Saturday, August 20, 2016

Death In EFCC Custody: The Case Of Citizen Nunugwo

By Paul Onomuakpokpo  
With a history of rank sleaze purportedly behind it, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) may not provoke so much sympathy as it writhes in the throes of self-inflicted intrigues and external conspiracies. That is why when its members are hounded by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for their complicity in corruption that allegedly besmeared the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan, there is no much outrage by the citizens.
The constant refrain is that they are paying for their sins. After all, they are responsible for the economic pain of the citizens having unconscionably looted the treasury. They are responsible for the prolongation of the war on Boko Haram that has claimed many lives having diverted the funds meant for buying the weapons to fight the insurgents. The citizens do not really bother that these cases are still in court and that we cannot determine the extent of the culpability of the accused yet.
But what we have obviously failed to realise is that the more we uncritically adulate the government and its arbitrariness, the more it degenerates into dictatorship. Now from indiscriminate arrests and incarcerations, the government and its agencies have gone a step further. They have engaged in a wanton liquidation of the citizens. The latest victim of this government’s brutality is citizen Desmond Nunugwo.
We have not been told by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that he was a chieftain of the PDP. Neither have we been told that he was one of those billions of naira have been traced to in the course of the anti-corruption campaign. All we know is that he was only a chief protocol officer to the minister of state for defence. Yet, the EFCC recently detained him in its custody. The family was neither told of the charges against him nor was he taken to court. While waiting for the EFCC to disclose the charges against him, the family only learnt that Nunugwo who was never sick was dead in the custody of the commission six hours after being taken in.

No matter how much the EFCC tries to cover up its tracks, it is glaring that it is complicit in the death of Nunugwo. The EFCC cannot deny its complicity when it has consistently demurred when challenged to undertake an autopsy on Nunugwo two months after his death. The family may be right after all in accusing the police of playing the EFCC’s script as the two agencies have concluded that Nunugwo died naturally. The two agencies reached this conclusion without conducting an autopsy. And this is despite that the hospital where Nunugwo died has expressed its readiness to conduct the autopsy by forwarding the requirements for the exercise to the EFCC and the police.
Since the police have already taken a position, they cannot be entrusted with an investigation into the death of Nunugwo. And despite the promise of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to investigate the case, the government must demonstrate its sincerity by accepting the position of the family that an independent investigator should be given this responsibility.
It must be clear to the citizens that if the family of Nunugwo is left alone to seek justice, the government would only end up frustrating the case. Thus what is needed to secure justice for Nunugwo and prevent similar atrocities is for the civil society and other citizens to rally round the family of the deceased. We must not only insist that justice is done on the case by making the perpetrators of the murder to get their deserved sanctions, we must also ask for compensation for the family of the bereaved. After all, the children that have been deprived of their father need to have education and be cared for like other children. It is because the EFCC like the police and other security agencies are not appropriately sanctioned that they continue to kill innocent citizens for not giving a N50 bribe.

 Instead of championing a campaign against a glaring case of injustice like this, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is distracting itself with the threats of prosecuting some politicians it has accused of electoral malpractices as though all the politicians were not guilty of these same offences.
We must not just hope that the law would take its due course. After all, if the law has failed to resolve the cases involving the bigwigs of the society such as politicians, there is no way it will be of help to the common man like Nunugwo. In the long run, the government would manipulate the law and nobody would be brought to justice over the death of Nunugwo.
Whenever the issue of justice for the poor citizens comes up in these climes, one’s mind goes to Frantz Kafka. Those who are familiar with the world of Kafka would readily recall that in a story entitled “Before the law”, he explores how insurmountable obstacles are placed in the path of one who desires to get justice. Kafka represents the law as a physical space where a nameless man comes from the country to seek admission.
He does everything he can, including bribing the doorkeeper. He eventually spends all his fortune while waiting to gain admission to law. And at his death, the doorkeeper shuts the door. Like Kafka’s nameless man, there are many poor citizens who have been standing at the door, seeking admission to law.

The case of Nunugwo has reinforced the danger that the Muhammadu Buhari regime is blithely ignoring. The government is pushing the citizens to resort to self-help. For if a suspect knows he or she is not safe in the EFCC’s custody, why must he or she accept its summonses? Would the citizens not find a means of defending themselves? Since the government has failed to effectively rein in lunatic herdsmen on the prowl would the citizens not defend themselves? It is in the same way that the government has failed to tame religious bigots that are mowing down Christians in a country that is supposed to be hallmarked by its secularity.
By its inaction, the Buhari administration is wittingly or unwittingly waiting for the surfeit of crises in the nation to snowball into a conflagration that would consume it. The government can only erase this impression by setting the tone of obeying the law itself. The government should stop unnecessarily detaining citizens under the guise of undertaking an investigation. If it cannot investigate the cases promptly, it should not allow innocent citizens to suffer. Or has the constitutional dictate of being presumed innocent until proved guilty become a casualty of the anti-corruption campaign?

*Dr. Onomuakpokpo is on the Editorial Board of  The Guardian. 

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