El Rufai's Bribery Allegation: A Rush to Judgment

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

“I believe it is an established maxim in morals that he who makes an assertion without knowing whether it is true or false is guilty of falsehood, and the accidental truth of the assertion does not justify or excuse him.” Abraham Lincoln

What is the truth? How do we know that Mallam Nasir el-Rufai is telling the truth? How do we know that Senators Jonathan Zwingina and Ibrahim Mantu did or did not demand bribe as alleged by the minister? No one knows what the truth is; no one knows what really transpired between these public servants – no one, except for the three men involved. And so: what is the truth?

And unless the Minister or the Senators had recording devices present, we may not know the truth (for a while). Therefore, as of yet, no one knows. No one knows the truth, the whole truth and the absolute truth. Yet, there is this feeding frenzy, this rush to judgment and condemnation by those who should know better. Suddenly, we have immediate convert (to sainthood), and are all clamoring for the head of the Senators who have not been proven guilty or accept wrong doing.

Consider what is going on today: Chief Gani Fawehinmi has called on Justice Mustapha Akanbi and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Offences Commission (ICPC) to arrest the senators; various caucuses of the Senate are calling for the resignation of the Senators; and The Arewa Consultative Forum has also demanded that the Senators resign. Moreover, individuals and vested parties are also calling for the head and neck of the accused Senators. Ha! All these before the allegations are proven?

This rush to judgment reminds me of the days in Lagos when the mere chorus of “Ole…Ole…Ole” could get suspected thieves killed. Suspects were bunt alive after being boxed with tire and sprinkled with petrol or kerosene. What is happening now in the case of Mantu and Zwingina is just a high-tech version of the aforementioned barbarity.

To salvage whatever is left of the Senate’s reputation, it might be fair and just to ask the Senators to go on “administrative leave” pending the findings of the police, the justice department or of the ICPC. However, it would be unjust, criminal, and unconstitutional to cast aspersions on these men, or to arrest them or ask them to resign. We just can’t do that. We shouldn’t do that. We just can’t condemn and vilify people based on mere allegations. Where is Tafa Balogun or the Justice Minister in this matter? There must be a full and impartial and incorruptible investigation of this matter. Once the investigation is complete, then, arrest and prosecute the senators, or arrest and prosecute the minister for false allegation.

What if Mallam el-Rufai is out to get the Senators (for whatever reason)? And to conclude that he is telling the truth because he swore on the Koran — and others refused to do so — is to me, unsatisfactory. I have been told there are penalties for giving false testimonies when one swear by the Koran. Well, what if the accuser does not give a damn about such consequences? Year after year, our public servants swear by the Bible and the Koran; yet, they have no scruples when it comes to dipping their fingers into the national treasury, or when it comes time to collude with outsiders in corrupt practices. Therefore, whether El Rufai placed his hands on the Koran or not is insignificant; and whether Senators Ibrahim Mantu and Jonathan Zwingina refused to swear by the Bible or the Koran does not point to their guilt or innocence.

What is going on in Nigeria vis-à-vis the allegation is nothing more than extrajudicial and extralegal action. It is a lynching of some sort. It is a miscarriage of justice. It is wicked and errant to condemn people based on mere and unproven allegations. The Senators have not confessed to anything. They have not been found guilty by the court; yet, Nigerians have already concluded they are guilty. Damn! What a travesty of constitutional procedure!

Except for Chief Gani Fawehinmi, I find it hypocritical on the part of all those calling for the head of the Senators. Why? Well, Tafa Balogun was accused of corruption and of intimidation and of bullying and of extorting some government functionaries; and that he illegally amassed millions of Naira. Whatever became of those allegations? What happened to the vice president after being accused of illegally amassing real estate in his home state? For a very long time, and in deafening beats too, wasn’t General Ibrahim Babanginda accused of being a thief and a rogue? Today, Babangida wines and dines at Aso Rock; and for his dessert he is to be awarded the nation’s highest honor – this according to President Obasanjo.

I do not condone illegalities. I do not condone thievery. I do not condone corruption of any kind. My private and public deeds and words bear me out on these assertions. In the same vein, I will never condone or applause extra-judicial behavior because amongst other thing, and in the words of Edmund Burke: “Justice is itself the great standing policy of civil society; and any eminent departure from it, under any circumstances, lies under the suspicion of being no policy at all.”

We must not engage in or encourage a rush to judgment. As it stand, the Minister alleges “extortion and bribery” on the part of the Senators. The Senators have denied it, and have called the Minister a “pathological liar and a character assassin.” Now, what is the TRUTH? As it stands, no one knows. Therefore, only a properly constituted authority like a court of law can tell us. To infer or pronounce the innocent guilty – without dues process of the law is criminal. If we allow this manner of behavior to stand, we would be setting a bad precedent: allege and vilify equal guilt. It shouldn’t be that way. It should be allege, investigate, and prosecute.

Therefore, the exalted Chief Gani Fawehinmi should take it easy on the Senators. The Arewa Consultative Forum should rethink its strategy. Fellow Nigerians should give the police and related bodies time to investigate this matter. The Media should not encourage a lawless or anarchical atmosphere. For now, no one knows the truth; and so there is no need to rush to judgment. This way, we encourage the growth of a civil society.

Sabella Ogbobode Abidde. Norman, Oklahoma. sabidde@yahoo.com

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