As I finished watching the online version of how the immediate former DG of NIMASA was re-arrested within the court premises and in the presence of his lawyers, what flickered through my mind was that truly a snake could change its colour but not the character. Sections 34 and 35 of our constitution talk about rights to dignity and liberty respectively. Many Nigerians are still carried away by the so-called anti-corruption fight without realising that the rights of fellow citizens are being infringed on . My parents confided in me that , this was how decree number two was executed in 1984; where citizens were perpetually kept under custody without being tried in a competent law court. Today it is the immediate DG of NIMASA , tomorrow it can be any of us.
Once upon a time, a rat saw a rat-trap and the rat came and reported to other animals in the household that there was a rat-trap in the kitchen, the other animals ignored the rat because the said trap was made for the rat. They allowed the rat to bear its own cross. However, the rat-trap finally caught the tail of a ravenous snake .While the madam of the house was groping in the darkness inside the kitchen, she was bitten by this poisonous snake , which was struggling to escape from the trap. The madam of the house finally died and all the other animals were killed and used in cooking for the entertainment of the guests that attended the burial ceremony of the madam of the house. Surprisingly , the rat which was the prime target was the only animal that survived the situation .
Image: the author
Today , many of us may ignore that fact that people’s rights are being abused in the course of fighting corruption because the victims are not our relatives ,the same way the other animals ignored the call for help by the rat. Nobody is against the anti-corruption fight of the current administration , all we are saying is that the law enforcement agents should know that an accused is presumed innocent until convicted by a competent law court. What is wrong in arranging all the crimes a suspect has allegedly committed and bringing all the charges against him once before a court of competent jurisdiction? Even if there are new discoveries while the case is pending before a court, is there no provision where the charges can be amended? When has Nigeria gone back to the military era where citizens were afraid of being rearrested anytime over a matter that was thrashed by a court or a military tribunal? When have we gone back to the era when a suspect could be permanently kept in custody without trial or even when a trial set him free?
One rich man was once discussing with me how to use money to frustrate a poor man in a case. According to him, the first thing to do is to arrest the poor man with police officers from the divisional police office covering the jurisdiction. Nigerians are told that bail is free but people who have gone to police stations to bail their relatives or well-wishers can dispute or accept if bail is truly free in Nigeria. That may be a topic for another day. According to the rich man, while the matter is being investigated in the divisional police station, the rich man will write another petition to the Area Commander such that immediately the poor man is released on bail from the divisional police station ,he is rearrested by officials from the Area Command, the vicious cycle continues through the state CID and Zonal police headquarters until it gets to Force headquarters in Abuja. At that point, the poor man is financially and psychologically down to fight for his rights.
This draconian and devilish means of pursuing a case by rich men is not different from what we are experiencing now. Re-arresting a suspect who is immediately granted bail , to me is witch-hunting and not part of fighting corruption. In stable democracies, people are jailed by their prosecutors bringing pieces of evidence that will finally nail them but here people are prepared to be jailed by using instruments of the government to break them psychologically .The prosecutors will just do a shallow investigation before arraigning the suspect in court and that is why the prosecutors cannot prove their cases beyond any reason doubt .
Gone are the days when suspects were tried on the pages of our newspapers. Our prosecutors should either bring all the charges against a suspect once before a court or amend the charges while the suspect is already being tried. This primitive way of re-arresting a suspect who is just granted bail should stop. How many bails have been granted to Sambo Dasuki? I am not saying any of the accused is innocent , all I am saying is that the principles of rule of law must be upheld in our country. We were told during the military regime of 1984, that some people were tried by a military tribunal set up by the then head of state, and when the people were found innocent of the corruption charge against them ,another tribunal was set up to try the same people over the same case and the vicious cycle would continue ad infinitum .
Today, prosecutors select the court order they want to obey and nobody raises and eyebrow because Nigerians are unique people. When you expect the masses to shout, they will remain quiet and when you expect them to remain quiet , they will shout. That was what legendary Fela called suffering and smiling. Consider, for an instance , when there was enough PMS in out filling stations , some Nigerians were trekking from one part of the country to another to thank God for the so-called change but now there is unexplained scarcity of PMS in our filling stations, the trekkers have disappeared. Bad precedent is being set up and as we keep quiet , time shall come when it will be a thorn on our flesh. Nobody in a democracy should be feared if the supremacy of the constitution is upheld . Americans and other citizens of stable democracies respect their leaders and but do not fear them. Nobody in Nigeria should make himself a terror to other citizens .
Nigerians should be vigilant to draw a line between fighting corruption and violating the human rights of Nigerian citizens. All I am saying is that if a suspect is to be arraigned in court with let us say 10 charges , it will be inhuman and primitive to intentionally split the charges into five such that the suspect will be arraigned with two charges and when he manages to secure a bail ,he will be rearrested and the cycle continues. In stable democracies ,prosecutors do not win a case against a suspect by intimidation or psychologically bringing down the suspect rather they win their cases by tendering overwhelming evidence against the suspect.
Nelson Mandela in his autobiography , The Long Walk to freedom, narrated one of his experiences in the hands of the apartheid government. He said there was a time they were illegally arrested and when the government realised that arraigning Mandela and other freedom fighters would be fruitless, however as the government wanted them behind bars, the government simply declared curfew while Nelson and others were in prison. Thereafter, the government ordered their release in the dead of the night and as these freedom fighters were coming out of the gate of the prison, they were re-arrested for flouting the curfew imposed by the government. Regrettably , no one told the freedom fighters that there was a curfew in the city before releasing them from prison custody and the government released them when none of their relatives was around to welcome and inform them of the curfew newly imposed on the city.
Such experience is what you see in a draconian regime. Let every suspect be respected until convicted by a competent law court and such ‘convict’ remains innocent until he exhausts all his legal rights to appeal the judgement. Fighting corruption and respecting the fundamental human rights of the citizens are both important and none should be sacrificed for the other.
Dr Paul John, Port Harcourt, Rivers state; 08083658038, email@example.com