Since the January #OccupyNigeria protest which swept across parts of the country, there have been lots of revelations from the petroleum sector, enough to cause an uprising had it happened someplace else. We have heard individuals and firms accused of pocketing billions (of dollars) to offer services or supply products which they never delivered. This year alone, we have heard cases like that so often that it has lost the ability to jolt.
Nigerians are tired. The worst thing that can happen to the country is for a critical mass of citizens to lose hope in the possibility of justice being served. If truth be told, we have stepped eerily close to that point. There is little reason to believe in the country when goat thieves and chicken-change thieves are handed severe, sometimes fatal judgements while pension and oil subsidy thieves, even when charged to court, come out smiling with the sureness of one that knows the end from the beginning.
The latest arraignment in court of suspected fuel subsidy thieves by the EFCC is one with great implications for two reasons. First, the money involved (over N6.2 billion) is humongous. Many states in this country do not generate up to that sum in a whole year. Also, the surnames borne by the suspects make this a very symbolic case. Mahmud Tukur, the son of the current PDP National Chairman Bamanga Tukur; Mamman Ali, son of a former PDP chairman Ahmadu Ali; as well as Abdulahi Alao, son of business mogul, Abdulaziz Arisekola-Alao, are just three of ten suspects charged by the EFCC.
Of course, the standard rule must apply namely that the accused are still innocent unless proven guilty. However, the EFCC must be careful in their handling of this case. They must avoid the kind of flippancy which has characterised their handling of some other cases in the past. Anything short of thoroughness is unacceptable. It is hoped that the judges would give all parties involved a fair hearing.
The major concern however is executive interference. We have seen it happen again and again; a case makes the headlines in the evening news for a few weeks and then it is forgotten, the suspects walk free, only spending a bit to launder their images. Nigerians are watching both President Goodluck Jonathan and EFCC chairman Ibrahim Lamorde. For both those men, this case could mean resurrection or a death knell.
For a political field which has already begun strategising towards the 2015 elections, deliberate effort must be made not to turn this criminal case into a piece in a political chess game with the suspects serving as tradable pawns. Together with the Farouk Lawan/Femi Otedola case, this is an opportunity for the FG, police, judiciary and the EFCC to prove to Nigerians that this country is not a lawless one, that the law works and that it respects nobody.