Author: Chris Akiri
Posted to the web: 10/10/2005 10:02:04 PM
The arrest, trial and detention, in London, of Depreye Alamieyeseigha, elected Governor of Bayelsa State, for alleged money laundering, is the sad maturation of the studied web of intrigues designed by the enslaving Nigerian Establishment to demonise the leaders of the South-South, with the exception of the miserable and unblushing Quislings among them. Perhaps it is pertinent to state, to begin with, that no right-thinking person would be opposed to a genuine war against corruption, the bane of our socio-political life. The rub is that the orchestrated, even if jerrybuilt, crusade against corruption in Nigeria is characterised by arrant insincerity, brazen selectivity and palpably intemperate vindictiveness. It should be noted that the overwhelming majority of the leaders in the Fourth Republic, from legislators to the President, stand accused in the court of public opinion; yet, any person, saint or sinner, who summons up enough courage to inveigh against a third term for Mr. President, or who has the temerity to preach up the need for resource control, or looks askance at the corps of unfederal powers wielded dictatorially by President Olusegun Obasanjo, or shows a soft spot for Vice President Atiku Abubakar, is a candidate for the nominally Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the institutional myrmidons of the Presidency. One wonders whether all of those commentators gloating over the travails of Governor Alamieyeseigha realise first, that there are many noisomely corrupt elected officials in both the executive and legislative arms of the Federal Government, who are treated like sacred cows, and secondly, that there are predatory Governors in and outside the South-South geopolitical zone owing houses in Europe and America, routinely shuttling, like junketing gadabouts, between Britain or America or Continental Europe and Nigeria, with tonnes of foreign exchange, but who will never come to any harm, either in Nigeria or elsewhere, because they belong to the in-group. Who, in this country, doesn't know that all the genuine leaders of the Niger Delta, who insist on controlling their God-given resources, are, to President Obasanjo, intolerable personae non gratae? That the humiliation of governor Alamieyeseigha in London is at the instance of the Federal Government of Nigeria cannot be gainsaid. The British Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Richard Grozney, admitted that much two weeks ago. In international customary law, there have been established rules regarding diplomatic immunity, guaranteeing to sovereign states (subjects of international law) and their instrumentalities, to heads of state and government and to envoys and their staff, the largest measure of corporate and personal inviolability and freedom from the jurisdiction of the local courts, both civil and criminal. Nigeria, be it noted, is a federation, each of whose federating units, including the central government, is co-ordinate with, and not subordinate to, the other. An elected Governor of a State operates on a plain of mutual political equality with an elected President of Nigeria. Accordingly, the immunity which Nigeria's Head of State claims also inheres in an elected Governor of a State. If some national courts deny immunity to political sub-divisions of federated states and to municipalities, most other national courts extend immunity to federating states. A United States Circuit Court, for example, in Sullivan v State of Sao Paulo, 122 F. 2d 355 (1941), now a locus claassicus, refused to exercise jurisdiction in an action brought by a holder of bonds issued by a Brazilian Federal State, on the ground that the immunity should be analogous to that accorded states within the U.S. Therefore, to insist that only diplomats and heads of state are accorded diplomatic immunity is to give a restrictive construction to what diplomatic immunity is all about. In this case, Alamieyeseigha is being treated like an ordinary Nigerian. But even an ordinary Nigerian should be treated decently and in conformity with the municipal law of the prosecuting state. The British court trying him for this bailable 'offence' has denied him bail. In doing so, the magistrate was quoted as saying that the reason the Governor would not be released on bail was because Governor Joshua Dariye of Plateau State of Nigeria once jumped bail. This is strange. In Britain? An accused person, presumed innocent until proved guilty by a court of law, has to suffer vicariously for the offence of another accused person? Would a British court treat a British citizen like that? What has happened to the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations? Aren't there no better ways of ensuring that Governor Alamieyesegha doesn't jump bail? It is a truism that even if the ordinary subjects of a state are treated with discretion, no state can afford to mete out to foreigners treatment that falls short of the objective minimum standards required by international law. Thus, if the treatment of a foreigner in prison or in court fails to reach the lowest level expected of civilised countries, or if they are prejudiced in life, liberty or property by any sub-minimal conduct on the part of a state, the latter incurs international responsibility towards the home state of the foreigner concerned. Even if the individual citizen of a state is treated as an object and not a subject of international law, there is a certain mitigation of the situation afforded by the diplomatic protection states accord their nationals abroad. Besides, commercial and minorities treaties give citizens some rights, even though they are rights, which, as a rule, only their states can enforce. In international customary law, the accepted position is that an individual is under the aegis of a state. For instance, the other day, in 2003, MT African Pride allegedly bunkered about 15,000 DWT crude oil. The ship was arrested and kept safely in the outer bay, which only the Navy could access; yet it disappeared into thin air within days. Nigeria loses over $100 million per week to the activities of oil bunkerers. Twelve Russian citizens, members of the MT African Pride crew, were arrested and detained for their alleged role in the disappearance of the ship and its content. The arrested Russian crew could be said to have been caught flagrante delicto. But they remain citizens of Russia nevertheless. A few months ago, Russia threatened to sever diplomatic relations with Nigeria. Opposition parties in that country asked their government to expel the Nigerian ambassador and impose sanctions on Nigeria if the Russian suspects were not tried immediately. State instrumentalities, let alone nationals of any sovereign state, enjoy the protection of their states, where the concept of fundamental human rights has a meaning. Thus, when the Soviet News Agency, Tass, was sued in the UK for alleged libel, the Court of Appeal recognised its immunity, giving significant weight to the Soviet ambassador's certificate that Tass constituted a 'department of the Soviet State' (Krajina v Tass Agency (1949 2 ALL E.R 274and Baccus S. R. L. v Servicio Nacional Del Trigo (1957) 1QB 438). In the U.K, as in other places, we have an embassy that caters only for the friends of the government of the day in Nigeria. Or why should a Nigerian citizen, an elected Governor of a federating unit of Nigeria, with a diplomatic passport, be arrested, detained and refused bail, all because another Nigerian had jumped bail in the recent past? In what way is the offence of Governor Dariye ascribable to Governor Alamieyeseigha? Is that how the British courts treat British citizens? In other words, does that treatment accord with the British criminal justice system? Doesn't the denial of bail to the Governor for the stated reason verge on a serious breach of the minimum standard of international law, requiring the Nigerian State to raise the matter with the delinquent state on behalf of the embattled citizen, said to have undergone a surgical operation? Why shouldn't Nigeria regard the injury being inflicted on the Governor as a direct affront to its sovereignty? We daresay that President Obasanjo's innocuous statement that Alamieyeseigha 'remains innocent until proven guilty' is non sequitur, derisive and escapist. If the Nigerian State conspired with other states (in Europe and America) to deal with its non-conformist citizens in pursuance of its disingenuous war against corruption, and the Paris Club and the evil Bretton Woods iron triad - the WTO, the World Bank and the IMF - consequently decided to forgive us our financial trespasses, wouldn't Nigeria have cut its nose to spite its face, already made hideous and repellent by the activities of 419ers and hard drug pushers? Isn't it only Nigeria that can collude with foreign nations to demonise her citizens in order to score points? Would Britain or the US ever request Nigeria to arrest and brutalise its nationals in Nigeria because it is fighting a war against corruption? I wish I could answer that question in the affirmative!