Nwoko, EFCC and elucidation of ‘at large’
The arrest and detention of Uwemedimo Nwoko, the immediate past Attorney General of Akwa Ibom State, by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission, EFCC, has all that it takes to make news that it has already made. Besides being the immediate past chief law officer of the state, a position he held for six years, and senior advocate of Nigeria, a rank he was crowned on December 14, 2020, he has been a newsmaker for more than 20 years, largely on account of his rights activism and his campaign against corruption. Big names and making extraordinary exploits constitute what makes news!
According to media reports, Nwoko is among some officials of the Akwa Ibom State government suspected to have played certain role in the alleged N1.4 billion money laundering charges leveled against Paul Usoro, an SAN and immediate past President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), at the Federal High Court by the EFCC. The underlined factor, as claimed by the EFCC and reported in the news media, revolves around Nwoko being “at large” for over two years.
In fact, unlike other news media organisations, the “New York” based Sahara Reporters failed to attribute the claim of Nwoko being at large to the anti-graft body. In its news story, it attributed it to itself with authority: “Nwoko, an alleged accomplice in the N1.4bn money laundering charge against Paul Usoro, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, had been at large for over two years.” On this score, Sahara Reporters, which was the first medium to publish the story, achieves a scoop with spuriousness.
Was Nwoko really at large? How? Though Merriam Webster’s and Black Law dictionaries appear ambiguous as to the meaning of the phrase, especially as it relates to suspects or prisoners, what is generally known of “at large”, among other meanings, connotes to one not being within reach or cannot be found.
If curiosity and scepticism, which are among professional attributes of a journalist, run in the veins of any reporter worthy of the name, getting answers to the above questions ought to have been the genesis of wisdom for revelation on whether Nwoko is at large or not, and how. Most times, being a doubting-Thomas is worthwhile as it props up unassailable points on critical issues.
It took the initial doubting of biblical Thomas for his colleague-disciples of Jesus Christ to see the wounds their master sustained while on the torture stake. Beyond the era of Jesus’ days on earth and from thousands of generations to the present generations and upcoming generations, the result of Thomas curiosity has substantially added impetus to the resurrection story of Jesus. David Mandel, who chronicles The Ultimate Who’s Who in the Bible, describes Thomas as “a practical man who preferred the evidence of his eyes to the reports of others.” So, the question as to Nwoko being at large or not and how ought to have been pursued with questions upon questions, not on rigmarole trip, but to get to destination of distilling and distinguishing facts from fictions.
Did Nwoko, who served the public through the office of the Attorney General from 2015 till January 2021, discharge the duties of his office from hideouts since the day he was mentioned as one of the suspects in the alleged money laundering case? Was his spirit the one that represented the Akwa Ibom State government almost on daily basis from the Magistrate court in Akwa Ibom to the Supreme Court in Abuja?
The ceremony of conferment of SAN rank on 72 Nigerian lawyers, including, the former Attorney General, was elaborate. Was Nwoko, whose wife was one of new SAN spouses that attended the event, conferred with the rank in absentia? The ceremony, attended by the president of the NBA, Olumide Akpata, and many legal luminaries, was presided over by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Muhammad. Not long before the 2020 edition of the conferment of SAN rank, Nwoko, among 11 others, including the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, was appointed Life Bencher by the Body of Benchers.
Was Nwoko at large on December 20, 2021 in a thanksgiving service at Four Square Gospel Church in Uyo over his becoming an SAN? Top government functionaries of the Akwa Ibom State government were led to the event by Governor Udom Emmanuel. Did Nwoko handover to the current Attorney General, Uko Udom (SAN), on the first week of this year by proxy?
Could it be that EFCC operatives were mounting search light for Nwoko at palatial homes of the mighty in Abuja, Lagos and Uyo and not Nwoko’s home at a rural community in Akwa Ibom, where he lives with his family and parley freely with low and non-income earners? Where was Nwoko arrested – hideout or an enclave that EFCC operatives and any other security agents of government have difficulty accessing?
The comparative advantage of television broadcasting over the other categories of news media is its being the most believing since the cliché, seeing is believing, is obvious in television contents. Therefore, if Nwoko’s interviews in the print, online and radio news media platforms could not serve as clues to getting to his purported hideout, why did security operatives not use his frequent featuring in live television programmes to establish his whereabouts? The questions begging for answers on this issue cannot be contained here.
The whole episode reinforces the perception held in many quarters over the years that processes involved in combating corruption in Nigeria has been more of media trial and less of prosecutorial diligence. Of course, there is no newness that the fight against corruption by relevant authorities in Nigeria is a media trial. The major gain of such over-dramatisation is that it provides what those in the Nollywood or Hollywood industry could adapt for a blockbuster, which would, in turn, get the world population richly entertained to the ridicule of Nigeria and Nigerians.
The EFCC’s call on Nwoko to answer for the assumed role he played in the alleged N1.4 billion money laundering case against Usoro is not in any way questioned here. After all, where the rule of law is what it should be, Nwoko, like any other human, is not above the law and he knows that and cannot question that. When a tag of suspicion is hung on the neck of a person, the best way to disentangle it and get justice for the accused, the accuser and the larger society is to ensure fair trial of the accused person in a competent court of jurisdiction, where due process is followed to the letter.
On a very serious note, if Nwoko, as widely reported, is arrested on the strength that he was “at large” then what we take the phrase to mean is wrong. What then is the meaning of at large? The EFCC owes us elucidation on this.
Ekanem sent this piece through firstname.lastname@example.org
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