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Bala Mohammed vs EFCC: Matters miscellaneous

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In any decent society where some premium is placed on human dignity, the accepted jurisprudential position is that, it is better for many suspects to escape unpunished than for one innocent person to be wrongly convicted.

Unfortunately, the way accused persons are treated in Nigeria does not depict us as people who place much value on the dignity of the human person.

Even our long cherished principle that an accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty has suffered brutal assault at the hands of overzealous agents of government.

To such people, who may not necessarily be in the majority, it doesn’t really matter if hundreds of ‘suspects’ are hounded into jail if only, in the process, one targeted person is incarcerated.

However, the recent judgement in Senator Bala Mohammed versus the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC appears to provide a new impetus for victims of official highhandedness to challenge their traducers while at the same time rekindling hope that, somehow, the country will not descend to the reign of tyranny.

Former FCT Minister, Bala Mohammed’s fight, to enforce his fundamental human rights is solid proof that, what it takes for tyranny to take root is for good people to keep quiet or for the injured to refuse to fight back.

The former minister’s case is well known. After heeding the invitation by the EFCC, based on allegations against him, he ended up being incarcerated for 49 days in 2016, despite meeting the bail conditions imposed by the agency.

To make matters worse, not even a court order could sway the agency to desist from its abuse of the constitution by way of arbitrary detention of the minister.

That set the stage for the former minister’s counsel, Chris Uche, SAN, to approach the court to enforce his client’s fundamental human rights.

Thus, last Thursday, in a judgement that is being celebrated as victory for the rule of law, Justice Baba Yusuf of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, ruled that Bala Mohammed’s detention was unlawful. He followed up by awarding Five Million Naira against the anti-graft agency.

Justice Baba Yusuf deserves commendation for being incisive, methodical and fearless in delivering his judgement. He has restored hope that ours is a country of laws, not of men as the EFCC, by its conduct, has all along sought to convey.

The judge was emphatic that in the absence of compelling evidence of any crime, the EFCC had no right to detain the former minister beyond 48 hours. That point needs to be noted by all Nigerians.

But while the abridgement of the ex-minister’s civil liberty loomed large in the judge’s decision, it will appear that, a more fundamental reason was the inability of the anti-graft agency to adduce any evidence to support its claims of wrongdoing against the accused.

The judge was unambiguous on that. Here are excerpts from the judgement:

“Where a party admits the detention of another, the onus to prove that such detention is legal lies on it. In the instant case, no material evidence of fraud, irregular allocation of plots of land among others is placed before this court.

“All other averments relating to fraudulent activities against the applicant remain largely in the realm of imagination of the respondent and unproved as there is no such document before the court. The result is that the respondent has not proven the allegation to warrant the court to decide otherwise”.

The judge’s statement, above, should be read in conjunction with the section where he averred that he saw nothing wrong with Bala Mohammed’s arrest by the EFCC.

That is to say that, by arresting Senator Bala Mohammed, the EFCC was acting within its powers, to hold public office holders, past or present, accountable for their actions.

Yet, we must continue to underscore the judge’s position that the agency did not have the powers to detain people endlessly without cause; and that he could not see evidence of allegation of fraud against the former minister.

On a serious note, Bala Mohammed did not deserve the incarceration he was subjected to. Here was a man who, upon being informed that the EFCC needed him to respond to some allegations against him, voluntarily abandoned medical treatment abroad in order to honour the invitation.

Here was a man who, for all times, maintained his support for the anti-graft effort of President Muhammadu Buhari, insisting always that public office holders should be prepared to account for their actions while in office.

Also as a sign of good faith, Bala Mohammed has actively participated in every legislative enquiry bothering on his office or ministry.

It is one of those paradoxes of life that such a Nigerian who has never given any cause to suspect that he would jump bail, was deprived his freedom for so long a period, in defiance of the order of a court of competent jurisdiction.

Now that he has been vindicated by the court judgement Senator Mohammed is in a stronger position to insist that, his incarceration, beyond what is statutorily permitted, was politically motivated.

Since the court has ruled that there was no evidence of fraud or wrong-doing to support his prolonged incarceration, Bala Mohammed is on solid grounds to insist that he is a victim of some grand conspiracy to demonize him before the Nigerian public and probably put his political future in jeopardy.

As things stand, the promoters of that strategy have failed. At least, nothing has happened to erode his political base in Bauchi.

No one who followed the twists and turns of the former minister’s incarceration should be surprised at the judgement of Justice Baba Yusuf.

In an unprecedented manner, the agency literally went about shopping for remand orders to shackle the former minister, in perpetuity.

At every point during the trial, Chris Uche, SAN, adroitly punctured the alibi of the defence which included the inability of the accused to meet his bail terms, a claim that was false; that he would interfere with investigations, a position the judge found curious or that, he would influence another person of interest whose whereabouts were then not known. Again, the judge wondered how the detainee was expected to influence someone outside while still under the custody of the agency!

For the EFCC, this highly indicting judgment should act as a sobering influence on the way it conducts its activities.

To arrogate to itself the powers to simply dump people in jail indefinitely is, to say the least, uncivilized and barbaric; to hang serious allegations against a person without proof of evidence, as the judge noted in the case of Senator Bala Mohammed, is malicious, callous and unacceptable; and to constrain citizens with brazen impunity, in defiance of court orders, is to send a wrong signal to Diaspora Nigerians and other foreign investors who, paradoxically, our President and his ministers, have been courting assiduously, that the law cannot protect both they and their investments.

It does not need to be overstated that Nigeria can ill afford the reputation of a lawless destination at a time the President Buhari Administration is almost recording a breakthrough in its valiant effort to attract foreign direct investment into the country.

In conclusion, it is important that we recognise the milestones achieved by this judgment.

Paramount among the milestones is the vindication of Bala Mohammed with the concomitant redemption of his image which the agency had sought to batter through the instrumentality of media trial and other subterfuges.

Second, other victims of official high-handedness, impunity and arbitrariness now have a pedestal on which to launch their redemption plans.

But by far the most important beneficiaries of this judgement are President Buhari and the country: it feels good to realize that there are checks and balances to handle the excesses of security agencies; that the judicial system can be trusted to act as the last hope of every Nigerian no matter the person’s social standing and that, in spite of our many challenges, this indeed is a great country on the threshold of being redeemed.

Agu, publisher of ZEST TRAVELLER magazine is a fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) as well as honorary fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR).


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