No one knows when sickness will come but for some politically exposed persons in Nigeria, ill-health and trials for corruption and other related offences are synonymous, writes ROBERT EGBE
YOU can’t read the cartoon without a smile breaking out on your face. The little girl in a lime hijab stands next to her father as he sits in his chair, reading. The cover story headline of the newspaper in his hands is ‘Olisa Metuh’.
“Dad, why do politicians fall sick in court?” she asks him.
Without looking up, the father replies: “They are allergic to justice.”
This political cartoon by award-winning political cartoonist and illustrator Mustapha Bulama captures the popular suspicion that politically exposed persons often feign illness to obtain bail, avoid or delay trials.
Here’s how it works: A public official leaves office as right as rain. But as soon as or shortly after he or she is arraigned for corruption, the court is persuaded to grant bail, or permit a usually long trip abroad on the ground of a serious medical condition. Sometimes the medical trip is undertaken without the judge’s permission, causing a trial delay.
It is not new or even solely Nigerian practice. On August 25, 2013, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak appeared in a courtroom cage in a wheelchair.
But back home, last Thursday’s dramatic court appearance by former Chairman, Pension Reform Task Team, Abdulrasheed Maina, reignited public interest in the phenomenon.
Maina and his 20-year-old son, Faisal, were arrested by operatives of the State Security Service (SSS) at the Pennsylvania Avenue Hotel, Utako, Abuja, on September 30, shortly after sneaking into Nigeria from Dubai.
He was arrested after a four-year manhunt on suspicion of being involved in a N2 billion pension fraud.
Father and son were arraigned on October 25, before the Federal High Court, Abuja by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
While Maina is being prosecuted by the anti-graft agency on a 12-count charge of alleged money laundering, operating fictitious accounts and other fraudulent activities using some banks in the country, his son is facing a three-count charge bordering on money laundering and other offences.
Both defendants pleaded not guilty and applied for bail.
The court adjourned till Tuesday, October 29 to take his application seeking an abridgement of time to hear his bail application earlier fixed for November 19 and also for the continuation of evidence by the prosecution’s first witness.
However, when the matter was called on Tuesday, Maina was not in court. He was said to be indisposed.
Justice Okon Abang adjourned the ruling on bail application until last Thursday, November 7. Maina sent tongues wagging when he was wheeled into the court by two prison officials. Justice Abang said he was deeply touched when he saw Maina on the wheelchair.
“When I saw him this morning, I was deeply touched. I would have on my own even adjourned the matter seeing him in this condition,” Abang said.
On Sunday, Maina’s family refuted news by an online media that he was feigning sickness and receiving presidential treatment in Kuje Correctional Facility, where he is being detained.
It said Maina has been on life support and medication for 15 years.
The former Senator representing Kogi West Senatorial District, Dino Melaye, on September 13 arrived for his trial at the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, High Court, in Apo, Abuja in a wheelchair.
Two of his Aides, who wheeled him in, claimed that he could not stand alone, due to an injury he sustained in the last PDP Governorship primary election in Kogi State.
Melaye told the Judge in the court that he could not stand in the dock to continue his criminal trial. He is facing a six-count criminal charge of attempted suicide, escape from police custody, damage to police property, mischief, and a threat to public servants.
Justice Sylvester Orji had, at the last sitting on May 28, adjourned the case till September 11, 18, and October 3, for the continuation of hearing and examination of witnesses by the Defence Counsel.
Melaye’s counsel Benson Igbanoi (who stood in for Mike Ozekhome), informed the judge that Melaye was injured in the governorship primary election conducted in Lokoja when gunmen invaded the Stadium, venue of the primary.
Justice Orji, in his ruling, accepted the defendant’s plea and adjourned for twenty days, for the Melaye to open and close his case.
A former spokesperson of the People’s Democratic Party, Olisa Metuh, on February 5, last year arrived at the Federal High Court, Abuja, venue of his corruption trial on a stretcher after being taken down from an ambulance.
Metuh’s lawyer had, at the last adjourned date, informed Justice Okon Abang that his client was at the Nnamdi Azikiwe specialist hospital for treatment on spinal cord complications. The lawyers, led by Onyeachi Ikpeazu, asked for a long adjournment after presenting the hospital’s medical report on Metuh’s health condition.
But Justice Abang refused the application for a long adjournment and threatened to allow the application made by the prosecution for the revocation of Metuh’s bail if he was not in court.
However, on seeing the spokesperson in court on a stretcher, the judge granted the adjournment.
“I have seen the condition that the first defendant is in. Seeing the condition, I am inclined to adjourn this matter to allow the first defendant to attend his trial,” he said.
In the charge, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, alleged that Metuh, before the 2015 presidential election, received N400million from the Office of the National Security Adviser without executing any contract.
A former chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Haliru Bello Mohammed, on January 5, 2016, appeared before the Federal High Court, Abuja, on a wheelchair.
Bello appeared alongside his son, Abba Bello, following allegations of money laundering levelled against them and their firm, BAM projects and Properties Ltd, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
The EFCC had on December 26, 2015, filed a four-count charge of money laundering against the politician and his son for their alleged role in the diversion of funds meant for the procurement of arms in the office of the National Security Adviser.
Abbah Mohammed is alleged to have received N600m from the office of the National Security Adviser in the name of Bam Properties.
Both defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The former PDP chairman’s counsel prayed the court to grant him bail, so he can attend to his health.
Justice Ahmed Mohammed granted his application. He said the affidavits before the court showed that Bello and his son’s claims of ill health did not appear to be false.
He noted that the first defendant, Abba Bello, was said to have bronchial asthma, while his father had an injury in the spinal cord.
“Then it will be most unfair to refuse the bail application,” Justice Mohammed said.
The judge ruled that the first and third defendants, Abba, and Haliru Bello, be granted bail on the condition that they provide N300 million and two sureties.
In a manner similar to most of the Bellos, an ex-Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Patrick Akpobolokemi, on January 14, 2016, walked into the premises of the Federal High Court in Lagos with the aid of a crutch.
On June 1, 2018, the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, discharged and acquitted Akpobolokemi, who was charged with an alleged fraud of N2.6bn by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC),
On June 21, a Lagos High Court in Igbosere gave a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr Rickey Tarfa, 90 more days to recuperate from surgery.
Justice Adedayo Akintoye made the order following Tarfa’s application for more time after suffering unexpected complications.
The Silk had not been unable to attend his trial for alleged judge bribery since last January 21, when he visited Europe following a medical emergency.
He is standing trial on a 26-count charge of offering gratification to two judges of the Federal High Court – Justices Hyeladzira Nganjiwa and Mohammed Yunusa – as well as alleged justice perversion.
Upon his return to Nigeria, Tarfa did not set foot in the courtroom on March 11, 19, May 8 and 31 when the matter came up.
He always stayed downstairs in his car.
According to his counsel, Mr Abiodun Owonikoko SAN, Tarfa was unable to climb the staircase leading to Justice Akintoye’s courtroom, even on a wheelchair, because of the severity of his condition.
On March 19, Owonikoko filed a medical recommendation from Tarfa’s doctors which stated that the defendant required a minimum of three months of medical leave to enable him to recuperate.
The three months would have elapsed last June 19.
On August 10, 2018, it was claimed that former Petroleum Minister, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke is being treated for cancer in the United Kingdom (UK).
The claim was followed by a picture of the ex-minister with greying, low cut hair.
Alison-Madueke’s lawyer, Oscar Onwudiwe, said she had been battling the deadly disease right from when she was in office. He didn’t disclose the type of cancer she is suffering from.
“The health crisis has unfortunately exacerbated in recent times,” Onwudiwe said, adding that she underwent chemotherapy and would undergo surgery.
The former minister was arrested by the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) alongside four others for bribery and money laundering. She was later released on bail.
She is wanted in Nigeria for alleged multibillion-dollar fraud.
‘Difficult to know whether the sickness is genuine or fake’
According to the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), some Nigerians feign sickness during a trial in an attempt to avoid the consequences of their alleged offence.
“I am worried by the attitudes of public officials who play the sick game whenever they are being tried. The only thing is from what I see on television, it is difficult for me to know whether it is genuine or fake.
“This is our attitude in this country. When you are engaging in impunity, you do it in full health but when payback time comes, then you are sick and you want to avoid the consequences of what you did with open eyes.
“This is what I’m always talking about. Let us do what is right and not now begin to look for excuses and promote sentiments when you are being visited by the law for the wrongdoings you committed. It is very unfortunate,” Sagay said.
Culled from The Nation newspaper
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