The court should temper justice with mercy

Even for someone with his reputation, the recent letter by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to the Honourable Justice Jeremy Johnson of the Central Criminal Court in London came as a surprise. But many Nigerians were nonetheless delighted by his impassioned clemency plea for Senator Ike Ekweremadu and wife, Beatrice. The Ekweremadus and a United Kingdom-based Nigerian medical practitioner, Obinna Obeta, are awaiting sentencing following their conviction for the breach of the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015. They arranged the travel of a 21-year-old from Nigeria to London for the purpose of organ donation for their daughter, Sonia. 

 We commend Obasanjo for his intervention, especially at a time authorities in Nigeria seem to have abandoned the Ekweremadus to their fate. Yet, there are abundant examples in international diplomacy where nations, including the UK, had intervened to secure relief for their citizens involved in legal tangos abroad. Ostensibly to compound his problem, the Economic and Financial crimes Commission (EFCC) filed charges against Ekweremadu at a period he was detained in the UK. “It is not hard to reason that the essence of the application for interim forfeiture by the EFCC is to give credence to the letter of 18th July 2022 to the Crown Prosecution Service and to give them further reason for continued custody of Senator Ike Ekweremadu in the United Kingdom,” Justice Inyang Ekwo ruled in January while vacating the earlier interim order he had earlier given.

Meanwhile, there are many lessons to be learnt from the experience of the former deputy senate president, especially for members of the political elite and the rich. One, there is no place like home hence the more reasons why we must fix our health, educational, and other systems so that Nigerians do not have to be running into these kinds of storms. If such services were readily available in the country, the Ekweremadus would not have needed to travel to UK. Two, Nigerians must seek proper legal advice before embarking on any venture in foreign lands as cultural relativism might not apply.

Having been convicted in the UK, the Ekweremadus will be sentenced this Friday. We align with the pleas for mercy for the couple by Obasanjo. Whereas the offence for which they have been convicted cannot be rationalised, it is not hard to reason that the lawmaker and his wife might have not deliberately run afoul of the law. It is on record that the Senator wrote a letter to the UK High Commission in support of visa application for a trip to the UK by the potential kidney donor to his ailing daughter. It is unlikely that someone who intended to break the laws of a country would go through that clearly documented route.

However, there is a residual responsibility that is lost on the Nigerian authorities in this unfortunate saga. The possible imprisonment of the Ekweremadus in the UK would be equivalent to the sentencing of a serving UK parliamentarian in Nigeria for a crime in our country. In any such circumstances, the government of UK would deploy back-channel options to bring pressure on Nigeria to make justice serve the needs of political and diplomatic expediency. More importantly, our government should have gone into a covert plea bargain discussion with the UK judicial authorities to repatriate the Ekweremadus for possible trial in Nigeria.  

 Regardless of the gravity of the offence to which the Ekweremadus have been convicted, Nigeria failed in its protection of the sovereignty and sanctity of its legislative branch. Worse still, our country failed in the kind of staunch extra-legal measures which governments all over the world undertake to protect their image and the perceived rights of their citizens whenever they are in distress abroad. 

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