Vanguard (Lagos)

13 February 2013

Nigeria: If Chris Huhne Was a Nigerian...

CHRIS HUHNE, 58, was until last week a member of Parliament representing the Eastleigh constituency in Hampshire, England. But after more than seven years in the parliament, the leading Liberal Democrat resigned his seat after admitting to swapping speeding points with his former wife, Vicky Pryce, in order not to lose his driving license in 2003.

What started as a forgettable incident two clear years before he entered parliament has cost one man, a potential Prime Minister, the political career he had hoped to protect in the first place by lying.

He had been caught over-speeding by a speed camera on his way home in Essex but fearing that the loss of his driving license might affect his parliamentary bid, he got his wife or, rather, forced her as she now claims to take his three penalty points.

A week after this, anyway, Huhne lost the license after he was caught using his mobile phone while driving. So much for his lying! But all was calm thereafter at the home front.

That is before Huhne admitted, after he was caught by journalists, to a relationship with his bisexual partner who his former wife derisively calls his man, Carina Trimingham. His Eastleigh seat is up for grabs in a by-election slated for February 28th - no room for a prolonged vacuum as you might have in Nigeria.

Huhne's infidelity would lead to the break up of his 26 years marriage and crashed his political career even as he looks forward to a spell in jail for perverting the course of justice, the charge for which he is standing trial at the Southwark Crown Court with his wife.

Hell couldn't possibly pack more fury than a scorned woman. In just about two weeks since the trial of the ex-couple started a bagful of dirty home underclothes have been let out of the cupboard, including stories of forced abortion and marital bullying.

Vicky Pryce, an economist two years Huhne's senior, claims that her husband's forcing her to take his speeding points followed a pattern of marital abuse for very selfish motives, including an abortion he forced her to have in 1990 because the timing was wrong for his political career.

The story of Huhne's point swap first emerged after his relationship with Trimingham became front page news and he asked for separation from Pryce in 2010, seven years after she took the penalty points. Although she now wants the world to believe that she was reluctant to do her ex-husband's bidding in the first place and that her coming out to speak now has nothing to do with the man hooking up with another 'man', Pryce it was who first contacted the press and received coaching on how to get her husband to admit to the point swap in a series of recorded phone calls. She sought and got assurance against prosecution before this stratagem was hatched.

The man obviously knew what he was up against and resolutely refused to admit to anything. A position he maintained in his first appearance in court only to turn in a guilty plea a week later. But as earlier said, Pryce is equally being tried for perversion of justice.

At a lunch outing with a Nigerian academic and his Italian colleague a couple of weeks ago in London, the Nigerian friend had exclaimed after the lady told us she had paid over £200 for a traffic offence.

He said he had never paid that much for a traffic offence. (We are talking here of British Pound, a denomination still worth its weight in gold in an economy where a penny is a legal tender and the highest denomination is £50.

Our own Central Bank Governor was going to slam a N5000 denomination on us all only a couple of months ago). Before this talk my Nigerian friend who had lived in the UK for more than two decades had told me that the major difference between the Nigerian society and British society is that there is a strong awareness of the law being a leveller and no respecter of person in the British society.

If you're found guilty of a crime or offence you face the consequences like any other person no matter your status. A far cry from what you'll see in Nigeria. Looking at the offence for which Huhne has to sacrifice his political career and the maximum sentence of life in prison (even if on the average his offence fetches just about ten months in jail), I wonder what would happen to him if he was a Nigerian.

After he pleaded guilty the judge told in him in very clear terms that he should have no illusions about the sentence that awaited him. No plea bargain; no flimsy fines. When sentenced it's certain there would be no arranged visits home.

How many are those Nigerian judges ready to look a politician or senior government official in the face in this manner? Can a Nigerian politician end his career on the gravity of a traffic infraction committed ten years ago and three years before he began his political career?

Nigerians couldn't have forgotten the outcry that followed the 'arrest' of an Army colonel that drove on the BRT lane by Governor Raji Fashola last year in Lagos? There were many who felt the Governor was out to disgrace a senior military man who could have called his bluff if he had wanted to. And what do we make of both elected and unelected public officers who routinely violate traffic regulations with no consequences?

How many are our current governors that have been involved in very horrible accidents leading to deaths of innocent road users and their own aides when they themselves don't end up with ugly fractures in hospitals?

How many of these governors are home right now because of road accidents due to overspeeding and reckless driving? At other times ordinary road users are scared off the road or beaten by armed escorts of state officials and other military and paramilitary personnel for no reason other than that these state officials blatantly refuse to follow traffic regulations.

Both the rich, the poor and the in-between have suffered the menace of these so-called public officials that operate above the law. In 1988 Chief MKO Abiola had a bruising experience with those he would later call 'mad dogs', escorts of an Airforce General in Lagos.

There was the case of the young corps member beaten within an inch of her life by armed escorts of a Navy General in Victoria Island. Each time we witness such violations of human dignity on our roads one wonders where the law lies, wonders what would happen if Chris Huhne was a Nigerian.

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