Posted by By RAZAQ BAMIDELE on
In the history of Nigeria’s nationhood, there has never been a case of a serving governor arrested and detained either locally or internationally.
In the history of Nigeria’s nationhood, there has never been a case of a serving governor arrested and detained either locally or internationally. There were only cases of former state executives hounded into jail by military governments that booted them out of office.
This was the case in the second republic, when governors, like Alhaji Bakin Zuwo of Kano, Alhaji Lateef Jakande of Lagos, late Chief Bola Ige of Oyo and late Professor Ambrose Alli of the defunct Bendel State, among others, were detained over alleged financial impropriety by the Buhari/Idiagbon regime of 1984.
Last year, however, there was a new chapter in the political history of this country when a serving governor, Joshua Dariye of Plateau State, was arrested in London for alleged money laundering. He was.,however, lucky as he jumped bail and came back to Nigeria.
Gov. Alamieyeseigha’s arrest
The story, however, was different on September 15, this year when another serving governor, Dieprieye Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa State, was arrested by the Metropolitan Police in London for alleged money laundering.
Alamieseigha, who was entering London from Germany where he had undergone a surgery, was said to have been handcuffed and detained. His Edgeware, South-London home, was said to have been searched by detectives who were reported to have found one million pounds there.
The new dimension introduced into his case was that he was reported to have been handcuffed in the presence of his wife and son and later detained in police custody pending his appearance in court. And when he eventually appeared in court, he was not granted bail and was subsequently remanded in prison custody to break record as the first Nigerian serving governor to be so treated.
Initially, the matter was viewed by political watchers as the normal acrobatics associated with politics which will fade with time. The Bayelsa State Commissioner of Information Culture and Tourism, Mr. Oronto Douglas, said it was the handiwork of the governor’s political opponents to tarnish his image.
But the matter started to attract serious attention when Lagos radical lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, (SAN), declared that the issue was not a child’s play.
The firebrand lawyer and vocal activist, raised blood pressure of not a few Nigerians when he revealed that should Alamieseigha be found guilty of the allegation, he risks 15 years imprisonment. According to him, the immunity clause in the 1999 Nigeria Constitution can only work for Mr. President alone and not for any governor.
In a statement, Chief Fawehinmi pointed out that the Criminal Justice Act 1993 promulgated in the United Kingdom was aimed at making money laundering a serious offence.
His words: "By this law, any governor, like Dieprieye Alamieyeseigha, who brings into the United Kingdom money which is a product of corrupt practices at home in Nigeria can be arrested, tried and convicted in the UK."
According to the SAN, there are other legislations on money laundering enacted by the Parliament in England which "makes it an offence for any bank, or bank manager or bank official who fails to report to the British Police any lodgment in the bank account which is more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000). It carries a maximum imprisonment of 15 years."
Fawehinmi raised the stakes more when he revealed that Nigerian immunity does not cover any governor in Britain. "As far as international law is concerned, only the head of a sovereign state enjoys immunity and not a division within a nation" He explained that "none of the 36 governors enjoys any immunity under the customary international law. Consequently, Alamieseigha does not enjoy any immunity outside Nigeria."
The issue was further compounded when the Presidency declared that the embattled governor was on his own. This stand from the Presidency, was made known by the Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode.
The presidential aide declared:"There is no way the president can intervene in an on going investigation in a foreign country. It is important that due process is allowed in this case. It is at the end of the investigation that they would let us know what they want to do. It is at that point that the president can take action."
But in another breath, Fani-Kayode said that the development was in tandem with government’s efforts to rid the country of corruption.
"Our position is that we are fighting a focussed and unrelenting war against corruption, and we have made it clear over and over that any individual, no matter how highly placed, who indulges in any act of corruption will be brought to justice,"he said.
With this stand, some analysts agree with those who said that the Federal Government had a hand in the governor’s travail. But Fani-Kayode would not want to listen to such. He declared: "I completely reject that assertion. It is not a matter of set up, rather, it is a matter of evidence and I think we should want to see what evidence the British authorities have and want to hear the outcome of their investigation after they have finished."
Anger in the land
Indications that Alamiyeseigha may be heading to the ‘Golgotha’ were rife as political stakeholders in the country started to speak, directly or indirectly, in support of the arrest of the governor in London.
The Senate leader, Alhaji Dalhatu Sarki Tafida, blamed the immunity clause in the constitution for the misbehaviour of some state executives saying, "this is why I don’t believe in the immunity clause (section 308 of 1999 Constitution) and left to me, it should have been expunged long ago."
Echoing his stand, the first female Senior Advocate of Nigeria(SAN), Chief Folake Solanke, told Daily Sun in Lagos recently that she was never in support of the immunity clause in the constitution, arguing that it was the cause of recklessness of some beneficiaries of the constitutional provision.
Mr. President, on whose shoulders rests Alamieyeseigha’s fate is not also forthcoming to defend his party man. To him, the arrest has brought shame to the country. He said: "He (Alamieyeseigha) abused the respect and confidence reposed in him by his people and Nigerians. I see his arrest as a form of disappointment to the nation and shame to our people. And with what has happened, what confidence do you think the outside world would repose on other state governors?"
While exonerating his country from undue harassment of a Nigerian citizen, the British High Commissioner in Nigeria, Mr. Richard Giozney, explained that "the arrest was inspired partly by Nigeria’s quest in the last two years to fight money laundering."
General Tunde Ogbeha, a senator and member of the PDP, dismissed the case as a party matter saying, "it is a question of national image and an individual."
On his part, former commissioner of police in Lagos State, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, described the arrest as "national disgrace" asserting that "it was scandalous that a serving governor could subject himself and the pride of Nigerian nation to international ridicule."
Last ditch pleas
Should Alamieyeseigha go to jail in far away London, what effect would that have on the image of the country is the question posed to some political stakeholders.
To Chief Funsho Ologunde, the Assistant National Organising Secretary of the All Nigerian Peoples Party(ANPP), Alamieyeseigha’s imprisonment would not have any adverse effect on the country’s image. According to him, rather than have any evil effect, it would only serve as a deterrent to others who indulge in corrupt practices.
The ANPP chieftain, however, warned the British authorities to make sure that the trial was fair, transparent and just, saying if the conviction was done through due processes, he has no problem with it.
The General Secretary of the Campaign for Democracy(CD), Dr Joe Okei Odumakin, said that before Alamieyeseigha could be blamed, the case must be proved beyond reasonable doubt.
To the woman activist, if the governor is guilty and subsequently jailed, such an imprisonment would not have any adverse effect on the country’s political history. She said it would only serve as a cleansing tonic to the corrupt ways of public office holders in Nigeria.
The National Publicity Secretary of the Pan- Yoruba socio-cultural and political group, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, does not see anything so spectacular about a serving governor being found guilty of a criminal offence and jailed.
He, howeve , called for fair hearing and transparency, saying that if all the ingredients of justice were observed and the governor was found guilty, so be it.
With this precarious situation, Nigerians now wait impatiently to hear the verdict on Alamieyeseigha’s travails. Would he add a negative chapter to the history of the country as a serving governor who bagged a jail term while in office? If this unprecedented situation happens then, Alamieyeseigha would go down in history as an unusual political trailblazer. And that would be bad for him and the nation.