Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Effrontery Of Militant Tompolo

The refusal of ex-militant, Government Ekpemupolo, popularly known as Tompolo, to honour the invitation of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, as well as the summons of the court is an affront on the Nigerian law and nation. It is a clear statement from him that he is above the law. And that is not acceptable in a nation that has law and order.

The reason there is sanity in society is that there is law and order. People know that there are lines they must not cross, and if they cross such lines, they know that they will face the consequences.

Those who cannot discipline themselves and their desires occasionally cross such lines...
The law descends on them. That makes those who don’t cross such lines to see more reasons not to cross the lines, while those who have been penalised either learn their lesson or learn no lesson and continue to be victims. That encourages law keepers to obey the law and discourages lawbreakers to break the law. Thus, anarchy is prevented from society.

In his statement why he refused to honour the EFCC’s invitation, Tompolo said inter alia: “As my solicitor’s letter indicated, I am already in court with the EFCC in Suit No: FHC/W/CS/152/2015. The EFCC had been served with the court processes since October 20, 2015 but they refused to attend court on several occasions, or to file any court papers, only to appear for the first time on November 30, 2015 without filing any court papers. They even asked for the matter to be adjourned to December 17, 2015, the date they are now inviting me to appear before them.

In fact, the EFCC only invited me two months AFTER I sued them. In my solicitor’s letter I informed them that as soon as the court decides one way or another, I would honour their invitation.”

It seems Tompolo has learnt from the government of President Muhammadu Buhari that one may have “genuine and compelling reasons” not to obey a court order. He may have also seen that some people who obeyed court order or honoured invitations by the Department of State Services or the EFCC never regained their freedom in spite of court orders that they be released “unconditionally”. Once the court orders such people to be released or once they fulfil their bail conditions, the security agencies prosecuting them either refuse to release them or decide to re-arrest them on the excuse that they have fresh charges against them, even though no court has granted them the powers to keep such people. And those who never see anything wrong with any action taken by the Buhari’s administration would immediately defend the disregard for court orders, citing the examples of terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba by the United States of America. Corruption charges and terror charges have become one and the same thing! Even at that, one can also see how the US ensures that the Guantanamo Bay is not within the US territory where its laws cover.

The issue of Tompolo has moral implications. Definitely two wrongs don’t make a right. Just like Nnamdi Kanu told Justice Ahmed Mohammed that it was of no use standing trial before his court because whatever judgment he reached that did not favour the government would not be obeyed by the government, Tompolo would have reasoned that once arrested, he would not be allowed to step out even if the court ordered that he be released.

It has been said repeatedly that government must not set a bad precedent of not obeying court orders to avoid citizens copying it and throwing the nation into anarchy. Our people say that when the she-goat chews the cud, her kids watch her mouth. In addition, when the teacher breaks the chalk, the pupils break the blackboard. Those in government must set a good example so that the followers will not find any excuses to take the laws into their hands. It will also give those in authority the moral right to prosecute those who break the laws.

In January 2014 when the current governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai (who was a member of the opposition then), was invited by the DSS over an inflammatory statement he made, he initially refused to honour the invitation. Even some of his colleagues in the opposition, like Mrs Oby Ezekwesili, came hard on him for not respecting an agency of the government as a former minister of the nation. Eventually el-Rufai, dramatically driven by the then governor of Rivers State, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, and accompanied by Dr Chris Ngige, his opposition colleagues, honoured the invitation. A month later, a former militant, Alhaji Dokubo Asari, was invited by the DSS for some inflammatory statement he made. Happily, he promptly honoured the invitation.

It is not just about invitations from law courts or security agencies. It may be invitations that don’t have the force of law but need to be honoured for the sake of showing regard for the authorities and the people. It is necessary that such invitations be honoured. One remembers the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission, popularly called Oputa Panel, which started sitting in 2000 but whose invitation was ignored by generals like former military heads of state, Ibrahim Babangida and Muhammadu Buhari. In 2011, then President Goodluck Jonathan refused to attend the presidential debate, giving all manner of excuses. In 2015, Buhari also failed to attend the presidential debate, also giving excuses.

That was not all, from 2003 when he lost the presidential election to then incumbent President Olusegun Obasanjo, Buhari stopped attending the National Council of States meeting and all other functions that required the presence of former heads of state. He continued that protest until 2015 when he won the presidential election. Yet, there was no evidence that in all those years of protest, he refused to accept his benefits as a former head of state. Also, in 2014 when Nigeria celebrated her centenary, and Jonathan named Buhari as one of the recipients of national honours, he attended the event and received the award.

Similarly, for the better part of the Jonathan’s administration, the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, did not attend many national events and meetings, even though he was the No 4 person in the nation.

The people watch these actions and note them. They tell themselves: If this top person can refuse to honour this invitation, I can also fail to honour such an invitation.

Public figures must know that they are in the public glare and must weigh their actions very well before taking them. Impunity breeds nothing but impunity. Lawlessness breeds nothing but lawlessness.

In the final analysis, we are in a nation with laws. President Buhari must ensure that court decisions are obeyed by all agencies under him. Similarly, even though Tompolo’s first name is “Government,” he must ensure that he obeys the invitation of the court rather than seeing himself as a parallel government. That is the way to ensure that there is no breakdown of laws in the nation.

Written by Azuka Onwuka
twitter @BrandAzuka

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