Bala Mohammed, EFCC and the rule of law
What could be the motive behind the ordeal of former minister of the federal Capital territory Senator Bala Mohammed? That is the zillion naira question concerned Nigerians are pondering at the moment. Those who ask the question should not be misunderstood. Apart from former aviation minister Femi Fani-Kayode and former minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Elder Godsday Orubebe, the man who tried to block the announcement of then candidate Muhammadu Buhari as president-elect, no other minister of former President Goodluck Jonathan has been subjected to so invasive investigation, serial hounding in the media and unremitting persecution as Senator Bala Mohammed.
Bala Mohammed versus the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, is a macabre thriller of sorts. How it will end nobody knows. But this is not about the powers of the anti-graft agency to do its work. It is not about whether the former minister is innocent or guilty. The matter is for the court to determine. The EFCC has charged the matter to court and the minister, now a suspect, has entered a plea of ‘not guilty’. The rest is for the court to determine.
Be that as it may, never has it been heard that an agency dragged someone to court only to turn round to say that it is not ready to go ahead with the case. That will reek of obvious bad faith, if not outright show of wickedness. Unfortunately, that is what Senator Bala Mohammed’s case is beginning to look like. No other interpretation can be given to the submission of EFCC counsel, Prince Ben Ikani who, on Wednesday, November 10, 2017, told the High Court of the Federal capital Territory, sitting in Gudu District, that he was not prepared to argue the bail motion moved by Chief Chris Uche, SAN, who is the lead to Senator Bala Mohammed. Ikani’s reason was that he had only just received the counter-affidavit filed by Mohammed’s counsel to the six-point charge slammed against the minister. If the highly respected senior advocate had not ebulliently risen to the challenge, who knows, the bail application would not have been granted.
Uche had argued that the case had been in the domain of the EFCC since last year and there was nothing new for them to know. And therein lay the problem. The EFCC started the investigation, laid the accusation, filed the charges and is prosecuting the case. So, short of playing some delay tactics, short of the desire to hold the former minister captive in perpetuity, why would an agency that, ostensibly, is operating under the law strive to deprive an accused of his liberty as guaranteed by the constitution? After all, as Uche pointed out, the charges remain unchanged, the accused had been granted both administrative and court bails based on the same matter, the accused had been reporting to the EFCC weekly since January and has not absconded? If he hasn’t, why would he do so now that the matter has been charged to court, when his liberties that have been so brazenly eroded through subterfuges, now stand the chance of being restored? That is the million naira question that the EFCC has to answer.
All over the world, a person’s standing in society, his contributions to society and conduct, are all usually considered in legal matters, no matter how serious. Bala Mohammed is not just any miscreant to be treated in the cavalier manner that the EFCC has behaved. Let us start from the last point: His personal conduct. Here is a man who was abroad receiving treatment when he got wind that the EFCC was looking for him in Nigeria. He quickly returned home and reported to the headquarters of the agency as demanded. He patiently endured 49 long days of detention and has reported weekly to the agency as requested. Does he deserve to be so treated?
Now to his standing in society: Here is a man who, as a civil servant, served his country meritoriously and even rose to the rank of a director in the federal civil service before he went into politics. Here is a man who was special assistant to two ministers: the late Alex Ibru (internal affairs) and Isa Yuguda (aviation). Here is a man who was elected senator of the federal republic of Nigeria and who distinguished himself in the Senate. Here is a man who is the longest serving minister of the FCT under the civilian dispensation. The mere fact of these positions as well as his voluntary surrender to investigation and prosecution should stand him out for some respectable treatment in the hands of the EFCC. Make no mistake about it: he is just an accused and retains his stature and civil liberties, qualities that should earn him deserved respect instead of being treated as a petty felon.
Much more importantly, here is a man who, as senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, brooked formidable odds, risked sectarian sanctions and personal stigma to create a defining moment in Nigeria’s history. How could we have forgotten so soon that it was this same Bala Mohammed who is being treated as if he is a villain that moved the doctrine of necessity by which Nigeria was able to move past a horrendous and potentially destabilizing political logjam in the heady days of the late Umaru Musa Yar’Ardua’s illness? How could we forget, so soon, that without that effort in moving the “Doctrine of Necessity” motion, with the collaboration of patriotic Nigerians like the late Dora Akunyili, Goodluck Jonathan probably wouldn’t have become President and the basis of our constitutional democracy would have been destroyed?
It may not be the intention of the EFCC but what Bala Mohammed is being subjected to has all the trappings of political persecution. Could it be because he moved the doctrine of necessity motion? Has it anything to do with permutations regarding future political cleavages and outcomes? Or, as has often been alluded to, should he change political party to acquire ‘immunity’? While I do not necessarily buy these innuendoes, the mere fact that people are beginning to think along these lines tends to erode the foundations of the huge responsibility imposed on the EFCC. Yes. The agency is a necessary vehicle for the new Nigeria that must emerge, where decency, accountability and transparency hold sway.
Nobody is saying that Bala Mohammed should not be prosecuted. He cannot be above the law. To suggest that will also derail our constitutional democracy. All that well-meaning Nigerians demand is that the EFCC, inasmuch as it has investigative and prosecutorial powers, should not arrogate to itself the power to deny people their freedom beyond what is constitutionally permissible. To insist on that is to persecute the innocent and to enthrone a culture of arbitrariness which sadists can capitalize on to produce a regime of despotism. We seem to be grinding perilously toward that path. Sadly enough, arbitrariness is akin to a bullet fired into a market place; it can hit anybody. It is Bala Mohammed today, it can be anybody tomorrow.
The difference between constitutional order and dictatorship lies in the willingness to play by the rules; if the truth must be told, the EFCC, an agency of government that is central to the quest for a new moral order must play by the rules if our society is not to self-destruct. On this note, I should leave us with the sobering words of former United States President when he visited Ghana in the twilight of his tenure. He said that America was more interested in the establishment of powerful institutions, not powerful individuals. It will seem that, at the moment, we are under the yoke of powerful individuals, not powerful institutions. To allow the rule of law to prevail in the case of Bala Mohammed is the litmus test of our pursuit of democratic goals. Anything less will amount to prolonging this nauseating culture of impunity and persecution.