Warning! Do not mistake this for a motivational. The looting of Nigeria has become so endemic that it is no longer spoken of in hushed tones.
Nigeria now, perhaps, holds the record of the most number of public officials who have ‘fainted’ while being tried for bare-faced looting of the country’s treasury.
So widespread is the national shame that even an amateur playwright could fashion a thousand scripts out of the improvised acts that many believe are intended to pool wool over the eyes of judges or slow down the pace of justice.
But are these mere acts of trickery or genuine health concerns that quickly turn the accused persons into dramatis personae, and their lawyers becoming emergency movie producers?
Whatever the various perspectives are, a close review shows how the various fainting episodes are now raising a nation of copycats who, hiding under technicalities of law, appear to be perfecting how to evade justice or run from it.
From former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun, to the former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Olisa Metuh, to former Pensions Reform boss, Abdulrasheed Maina, the list is growing and threatening to lengthen as the country’s anti-corruption agencies cast their nests further afield.
Regrettably, the theatrics of these alleged looters look to provide practical guides for the growing clan of corrupt persons.
Here, we take a look at eight of such indicted officials who chose the fainting stunt to throw spanner in the judicial process and, perhaps, slow the pace of justice. How well these acts have frustrated the judicial system remains debatable.
Tafa Balogun: June 2005
In 2005, former Inspector-General of Police, Tafa Balogun, was indicted for embezzling over $100 million by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Balogun was later arraigned at the Federal High Court, Abuja, on 4 April 2005, on charges involving about N13 billion obtained through money laundering, theft and other sources.
The EFCC under his former subordinate, Nuhu Ribadu, brought 70 charges against Balogun covering the period from 2002 to 2004.
While he was making an appearance at the Abuja High Court, Balogun suddenly pulled the fainting stunt and collapsed from his seat.
As he crashed to the floor, gritting his teeth and clenching his fists in supposed pain, the former police helmsman went stiff, his breathing becoming belaboured and spasmodic. His relatives were to later claim that Balogun had been assaulted and tortured by officials of the EFCC while in detention.
A smart Balogun soon opted for plea bargain wherein he admitted guilt to eight of the amended 56 count-charges directly affecting him and was convicted for six months on each of the charges.
He was also convicted for concealing vital information from the EFCC over his alleged business concerns and interests in some companies amounting to over N17.7 billion.
The trial judge, Justice Binta Nyako also directed that Balogun pay N500, 000 on each of the eight counts charges, totaling N4 million.
The court also directed that he forfeited all his assets while ordering the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) to strike out his companies’ names from its register.
The number of properties so forfeited to the government totaled 14, located in choice parts of Lagos and Abuja.
Balogun’s case proves that the long arms of the law will always catch up with deviants.
Femi Fani-Kayode: October 2016
Former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, also played the fainting card while he was in the detention of the EFCC, precisely on Saturday, October 22, 2016.
According to his spokesperson, Jude Ndukwe, Fani-Kayode was at the time undergoing recovery therapy following his prolonged detention and was physically attacked by an EFCC officer when he fainted and was revived by the medical team at the EFCC facility.
At the time, Fani-Kayode who was the spokesperson to ex-President Goodkuck Jonathan’s campaign Organisation in the 2015 presidential election was accused of unlawfully receiving money from former National Security Adviser (NSA), Sambo Dasuki.
Fani-Kayode still basks in the sun, leveraging all known technicalities to frustrate his trial.
Olisa Metuh: May 2018
The case of Olisa Metuh, the former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was quite dramatic and hilarious. Metuh was alleged to have received about N400 million from Dasuki and was arraigned by the EFCC in January 2016.
When his case came up in January 2018, Metuh did not make an appearance, explaining that he had been admitted at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Hospital in Anambra State, but the judge was not persuaded, and ordered that he should be brought to court on the next adjourned date.
Two weeks later, Metuh made a grand arrival at the court premises in an ambulance. The case could not proceed but the following month, he applied for permission to travel abroad on the grounds of ill health.
On May 21, 2018, when he finally appeared, Metuh ‘collapsed’ while making his way to the dock. After pulling a lot stunts, Metuh was finally convicted and sentenced to 39 years in prison in February 2020.
For Metuh, it’s proof that the wheels of justice grind slowly but surely deliver.
Ayo Fayose: July 2018
Former Governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose was the next bigwig to ‘collapse’. In the buildup to the gubernatorial election in the state in July 2018, Fayose became famous when he ‘passed out’ after police officers allegedly tear-gassed the government house on Wednesday, July 11, 2018.
That was when he made the now celebrated anecdote: “I am in pains; I am in severe pains.” Later that day, while addressing journalists, the ‘actor’ Fayose appeared in a neck brace and arm sling, where he lamented the assault and brutality he had suffered in the hands of police officers. “I am in pains; I am in severe pains; I can’t turn this neck anymore. If anything happens to me, the Inspector-General of Police should be held accountable,” he cried as bemused media hounds looked on.
Fayose is still riding the wave, playing the ‘sick’ card to buy time and hide under legal technicalities.
Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia: December 2018
The fainting drama by government officials in Nigeria has not been restricted to the male folks alone, as the former Federal High Court judge, Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumobogia, also slumped on December 14, 2018, minutes to the commencement of her trial.
Ofili-Ajumogobia had been arraigned by the EFCC before an Ikeja High Court for charges bordering on perversion of the course of justice, unlawful enrichment, and forgery.
Ajumogobia got what she wanted, a spanner in the judicial wheels to slow down the processes.
Dino Melaye: January 2019
The ‘enfant terrible’ of the 8th Senate, Dino Melaye, also put up the fainting act on January 4, 2019, at his residence and at the headquarters of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in Abuja, days after the police laid siege to his house over allegations of criminal conspiracy and culpable homicide.
Some days later, Melaye adamantly refused to leave his hospital bed for the court in Lokoja, citing ill health. However, that was not the first time Melaye had crafted a dramatic show to evade arrest. On May 2, 2018, he had appeared in court on a stretcher after he was charged with attempting to escape arrest.
Melaye was bound to the stretcher and wheeled into the
Abuja courtroom where the judge had to adjourn sitting in the case.
The theatre of the absurd fully played out when Melaye, in a ‘Tarzan of the Jungle’ act, reportedly hid on a tree for hours while trying to escape from the police.
Melaye is still walking free while the case drags.
Kemebradikumo Pondei: July 2020
On July 20, 2020, the Acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei, proved his slumping skills during an interrogation by the House of Representatives.
Pondei, who was full of life at the beginning of the interrogation by the House Committee in an alleged misappropriation of N82.5 billion by the Commission, suddenly collapsed, with saliva dripping from his mouth.
Pondei had just been asked about an extra-budgetary expenditure incurred by the commission when he seemed to have lost his grip and ‘collapsed.’
Pondei appears to be enjoying official protection as the probe looks to have been swept under the carpet.
Abdulrasheed Maina: December 2020
On Thursday, December 10, 2020, former Chairman of the defunct Pensions Reform Task Team (PRTT), Abdulrasheed Maina, perfected the ‘fainting’ act when he slumped at the Federal High Court, Abuja, while being arraigned by the EFCC on charges of laundering over N2 billion from the pension scheme.
This was not the first time Maina had employed some tricks to forestall his trial. He had earlier appeared in court in a wheelchair but after he was granted bail, he suddenly became well enough to take a ride from Sokoto to Niger Republic where he hid for months before he was rearrested and extradited to Nigeria to face trial.
For now, Maina is spending time in jail for jumping bail and leaving the watching public in no doubt that he is plotting to run from the law.
All told, the trend by thieving government officials to pull world class theatrics in a bid to run away from the law has become too predictable. It can best be described as a desperate act designed to render the judiciary ineffective, and the country a banana republic.
Considering that looted wealth is essential in remaining relevant and procuring the loyalty of an unsuspecting public, the art of fainting as perfected by some rogue politicians in Nigeria appears to have become a necessary skill to evade justice. But this, evidence shows, does not last.
The troubled Nigerian state, if not guilty of the grand plot to make the judiciary go extinct, must fathom its next move to save its institutions.
And, for the judiciary, it must resolve to save itself or fall prey in the hands of its own and their collaborators in the executive and legislature who believe that corrupting the judiciary is the only and best way to stay dominant.
So, the next time a politician or government official standing trial for corruption or abuse of public office decides to slump, or faint, or lose consciousness, in the middle of a public hearing, remember it’s most likely a charade and nothing more!
By Isaac Dachen
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