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History Beckons and I Will Not Be Silent (Pt. 1)

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By Chukwuma Charles Soludo, CFR

My attention has been drawn to some of the tirades on social media following my frank response during an interview on Channels TV regarding the “investments” Mr. Peter Obi claimed to have made with Anambra state revenues. Sadly, several of the comments left the issue of the interview to probe or suggest motives, inferred from my response on “investment” that I am opposed to Peter Obi’s ambition and therefore committed a “crime” for which the punishment is internecine abuse and harassment even to my family. Some people even suggest that the gunmen who went to attack a checkpoint at my hometown on Saturday 12th November but were gunned down was part of the mob reaction. I used to think that for decent people, certain conducts are off-limits, and that in Anambra, politics is not warfare.

Of course, as a Christian, I know that telling the truth can be very costly, even suicidal. Our Lord and saviour was crucified simply for telling the truth the people did not want to hear. I promised that I won’t be the usual politician, and will not knowingly lie to the people. I am not an Angel but rather than knowingly repeat the same deceitful character that politicians are known for, I would leave public office. It is a vow I made to my God and to my family. Only God knows how many days I will be on this seat but whether I am on it or not I will always say it as it is— knowing fully the suicidal consequences of telling the truth in a political arena, especially in a country where lying and deceit by politicians have become culture and celebrated as being “smart”.

Ideally, I should just have laughed off the infantile exuberances as many friends advised (I am used to this, having been in the ‘Arena’ for a while). I always re-read the quote “The Man in the Arena…” by President Theodore Roosevelt (1910) to remind myself of the burden of public office. Several well meaning Nigerians and Ndigbo called to advise that I should just ignore them. A respected Igbo elder-statesman who called, advised that I should just ignore what he described as “Peter Obi and his social media mob”. According to him, “everyone knows that he is going nowhere, but they are looking for who to blame”. After some 20 minutes of discussion, he advised that I should personally author a response— just for the records.

Everyone knows that I don’t follow the winds nor one to succumb to bullies, nor shy away from a good fight especially when weighty matters of principles and future of the people are involved. One lesson I learnt from my former boss and mentor, President Obasanjo, is never to be on the fence. I learnt that one must always take a stand: for better or for worse. I do so with every sense of humility, and leave history to judge. Most people have commended me for “tactfully avoiding being drawn into the Peter Obi issue” until now. Since I am now being forced into the Arena on this matter, I have a duty and a right of reply, if only for the records, and to also give the social media mob something substantive to rant upon and rain their abuses for weeks. In this preliminary response, there are some things I will refrain from saying here because, in the end, February/March 2023 will come and go, and life will continue.

At the outset, let me state that this exhibition of desperation, intolerance and attempt to bully everyone who expresses the slightest of dissent is reprehensible. This is Hitler in the making. When the revered Arch Bishop Chukwuma stated that in Enugu State, they were not obedient, he was ferociously bullied on social media. Any dissent is tagged a saboteur or, in my case, it could be that I want to contest for president after office or that I am envious of Peter Obi. Soludo envious of Peter Obi? Totally laughable! But this is the same person I was asking to return to APGA in March 2022 and contest for president and yet envious or doesn’t want him to be president. This is madness! Seriously speaking, the obdurate attempt to muscle the republican Igbos to maintain the silence of the graveyard is antithetical to everything Igbo. It is not who we are. Insulting other ethnic groups and religions or denigrating others is certainly not the path to Aso Rock. If this is not checked, it may indeed endanger the future political and economic interests of the Igbos.

In his time, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was the undisputed all time leader of the Igbos but he had his arch rivals and even independent candidates won landslide elections against his party, NCNC, in Igboland. Obafemi Awolowo had stiff opposition among the Yorubas while Ahmadu Bello had his share of opponents in the Northern region. Today, no one has accused Afenifere or other strong presidential candidates from the South West of being “anti Yoruba” because Tinubu is a frontrunner, nor has anyone accused Kwankwaso and several other Northern candidates of being “anti-North” for not supporting Atiku. As a full blooded republican Igboman and democrat, I reject this despotic intolerance.

Yes, I fully understand the anger of some urban and Diaspora youths and some Nigerians who are dissatisfied with the trajectory of the country or with the candidates of the major parties and wished other options. Not knowing much about others, some see Peter Obi as the contrast they wished for. I get the point. But this is a democracy: the minority will have their say, but the majority their way. Translating anger and social media agitation into political outcomes requires humongous work.

For full disclosure, let me state that Peter Obi and I are not just friends, we call ourselves “brothers”. But we have political differences: he left APGA for PDP after his tenure as Governor while I have remained in APGA since 2013. During the last two governorship elections in Anambra in 2017 and 2021, he led the PDP campaigns but APGA won landslide in both elections. By the way, in 2016, he visited and proposed that I defect to PDP and contest the 2017 election against the incumbent Willie Obiano, but I declined. After my victory in November 2021, he called to congratulate me as I did to him in 2010. That is the Anambra way: we fight fiercely during campaigns but share drinks at the next social events. After all, it was the great Zik of Africa who taught us that in politics, there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies but only permanent interests.

We sat next to each other during the Emeka Anyaoku lecture at Nnamdi Azikiwe University on 8th March, 2022 and I made an offer for him to return to APGA and contest as its presidential candidate. Yes, I did. In my mind, it was time for Igbos to organize their region politically before stepping out to bargain power with other organized coalitions. On his part, he tried to convince me that he expected APC to unravel while PDP would be the “only one” standing. We debated and he proposed that we could meet later to discuss further. He attended my inauguration on March 17. A few weeks later, he requested and I obliged him to use the Anambra State government house facility to launch his presidential bid under PDP. I was surprised to read in the news later that he had defected to LP (a party with literally zero structure), thereby attempting to weaken the same PDP he saw as the saviour a few weeks earlier. He paid me a courtesy call as the presidential candidate of LP, and we had frank discussions.

During our meeting, I reminded him of my proposal to him to come and contest under APGA. More importantly, I told him (possibly to his surprise) that I did not make the proposal in the belief that he will win in 2023 but that it would give us the opportunity to get our people organized as a bargaining force, with him leading the effort since I was busy as Governor (my immediate predecessor, Willie Obiano had indicated to me that he was not disposed to contest an election). We noted that we were in opposing political parties and in response to my direct question as to how I might help him, he requested that I should just ensure a “level playing field” and let the people decide. In fidelity, my government has provided the atmosphere for him and his supporters to operate freely in Anambra without any molestation (compare with treatments to LP even in other South East states), and allowed his billboards which are, in many places, wrongly placed almost on the roads. As a person, I have several shortcomings but being petty is not one of them. We have shown him tremendous goodwill—which he did not extend to the same Labour Party when he was Governor (Senator Ifeanyi Ubah, as LP governorship candidate in 2013 was denied the use of Ekwueme Square for his rallies).

Someone reminded me that a mob has no head and hence cannot reason. The same Peter Obi was one of those who told Ndigbo that APGA was the vehicle through which Igbos would organize to engage the rest of Nigeria politically. He was said to have sworn to Ojukwu and publicly that he would quit politics the day he leaves APGA. The rest is history. When he was the Vice-Presidential candidate under PDP in 2019, the emotive train then dubbed the ticket “the Igbo project”. As then chairman of planning and strategy committee of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, I cautioned for a more pragmatic approach but the emotive blaze of the time held sway. We were vindicated afterwards.

By the way, APGA is Nigeria’s third largest political party today (after APC and PDP, it is the only other party with a state governor and third largest presence at the National Assembly). And some people have the temerity to suggest that APGA’s candidate should “step down” for Peter Obi as the “Igbo candidate”. I wonder when Igbos met to choose a candidate. They even argue that afterall APGA supported President Jonathan and did not field a candidate then. Well, the fact as I was told was that no candidate showed interest under APGA then. Besides, APGA’s unwritten rule then was to support the party at the centre — which, if we apply this time, should actually be APC. But we have our own candidate. Recall that all the political parties had their primaries during the same period. Once Peter Obi realized that he won’t get the presidential or vice-presidential ticket of PDP he ran to Labour Party (a political party known as a transit camp for aspirants who lost primaries in APC, PDP and APGA), and the chorus by a vociferous minority now is that LP has become the “Igbo project”, and the APGA candidate who emerged the same time as Peter Obi should “step down”. Ridiculous! Now I truly understand that a mob cannot reason.

When will Ndigbo understand and learn politics, especially of Nigeria? When Bola Ahmed Tinubu defied the political wind of the time and stood out as the “only man standing” in AD and later AC (before ACN) against a sitting president of Yoruba descent, no one accused him of being “anti-Yoruba”. Indeed, everyone recalls that both Tinubu and President Obasanjo disagreed politically, and probably still disagree—but none is being accused of being “anti- Yoruba”. Under Tinubu, the South West strategically organized under a different political party, the ACN and went into a formidable alliance that kicked out a sitting president (in Africa?), and that alliance is not broken yet. Igbos, in their frenzied Nzogbu nzogbu politics, have sadly found themselves in a political cul de sac. Tragic indeed! When will my people smell the morning coffee?

Let me now address the substance of my response during the interview, and I stand by what I said. On record, I doubt that any governor in Nigeria has paid as much tribute to his predecessors as I have done during campaigns and in office. I always said that ALL of them did well and to the best of their abilities. Yes, Peter Obi was governor for 8 years (2006 -2014) during a period of unprecedented oil boom and prosperity in Nigeria (Nigerian economy was growing at average of 6-8% per annum, and oil price was highest during this time). I have seen all kinds of funny comments and interpretations regarding what I said about the value of his “investments”. Some refer to SabMiller and bandy all kinds of figures as to how the investment of $12 million is now worth less than $3 million. Of course, there is room for legitimate debate about the logic or quality of the investments. For example, people might differ as to the propriety of using taxpayers money to promote a company in which one is a shareholder in the name of “investment”, or even whether so called “savings” are warranted when there were dozens of schools without roofs or classrooms, or local governments without access roads or hospitals without doctors/nurses. A Bishop recently publicly advised that I should please try to construct the “Ngige type of quality roads”, stating that the ones done by his successor (that is, Peter Obi) had washed off, while Ngige’s remained. I promised and we are delivering quality roads that Anambra has not seen before.

For sure, prudence in public resource management is desirable and we are opening new frontiers in that area. People will however differ as to whether saving money in the bank account is a KPI (key performance indicator) for a government where poverty is escalating except where its institutions for absorption are weak or where the government has no robust/big agenda for transformation. Governments exist to save lives, not to save money. We can debate and differ on this— (by the way, I know when/how it is appropriate to “save” as I built Nigeria’s foreign reserves from $10 billion I inherited to all time $63 billion, and even after paying $12 billion to pay-off Nigeria’s external debt and going through unprecedented global financial crisis, I still left behind about $45 billion— Go and verify!).

Funny, in the rabid frenzy to grab every straw, they cut a clip during our governorship debate where I was stating vital statistics and they claimed that I was “praising” Peter Obi then while committing a crime now by “criticising” him. Hahahaha! Well, it is true that I said during the debate that, according to National Bureau of Statistics, poverty in Anambra actually grew (from less than 25% in 2005) to about 53% under Peter Obi in 2010/2011 but fell under Willie Obiano to 14.78% in 2020. Yes, poverty more than doubled under Peter Obi and more than 50% of Ndi Anambra were in poverty under him. Go and verify! I am Governor, and sitting on privileged information which I will not want to use against a political opponent. But on matters of facts, I will always state same as is. As the saying goes, you can fool some of the people some of the time but never all the people all the time. Enough said for now!

Where do we go from here? I listened to my friend Gov El-Rufai on TV explaining why the northern governors decided that power should shift to the South. According to him, they asked themselves what would their founding fathers—Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa or Aminu Kano have done in the circumstance. Today, I ask my people, Ndigbo: do we ask what Azikiwe or M.I. Okpara or Akanu Ibiam would do in the present circumstance? I worry that Ndigbo as Nigeria’s foremost itinerant tribe and with the greatest stake in the Nigerian project does not yet have a strategy to engage Nigeria—politically! Every four years, we resurface with emotive Nzogbu Nzogbu political dance (“it is our turn dance” but without organization or strategy) and fizzle out afterwards while others work 24/7 strategizing and organizing.

Let’s be clear: Peter Obi knows that he can’t and won’t win. He knows the game he is playing, and we know too; and he knows that we know. The game he is playing is the main reason he didn’t return to APGA. The brutal truth (and some will say, God forbid) is that there are two persons/parties seriously contesting for president: the rest is exciting drama! That many Americans may not like the fact that Joe Biden (79 years) and Donald Trump (76 years) are two frontrunners for president in their parties does not remove the fact that if both of them emerge as candidates, definitely one of them will be president in 2024.

As my brother, I wish him well and even pray for him. I told him during his courtesy call that my prayer is that himself or Prof Umeadi of APGA would win, why not? That is from my heart, but I also told him that my head and facts on the ground led me to know that it’s probability is next to zero (what I cannot say before you, I won’t say behind you). So I already told him my opinion. Indeed, there is no credible pathway for him near the first two positions, and if care is not taken, he won’t even near the third position. Analysts tell him you don’t need “structure” to win. Fantasy! Of course, LP won governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun on social media and via phantom polls, while getting barely 2,000 votes on ground. Creating a credible third force for presidential election in Nigeria requires a totally different strategy and extreme hard work.

Of course, Peter Obi will get some votes, and may probably win in Anambra state— as “home boy”. But Anambra is not Nigeria. If he likes, I can even campaign for him but that won’t change much. From internal state by state polling available to me, he was on course to get 25% in 5 states as at August this year. The latest polling shows that it is down to four states, and declining. Not even in Lagos state (supposed headquarters of urban youths) where Labour Party could not find candidates to contest for House of Reps or Senate. The polls also show that he is taking votes away mostly from PDP. Indeed, if I were Asiwaju Tinubu, I would even give Peter Obi money as someone heading one of the departments of his campaign because Obi is making Tinubu’s pathway to victory much easier by indirectly pulling down PDP. It is what it is!

The current fleeting frenzy, if not checked, will cost Ndigbo dearly for years. The South East has the lowest number of votes of any region, but it is also the only region where the presidential race might be a 4-way race (it is a two-way race in the other 5 regions) thereby ensuring that our votes won’t count in the making of the next president of Nigeria. Afterwards, we would start complaining that we don’t get “what we deserve” or cry of marginalization. During the 2019 presidential election, the five South East States were united for PDP but contributed merely 1.6 million votes to PDP which was about the votes that Kano state gave to Buhari. The emotions might run to heavens but politics-power is about cold calculations, organization and building alliances for power. In a democracy, it is a game of numbers. So far, I don’t see any of these— and 2023 might again be a wasted opportunity for Ndigbo! What is our Plan B when Peter Obi loses in February 2023? Some people prefer that we should play the Ostrich while Peter Obi toys with the collective destiny of over 60 million Igbos. Yes, you pray that he wins, but what if he fails as he is certain to? The Bible says that my people perish for lack of knowledge. As the saying goes, only those who Plan can control the future. Ndigbo, wake up and smell the coffee!

What would Zik of Africa or M.I. Okpara do in this circumstance? Our founding fathers understood that in politics, you don’t get what you deserve but what you bargain/negotiate, and you negotiate with your organization and VOTES. Not social media militancy or bullying (where over 90% of actual voters are not on social media)! Our fathers built alliances with other major political parties in other regions (not with socio-cultural groups that don’t command any votes), and Ndigbo were in the reckoning in the first and second republics. After the elections, we will see how many votes any of the leaders of the socio-cultural groups will get for Peter Obi from their wards. Sometimes I even sense a conspiracy to nudge us on a path to nowhere thereby further pushing us into irrelevance, and I pray that I am wrong. Just my two cents!

It is not too late for Ohanaeze Ndigbo and progressive Igbo leaders to pre-emptively start charting a pragmatic future for Ndigbo in Nigeria after the elections. Armchair social media analysts can have the luxury of fantasizing with wild speculations. Right or wrong, they earn their pay and with no consequences. For us as leaders, the lives of tens of millions are at stake. We have a historic duty to act and being silent or politically correct is not an option. For starters, Ohanaeze should study the report of my committee (planning and strategy) in 2019. It may still be relevant today. Second, Ndigbo should seriously study the MoU signed at the Yar’Adua Centre in 2010. The leader of Igbo Political Association, Chief Simon Okeke and our members are still there. Thirdly and for me, Ndigbo should strategize and bargain especially with the TWO candidates likely to be president on at least four central issues:

A) Lasting peace and security in the South East, including the release and engagement with Nnamdi Kanu.

B)South East Economic transformation agenda and the FGN’s Marshall Plan for the South East as promised since the end of the Civil War (the post war ‘reconstruction’). We appreciate the Second Niger Bridge and recent contract for MTN to reconstruct the Onitsha-Enugu expressway. But the rail-lines to the five state capitals, speedy access to the sea, highways linking South East to the North and South South, addressing our existential threat as gully erosion capital of Africa, Free Trade and Export Processing Zones, etc.

C) Restructuring Agenda for Nigeria that devolves powers/resources to the subnational entities and in which it would no longer matter where the President comes from.

D) Levelling the playing field for the unleashing of the private sector and the full participation of Ndigbo in the economic and governance space; etc.

To conclude, let me once again wish my brother Peter Obi good luck. He should have fun and enjoy the fleeting frenzy of the moment. But he must moderate the desperation as exhibited by his social media mob. There is a limit to propaganda. A mob action often reflects the character of its leader. No one has a monopoly of social media violence, and no one should play God. Life won’t end by February/March 2023.

I hope that after February 2023, Peter Obi will return to APGA (the party that made him everything he is politically) as I offered him on 8th March, 2022 and begin the hard work, if he truly wants to be president of Nigeria. It won’t happen by desperately jumping from one party to another or by unleashing a social media mob on everyone who slightly disagrees with you. I decided to pen my views personally — again for the records. On this, I don’t mind being a one man minority. As history beckons, my conscience and sense of duty to my people dictate that I should never be silent. I will happily accept the judgment of history for standing by the truth!

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Opinion

Increase in Minimum Capital Requirements for Nigerian Banks (Pt. II)

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By Bashorun J. K. Randle

It is self-evident that whatever the Governor of the Central Bank is doing (or not doing), the backing (and banking!!) of the President is critical. On that score, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu did not pull any punches when he spoke at the Hague, Netherlands during the business session of the bilateral meeting with the Dutch team, led by Prime Minister Mark Dutte.

“I am ever ready to take tough decisions in the best interest of the people, even if with initial pains. I am a determined leader; I will continue to take the difficult decisions that will benefit our people, even if there is a short-term pain. I am unafraid of the consequences once I know that my actions are in the best long-term interests of all Nigerians.”

Hence, we must recognize the over arching influence of Mr. President in economic, financial and political matters. When he was sworn in on 29th May 2023, he released an unscripted bombshell while delivering his inaugural address at Eagle Square, Abuja: Shortly afterwards, he spilled the beans in Paris while addressing Nigerians. According to AFP [Agence Francais-Presse]

“When I got to the podium, I was possessed with courage and I said fuel subsidy is gone. Also, no more parallel (black market) for dollars.”

On November 22, 2023, when President Tinubu addressed German-Nigerian Business Forum again he did not pull any punches:

“Nigeria voted for me for reforms, and from day one of my inauguration, I started the reforms. To me if you didn’t mention me in the Guinness Book of Records, I’d strive to find a way to insert myself because I did it without expectation.”

The endorsement of the IMF [International Monetary Fund] followed on February 14, 2024.

“The new Tinubu Administration has made a strong start, tackling deep-rooted structural issues in challenging circumstances. Immediately it adopted two policy reforms that its predecessors had shield away from: fuel subsidy removal and the unification of the official (dollar/naira) exchange rates.”

Front page editorial of “Nigerian Tribune” newspaper.
Headline: “BRIBES : TINUBU’s CHARGE TO INVESTORS”

“President Bola Tinubu recently set tongues wagging when, during his just concluded trip to Doha, the Qatari capital, he told the country’s captains of industry to report directly to him if any Nigerian official demanded a bribe from them in order to facilitate a business transaction. Revealed in a signed statement by Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, the president’s message to Qatari investors at the Nigeria-Qatar Business and Investment Forum could not have been clearer: “Do not offer a bribe to any of our people, and if it is requested or taken from you, report to us. You will have access to me.”

Eager to drive home the point that the country is open to business and will adopt a business-friendly approach on his watch, he added: “Whatever is the obstacle or problem that some of you might have experienced; it is in the past because there is no obstacle in the future. We are removing obstacles today, and we are going to continue to remove all obstacles. We have done so much within nine months. And I assure you, it is free entry, and free exit. Your funds will flow smoothly into and out of our country. Bring your investments.” Finally, he urged Qatari investors not to allow “perceptions” about the country to “become a hindrance to [their] will to invest,” since “Nigeria is serious about revolutionizing investment promotion.”

We could not be more delighted to read this promise of radical transparency from the president since, at the very least, it shows that he is not unaware of the tremendous odds typically faced by any entity- individual or corporate- seeking to do business in Nigeria. While, as the president mentioned, corruption is the most significant among these challenges, it goes without saying that it is just one of many tangible and intangible obstacles to investment.

Accordingly, not only do we welcome the president’s statement, for nothing could be more timely, we urge him to do everything within his capacity to ensure that the book is thrown at whoever flouts it, no matter how highly placed such a person is in the current administration. In other words, nothing is more important than the president backing his rhetoric with action, for understandably, many Nigerians are bound to sneer, saying that they have heard such soaring rhetoric before and that when the time came for egregious misdemeanors to be punished, the government lost its nerve. Since such skeptics have a point, the task before the president is to show that their skepticism has no basis, and that he will let the hammer fall on whichever official demands inducement to do their job.
Until then, he can, as a matter of fact, do something about the current situation in the upper legislative house, where rumours of budget-padding and dubious awards to senators have cast a shadow upon the integrity of the lawmakers. If the government is truly interested in fighting corruption, it can do no better right now than to act on the many cases of corruption dotting the landscape, including those affecting and relating to those within the inner circle of government. This would send the right and correct signals that Nigeria is ready for positive change and a new approach to public life rather than following the usual ineffective and tawdry public assertions that mean nothing in reality.”

The Central Bank of Nigeria used to boast of an excellent Research Department with a world class library. The King’s College Old Boys Association [KCOBA] would not take matters for granted. Here is a list of books which are to be delivered to the Governor of the Central Bank, Mr. Yemi Cardoso and Deputy Governor, Mr. Phillip Ekeazor (who are both old boys of St. Gregory’s College, Lagos:

(i) “Curse of Cash” by Kenneth S. Rogoff
(Harvard University)

(ii) “The Origin And Prevention of Major Wars” by Professor Robert Rothberg
(Harvard University)

(iii) “The Bottom Billion” by Professor Paul Collier
(Oxford University)

(iv) “What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing The Threat” by Professor Louise Richardson
(Oxford University)

(v) “The Elite Africa Project” by Professor Peter Lewis
(John Hopkins University)

(vi) “WONDER DRUG”
(7 Scientifically Proven Ways
That Serving Others Is The
Best Medicine for Yourself) by Stephen Trzeciak M.D.
and
Anthony Mazzarelli M.D

(vii) “THE ROAD TO FREEDOM, ECONOMICS
AND THE GOOD SOCIETY” by Joseph E. Stiglitz
(Winner of Nobel Prize)
Professor at Harvard; Yale;
Emerson College, University
Of California, Berkeley

From the archives we have the following vignettes:
(i) When the British Bank For West Africa
(now known as First Bank of Nigeria Plc)
was formed in 1894 among its founding
shareholders was Dr. J.K. Randle. The
inaugural meeting was held at the Colony
Hotel, in London.

(ii) When British Bank of West Africa launched a branch in Kano in 1929, Alhassan Dantata (Aliko Dangote’s grandfather) opened an account by depositing twenty camel-loads of silver coins.

(iii) “The Chairman of EFCC [Economic and Financial Crimes Commission] has announced that the embattled former Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello withdrew funds from the government treasury and obtained U.S.$720,000 from a Bureau de Change to pay for his children’s school fees in advance at American International School, Abuja”

“Business Day” newspaper of May 8, 2024
Headline: “CHIKE-OBI CAUTIONS AGAINST POOR EXECUTION AMID BANKS’ RECAPITALISATION”

Mustapha Chike-Obi, chairman, Bank Directors’ Association of Nigeria, on Friday lauded the Central Bank’s latest bank recapitalisation policy but warned that poor execution could scuttle the gains.

Chike-Obi spoke at a roundtable assessing the bank recapitalisation policy organised by BusinessDay Media Limited in Lagos. He noted the 2004/2005 recapitalisation exercise was a good policy but was poorly implemented due to governance issues.
The CBN on March 28 announced new capital requirements for Nigerian lenders from commercial to merchant banks. The last such exercise was in 2004/2005, two decades ago.

During the recapitalisation of 2004/2005, a surge in liquidity occurred without adequate investment opportunities, leading to an asset bubble and subsequently the dismissal of several bank chiefs.

“A good policy that brings bad results means execution was problematic along the way. We are seeing bad results from good policies and nobody is taking responsibility for that. We should celebrate the policy and the results,” he said.

Speaking further, he said, “I encourage more engagement from the CBN, it’s better if they talk to the banks about why retained earnings are not considered at this point in time.

I think there should have been better engagement, some things need to be explained. Why does an international licence require more capital than a national licence? If you’re diversifying across nations, does that mean more risk? If I have one branch in London as Fidelity, am I in the same boat as a UBA who has many branches in many countries?” Chike-Obi, Chairman of Fidelity Bank Plc, said.

The CBN said all international banks should move their capital to a minimum of N500 billion; national banks up to a minimum of N200 billion; regional banks (N50 billion); merchant banks (N50 billion) and N20 billion for non-interest banks operating nationally and N10 billion for those operating regionally.

In his keynote address, Ike Chioke, Group Managing Director Afrinvest (West Africa) Limited, noted that “after the announcement of the last recapitalisation we had 89 banks operating with N311 billion total capital, which was equivalent to $2.4 billion at the time.

We ended up by December 31 2005 with 25 commercial banks each with a minimum of 25 billion and a total capital of N932.0 bn.
He said that commercial banks have a capital gap of N3.7 trillion to meet the capital requirements while the merchant banks have N200.6 billion.

There is some scepticism that banks will take on significantly more lending to the private sector once their minimum capital is raised given the risk in an economy battling with accelerating inflation and a severe cost-of-living crisis.

“We can still lend, but we’re limited in how much. As a banker, it’s more attractive to buy Treasury bills at 25 percent than to lend to people,” Chike-Obi said.

“There’s a reluctance by banks to lend. I would have reduced CRR, and told banks they can’t buy more than 10 percent of T-bills. This will force them to lend to people.”
He also said the notion that banks give people money to buy FX is not true.

“People only buy FX because it makes sense to them. It’s a rational economic decision. What we have to do is to make it more rational to hold assets in naira than in dollars. I’ll raise short term rates to 30%, and prevent banks from having more than 10 percent in T-bills.

What we have doesn’t allow growth and banks aren’t lending. I believe GDP growth will be lower in the fourth quarter than predictions. The raise in capital is necessary because the FX adjusted basis has gone down. So, the recapitalisation isn’t as massive as it looks from the outside,” he said.
Front page of “The Punch” newspaper of April 22, 2024
Headline: The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria

Recommendations made by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria on the New Minimum Capital Requirements for Banks in Nigeria: Our Position.

“Given the above, the following recommendations are made to ensure a successful implementation of the programme:

1. The CBN may consider allowing the inclusion of retained earnings on the condition that they are not impaired by losses, to make it easier for the banks to comply with the new capitalization policy.

2. The two-year period allowed is considered sufficient to implement the programme. However, in view of the young age of non-interest banks in Nigeria, they should be allowed a longer period, probably three years, to meet the minimum capital requirements.

3. The Institute urges the CBN to extend the 30-day period it gave banks to come up with an implementation plan to 60 days given that it would take some time to obtain the consent of shareholders.

4. It is also important that the CBN provides some incentives to banks to facilitate the recapitalization exercise as was done in 2005. This can take the form of tax incentives and ensuring that the overall cost of recapitalization is low by seeking the cooperation of relevant stakeholder institutions such as the Federal Inland Revenue Service, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Nigerian Exchange as well as the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission given that banks have the option of raising funds through the Capital Market or Mergers and Acquisitions.

5. The CBN should adequately supervise the banks to ensure that the costs of recapitalization are not transferred to their customers by way of higher bank charges.

6. The CBN is advised to engage the Bankers Committee on measures to put in place to ensure adequate compensation to staff of banks that may be disengaged as a result of the recapitalization exercise.

7. Exercise due verification to ensure that corrupt and laundered money do not find their way int the capitalization.”

Frontpage of “ThisDay” newspaper of April 13, 2024
Headline: AUDIT REPORT: SENATE PROBING 774 FEDERAL AGENCIES OVER AUDITOR GENERAL’S QUERIES”

“The Senate is currently scrutinizing the financial records of 774 Federal Agencies based on the queries raised against them in the 2019 report of the Auditor General for the Federation.

The Chairman, Senate Public Accounts Committee (SPAC), Senator Aliyu Wadada, disclosed this yesterday in his Keffi, Nasarawa State, country home while speaking with journalists. He noted that his committee was not out to witch-hunt anyone but pledged that members of the panel would discharge their responsibilities diligently in the best interest of the country.

Wadada, also disclosed that the 10th National Assembly with the support of President Bola Tinubu and critical stakeholders in the nation’s economy would soon embark on the amendment to the 2007 Procurement Act so as to curb financial infractions before they take place.

He nevertheless appealed to leaders at all tiers and heads of government institutions at the Federal, State and Local government levels to embrace the spirit of self-discipline and fear of God in the discharge of their responsibilities.

The Senator, who is representing Nasarawa West Senatorial District on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), said no matter how beautiful a law is crafted, it needed godly people to implement it.

Wadada said, “When I became the Chairman, Senate Public Accounts Committee (SPAC), I was emphatic on the need for President Bola Tinubu to appoint the substantive Auditor General for the Federation (AuGF).

“I even wrote a letter to that effect to the President and he responded by appointing a substantive AuGF.

The AuGF report for the 2020, 2021, 2022 fiscal years were not all ready. It was only the 2019 Auditor General’s report that was then ready for us to take actions on.

The Auditor General’s report for 2020 was ready at the time I became the Senate Public Account Committee but it could not be signed by the acting Auditor General for the Federation.

As we talk, the 2020 Auditor General’s report is ready and the substantive AuGF has appended his signature to it. The development is a confirmation that the Presidency under the stewardship of President Bola Tinubu is available, is responsive and supportive of the Committee on Public Accounts in the two chambers of the National Assembly. We have since started work on the 2019 Auditor General’s report before us.

Under my chairmanship of this sensitive and strategic committee, I have repeatedly said that we are not out to witch-hunt or pull down anybody.

Our ultimate objective vis-à-vis the primary focus of the committee is to ensure transparency and accountability in the management of public funds.”

Front page of “The Punch” newspaper of April 12, 2024
Headline: VIETNAM TYCOON SENTENCED TO DEATH IN
$12BN FRAUD CASE”

“A court in Vietnam sentenced real estate tycoon Truong My Lan Thursday to death over her role in a 304 trillion dong ($12.46bn) financial fraud case, the country’s biggest on record, state media reported.

CNN reports that her trial, which began on March 5 and ended earlier than planned, was one dramatic result of a campaign against corruption that the leader of the ruling Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong, has pledged to stamp out.

Lan, the chairwoman of real estate developer Van Thinh Phat Holdings Group, was found guilty of embezzlement, bribery and violations of banking rules at the end of a trial in the business hub of Ho Chi Minh City, state media said.

We will keep fighting to see what we can do,” a family member told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. Before the verdict, he had said Lan would appeal against the sentence.
Lan had pleaded not guilty to the embezzlement and bribery charges, Nguyen Huy Thiep, one of Lan’s lawyers told Reuters.

“Of course she will appeal the verdict,” he added, noting she was sentenced to death for the embezzlement charge and to 20 years each for the other two charges of bribery and violations of banking regulations.

Vietnam imposes the death penalty mostly for violent offences but also economic crimes. Human rights groups say it has executed hundreds of convicts in recent years, mainly by lethal injection.

The Thanh Nien newspaper said 84 defendants in the case received sentences ranging from probation for three years to life imprisonment. Among them are Lan’s husband, Eric Chu, a businessman from Hong Kong, who was sentenced to nine years in jail, and her niece, who got 17 years.

Lan started as a cosmetics trader at the central market in Ho Chi Minh City, helping her mother, she told judges during the trial, according to state media.

She later founded her real estate company, Van Thinh Phat, in 1992, the same year when she got married, according to state media. She was found guilty, along with her accomplices, of siphoning off more than 304 trillion dongs from Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank, which she effectively controlled through dozens of proxies despite rules strictly limiting large shareholding in lenders, according to investigators.

From early 2018 through October 2022, when the state bailed out SCB after a run on its deposits triggered by Lan’s arrest, she appropriated large sums by arranging unlawful loans to shell companies, investigators said.

The defendant’s action not only violate the property management rights of individuals and organisations but also put SCB under scrutiny, eroding people’s trust in the leadership of the Party and State,” state newspaper VnExpress cited the jury as saying.

The bank is currently propped up by the central bank and faces a complex restructuring under which authorities are trying to establish the legal status of hundreds of assets that were used as collateral for loans and bonds issued by VTP. The bonds alone are worth $1.2bn.

Some of the assets are high-end properties, but many others are unfinished projects. Before her fall from grace, she had played a key role in Vietnam’s financial world, getting involved in the previous rescue of troubled SCB more than a decade before she contributed to the bank’s new crisis.”

Front page of “Africa Voice” newspaper of 29 April, 2024
Headline: “PROF WINS TOP AWARD FOR ISLAMIC MORAL ECONOMY”

“Professor Mehmet Asutay has been selected as the first-place winner of the 2024 Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) Prize for Impactful Achievement in Islamic Economics and influential contributions to the field of Islamic economics and finance.

The prize laureate is a Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Political Economy & Finance at Durham University, United Kingdom. He is an internationally recognized academic who produced pioneering and impactful scholarly works.

Professor Asutay was selected in recognition of his novel work on Islamic moral economy and the articulation of Islamic finance to be supportive of sustainable development and the welfare of human beings. This year’s prize cycle aims to recognize, reward and encourage significant knowledge contributions in Islamic economics with the potential to solve major development challenges of IsDB member countries. The prize comes with a US$50,000 award for the first prize winner, US$30,000 for second prize, and US$20,000 for third prize. However, the second and third-position prizes are withheld this year.

Every year the winners of the IsDB Prize are selected by a different committee of experts from outside the IsDB Group, whose work is coordinated by the Islamic Development Bank Institute (IsDB).

The winner of this year’s prize will receive the award during the IsDB Group Annual Meetings, scheduled for 27 – 30 April 2024 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In his comments on this occasion, the President of the ISDB, H.E. Dr. Muhammad AI Jasser, congratulated the laureate for his impactful knowledge contributions and wished him success in this various endeavours. Acting Director Generl of IsDB, Dr. Sami Al-Suwailem, also congratulated H.E. Dr. Al Jasser for guiding the Institute towards the successful coordination of the prize.”

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Opinion

Rivers’ Crisis: Wike’s Illegal Impeachment Plot Against Fubara Distabilizes Your Administration, Timi Frank Tells TInubu, APC

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Former Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Timi Frank, on Friday, warned that the current illegal impeachment plot against the Governor of Rivers State, Sim Fubara, would have devastating effect on the President Bola Tinubu’s administration.

He therefore called on President Tinubu to call Wike to order in his bid to install another Ikwere man as Governor in Rivers State through the back door.

Frank made these assertions in a statement made available to reporters in Abuja. He underscored the critical and strategic importance of Rivers State to the economic, social and political survival of the country.

According to him, Fubara was freely elected by Rivers’ people during the last general election, “so any attempt to illegally remove him will lead to a very serious political crisis in the state that may not only affect the economy but setback the present administration’s revenue and development drive.”

He declared that the renewed orchestration by Wike to illegally remove Fubara, is an attempt to undermine the Ijaw people in Rivers State.

Frank said: “Since 1999, this is the first time in Rivers State when you have a Governor from the Ijaw ethnic extraction.

“Every other person who has become governor since 1999 had successfully done two tenures of eight years.
So, Wike must allow Fubara to do his own term
peacefully.

“Even though it is common knowledge that he was one of those that were instrumental and backed Fubara to become governor, that does not mean Fubara will now become his stooge and neglect to carry out his constitutional duties as the governor of Rivers State.”

Frank, who represents the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) in East Africa and the Middle East, added: “Fubara was not elected for the sole purpose of protecting the interests of a godfather or a dictator.

“I dare say that the same way Wike feels that he supported Fubara to become governor is the same way he was supported by ex-President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife, Patience, to become governor of Rivers State which he ruled for eight years.

“So, God will always use people to support anybody to become governor or whatever position they aspire to, but that does not mean those who emerged will now become slaves to those that helped them to power.

“During Wike’s time, he was not a slave to Jonathan nor his wife, Patience that helped him to become governor but rather he displayed ingratitude to Jonathan and his wife.

“Therefore, we are using this opportunity to call on Tinubu to call on his Minister Wike to stop his illegal and devilish plot against Fubara.”

He noted that even the Rivers State House of Assembly members now being engineered by Wike to impeach Fubara are not known to law in line with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by reason of their defection from PDP to APC.

“The only constitutionally recognized members are the few ones that did not defect to APC. These are the only members vested with the rights to carry out legislative activities in Rivers State.

“Therefore, Tinubu must make sure that there is peace, law and order in Rivers State to allow Fubara to work and deliver on his campaign promises to the people.

“The President must not allow this illegal impeachment being masterminded by Wike against Fubara to trigger the wrath of Ijaw people against his administration.

“Already the Ijaw people are unhappy with his administration because they believe he has handed over the entire Niger Delta region to Wike to dictate and decree according to his whims and caprices.”

According to him, the perception is not not good for Tinubu’s administration “because Wike does not have the capacity to control or influence any Ijaw man or the people of Niger Delta.”

“Let the President advise and restrain Wike to stay out of Rivers’ political activities otherwise what is about to befall his government will come from Rivers state because what is happening is clear tribalism as Wike want to install another Ikwere man as governor through the back door,” he said

Besides, he said that the Niger Delta people will do everything to stand by Fubara and the people of Rivers state.

He called on the President to heed the call of Ijaw people who called on him to end Wike’s present desperation and madness in Rivers State, like Chief E.K. Clark, Alhaji Asari Dokubo and others who are insisting that Wike’s shenanigans and impunity must stop.

He added: “If this crisis is allowed to degenerate into an ethnic war in Rivers State, it would affect both the state and the entire country negatively.”

Between Fubara and Wike,
If there is anybody that Tinubu’s government should hold to account, it is Wike following revelation that he was declaring N12billion monthly as Internally Generated Revenue during his tenure, which has now risen sharply by over N25 billion IGR monthly under Fubara’s administration.

“So if there is anybody that should have been questioned and facing trial it is somebody’s like Wike.”

He warned Wike attempt to use Federal Might to gain political mileage in Rivers State will not work because Ijaw people are not known to be afraid and they will surely fight to safeguard their political interests.

Comrade Timi Frank is the ULMWP Ambassador to East Africa and Middle East

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Opinion

Yahaya Bello: Victim or Aggressor?

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By Prof Mike Ozekhome SAN

INTRODUCTION

The nation has been agog with news of the ongoing face-off between the EFCC and the immediate past Governor of Kogi State, Alhaji Yahaya Bello and the others over the (EFCC)’s attempt to arrest Bello in connection with alleged official corruption involving the sum of 80.2 billion naira which he allegedly misappropriated while in office for eight years as Kogi State Governor.

Accusations and counter-accusations have raged back and forth between both camps (with not a few officious by-standers proffering gratuitous, ill-informed advice in the guise of opinions). As usual, the truth is always the first casualty. In this case, it is worsened by the fact that the matter is the subject of on-going litigation before at least two different courts: a High Court in the former Governor’s home State of Kogi and the Federal High Court in Abuja. The situation has been compounded by the order of injunction granted by a Kogi State High Court restraining the Commission from arresting or attempting to arrest the former Governor. The alleged breach of the order so irked the judge who issued it that he apparently had no option but to cite the EFCC boss for contempt. That order has been stayed by the Court of Appeal. Because these proceedings are ongoing, no more will be said on them.

Let me stress here that I am neither on the side of Yahaya Bello, nor that of the EFCC, or the Government of Kogi State whose funds are allegedly at the heart of the dispute. I will not cry more than the bereaved. My intervention here is limited to the legal ramifications and propriety of the steps taken so far by both sides of the divide.

BACKGROUND

Before Bello’s Abuja house was raided in a gestapo-like manner on April 17, 2024, Bello had, believing that his fundamental human rights were being threatened, approached a Kogi State High Court seeking an interim restraining order against the EFCC (Commission) pending the determination of a substantive suit before the court.
Justice Isa Abdullahi (presiding), who was satisfied with the grounds upon which the relief was sought, on February 9, 2024, gave an interim restraining order against the EFCC from taking any action against Bello, pending the determination of the substantive matter.

The Commission, dissatisfied, approached the Court of Appeal, Abuja, on March 11, 2024, requesting the appellate court to set aside the interim restraining order. It argued that the lower court lacked the requisite jurisdiction to assist Bello escape his deserved justice. It also argued that Bello could not stop the Commission from carrying out its statutory duties, nor use the lower court to escape its invitation, investigation and possible prosecution as the court’s order directed.

The Appeal Court adjourned hearing to April 22, 2024, while refusing to hear EFCC’s application for a stay of the order of interim injunction. In further affirming its earlier interim orders, the Kogi State High Court on April 17, 2024, delivered judgment in the substantive suit and directed the Commission to first seek the leave of the Court of Appeal before taking further steps against Bello. It granted some injunctive reliefs against the Commission “from continuing to harass, threaten to arrest or detain Bello”. The court directed the Commission to file a charge against Bello in an appropriate court if it had some reason to do so. The Commission later obtained a warrant of arrest against Bello from the Federal High Court presided over by Justice Emeka Nwite. On April 22, the anti-graft agency filed a notice of withdrawal of its appeal, predicating it on the ground that events had overtaken the appeal; while admitting that the appeal was filed out of time.

Bello’s team promptly challenged the arrest warrant by the Federal High Court and Justice Emeka Nwite has adjourned for his ruling on the propriety of his warrant of arrest against Bello.

WHEN AND HOW TO SUMMON A SUSPECT FOR INVESTIGATION BY LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES

I condemn any brute and sensational arrest of a suspect such as Bello. It does not matter the station of life of such suspect, whether high or low. Hooded DSS operatives once did it to some Justices of the Supreme Court and other Judges on 8th October, 2016, when they viciously and savagely broke into their homes in the wee hours of the morning. I had condemned it in very strong words. (See https://www.bellanaija.com/2016/10/falana-ozekhome-melaye-react-to-arrest-of-judges-by-dss/) (October 10, 2016). Some of the victims like Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, JSC (of blessed memory) never recovered from the shock. He later died. Others took early premature retirement. Was the Commission therefore right in attempting to arrest Bello in the manner it did as some commentators have approved in their writeups? I think not. The relevant provisions of the law such as Sections 8(1) of the Anti-Torture Act, 2017; Section 6 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 (applicable in Abuja, the FCT); and Section 35(2)&(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, the sum total of which enjoin the fair and humane treatment of a suspect whether during his /her arrest, investigation, detention pending trial and arraignment. Was a bench warrant necessary against a suspect on whom charges had not been served as in the Bello scenario? I think not. Let us look at some decided cases on this.

In USANI V. DUKE [2006] 17 NWLR (Pt.1009)610 the Court of Appeal held thus:
“A bench warrant is a discretionary power of a court invoked to secure the attendance as in this case of an unwilling witness under the threat of contempt of court to give evidence on any area of a suit within his knowledge. It is not a discretion which is exercised as a matter of course. The court has to be satisfied that there is absolute necessity to procure the appearance of the witness in court. The lower tribunal based its refusal to issue bench warrant on non-compliance with section 229(2) of the Evidence Act.” Per ADEKEYE, J.C.A. (P. 38, paras. B-E)”.

In APUGO V. FRN (2017) LPELR-41643 CA, the Court of Appeal eruditely held that:
“Section 382 (4) and (5) of the ACJA provides for how to serve a Charge and notice of trial on a Defendant, who is not in custody, … In this case, the Respondent had filed a motion exparte under section 382(5) of the ACJA 2015 to serve Appellant by substituted means. That motion was not argued, but the trial court jumped the gun and ordered for the bench warrant to arrest the Appellant: and when it found out that that was wrong, it suspended the implementation of the bench warrant (instead of setting it aside) the trial court yet still ordered the Appellant to appear on the next adjourned date to answer to the Charge against him, pursuant to section 87 of the ACJA 2015. As earlier discussed and held above, I do not think the trial court had the vires to make such order, in the circumstances as I think it went beyond its role as impartial adjudicator, to that of the Prosecutor or Police or EFCC to forcefully produce the Accused person, without serving him with any charge or notice of trial. See NWADIKE v. State (2015) LPELR- 24550 (CA), Ededet v. State (2008) 14 NWLR (Pt 1106) 52. I do not think section 87 of the ACJA 2015, can apply without recourse to section 382 of the same Act which requires a Defendant to be served personally or by substituted means with the charge or information and notice of trial. I believe it is upon compliance with section 382 (3) (4) and (5) of the Act where there is a pending charge, that the trial court can have the powers to apply the section 87 of the Act which says: “ A court has authority to compel the attendance before it of a suspect who is within the jurisdiction and is charged with an offence committed within the state Federal or the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, as the case may be or which according to law may be dealt as if the offence had been committed within jurisdiction and to deal with the suspect according to law”. Per MBABA J.C.A J.C.A (Pp. 46-48, paras. F-F)’’.

See also sections 113, 131, 394, 398 and 399 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015.

These domestic laws are reinforced by a regional (in fact, continental) statute – the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights – Article 7 of which obliges the State (and all other persons) to respect the rights of every individual to have his (or her) cause heard. This right encompasses the following, inter alia:
(i) The right to appeal to competent national organs against violating his fundamental rights;
(ii) The right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a competent tribunal;
(iii) The right to defence including by Counsel of one’s choice;
(iv) The right to be tried within a reasonable time by an impartial court or tribunal.

The importance of this statute is often overlooked by many Nigerians because, apart from the Constitution, it is superior to virtually every local or municipal law – including the EFCC (Establishment) Act itself. See ABACHA VS FAWEHINMI (2000) 6 NWLR part 660, pg 228, where the Supreme Court held that the Charter possesses “greater vigour and strength than any other domestic statute… (accordingly if there is a conflict between it and another statute its provisions will prevail over those of the other Statute”)

It is in this context that I believe the Commission’s tactics in attempting to arrest Bello ought to be situated. While no one quarrels with the Commission’s full mandate to tackle economic crimes, the way and manner in which it does so must however, not portray any impunity or suggest that it is above the law. After all, the Commission’s motto is “No one is above the Law”. To that extent, the fact that the person at the centre of the present controversy is a former Governor is irrelevant: it merely hugs the headlines for that reason. Afterall, he has since lost his immunity under section 308 of the 1999 Constitution, upon vacating office. However, once a person has been charged to court as Bello has, he becomes the subject of the court which becomes seized of the matter. His availability in court is thereafter controlled by the trial court, and not another through a bench warrant.

Many a time, it is argued that the court cannot restrain government agencies from arresting, investigating or prosecuting suspects. This is far from the truth as it depends on the facts of each case. For example, the Court of Appeal in OKEKE v. IGP & Ors (2022) LPELR-58476(CA) 1 at Pp. 9 paras. A, Per NWOSU-IHEME, J.C.A (as she then was), relied on a decision of the same Court to hold that the Police can be restrained from the improper use of its powers. In the unreported case of LUNA V. COMMISSIONER OF POLICE RIVER STATE POLICE COMMAND in Appeal No CA/PH/216/2004, the Port-Harcourt Division of the intermediate court held:
“… Notwithstanding the power of the Police as spelt out in Sections 4 and 24 of the Police Act, where this Power is improperly used, the Court can stop the use of the power for that improper purpose, as that would no longer be covered by Section 35(1) (c) of the 1999 Constitution. In other words, an order restraining the Police from arresting on some particular occasion or for some particular improper purpose may be made by the Court.”

THE EVILS OF MEDIA TRIAL

The Yahaya Bello case evinces a clear case of media trial which should never be. The notion “Media Trial” or “Trial by Media” got its name in the United States of America during the period of 19th Century and became familiar with the Indian legal system in the famous, case of K.M Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra AIR 1962 SC 605.

I have, on my part, always kicked against media trial, for it presumes a person guilty even before his trial in open court. At the first National Anti-Corruption Stakeholders’ Summit held in 2017 with the theme, “Building national anti-corruption consensus in a multi-agency Environment”, which was organised by the Commission at the EFCC Academy, Karu, Abuja, I made the following remarks:
“…. All my life that is what I have done. I take it very seriously when we talk about the issue of rule of law. I do not believe in media trial. For example, a case is being investigated in EFCC, the suspect is being interrogated, tomorrow it is in a particular newspaper as to the statement made by that suspect. That suspect may never be tried. Even if he is arraigned and tried, he may never be found guilty but you have destroyed his image, his reputation. We should run away from that, it is not good. There is the need in this anti-corruption war to make an example; just one example with one person in government. I am aware of many, many petitions against people in this government”. See Nigerian Tribune edition of 28th March, 2017. (https://tribuneonlineng.com/stop-media-trial-suspects-ozekhome-tells-efcc/).

I had also in 2017, written to the Commission and presented a paper at CACOL Roundtable, titled “The A-Z and 24 “Dos” and “Don’ts” of how to fight corruption”. (See Daily Times of 24th April, 2017 – https//issuu.com/dailytimes. ng/docs/dtn-24-04-17/19). This paper is still relevant today, as it represents my contribution to the fight against corruption which I personally believe in. But, such war must be within the confines of the law. At the time of my lecture, the Commission under Ibrahim Magu had not made any attempt to try government functionaries; and I challenged it to do so. I do not know, whether it was my wakeup call that made the Commission to finally start charging people in government, especially Governors and Ministers, to court. Or, do you? I had also clashed with the former Chairman, Magu, on this sore issue on 19th December, 2017, at the Federal High Court, Abuja, at its end of year event. (See: https://www.vanguardngr.com/2017/12/anti-graft-war-magu-ozekhome-clash-fhc-end-year-event/)

THE DANGER INHERENT IN MEDIA TRIAL

Media trial which has become the order of the day in Nigeria is simply the act of using media coverage to vilify and portray a suspect or an accused person as a criminal, even without trial. In the context of Nigerian jurisprudence, a trial is an avenue to challenge the innocence of an accused person. A Media trial is an improper use of the media to tarnish the image of an accused person before, during or after a trial. It is used to dampen the resilient spirit of an accused person. The Commission used this craft greatly, especially during the tenure of Ibrahim Magu; and it greatly chipped away some nobility in its patriotic war against corruption.

The public applauds media trial. The downtrodden guffaws when the rich also cry. With this, there are more media convictions than actual convictions in the courtroom. Unfortunately, Yahaya Bello, has become the latest victim of media trial. If he is eventually acquitted, people will attribute his non-conviction to “a complicit judiciary”, (the whipping orphan).

Bello’s present ordeal may have undoubtedly brought some people immense joy. This submission has been tacitly corroborated by the Commission’s Chairman, very hard working and dedicated Mr Olanipekun Olukoyede, who stated, in a now-viral video, that the former Governor of Kogi State declined to come to the agency’s office because he complained that a female Senator had allegedly gathered journalists together to humiliate him anytime he appeared in the office of the agency for interrogation. Obviously, Bello was scared of media trial; so he avoided it. The evils of media trial are galore.

Media trials, especially in places like Nigeria, can be highly dangerous and prejudicial to a fair trial for several reasons:

1. Presumption of Innocence: Under the provisions of Section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution, every accused person is presumed innocent until he is found guilty. Media trials often disregard the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” When suspects are portrayed as guilty before they have had a fair trial, it can prejudice public opinion and undermine the legal process. The Muhammadu Buhari government specialised in this Goebel’s propaganda style under its “Name-and-shame” mantra. Such removes the Anglo-Saxon accusatorial system we operate and whimsically substitutes it with the French inquisitorial system.

By the provisions of section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution, every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. This is unequivocally the position of the law, and has not changed. Article 7(1) (b) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights 1981, also guarantees the presumption of innocence when it states as follows: every individual shall have the right to fair-hearing, that is; to have his cause heard including a right to an appeal, to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a competent court or tribunal, and also the right to defence, including the right to be defended by Counsel of his choice. These are provisions that guide the trial of any person suspected to have committed a crime. It further extends to the right to be tried within a reasonable time by an impartial court or tribunal Thus, the presumption of innocence is the legal principle in criminal cases that one is considered innocent until proven guilty. This therefore means that until a judicial pronouncement is made, a suspect or defendant as the case may be should be treated with dignity as an innocent citizen. Anything to contrary would amount to a breach of the fundamental rights of the individual. See the cases of Tosin .v. State (2023) LPELR-59635 (CA); Onyeka .v. State (2023) LPELR-60520 (CA) and OLALERE .V. STATE (2022) LPELR-58103 (CA).

2. Mob Mentality: Inflamed by sensationalized media coverage, the public can form strong opinions and even resort to mob justice. This can lead to violence, whether against the accused or others associated with them.

3. Interference with Legal Proceedings: Judges do not live on the island, Venus, Moon, Neptune or Mars. They live on earth and interact with members of the society. Media attention can influence judges, potentially leading to unfair trials. It can be difficult for a defendant to receive a fair trial when public opinion has been heavily influenced against him by biased media coverage. In the case of Rajendra Jawanmal Gandhi v. State of Maharashtra, (1997) 8 SCC 386, the Supreme Court of India noted that a trial by press, electronic media, or public agitation is the exact opposite of the rule of law. It held further that Judges should protect themselves from such pressure and scrupulously adhere to the rule of law since failure to do so could result in a miscarriage of justice. Parties are entitled by the Constitution to a fair trial in a court of law by an unbiased tribunal that is not swayed by popular culture or media coverage.

4. Violation of Privacy and Dignity: Suspects, especially those who are later found innocent, can suffer irreversible and irreparable damage to their reputation, mental health, and livelihood due to intrusive media coverage. See section 37 of the 1999 Constitution.

5. Impact on Investigation: Media trials can jeopardize investigations by prematurely revealing sensitive information or influencing potential witnesses or suspects.

6. Undermining Trust in the Justice System: When the public perceives that justice is being served through media sensationalism rather than through fair legal processes, it can erode public confidence and trust in the judiciary and law enforcement agencies. This is the situation our judiciary has found itself. When a wealthy man who is accused of looting the state treasury is acquitted of corruption-related charges, some members of the public readily accuse the judiciary of complicity. Because some Nigerians do not trust the judiciary, they believe, courtesy of media trial, that the judiciary is a tool of the ruling class to consolidate or legitimize their hold on power and the society.

7. Political Manipulation: In some cases, media trials may be used as a tool by powerful interests to manipulate public opinion, discredit political opponents, or distract from other issues. The ongoing trial of the former CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, is a perfect example. Virtually all the bad economic policies of the President Buhari government have been attributed to the leadership of the apex bank under Emefiele and the Bank Managing Directors. Was this really the case? Was Buhari not in charge?

There are many instances when suspects who had been subjected to needless media trial were later vindicated by courts of law. Let us see some examples:
(i) The siege and break-in through the roof on the residence, ‘abduction’ and subsequent arrest and arraignment by the EFCC in a clearly orchestrated media trial of former Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State. He was later discharged and acquitted.
(ii) The trial and subsequent discharge and acquittal, only last month, by the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, of the former Director-General of NIMASA, Mr Patrick Akpobolokemi, after over eight years on trumped up charges of conspiracy, stealing and fraudulent conversion involving the sum of ₦8.5billion. The court, coram, Justice Ayokunle Faji, upheld his Counsel’s no-case submission that the Commission had failed to make a prima facie case requiring him to enter his defence in respect of four out of six charges laid against him by the Commission. This was after eight years of gruesome trial and media hype, with Akpobolokemi, being physically dragged on the ground in one instance.

The discharge and acquittal earlier this year of the erstwhile Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice under the Administration of the former President Goodluck Jonathan, Mr Mohammed Bello Adoke and some companies by the Federal High Court, Abuja (Ekwo, J) and the High Court of the FCT (Kutigi J), on charges of money laundering and abuse of office after over four years of hyped media trial which the latter court strongly condemned and for which it excoriated the Commission for the slip-shod manner in which it undertook what, to all intents and purposes, was a persecution rather than precaution. The investigation into the alleged offences was anything but diligent, forcing the Commission’s own Counsel (to his credit) to throw in the towel and admit that he could not, in all honesty, support their continuing trial. I had gotten vacated and set aside the Bench warrant earlier issued against Adoke by Danlami Zama Senchi (now of the Court of Appeal). I was the one who also argued Adoke’s bail applications before Justices Inyang Ekwo and Idris Legbo Kutigi.
Also apposite are the nasty experiences of former Senator Dino Melaye whose cases I also handled; and that of the Supreme Court Justices way back in 2016 (even though the latter was perpetrated by a sister agency, the DSS) .

What about late High Chief Aleogho Raymond Dokpesi? He was later discharged on a no case submission after over eight years of horrid trial in which I secured his bail in 2015! The cases of Col. Sambo Dasuki, El Zakzaky and Elder Godsday Orube are well too known to enlist elucidation here.

The Commission surely had full knowledge of the ex-parte order made by the Kogi State High Court which had restrained the Commission from arresting Yahaya Bello. Yet, it laid a siege on Bello’s Abuja residence. The entire drama (which played out in the full glare of television cameras) was nothing short of disdain for the rule of law and the sanctity of court orders. It is trite law that, until a valid and duly issued court order is set aside either by the same or another court of superior or co-ordinate jurisdiction, it must be obeyed and complied with to the hilt.

The proper remedy open to the Commission which disagreed with the order was to challenge it and seek its reversal at the appellate court as it later did, and certainly not to flout or disobey it under any disguise. Needless to say that disobedience to court orders is a feature of self-help only in a society where anything goes; where life is poor, solitary, nasty, brutish and short, to quote the English Philosopher, Thomas John Hobbes. We must never allow Nigeria to degenerate to such a nadir state where government institutions disobey court orders with impunity. That is a ready recipe for organized disenchantment.

Indeed, so important is obedience of court order that it is given constitutional imprimatur in Section 287 of the 1999 Constitution.

In this regard, in FCDA V KORIPAMO-AGARY (2010) LPELR-4148 (CA), Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili, J.C.A (as he then was) held that:

“The Court frowns at disobedience of its orders; particularly by the executive branch of government and has used rather harsh language such as ‘executive lawlessness’, in describing such acts of disobedience. On the application of an aggrieved party, the Court has in appropriate cases, not hesitated to exercise its coercive power to set aside such acts done in disobedience of its order and restore the parties to the position they were before such disobedience. The rationale for this course of action by the Court is to ensure the enthronement of the rule of law rather than acquiesce in resorting to self-help by a party. The Court also has the power of sequestration and committal against persons disobeying its orders. It is an overgeneralization and therefore wrong to say that an act done in disobedience of a Court order is an illegality”.

See also ALL PROGRESSIVE CONGRESS & 2 ORS V HON DANLADI IDRIS KARFI & 2 ORS [2018] 6 NWLR (Pt 1616) 479, 493 SC and EZEKIEL-HART V EZEKIEL-HART [1990] NWLR (pt 126) 276. where the Supreme Court upheld the same principle.

By the same token, it is also settled that once the court is seised of a matter, it becomes dominus litis (master of the proceedings) and no party is allowed to take any step that will either overreach the court or the other party or present the court with a situation of fait accompli or complete helplessness in which whatever orders it makes might either be rendered nugatory or unenforceable. Such will be an affront on the court. See Ojukwu v. Governor of Lagos State (1986) 3NWLR (Pt 26) 39.

CONCLUSION

The judgment delivered by the High Court of Kogi State on April 17, 2024, finally vindicated Yahaya Bello on this issue as the court pointedly held:
“Thus, the serial action of the Respondent, dating back to 2021, right up to 2024, targeted against the applicant, has corroded their legitimate statutory duties of investigation and prosecution of financial crimes. These collective infractions on the rights of the applicant border on infringement of his fundamental right from discrimination”.

Central to the court’s rebuke is the condemnation of the anti-graft agency’s reliance on media sensationalism, characterized as a form of trial by public opinion. The court firmly asserted the principle that the agency’s role is not to act as both prosecutor and Judge simultaneously; but rather to present evidence within the confines of due procedure. This critique underscores the imperative of upholding the rule of law and granting individuals, including Bello, their rightful day in court devoid of extrajudicial influences.

Beyond the specifics of Bello’s case, there is need for a paradigm shift whereby agencies such as the EFCC, Police, ICPC, DSS et al, adopt a more public-friendly stance akin to their counterparts in advanced jurisdictions such as the United States, the United Kingdom and many European states. The importance of viewing law enforcement as a Service rather than as a Force, underscores the necessity of cultivating public trust and confidence through transparent, law-abiding practices. I hereby emphasize and advocate (as I have always done), strong institutions; not strong men.

We must, therefore, strike a balance between reporting matters that are of public interest and respect for the dignity of persons. In India, the Law Commission in its 200th report, “Trial by Media: Free Speech versus Fair Trial under Criminal Procedure (Amendments to the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971)”, has recommended a law to debar the media from reporting anything prejudicial to the rights of the accused in criminal cases, from the time of arrest to investigation and trial.

No individual, regardless of his position or authority, is above the law. There is no exception in the sense that even those who are protected from prosecution by the immunity clause in section 308 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, will after vacating the office be answerable like all other citizens and subject themselves willingly or unwillingly to the law. By holding both governmental and non-governmental actors accountable to the law, a commitment to fostering a culture of accountability and respect for individual rights is built and maintained.

Be that as it may, the laid down procedures must be followed accordingly. Where such laid down procedures are not tenaciously complied with, it will become an agency of government dictating its own rules, procedures and modus operandi. This is only typical of an autocratic, despotic and dictatorial government which we do not operate. It is in the light of this that the Commission and all other agencies established by laws must ensure that they conduct their operations within the ambit of the laws that established them. The concept of rule of law entails that all actions of government must be carried out as spelt out by the law without any form of self-help. In an ideal society where everyone, the leaders, the followers and the law enforcement agencies follow the law, a pattern develops where there can be a reasonable expectation of what will occur in any given situation. And ultimately, this provides security and safety as people do not need to panic out of uncertainty or feel worried about any situation since what will happen is readily predictable.

In the light of these considerations, there is need for a reevaluation of law enforcement practices and a renewed dedication to upholding the rule of law. There must be a balance of the imperatives of justice with the protection of individual rights, particularly in the face of media scrutiny and public pressure.

For now, citizen Yahaya Bello wears the toga of victimhood and not of aggression. He should be allowed to have his fair day in court without the present needless ruckus and brouhaha.

PROF MIKE OZEKHOME SAN, CON, OFR, FCIArb, LL.M, Ph.D., LL.D., D.Litt, D.Sc. is a constitutional lawyer and human rights advocate

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