Bello should stand up and defend his record in office

To willfully hinder, delay or obstruct law enforcement officers from arresting a criminal suspect anywhere in the world is a serious offence. That an elected public official would be involved in such action is even more shocking. By allegedly shielding his predecessor, Yahaya Bello, from arrest by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) last week, Kogi State Governor, Usman Ododo demonstrated not only a high degree of irresponsibility but also a gross abuse of po wer. But we commend the EFCC for avoiding being dragged into a constitutional minefield. We also condemn Bello’s refusal to submit himself to the law. According to the 19-count criminal charge, the former governor and his nephew, Ali Bello (currently the Chief of Staff to the incumbent Governor Ododo) as well as Dauda Suleiman and Abdulsalam Hudu are being accused of laundering the total sum of N80bn, belonging to Kogi State.

Bello has been declared wanted by the EFCC, after his absence from the Federal High Court in Abuja “stalled his arraignment.” The Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) has also placed him on watchlist while the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) has ordered the withdrawal of his orderlies. If he is wise, this is the time for the former governor to turn himself in. Recourse to lawlessness is unbefitting of a man who held such a high office for eight years. Nor can Bello use the courts to prevent the anti-corruption agency from doing its work.

In objecting to the arraignment of his client before the Federal High Court Abuja, Bello’s lawyer, AbdulWahab Mohammed says the court lacks jurisdiction. “Our contention is that the defendant on record is not a fugitive. We are talking of rule of law, not rule of force,” argued Mohammed who insists that Bello is innocent. “We are contending that the warrant of arrest was given outside jurisdiction because there is a judgment.” Valid points no doubt, but since the law is no respecter of persons, elementary decency requires that the lawyer should ask the former governor to surrender himself to the EFCC.

However, it is also important for the EFCC to learn some lessons from this unfortunate development. While the frequency of ex-governors’ trials may indicate the prevalence of financial crimes in our society, there is also a suspicion that appearance and drama have overtaken substance and earnestness at the commission. The sensitive public is now finding it increasingly difficult to draw the line between when the EFCC is putting up a dramatic show of authority and when it is engaged in the nitty gritty of the fight against corruption for which it was established. In some cases, like that of the former governor of Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle, who is now Minister of State for Defence, EFCC conveniently allows the matter to fizzle out.

Even in the instant case of Bello, the EFCC is notorious for staging this kind of drama against former governors at the end of which no credible evidence is presented to secure court conviction. We recall the 18March 2022 drama involving the immediate past Governor of Anambra State, Willie Obiano, after performing his last duty: the swearing in of his successor, Chukwuma Soludo. Obiano had been intercepted at the Lagos airport and stopped from travelling to the United States. While in EFCC custody in Abuja, a degrading video of him was leaked to social media. The real trial is scheduled to begin only in June this year despite putting up an elaborate show.

Overall, it is important that incumbent president and governors fully understand the full implications of the loss of immunity at the end of their tenure. It means a total submission to the rule of law. It also means preparedness to defend their records as they re-enter society as ordinary citizens. For that reason, Bello should rise above petty unbecoming drama and face the law. He has the chance to prove his innocence and hopefully thwart his detractors if indeed the accusations against him turn out to be false and baseless.

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