racing in the country. Unlike most antagonists though, Aonduna Tondu in his article, ‘As impunity rears its ugly head again: the Jonathan/Nuhu Ribadu conspiracy’ set
forth in clear, categorical and readable manner his reasons as to why “Goodluck Jonathan’s reported interference in the court case involving the sulphurous former chairman of the EFCC, Nuhu Ribadu, is both scandalous and shocking”.
Aonduna like Lagos lawyer, Festus Keyamo decried the decision of the Federal Government to withdraw criminal charges against Mallam Nuhu Ribadu. Both believe that 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”.
They 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.
When I wrote ‘Between Keyamo and Ribadu’ criticising Festus Keyamo for condemning the withdrawal of the charges against Ribadu, a reader queried: “Could you respond in two or three sentences, in simple English why Keyamo is wrong and Jonathan is right to do what he has done, regarding the cessation of due process with Ribadu”?
The simple answer is this: (a) Keyamo, as a lawyer, should know that a prosecutor has the discretion to withdraw any case if emerging facts indicate that justice would be perverted with continued prosecution.
(b) The filing of the case in the first place violated due process; withdrawing it corrected that violation.
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. The prosecuting counsel in that case had said that the former Attorney-General of the Federation, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode (SAN), reviewed the cases on ground and directed that this case should be withdrawn.
Evidently, the case was withdrawn because it should never have been filed in the first place — Ribadu did declare his assets; his lawyer had made the Tribunal aware of it and the former Attorney General, upon reviewing the case, seemed to have verified and agreed with the lawyer, hence the office of the AG, not Jonathan, ordered the withdrawal of the case.
Hence in my article I wrote: 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)
The same principle holds true in Nigeria.
On this Ribadu matter here are the facts:
Nuhu went to court to seek justice on his demotion as a Senior Police Officer – the right of any citizen. The Federal Govt decided to cause a distraction by: (a) attempting to prosecute him for not filing his assets declaration forms for 2 years; and (b) discipline him for not proceeding on a posting while his complaints were pending.
c. In addition, they wanted to rope corruption around Ribadu by alleging that he owned properties abroad.
For the item (a) above, Ribadu presented the evidence (through his Lawyer, Falana) that he filed his assets declaration forms for the 2 years in question.
However, the Fed ignored the evidence and issued a warrant for his arrest.
For item (b) above, they fired him from the Police; for item (c) above, Ribadu told them to prove the allegation and/or confiscate the properties. It has since been established that Ribadu did not own any property abroad; and the Govt has thus remained QUIET about it!
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.
Finally, as the Judge handling the Assets declaration case filed with the Code of Conduct Bureau has since accepted the evidence of Assets declaration file by Ribadu during the 2 years in question, the Federal Govt of Nigeria has no single case against ribadu rather, it is Ribadu who has a case of injustice, mistreatment and public humiliation against the Govt.
Still Aonduna like my friend Stevek, queried “If the charge against Ribadu is baseless because he, actually, declared his assests, why is it not objectively preferable for the charge to be resolved by due process in a court of law. That is, let Ribadu have his day in court, like everyone else and be exonerated by a court of law. After all, once a suit is filed, it goes beyond the executive branch of government and falls in the purview of the judiciary branch”
Mr Aonduna like Keyamo fumed: “The acting president’s intrusion in court processes on behalf of a political ally is as egregious as it is morally and politically repugnant. It is tantamount to a frontal attack on the country’s judiciary and its independence.
“The withdrawal of 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”.
Because I am a lazy writer let me quote copiously from a fitting reply given by Nebuchadneze Aniele to the aforementioned query:
Aniele posited that to allow a case that has no merit to go through a lengthy judicial process is not just an abuse of court processes by the prosecutor, it is also highly an injustice on the person (here Ribadu) dragged to court.
In this particular instance, if the case was allowed to go on (as per your assumption that it was the only way Ribadu could be justly exonerated), Nuhu Ribadu would have continued to pay hefty legal fees to his defense lawyers and had his life frozen (especially his professional life–means of livelihood because employers/business partners [including his insurers] would be edgy until the case was resolved) within the period the case lingered on. All of the above would have happened in a case that the prosecutor had become aware of its bogusness. Do you call that justice/due process?
In a judicial clime devoid of shenanigans, a prosecutor who pursues a case he/she knows is flawed or bogus commits professional suicide because he/she can be disbarred, prosecuted for abuse of authority/malicious prosecution, and can, in certain jurisdictions, be sued personally for the persons he/she unjustly prosecuted to recoup the expenses they incurred during their trial as well as a punitive measure in deterrence of potential abusive prosecutors.
In the US of America, prosecutors who do what those who were prosecuting Ribadu did (withdrawing the case upon recognizing that it was a witch hunt) get applauded by the citizens and the media; they also add positive feathers to their professional profiles — feathers that come in handy whenever they are considered for elevation to judgeships (hint: would any of the current US Supreme Court justices have been nominated or even approved by the Senate if it was uncovered that they, when they were District/US Attorneys, prosecuted someone who should never have been prosecuted? Another hint: would a doctor continue with a cancer treatment regimen if he/she uncovers that his patient never even had any cancer in the first place, rather, the doctor he succeeded was administering that treatment for nefarious reasons? If it is unethical and illegal for a doctor to knowingly continue a bogus treatment, it is even more unethical and illegal for a prosecutor to knowingly go ahead with a bogus case.
It is an abuse of a citizen’s liberty to subject that citizen to what Aondoakaa’s office subjected Ribadu with his bogus prosecution. Just imagine that the Nigerian authorities dragged you to court for not submitting a declaration of age when you obtained your Nigerian passport, even though you did so. Should the case run its full course, subjecting you to legal expenses and uncertainties, if a new prosecutor realized that you, indeed, did submit a declaration of age? If our government did that to you, it would have violated your liberty and that is injustice at its most pernicious ebb. The same scenario applies to Ribadu’s case.
The problem with most commentators writing against the Acting Presidents legitimate effort to stop a wasteful and vindictive with-hunting of the erstwhile EFCC Chairman is that they import Olusegun Obasanjo’s misgovernance into the debate as to whether Jonathon Goodluck acted legitimately in withdrawing the charge against Nuhu Ribadu.
Aonduna fall into the same trap when he wrote: “when he held sway as EFCC chairman under the previous Obasanjo tyranny, Nuhu Ribadu came to symbolize what was most repulsive with the eight-year misgovernance the nation was subjected to from 1999 to 2007”.
According to him, Goodluck Jonathan’s actions are “troubling reminder of the previous Obasanjo misrule which was characterized by vindictiveness and brazen impunity on the part of the regime’s head and his sidekicks”.
But the issue of whether Ribadu acted as Obasanjo’s attack Dog is entirely irrelevant here.
How does a society move forward if citizens ignore available facts and elect to fantasize when discussing current issues?
But even on that issue, I take pity on Nigerians that believe that “selective prosecution” stops Ribadu from ever coming to this country, who repeat the often misunderstood jargon, “selective prosecution”, which was the only “fault” they could pin on Nuhu Ribadu while he was EFCC Chairman. (Before they concocted the hay brained idea of prosecuting him for a non-declaration of his assets- crime he did not commit).
Those who were prosecuted by Ribadu and then turned around to claim selective prosecution were indulging in red herring; they were wilfully distracting the public from holding them accountable for their crimes.
If they truly believed that they were prosecuted selectively, they knew where to table that claim—at the courts, before a judge.
On this issue permit to quote from Mr Adiele again:
Selective prosecution can be mounted as defense before a court in a criminal case. To mount it, the defendant practically does not deny committing the crime for which he is charged, rather, he asks to be discharged on the ground that he is being selectively prosecuted. The problem with this type of defense, and for which it is almost impossible to succeed upon being asserted, is that the defendant has the burden of proving that he is being selectively prosecuted.
For example, if a James Ibori claims that he/she stole billions and is being selectively prosecuted since an Orji Kalu, who equally stole billions, is not being prosecuted, Ibori must prove the followings: (a) if he stole $10 billion, Kalu stole the same amount, not even a dollar less. (b) He and Kalu stole from the same source. (c) Evidence that Kalu will not be prosecuted for the similar theft. (d) Why he, and not Kalu, is being prosecuted.
An Ibori must convince the court, with impeccable evidence, of all the factors above (and more that the court may elicit) before he can prevail with a selective prosecution defense. Because the burden of proving selective prosecution is insurmountable, Nigeria’s crooks do not advance it in court where it belongs; they instead use both the gullible and corrupt media to perpetuate a falsehood in the minds of a gullible public.
The greater damage done to society by this caliber of propagandizing is that some paid hacks or unpaid thoughtless citizens, usually run off with this farce. They repeat it over and over and before you know it, lots of our citizens buy into it – an exemplary public functionary becomes a villain, and Nigeria loses a noble agenda.
Aniele continued: “In terms of cleaning up Nigeria’s festering corrupt environment, Nuhu Ribadu was the next best thing to happen to Nigeria since Buhari and Idiagbon. Unfortunately for Nigeria, like Buhari before him, he was chased out of office by the corrupt institution he was cleaning up. Were Nigerian not stupid people, we would have learnt our lessons from what happened to Buhari and Idiagbon and for that, resisted all the calumny and distraction heaped on Ribadu, which eventually led to his ouster. Were Nigerians smart people, they would roast blocked heads and senseless propagandist”.
Festus Keyamo and Aonduna Tondu knows full well that a prosecutor has the prerogative to bring or not bring any case to court and that no prosecutor can bring all the cases in his/her jurisdiction to court at the same time. Just because Ribadu did not bring XYZ case to court at time MNOP did not mean that he would never have brought it to court at some point.
“Ribadu was fighting a behemoth that fights backs viciously and corruptly. Ribadu, with a meager budget, a skeletal and inexperienced prosecutorial and investigative team; with corrupt judges who assumed cases over which their courts had no jurisdictions and who wantonly granted unwarranted restraining orders against his agency, confronted an elephantine ogre and still took a hefty chunk out of it. The members of his staff were individually paid less than a million naira a year but were constantly tempted with bribes ranging in the hundreds of millions by corrupt politicians, yet, 99% this staff never succumbed to the temptations. Nuhu Ribadu deserves better than Nigerians have accorded him so far for his service to our country”.
You don’t have to be a die-hard fan of Ribadu to realise that Ribadu was unfairly targeted.I am not!
In my piece, ‘Is America Using Ribadu to destabilise Nigeria?’ I took issue with Ribadu for telling the US Congress to fund Nigeria’s dissidents when he testified before the Feingold Committee.
But how can Nigeria be fixed if we have people whose life calling, it seems, is to baselessly abuse upright Nigerian government functionaries? Are we a cursed people that slaughter its finest? How can we keep silent while Festus Keyamo and Aonduna Tondu pillory a young man who did his best for his country?
I feel sorry for Nigeria; I pity those Nigerians who relish in false witnessing and character assassinations. I hope that the story of Ribadu’s recall to a role in the Acting president’s administration is true because I am certain that he will continue to fight corruption from where he stopped.
For those terrified that Ribadu is coming back to continue from where he stopped in the EFCC, let them sleep well because though the former anti-graft chief, Nuhu Ribadu, has offered to return to the country and serve under Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, he has ruled out working in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the police.
It is, however, not clear if he has actually been offered a chance to return or if talks of his coming back are an orchestrated campaign.
Reuters quoted Ribadu as saying on Monday that he would take any job that would facilitate the anti-corruption campaign, which according to him, has waned.
“Nothing took place in the last two years in the fight against corruption, Ribadu said. The respect we gained with the rest of the world has been eroded. It will take time to rebuild it,” he added.
Local newspapers have reported that Jonathan was considering Ribadu as his special adviser on fighting corruption.
Ribadu said he could be back in Nigeria within weeks as his fellowship at the Centre for Global Development, a Washington-based think tank, was winding down.
Yar’Adua came to power in May 2007 promising zero tolerance for graft, but the removal of Ribadu and lack of progress in prosecuting politically sensitive cases have done little to boost confidence, even among European donors who have poured $35 million into the EFCC.
Of course, I would like to come back, but it was difficult because my life was threatened,” Ribadu told Reuters. “The threat is now gone. I believe it is time for me to come back,” he said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C. on Monday.
Ribadu won international commendations for his arrests of suspects and seizures of assets as the first chief of the EFCC.
But he also made enemies for pursuing cases against powerful state governors and was fired in late 2007 soon after President Umaru Yar’Adua took power. He fled Nigeria for Britain and the United States in January 2009, saying his life was in danger.
Ribadu said he has not spoken directly with Jonathan, who assumed executive powers from ailing President Yar’Adua two months ago, and had not been offered a specific government position.