By JESUTEGA ONOKPASA
The recent indictment of a rather embarrassingly high number of Nigerians for scamming Americans by that country’s Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI, has given let to the more unpalatable inclinations of certain Nigerians instead of sensitising the mass of our citizenry into a national effort against the insane celebration of illicit wealth and the diabolical inculturation of criminality into the fabric of our youths.
Thus, instead of motivating our countrymen into mature introspection and sober reflection, far too many Nigerians have resorted to all manner of dastardly vices from ethnic profiling to actually condoning fraud with respect to this matter!
So far, I have encountered many hues of utter nonsense and volume of bewildering balderdash on the topic. Indeed, from the diarrheic mouths of those pitiably seeking to defend the indefensible by trying to make a case for criminality to their co-travelers intent on stigmatising their compatriots by attempting to dress fraud in the garments of the Ibos, that which is most deplorable in the Nigerian has found fresh expression once more.
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I am not Ibo but I know that fraudulent activities are perpetrated by Nigerians across ethnicity and religion, just as corruption, kidnapping, rape, and sundry other horrors now seem to serve to unite us though tribe and tongue may differ. I happen to be a Christian and as someone who believes in God who graciously equipped me with a conscience, I know that it takes a lost soul to make a case for fraud. As a citizen and lawyer, I also find the politicization of this latest embarrassment against our collective honour to be most egregious and condemnable as well.
In the wake of the indictments, the Senior Adviser to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, a certain Paul Ibe, has called for the sack of Barrister Festus Keyamo, SAN, as Minister on grounds of past association with one of the indicted individuals, who happens to be a childhood friend of the Minister!
This sort of rascality is truly stupefying and even more alarming in terms of what it says about a society where ignorance, opportunism and brazen brigandage can be so easily packaged as coherent commentary worthy of dissemination in the media quite apart from frenzied sharing on social media platforms.
One of the indicted persons, in fact, the most prominent of the lot, was once celebrated by no less than Forbes Magazine; do we then call for Forbes to be sealed up or at any rate boycotted on that score or how do some people even reason in this country?
As we move around through life on a daily basis, do we even have the slightest clue as to what those we meet might be up to? How many of us can really say what absolutely all those we’ve known throughout our lives have dabbled into or are currently engaged in?
Can Atiku’s Senior Adviser vouch for absolutely everyone his master has fraternised with throughout his life or indeed even those Atiku may currently be involved with? Is Atiku not currently in court purportedly seeking justice?
Yet, here is his adviser calling for the sack of an innocent man on grounds of guilt by association with a suspect that has not even been proven guilty and is thus presumed innocent until then! If this is Atiku’s taste in advisers and the likes of this ridiculous fellow are those he is placing reliance on, then I would just have to take his fate in the last elections to be in order for he must have little, if anything, to offer Nigerians.
It is a cardinal principle of law that a man never pays for the crime of another and there is no such offense as guilt by association. Festus Keyamo is a lawyer and in that capacity is deemed, in law, to be perfectly entitled to be seen with absolutely any sort of person however unsavoury their reputation might be, even with a prisoner or ex-convict as long as no evidence of his participation in such person’s crime exists.
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Everyone, even the most execrable offender, is entitled to legal representation for if the suspect is denied legal representation, then he could never be convicted or his trial would thus had decomposed into a most nauseatingly objectionable sham with the effect of denigrating the court into a kangaroo. If any of these indicted fellows were to approach any counsel for representation, the ethics of our profession demands that such lawyer must defend them, all other things being equal, provided that a lawyer’s belief or indeed, knowledge that such person committed the offense in question can never be a ground for not taking up his cause!
Lawyers are like doctors who must attend to any patient without prejudice and like priests who must approach anyone as potentially someone to be claimed for the kingdom of God. In these professions, there is simply no accommodation for prejudiced behavior. If you prevented a lawyer from defending Adolf Hitler today, then another person could prevent another lawyer from canvassing the rights of his victims tomorrow.
In fact, where an accused person cannot afford a lawyer, judges often plead with lawyers to take up their cases pro bono. Where a judge cannot find a lawyer to take up the cause of such indigent accused person, that judge might have to take up his defense for the trial to proceed! Where an accused person lacks legal representation either on grounds of inability to afford such or indeed for any other reason, and, the judge, howsoever, cannot take up his cause, the trial of such person cannot proceed!
I wonder what this garrulous character would have to say to Governor Emeka Ihedioha of Imo who did not merely appear in a photograph with one of these indicted individuals but actually appointed him into his inauguration committee.
Being a rational human being and not a hypocrite, ignoramus or member of a lynch mob purporting to be offering a presidential candidate quality counsel in the capacity of a Senior Adviser, I would actually extend Governor Ihedioha the benefit of the doubt for no human being has the capacity to know all there is to know about those they interact with in this world!
One indeed wonders what we would find if we closely scrutinised the lives and careers of these utter miscreants who have senselessly aggregated into a crazed lynch mob baying for the blood of those they have extrajudicially found guilty by association. My bet is that we would discover more than enough of them who are blood-related to fraudsters and serial beneficiaries of crooks.
We should also end up finding many who are regularly patronised by swindlers whose means of livelihood are well known to them quite apart from those who have actively aided, abetted and participated in such criminally significant enterprises at one time or the other or who continue to do so on a regular basis! This is what our society has disintegrated into; a free-for-all of hypocrites and paradise of fingerpointers.
Festus Keyamo, SAN, is a lawyers’ lawyer who has acquitted himself in his profession just as much as he has excelled in his public spiritedness. There were those who derided his style and he became a Senior Advocate right before their very eyes.
Others postured that he was fooling himself with President Buhari and that he would end up being used and dumped only for him to be made a Minister. But for my extreme irritation at the gross groundlessness of these lastest attacks against him, I would not in the least be bothered about the entire circus.
Truth is, I have absolutely no fear for Festus for if I have learnt nothing else about this truly remarkable colleague of mine through the years, then it is that to attack him is only to fuel him with even more oxygen for ever greater exploits. For the likes of Keyamo, what will be will still be, however much the haters might wail for the stars of them that are chosen are within the exclusive jurisdiction of God.
Onokpasa, a lawyer, wrote from Warri.
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