It is an uncommon case that negates the Kafkaesque leitmotif that the law is beholden to the privileged, especially in a third world country like Nigeria - a former state governor, Joshua Dariye, was jailed for corruption.
Reflective of his preoccupation with the bizarre conundra of the human condition, Franz Kafka's "Before the law" confronts us with the huge impediments in the path of the less privileged to get the law on their side. In the rare cases where the law grants access to the poor, it is because its defences have been broken down by bribery or the real fury of the oppressed.
But in the case of Dariye, the law is not really out to assert its equality before the rich and the poor. As a member of the privileged class, Dariye has found a way to make the law serve him even though he is in prison. Before Dariye went to jail, he was a serving senator. Dariye was Plateau State governor from 1999 to 2007. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) prosecuted him for embezzling N1.162 billion within this period. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison. But after his appeal was decided, this sentence was reduced to 10 years.
The unpredictability of the law and its amenability to the powerful comes into sharp relief in the case of Dariye as even though he is in jail, he is getting his salary as a senator. For the past six months, he has been receiving the N750,000 salary and N13.5 million monthly running cost from the National Assembly.
As though mocking the law and attempting to prove that the prison walls were no barriers to his social and political clout, Dariye even paid N8 million for a ticket for re-election as a senator on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). But apparently by a fortunate stroke of serendipity, the party staved off the imminent obloquy and threat to its political fortunes by disqualifying him. However, we should be reminded that Dariye was not on the path of recording a groundbreaking history as a senator who got elected into political office while in prison. No, he was on a beaten path. Before him, there were Iyiola Omisore and Theodore Orji who got elected as senator and governor while they were in prison.
Perhaps, Dariye became a governor ahead of his time. He should have waited for the APC and Buhari era. He might have been prosecuted and jailed for corruption because he was a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governor. If he were a governor in the Buhari era, he would not have gone to jail. Even if the evidence of his culpability were stacked high against him, he would have been enjoying his proceeds of corruption in the plenitude of the freedom of the innocent. He would have even been one of those railing against the unmitigated corruption of the PDP era.
This is not far-fetched. In this Buhari and APC era, the patently corrupt become garlanded citizens. The Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof. Usman Yusuf, was accused of stealing billions. Buhari was not willing to sack him. But it was only after so much pressure from the outraged public that Buhari suspended him. Buhari did not send the EFCC after him. So, Yusuf is somewhere enjoying his stolen billions while an investigation whose outcome we may not see is said to be going on. There is Abdullahi Ganduje who is accused of taking bribes in dollars. He is still the governor of Kano State. He has never been prosecuted by the EFCC. He is using his freedom to prepare for how he would deliver five million votes to Buhari next year. There is also Babachir Lawal who allegedly embezzled the money meant for the welfare of displaced persons.
Buhari was also not willing to sack him. And when he did after so much pressure, he did not prosecute him. Lawal even replaced himself with his relation. Lawal remains till today as a key member of the APC and he has unfettered access to Aso Rock. Still, there is the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai whose questionable source of income was enough to make him to be an owner of foreign assets in Dubai. There is Musiliu Obanikoro whose N500 million houses were seized from him because they were considered as proceeds of corruption. But they were returned to him after he defected from the PDP to APC. It was the same thing with Timipre Sylva whose confiscated 48 houses were returned to him because he is in APC.
Now, to justify the rank perfidy being perpetrated by Dariye, there has been the blithe recourse to legal sophistry. Dariye has taken his appeal to the Supreme Court and therefore his seat has not been declared vacant, so goes the argument of Dariye's aide. And from the office of the Senate comes the argument that the National Assembly has not been informed that Dariye has been imprisoned.
Is this why the EFCC has not frozen his accounts and stopped the payment of salaries to a convicted prisoner? It is the same EFCC that was busy freezing the accounts of a whole state like Ekiti because it accused the governor, Ayodele Fayose, of corruption. It was the same thing in Benue State where Governor Samuel Ortom was accused of corruption after refusing to be used by Fulani herdsmen to wipe his people from the face of the earth. It is the same EFCC that has been freezing the accounts of Patience Jonathan and confiscating her property even though she has not been convicted.
Let us forget the legal cant and humbug. What should be clear to us is that in a nation that is sincere about fighting corruption, the right thing would have been for the salaries of Dariye to be stopped. If his appeal succeeds at the Supreme Court, then his suspended salaries could be paid to him. If his salaries cannot be stopped because the Supreme Court has not ruled, why should he be allowed to go to jail in the first place before the apex court's verdict of guilt?
Inevitably, we are alerted to the grim reality that in these climes, anyone who wants to be a criminal must choose to be a big one. When the criminal has so many billions he can hire many Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) who would defend him. After all, it was the same way that President Muhammadu Buhari hired a plethora of SANs to defend him when he was simply asked to present his educational certificates. It is in the consciousness that the bigger the crime the better that government officials in the Buhari era approximate their fantasies to reality. Or why does Buhari claim to have achieved so much whereas misery stalks the land? Or why did Lai Mohammed find it easy to lie that the government spends N3.5 million monthly to feed the Shiites leader Ibrahim El-Zakzaky while the latter is racked by neglect?
While the law protects the powerful even though they are corrupt, it is easily deployed to punish the weak under the guise of the flimsiest charge of its violation. This is why the prisons are brimming with the poor who stole chickens or goats because they were hungry. This was why Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State would pull down the building of Ayefele's Music House even though no court had given an order that this was the most appropriate course of action for the state government.
Thus, like Dariye, erstwhile Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke might snigger when the EFCC hectors about the imperative of extraditing her in order for her to be prosecuted. This might be an opportunity she is waiting for to regain her freedom from the surveillance of the INTERPOL and the British Police. Secure in the knowledge of the pliability of the law and its bias for the privileged despite its avowed disposition to equality, she might be eager to return home to hire SANs. These would insist on her innocence and with dollar-inspired nous and vim, they would argue for the retrieval of her swanky property and bank accounts that have been confiscated before a court declared her guilty.