Orji Uzor Kalu is a free man, courtesy of the Supreme Court. By the end of today, he will be let out of prison and begin enjoying his new life as an ‘innocent man’. It doesn’t matter that his ‘innocence’ was acquired by default. A judicial aberration gave him his lucky break. And no one can frown at him if and when he goes to a thanksgiving service in the church and throws a party to celebrate. But the big celebration may be put on hold until the corona lockdown is over.
Kalu is, indeed, a cat with multiple lives: businessman, ex-governor, senator or ex-senator, convict and ex-convict, or none of the two, and Mr. Controversy. And a lot more but mostly unsavoury shenanigans for which he has long been notorious.
His current travail began in 2007 after he had completed his second term as Abia State governor. The EFCC had charged him and some of his fellow former governors with large-scale pilfering of their state treasuries. In his own case, he and two of his principal aides were accused of stealing N7.6 billion. The case dragged on for years as Kalu wasn’t going to go to prison quietly. He challenged his trial and sought reprieve from prosecution all the way to the Supreme Court.
The apex court had, early last year, ruled that he should face trial, saying that there was no merit in his demand to not be prosecuted. He and his aides were subsequently tried and convicted by a Federal High Court, Lagos. Kalu got a sentence of 12 years. He went to the Court of Appeal and lost. Then he was back to the Supreme Court that had ordered that he should face trial.
This time, the court put a smile on his face. His aides too benefited from the unexpected reprieve. Their victory may be Pyrrhic but it’s still a victory. The apex court ordered a retrial. But given the snail-speed of our judicial processes, he may breathe the sweet air of freedom for quite a long while.
And he can again assume his status as a ‘distinguished senator’ immediately. And there, he will be welcomed by his fellow ‘distinguished senators’, many of whom are ex-governors who have turned the Senate into their retirement home.
Kalu’s lucky break speaks eloquently to the numerous flaws in our law-endorsement system, including the judicial processes. The Supreme Court didn’t say he and his co-accused were not guilty of the charges they faced. The federal high court judge,
according to the apex court, who tried the case had no business delivering the judgement that convicted them. This is because, by the time he gave the judgement, he was already sitting on the Court of Appeal. And he couldn’t leave his seat there and descend to the one below to deliver the judgement. At the point he was elevated to the higher court, the case ought to have started de novo, that’s tried anew by a new judge.
A legal technicality has sprung him from jail. He can now triumphantly walk back to his retirement job in the Senate. As he basks in his singular fortune, some of his former colleagues, who are in jail for the same offenses, will be rueing their own bad luck of not getting a similar technical loophole to escape their punishment.
Joshua Dariye and Jonah Jang, both former governors of Plateau State, and Jolly Nyamme of Taraba State, a reverend, turned politician, turned a convict, will surely be envious of Kalu. They may even begin to think of hiring Kalu’s lawyers or others who can look for any legal technicality in their own cases to help them out.
Who knows? They might just be lucky too. After all, this is a country where anything and everything goes – from the bizarre to the unthinkable that defies sense and sensibility.
As for Kalu, he can enjoy his controversial reprieve as long as possible. He is never ever far from controversy. He thrives in it. Remember his controversial half a million naira cash donation to the old Borno State in the early 1980s? He delivered the cash in a sealed carton, which turned out to contain no money but neatly cut pieces of papers in N20-note size. He blamed his boys for the scam and got away with it.
When he fell out with President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2006 and left the PDP to form his Progressive Peoples Alliance, PPA, he claimed, without providing any proof, that he donated $100 million to Obasanjo’s 1999 presidential campaign. Read that again: $100 million; not 10; not one million.
Love him or loathe him, Kalu is back in circulation. And don’t be surprised if he formally launches his 2023 presidential campaign. He is the master of distractions, diversions and sheer drama.
WHO IS SHEDDING CROCODILE TEARS NOW?
Governor Aminu Masari is lamenting the banditry that is ravaging Katsina and other states in the northwest. He is at his wits end as he has run out of options to tackle the menace of lawlessness that has made the lives of the people an absolute misery. They can’t go to their farms freely; they are not safe in their homes and communities; and there is no one to save them from their tormentors.
Masari’s lamentation is at best dubious. When Major general Leo Irabor, chief of defense planning and operations, defense headquarters, visited him in his office last Tuesday, the governor complained that the bandits were still having a free reign and spreading mayhem all over the state. He said they had killed over 50 people in two weeks, rustled countless number of cattle, and kidnapped many victims for large ransoms. For the umpteenth time, he appealed to the security agencies to come to the aid of the overwhelmed states in the northwest.
Masari and his colleagues had ignored warnings that their initiative of glad-handing the Fulani bandits would backfire big time. Last year the northwest governors launched what they called Niger Delta-style amnesty program to essentially appease the bandits. The criminals would lay down their weapons, renounce banditry and get generously rewarded with cash and other goodies.
In a series of public show that the initiative was real and working, many of the bandits handed over their arms and pledged to become law-abiding. And the governors declared victory and insisted that their reaching out to the bandits was justified.
But their optimism about the efficacy of their appeasement scheme was entirely misplaced. You can’t coddle criminals and expect their criminality to vanish just like that. All the governors succeeded in doing is legitimize hardened criminals and heartless killers, and embolden more of them to live by the gun. It is a catastrophic failure of leadership at all levels.
So is Masari’s lamentation an admission that he and his colleagues were wrong? They owe the people an apology for giving them false hope with the bandits-appeasement program that has cost hundreds of millions of naira without ending their mindless, unprovoked killings.
But to be fair to the governors, they are helpless. They are chief security officers of their respective states without the power to deploy security personnel to address the menace. Masari’s case is even more pathetic. He governs Katsina, which is President Muhammadu Buhari’s home state. Yet he gets no serious support from Abuja to save the people from the terrorism of the bandits.
So if Buhari can leave his own state in the lurch, then the others can’t dare to expect any help from the federal government. And that means the bandits will continue to expand the ungoverned space they have carved out for themselves. The people are on their own.