Last week was definitely confusing. A series of disastrous disclosures emerged, first through the Farouk Lawan committee on fuel subsidy and then Henry Okah’s grave accusation that President Goodluck Jonathan masterminded the presidential swearing in and Independence Day bomb attacks in 2010.
The Farouk Lawan committee on fuel subsidy administration came out with a damning report on the culpability of the principal officials of the current regime in the fraudulent management of the subsidy support fund.
At about the same time, In South Africa, the trial of Henry Okah had begun. He was arraigned for complicity in the October 2010 bomb blast at the Eagle Square in Abuja. As part of his defence, he claimed in an affidavit that the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria masterminded the bomb blasts at his swearing in and on the Independence Day both in 2010.
I do not wish to discuss Henry Okah’s claim as it is before a court of competent jurisdiction thus it is sub-judice. More so, the presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati has made it a point of duty to remind everyone that it contemptuous to speak about the matter because it has not yet attained judicial conclusion.
However, it is appropriate to ponder at the grave allegations on the person and office of the first citizen. For apart from the submissions serving as facts for the defense, it also serves as public information. Most of the accusations in the sworn brief are clearly beyond the cause of the trial, because they touched on issues bordering on a separate crime, which at the very least desires a strong rebuttal and in some instance requires the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation to initiate an action that will cause the opening of an investigation file.
Yet, with a similar document – the fuel subsidy report- the Attorney General of the Federation, who is also the chief law officer of the government stated the position of the President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, and qualified the tedious product of legislative resolution as a mere a fact finding mission. And though the report has indicted some individuals as guilty of mismanagement in fuel subsidy regime, under the Nigerian legal system, the indicted are only acknowledged as suspects in the commission of a crime; which again has to be investigated by the relevant bodies. The report will then be transmitted to the prosecutor’s office to examine and set an effective mechanism for the appropriate punishment for the offenders.
Indeed one of the key recommendations of the report was the invitation of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, to confirm the indictment of the persons found complicit in the report.
Aside the usual Nigerian hysteria of mob lynching a suspect of a crime – that is never a situation that aids the course of justice. An investigative committee report by itself does not equate to tenderable evidence. In addition, the chairman of the committee in different forums, has stated that by the nature of the legislative arm, performing the task of an investigator without the requisite police training would be almost an impossible expectation especially as the individuals or groups that are subject of the examination have not cooperated with the committee. Thus to pick such a report and thrust it into technicalities of legal prosecutions, amounts to playing the Ostrich that merely buries its head in the sand and expect the rest of the world not to see the hairy mass of the rest of its body.
However, while sifting and linking complicity are a primary requirement of a proper trial, under the expansive court of public opinion, a mere allegation harms the perception of honesty on political leaders, who by their acts or inactions have shown they are corrupt. Thus, while the presumption of innocence is fundament in any allegation that is yet to attain legal conclusion, under the template of public accountability and generally accepted behavioral norms, a mere creation of reasonable suspicion by a public official upon himself, is enough to attribute criminal intent on such individual.
As such despite all the confusion with the events of the preceding week, one thing that is certain is that the president having a relationship with Mr. Henry Okah, to the extent of appointing Mrs. Diezani Allison Madueke a minster, a rebuttal would have raised a valid ground for prosecutable perjury or defamation of character.
It is interesting to know that the majority of the indicted persons in the report maintain a beneficial relationship with the first citizen. It is public knowledge that they are the biggest financiers of the campaign activities of the ruling party. Thus even if the law will not allow us to pass judgment, within the realm of the court of public opinion, in the very least, the presidency is guilty by association.