Playing the sick game?
In a space of one week, the prosecution of two leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Femi Fani- Kayode and Olisa Metuh, for alleged corruption suffered a setback on account of ill-health. But questions are being asked whether they are really sick or trying to buy time, WALE ELEGBEDE reports
The image looks like one of the scenes in a Nollywood film, but it was not. The procession on display at the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court has nothing to do with the world of make-believe or celluloid. The ambulance at the premises of the court last Monday actually brought the former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olisa Metuh, for the continuation of his alleged corruption trial.
Metuh is on trial for allegedly receiving N400 million from the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) headed at the time by Colonel Sambo Dasuki (rtd). After being brought to the court premises by an ambulance belonging to the National Hospital, Abuja, Metuh was wheeled into the courtroom in a stretcher by a team of medical experts from the National Hospital, Abuja, even as his lawyers persuaded the court to suspend the trial till a later date.
The former PDP spokesperson had in 2016 sought a leave to travel abroad for medical treatment but the trial judge, Justice Okon Abang, refused to grant Metuh the leave. Last week, Abang threatened to revoke Metuh’s bail if he continues to dodge trial on the excuse of ill health. “This court shall henceforth not accept any other medical report issued by any Medical Doctor in Nigeria until the trial is concluded,” Abang ruled.
“It is expected that the defendant will turn to a new leaf, show compulsion and attend his trial on February 5 and 6. If he fails to appear in court on these dates fixed for continuation of his trial, his bail shall be revoked and he will be remanded in prison custody.” Perhaps, the threat to revoke his bail led to the decision to bring him to court on a stretcher. However, Metuh was sighted at the PDP’s National Convention held last December in Abuja.
The trial judge adjourned till 14, 15 and 16 March. Immediately the case was adjourned, Metuh was wheeled into an ambulance from the National Hospital in Abuja marked 44Q- 20FG. No doubt, the concept of corruption in Nigeria is a household name in all spheres of endeavor.
Since independence, corruption has remained a recurring clog in the wheel of good governance in Africa’s most populous country. While successive governments in the country battle to kick out the malaise or at most move to tame it, the major actors in the nefarious act are still devising new means of cutting out their venture.
Since the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999, many persons have vowed that once found in positions of power, they would effect positive changes and bring corruption to its knees, but reverse has been the case as the hydra-headed monster called corruption got the better of them, thereby rubbishing their saintly profile before taking up public office appointments.
Thus, it is believed by many that corruption is the bane of Nigeria. Although corruption is endemic in all governments, it’s a global phenomenon that cuts across and not peculiar to any continent, region, colour and ethnic group. However, corruption is pandemic in Nigeria, with the belief that many of the nation’s leaders, as well as the followers, are corrupt.
So far, it has defied all the necessary medicines. After the March 28 presidential election that produced President Muhammadu Buhari as winner, hope began to rise that the days of corruption in the country are already numbered. However, six months down the lane of the new government, the various anticorruption agencies had only succeeded in increasing their activity log by adding some few names to their list of arrests.
On the other hand some Nigerians, especially supporters of the present administration believe that the Buhari ‘body language’ is just enough to hold corruption at bay and bring sanity to public office administration. For the anti-graft agencies, move to prosecute and get conviction against corrupt ‘big fish’ has been a daunting task.
If they are not falling flat in the face of superior legal technicalities from ‘revered’ Senior Advocates of Nigeria employed by the accused, their cases are thrown away by the court for lack of diligent prosecution. When the cancer-stricken pictures of former Petroleum Resources Minister, Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke, surfaced online, there were divided opinions among Nigerians on the image.
While many described the report as sympathy stunt aimed at whipping up sentiment for the embattled former minister against being prosecuted, others opine that the sight of the image is humanly saddening. Interestingly, Mrs. Allison-Madueke latest episode is not the first of such ‘too sick to be prosecuted’ tales in the country where over $1.5 trillion of public fund has been lost to corruption.
For those in the category of playing the sick card, their stories provided more than amusement, raising curiosities and posing questions in the minds of Nigerians.
For many, these former leaders who have corruption cases hanging over their necks but claims to be down with one ailment or the other most often did not exhibit any sign of sickness while on the office. Those with this line of thought believe that the health travails of some of the former leaders is summarily the usual Law of Karma, which perched on them immediately having served out their terms in office or got booted out.
A compilation of ex-leaders, both in the public and private sector, who hanged the call to accountability while in office to their health status, indicates that the orchestrated reports and lately, pictures, about their ‘grave’ ill health, has made their prosecution either hanging, lenient or in some other ways, totally forgotten, no thanks to the usual ‘life goes on’ cliché.
The spectacle in Nigeria calls to mind the interesting trial of former Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, who was tried for corruption related cases despite his state of health on the 3rd of August 2011. In a statewide televised trial, Mubarak was taken into the court on a hospital bed and held in a cage for the session with his medical staff around him. Today, his trial has been concluded and he is presently serving out his term in a military hospital in Cairo, the state capital. Also in China, Xu Caihou, a retired army general in the People’s Liberation Army and a former vice chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission, was taken from a hospital sickbed by dozens of police officers and his medical team to answer corruption charges.
If anything, the quick change of status from comfortable gold water bed to harrowing sick bed, is some kind of irony that many Nigerians couldn’t fathom. No doubt, the claim to fading health has provided a broad window to either dodge or elongate the process of prosecution until another ‘bigger’ fish is caught.
The former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode and a former Minister of State for Finance, Mrs. Nenadi Usman, are facing a 17-count of money laundering amounting to N4.6 billion.
The 17 counts preferred against them border on conspiracy, unlawful retention of proceeds of theft and money laundering. They were re-arraigned last year. Fani-Kayode was the Director of Publicity of former President Jonathan’s re-election campaign organization and Usman also served on the campaign team.
They were accused by the EFCC of receiving funds they ought to have reasonably known were proceeds of crime.
But at the resumed hearing last Wednesday, Norrison Quakers (SAN), counsel to Fani-Kayode, told the Court that his client failed to appear at sitting because he had been diagnosed and hospitalised with a heart-related ailment. The explanation for absence brought laughter into the courtroom at the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court, and its only Quakers that didn’t find it amusing.
The Senior Advocate said, “It is not a laughing matter. They said he was complaining of a heart-related pain. We have seen recent cases of heart-related deaths. On Friday, a lawyer collapsed and died while addressing the court.” He said: “The second defendant is unusually absent in court today as a result of a health challenge which information was relayed to me by the wife.
“In that regard, I have requested for a medical report and hoping that same will get to me before the close of work because the second defendant lives and carries out his business outside the jurisdiction of this court, in Abuja.
“My humble application is for us to come back tomorrow so I can furnish the court with the medical report.” The trial judge, Justice Rilwan Aikawa, later adjourned the case till February 28th, March 1st, and 2nd for the continuation of trial. It will be recalled that the judge dismissed an application by Mr. Fani-Kayode last year to transfer the trial to Abuja from Lagos on the grounds that the cause of action leading to the case took place there.
Perhaps, the visibility and popularity of the former Minister on the social media especially on Twitter even as at yesterday could be the reason why many took the health excuse with a pinch of salt.
Mrs. Nenadi Usman is standing trial alongside Fani-Kayode for allegedly embezzling N4.6 billion, to which they both pleaded not guilty. With months into the trial, Usman told the Court that she had been diagnosed for cancer and subsequently applied for leave to travel to the United States of America to receive treatment for the ailment.
After back and forth argument, Justice Rilwan Aikawa of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, granted the former Minister of State for Finance, the permission to travel for medical care.
The judge also ordered that Mrs. Nenadi Usman’s passport be released to her to enable her travel to USA from December 18. However, Justice Aikawa instructed that she is to present herself for trial on the next adjourned date of January 31, 2018.
When the EFCC recovered a whooping $9,8 million and £74,000 cash from a house in Kaduna owned by the former Group Managing Director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Andrew Yakubu, many Nigerians couldn’t spare their thoughts of anger, despite the explanation of the former GMD that it was “gift from unnamed persons”.
When he (Yakubu) subsequently filed a counter-charge at the Kano State High Court to overturn an interim forfeiture order it had placed on the recovered money, Nigerians were in full discontent of his effrontery.
Expectedly, he pleaded not guilty when he was eventually arraigned by the EFCC at the Federal High Court Abuja on a six-count charge of money laundering and false assets declaration. However, barely two months after his trial began, Yakubu cried to the court that he was sick and that he needed to travel to the United Kingdom to get treatment.
He applied and was granted permission to travel, even though the trial judge ordered that he must return after three weeks to face his trial.
The former Head of Service of the Federation is standing trial for a N2 billion pension fraud before Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
He is standing trial along with Osarenkhoe Afe, managing director, Fredrick Hamilton Global Services Limited, and both are alleged to be complicit in several contract awards during his tenure as HoS. He was granted permission to travel to India for medicals and to return for continuation of his trial in January 2018.
In granting the application, the trial judge ruled that: “The DCI litigation of the Federal High Court, shall release the international passport of the defendant through his counsel, and he is permitted to travel to India from now till on or before January 31, 2018 and return his passport to the DCI pending the determination of the criminal charge”.
For former governor of Enugu State, Chimaroke Nnamani, the battle to obtain his International Passport which was seized by the EFCC where he was standing trial alongside seven others on a 105-count charge bordering on laundering N5billion while he was governor between 1999 and 2007, was as tensed as the legal fireworks over the subsisting corruption charges against him.
At one of the hearings for the application seeking leave of the court to travel overseas for medical treatment, the EFCC counsel, Kevin Uzozie, said the application was a ploy to delay prosecution, stating that Nnamani had not in any way shown that the illness could not be treated in Nigeria.
According to Uzozie, when the previous leave was granted in 2008 and 2012, Nnamani lingered in the United States beyond the stipulated period, adding that it took the assistance of the America security agencies to facilitate the repatriation of the ex-governor.
A federal high court in Lagos eventually granted his request in 2014. After eight years of what seems like an endless trial, Nnamani was eventually convicted on July 7 by the court with his properties located across the five states in the South East, his four companies and other properties forfeited to the Federal Government.
For the embattled former presidential adviser on Niger Delta amnesty, Mr. Kingsley Kuku, the invitation of the EFCC for him to answer charges over allegation of embezzlement and fraudulent diversion of funds running into hundreds of millions of Naira, came at a very period, reason, he is receiving medical treatment abroad.
Aside releasing pictures of his knee operation in the United States to back up his claims, Kuku also approached an Abuja High Court to shield him from security agencies and anti-corruption bodies from arresting or probing him over alleged fraud.
Interestingly Justice Valentine Ashi, granted the application. In a letter by Mr. Kuku’s lawyers to the EFCC, their client is currently in the United States to keep appointment with his doctors at the Andrew Sports, medicine and ‘Orthopaedic Centre LLC for surgery on one of his knees and he will be back in Nigeria at the end of September, 2015 after the surgery and recuperation. Nearly two months after the supposed dates of return, Kuku is still nowhere to be found.
However, many Nigerians were amused that the same former chairman of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, was strong and eloquent enough to grant over three pages interview to select Nigerian journalist in far away United States. Clearly, the Kuku’s case might be another waiting game in the making.
Speaking to New Telegraph on the issue, Monday Ubani, second Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), said, “It may be true that they are sick and it may also be true that they are playing to the gallery.
The court should ensure that a qualified doctor is engaged to assess them. “Sickness can come at any time and most public officials are sick. The judiciary should start considering including medical practitioners in the judicial system.”
Head or tail, with the mindblowing cases of corruption hanging around some former leaders in the country, it is expected that the anti-graft agencies would devise a means of ensuring that the orchestrated leeway to escape or prolong justice by the accused is put in place. Also, an upgrade and compulsion in the usage of our health facilities should be the way to go.