Sun, 05 May 2024 Feature Article

Reply to Professor Mike Ozekhome: Psychological Perspectives on Yahaya Bello's Legal Saga

Reply to Professor Mike Ozekhome: Psychological Perspectives on Yahaya Bello's Legal Saga

I trust this message finds you well and in good health. Your recent interview regarding the legal entanglement between Former Kogi Governor Yahaya Bello and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) struck a chord with me, prompting a profound reflection on the state of justice and governance in our society.

As a psychologist and a non-lawyer, I approach these matters with a unique perspective, focusing not on legal intricacies but also on broader societal implications. In the swirling tempest of Nigeria's legal battles, a title emerges, striking a chord in the collective consciousness: "Yahaya Bello: Victim or Aggressor?" Under the stewardship of professor Mike Ozekhome SAN, this headline serves as a poignant reminder of the tangled web of narratives that define our nation's tumultuous journey toward justice.

Your profound analysis of the legal intricacies surrounding this case has illuminated a sobering reality that goes beyond mere legal technicalities. The headline "Court Restrains EFCC From Arresting Former Kogi Governor Yahaya Bello" bears weighty implications that strike at the core of our nation's democratic ethos and ethical principles of accountability. Indeed, this issue transcends the individual, symbolizing the challenges faced by a young yet deeply troubled society and its leadership.

From a psychological perspective, the need for a court to step in and prevent a law enforcement agency from carrying out its duties is profoundly distressing. It signals a systemic failure in governance and accountability, where the institutions entrusted with safeguarding justice are compromised and weakened.

I am deeply troubled by the implications of such an intervention. It raises fundamental questions about the integrity of our democratic institutions and the erosion of public trust in our justice system. When courts are compelled to intervene in this manner, it reflects a breakdown in the checks and balances that are essential for a functioning democracy.

As a human rights lawyer and senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), your unwavering commitment to the rule of law and equitable treatment for all individuals is both admirable and essential. Yet, in the face of headlines such as these, one cannot help but feel a sense of alarm and urgency.

The realization that our democratic institutions are faltering, unable to ensure equal justice under the law, is a painful truth that we must confront head-on. It is incumbent upon us, as concerned citizens and advocates for justice, to demand accountability and transparency in the face of such systemic failures.

While legal arguments offer valuable insights into specific cases, they also serve as a stark reminder of the broader societal challenges we face. The binding nature of court proceedings, as you rightfully emphasize, must be upheld to preserve the integrity of our judicial system. However, we cannot overlook the pervasive concerns surrounding transparency and impartiality within the Nigerian judiciary.

In confronting these challenges, we must heed the call for reform and accountability with unwavering determination. Only by acknowledging the painful realities of our judicial system can we begin to pave the way towards a society where justice is not just a distant ideal but a tangible reality for all.

In the words of Nyesom Wike, the former Rivers State governor and current Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, a man with his own ongoing political drama, he aptly captures a disturbing reality that resonates not just in his context but also within Nigeria's darker realities. He highlights the manipulation of the legal system, where individuals wield court judgments as tools for their own agendas, keeping them conveniently in their pockets. This practice allows them to perpetuate misconduct and injustice, as they conveniently produce court orders and judgments seemingly overnight to serve their interests.

There is a pervasive perception that court judgments can be influenced or manipulated through various means, including financial influence or political connections. This undermines public trust in the judiciary and raises questions about the legitimacy of its decisions.

In such a climate, even if legal injunctions are granted to restrain law enforcement agencies like the EFCC, there may be doubts about the fairness and impartiality of the process. The reality is that the judiciary is not immune to external pressures or influences, and there are instances where justice may be compromised.

Professor Ozekhome, how long can we continue deceiving ourselves? It's time to confront the stark truths that permeate our society. We cannot ignore the glaring disparities and injustices that plague our legal system. It's time to acknowledge that the pervasive manipulation of court orders and judgments for personal gain undermines the very foundation of justice and equality. We must collectively strive for transparency, accountability, and genuine reform. Turning a blind eye to these issues only perpetuates the cycle of deception and erodes the trust of the people in our institutions.

While it is undeniable that the EFCC, like any institution, may have its flaws, it possesses the authority and responsibility to investigate allegations of wrongdoing, regardless of the individual's status. The chairman's decision to invite Yahaya Bello to his office demonstrates a commitment to due process and transparency, traits that are essential in a functioning democracy. In fact, he did not have to do that, but he did.

However, it is crucial to emphasize that the pursuit of justice should not devolve into a game of cat and mouse between law enforcement agencies and suspects. Allegations of substantial wrongdoing must be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly, with the ultimate goal of upholding the rule of law and ensuring accountability.

Furthermore, it's imperative to note that obeying police reports with legal representation is the standard protocol. However, Yahaya Bello's choice to consider himself above the law, like many others, is not acceptable. This time, it's clear that such actions will not go unchallenged.

Ozekhome, while I respect your perspective, I must respectfully disagree with the notion that media trials are entirely unjustified. When a criminal suspect blatantly refuses to honor invitations from the EFCC or the police and instead procures baseless court orders to restrain the government, then enlists public commentators, and lawyers to advocate in the media on their behalf, and even appears to manipulate certain media outlets to publish stories favorably, it is the suspect themselves who is engaging in a form of media trial.

In such cases, when all attempts by the EFCC to reach the individual have been exhausted, they are left with little choice but to resort to public statements, which are often labeled as "media trials". The objective is not to shame or disgrace the individual but rather to highlight the challenges faced in bringing the individual to justice due to their evasive tactics.

While I understand the importance of conducting investigations quietly and ensuring fairness in legal proceedings, there are instances where public discourse becomes necessary to shed light on the misconduct of influential individuals who seek to evade accountability through manipulative tactics.

Your comparison with the United States legal system is valid, but it's essential to recognize the stark differences in contexts between the two countries. In Nigeria, where corruption and abuse of power are pervasive, transparency and public scrutiny are often crucial tools in holding individuals accountable, especially those in positions of authority.

While media trials should be approached with caution to avoid undue sensationalism, there are instances where they serve as a necessary means of ensuring transparency and accountability in the face of entrenched corruption and abuse of power. It is essential for security and anti-corruption agencies to strike a balance between conducting thorough investigations and engaging in responsible public discourse to uphold the rule of law and protect the interests of all Nigerians.

A persistent issue is the influence of senior lawyers, compromised judges, and unethical prosecutors, who exploit legal loopholes, leading to prolonged trials and few convictions. This flaw undermines justice and enables corruption to thrive.

Moreover, the former governor of Kogi, currently in hiding, epitomizes this challenge. His intimate knowledge of the system's inner workings, coupled with his apparent apprenticeship in using influence to evade accountability, underscores the uphill battle faced by anti-corruption agencies like the EFCC. Despite their dedication, the manipulation of the legal system continues to obstruct the fight against corruption in governance.

The point adds depth to this narrative, highlighting that even when the EFCC and the police successfully arrest individuals and present their cases in court, the integrity of the judicial process is compromised by bad judges and lawyers. This further compounds the issue, as justice becomes elusive despite law enforcement's efforts to hold accountable those accused of corruption. It underscores the urgent need for comprehensive reform to address these systemic challenges and ensure accountability within Nigeria's governance structures.

Professor Ozekhome, your statement underscores the importance of treating individuals with dignity and ensuring equality under the law, and I wholeheartedly agree. However, it overlooks the harsh realities of Nigeria's justice system, where political power often trumps legal integrity, leaving many citizens to suffer systemic injustices.

In Nigeria, individuals in positions of authority often exploit their influence to evade accountability, sometimes for many years. They do so by obtaining various court orders to avoid arrest or other forms of accountability, while ordinary citizens endure marginalization and injustice. Despite these actions, many of these individuals continue to interact freely with the public, participating in various activities and events, all while avoiding accountability through legal tactics. This troubling cycle perpetuates the erosion of justice and undermines the foundation of our society. As you rightly pointed out, trials in Nigeria can indeed drag on for years, and we understand why. It's primarily due to the pervasive corruption, lack of discipline, and culture of impunity within the system. In such a context, delayed justice isn't merely a denial of rights but also a stark reflection of the systemic issues that afflict our legal and societal framework.

Therefore, addressing these issues goes beyond simply urging compliance with court directives; there is an urgent need to confront the underlying problems that plague Nigeria's legal landscape. Instead of allowing politicians and elites to manipulate the system by obtaining restraining court orders, the focus should be on promoting genuine accountability and transparency.

When the EFCC or police demand cooperation, it is crucial for individuals to assert their rights while also complying with lawful requests. Yahaya Bello, like any other citizen, should seek legal representation and cooperate with the EFCC. However, his belief that a court order restraining the EFCC, facilitated by unscrupulous lawyers, will shield him from accountability is misguided.

Ensuring that due process safeguards are upheld can help protect against the abuse of power. Rather than blindly following directives that may serve political interests, citizens should advocate for genuine reform aimed at strengthening the rule of law and safeguarding the rights of all Nigerians.

On May 3, 2024, the Court of Appeal, Abuja division, intervened in the contempt suit initiated by former Kogi State Governor, Mr. Yahaya Bello, against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Bello had sought refuge from potential arrest and detention by procuring a court order, leveraging the legal system in his favor. However, the Appeal Court's intervention, led by Justice Joseph Oyewole and a three-member panel, marked a pivotal moment. They granted the EFCC's request to stay the execution and contempt proceedings, effectively halting Bello's legal maneuvering against the commission's chairman, Ola Olukoyode. Additionally, they ordered substituted service of all case processes to be pasted at Bello's last known address, indicating a swift response to the legal intricacies at play.

However, it's worth noting that all this legal drama could have been avoided if Bello had initially presented himself as a criminal suspect with legal rights. Professor, I believe you'd agree that cooperation with lawful requests and respect for due process are essential in upholding the integrity of our legal system.

This development signifies a significant setback for Bello's attempts to evade accountability through legal means. Despite his efforts to circumvent arrest and prosecution, the EFCC's persistence in pursuing justice prevailed, with the Appeal Court's decision putting an end to what was deemed a baseless contempt case against the EFCC's chairman.

Renowned justices like retired Supreme Court judge, Justice Samson Uwaifo, retired justice of the Supreme Court, Ejembi Eko, and Supreme Court Justice Musa Muhammad Dattijo have all attested to the systemic corruption plaguing the judicial system, what I describe as "mentally sick." This grim assessment underscores the depth of the problem Nigeria faces in combating corruption.

The saga of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in its tireless pursuit of justice unfolds against the backdrop of a judicial landscape riddled with systemic decay and entrenched corruption. Despite grappling with its own historical challenges in agency leadership and governance, the EFCC has consistently demonstrated unwavering commitment to its mandate.

Within this grim tableau, the EFCC confronts a formidable array of adversaries—corrupt judges, compromised legal practitioners, and venal court officials—who conspire to subvert the course of justice and shield the mighty from accountability. Their nefarious machinations undermine the EFCC's noble mission, rendering its victories Pyrrhic and its endeavors Sisyphean.

However, the road to justice is fraught with obstacles, chief among them being the pervasive rot that infests Nigeria's judicial system. Corrupt judge, compromised legal practitioners, and venal court officials form a sinister cabal that conspires to pervert the course of justice, shielding the powerful and well-connected from the long arm of the law.

Within this convoluted labyrinth, the EFCC finds itself engaged in a Herculean struggle against the forces of darkness, where each victory is hard-won and every setback a bitter reminder of the uphill battle that lies ahead. Despite its best efforts, the EFCC's endeavors are often stymied by the entrenched structures of corruption that permeate Nigeria's legal framework.

The saga of corruption cases against former governors serves as a microcosm of the systemic rot that plagues Nigeria's judiciary. With a conviction rate of merely six out of 33 prosecutions, the EFCC's pursuit of justice is a Sisyphean ordeal, with each triumph overshadowed by the specter of impunity that looms large over the legal landscape.

As the tentacles of corruption continue to tighten their grip on Nigeria's judiciary, the imperative for sweeping reforms becomes ever more urgent. It is a clarion call to arms—a rallying cry for all stakeholders to rise up and confront the entrenched structures of venality that threaten to engulf the nation in a maelstrom of lawlessness and impunity.

Failure to heed this call to action imperils the very fabric of Nigeria's democracy, consigning future generations to a fate marred by the shackles of corruption and the tyranny of injustice. The time for complacency is over; the time for action is now. Let us stand together in solidarity against the forces of darkness and reclaim the promise of justice for all Nigerians before it is too late.

In essence, while dignity and compliance with the law are fundamental principles, they must be upheld within a framework of genuine accountability and fairness. Reforming Nigeria's legal system to combat corruption and ensure equal treatment under the law is essential for fostering a more just and equitable society.

Prof. Ozekhome, let's confront reality together. While I don't accuse you of supporting Bello, your words seem to subtly defend his actions. With your esteemed stature and influence, you possess a unique opportunity to drive change.

I appeal to you not as a foe, but as a fellow champion of our nation's well-being. It's time to cut through the noise and address the crux of the matter. Bello, now a fugitive and wanted suspect, cannot indefinitely evade accountability. The era of strategic maneuvering must end.

I urge you to harness your influence to counsel Bello to face the EFCC and cooperate with the investigation. Encourage him to embrace transparency and uphold the sanctity of our legal system. By taking this courageous stance, you'll not only uphold justice but also affirm your commitment to our nation's integrity.

In recognizing the merit of your legal arguments, we must confront Nigeria's judicial quagmire, marred by corruption and political interference. While legal injunctions theoretically hold, loopholes enable exploitation, eroding faith in justice. As seasoned legal minds, advocating for reform is our moral imperative.

Your emphasis on EFCC accountability resonates with the ethos of equality before the law. Yet, true justice demands transparency and adherence to due process, especially from esteemed legal professionals like yourself.

Let's stand as one for a future where justice reigns supreme, addressing systemic issues and advocating for a judiciary that serves all Nigerians.

In conclusion, I commend your commitment to upholding the rule of law and constitutional principles. However, addressing systemic challenges and championing transparency and accountability in governance are paramount for a fair and just society.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.