Anti-corruption war, Falana and Okonjo-Iweala
NO sensible Nigerian will object to the war against corruption, which President Muhammadu Buhari’s government has named among its major concerns. To do that is to invite a fair tag of a reprobate and an antipatriot. I support the war and believe most Nigerians do. However, events leading to the recent petition by Lagos lawyer Femi Falana to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate the former Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – “for spending public funds without appropriation” or – as he also alleges – for “the criminal diversion” of “the Abacha loot” which “was also not appropriated by the National Assembly” – deserve critical attention, if what we perceive as a moral campaign to salvage our country must not degenerate into a hopeless farce.
I refer to Falana’s recent appearance on Sunrise Daily, the Channels TV breakfast show, where his utterances revealed the farcical drift of the war. In response to a question by one of the anchors, he said “… Okonjo-Iweala … has now confessed that … she released $322 million to the then NSA, Colonel Sambo Dasuki.” Then the anchor drew his attention to the fact that “they didn’t put” “that statement” “as a confession”, that “they said they were trying to put the records straight…”
Yet Falana insisted that “it’s a confessional statement,” prompting the anchor to ask: “So, when does such become an offence? Is it when it is circulated out there in the public or when the court adjudicates in such matters and comes to a conclusion?” To which Falana gave this evasive reply: “Once those who collected money are coming out to admit … as alleged by those who have been arrested … that can be used in evidence against you…”
Evidently, the so-called “confessional statement” was the letter Okonjo-Iweala wrote to her former boss, the then President Goodluck Jonathan, in her capacity as Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy, to seek his approval, which he gave, to disburse the said funds to the former NSA, whom, she clarified, “had explained that this is to enable purchase of ammunition, security and other intelligence equipment for the security agencies in order to enable them to fully confront the ongoing Boko Haram threat.” In the letter, she also insisted on exacting accountability from the recipient – an exemplary act, considering the general lack of interest in accountability among our public servants.
Incidentally, Falana is not the only prominent Nigerian engaged in such effort to deduce a “confessional statement” apparently to implicate Okonjo-Iweala. Sonala Olumhense shows the same inclination in his column entitled “Goodluck, Jonathan!” published on page 53 of The Guardian of December 27, 2015.
So, one of the most recognised lawyers in our country – a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) – and one of our most respected newspaper columnists – do not seem to know that a letter written in the course of duty to seek approval from one’s boss for an official decision is not the same thing as “a confessional statement.” Nor does the lawyer know that he is wrong to label Okonjo-Iweala’s disbursement of the said funds as a “criminal diversion,” thereby acting as a judge in his own case and usurping the right of the court to make such a pronouncement.
Olumhense worsens this farce by predicting that former President Goodluck Jonathan will be serving a jail term “by this time next year.” And though I do not mean to defend the former President, I must draw attention to the utter wrongness of ascribing a jail term – with a timeline! – to someone who has not even been charged with an offence, in a country that believes in due process and the rule of law. I am sure the “legal luminary” in Falana will agree with me on this, if he could consider it without the prejudice he has exhibited in his campaign against Okonjo-Iweala. Olumhense’s prediction about the former President is a curious and condemnable case of an intellectual championing judicial dictatorship.
Unfortunately, Buhari’s current war against corruption risks negative recognition by history as a campaign that lacked credibility due to its near-total focus on those whose party lost the last presidential election as the arch-rival of his party that won. Curiously, some of us insist that it does not matter, as if it should not matter if all of a referee’s calls for infringements in a football match were to be against one of the teams, though it is clear that the other team has also committed infringements. Who would consider the referee fair or the outcome of the match credible?
Now, if “spending public funds without appropriation” is absolutely unjustifiable to Falana, what does he make of the bailout funds President Buhari gave to the 36 state governors recently, which, to use his exact words, “was also not appropriated by the National Assembly”? Does he not imply that the President was wrong?
But I do not think the President was wrong. Rather, I think he – like Okonjo-Iweala before him – was faced with (and acted under) such situations portrayed by the French proverb, “For desperate ills desperate remedies,” which indicates that there are certain problems that human beings and nations can be faced with which all sensible people agree on the rightness of disregarding convention – like appropriation by the National Assembly – in solving them. So, for what has been dubbed “Dasukigate” to produce the best result for our country, we must make a distinction between corruption and official actions taken to protect the country’s interest in a period of emergency.
Falana may not be “an integrity-challenged charlatan,” as a critic recently described him; but a lawyer who infers a “confessional statement” from the said letter written by Okonjo-Iweala gives cause to question his professional judgement. And with his escalation of the matter through his more recent petition to the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Okonjo-Iweala, one wonders if he knows how discerning those who run the ICC can be, so discerning that they will know a hollow case being fronted otherwise.
• Oke, a poet and public affairs commentator, wrote from Abuja.