As a notable critic of the president, I’m sure not a few would have their eyebrows raised on glancing the title of this piece. Some might even conclude before reading that it’s probably a sarcastic piece. No, I’m genuinely, genuinely happy with something President Muhammadu Buhari has achieved while on his visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is signing an extradition treaty with that country. This is long overdue!
In 2010, when James Ibori was holed up there after being hounded out of Nigeria by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), I expressed the view that the Nigerian government ought to have worked to have an extradition treaty with the United Arab Emirates, considering the stories making the rounds about the place being a haven for Nigeria’s stolen money. But for some inexplicable reasons and to my frustration, the Jonathan government did not pursue this matter. They kept asking the United Arab Emirates to extradite Ibori to Nigeria when we did not at that time have an extradition treaty with them. In fact, Ibori was claiming political asylum and he would have been favoured by the rules under 1951 Geneva Convention, because of the way the EFCC militarised the hunt for him before his escape. What saved the day somewhat was that the British were equally interested in him. They have an extradition treaty with the United Arab Emirates and Ibori holds a British passport, so they simply asked for him to be extradited to the UK where he was tried along with some of his family members and associates, convicted and imprisoned. That was an embarrassment to Nigeria, especially after what happened with his case before Justice Marcel Awokulehin at the Federal High Court, Asaba.
So, hearing now that President Buhari had signed this treaty with them on his trip to the United Arab Emirates pleases me exceedingly. In fact, I was about to start complaining about his penchant to go abroad and diss Nigeria and Nigerians again as the news reports are suggesting he has done again in Abu Dhabi; but, no, whatever, this treaty he’s signed forgives everything else he’s done wrong on this trip. Of course, I’m aware that things like this are not done in a jiffy. It’s quite possible that the Jonathan government had actually initiated the process and that Buhari merely completed it since government is a continuum. If that is the case though, we were not told. But whatever the situation, the fact that it is Buhari effecting the signing of this bilateral agreement with the United Arab Emirates to me means he should fully take the credit until the contrary is proven.
Now, I’m not naively thinking mere signing of the treaty makes it effective. After all, we have an extradition treaty with South Africa, another haven of Nigeria’s stolen wealth, but I’ve never heard of South Africa returning any of our stolen wealth or investigating any of the many political criminals from Nigeria pouring stolen money there. It’s indeed an irony that while South Africans are bullishly out in Nigeria seeking business and making good money as titans of the Nigerian corporate world and the private sector, our public officials are legging it to their place with our money, pouring it into their economy, protected from the not-so-long arm of the Nigerian law. So, I know signing the treaty is one thing and making it effective by undertaking the right investigations and making the right requests to authorities of this country with the aim of extraditing suspects and repatriating stolen money back to Nigeria is another thing.
In this regard, Nigeria must be very much aware that there are two possible situations that an extradition request might hit the snag with countries like this. I mean, as much as countries want to be seen as cooperating under such a treaty, they would not make it easy for you to take money already invested in their system away if they can do so lawfully under the treaty. This is why such defences against extradition like political persecution and the possibility of the abuse of the human rights of the subject of extradition could work against states making the request. Nigeria must clean up its act properly. It’s not a case of comparing systems; it’s a case of ensuring that any request made by Nigeria under the treaty have no such defences.
I also know that there are those who would feel that the President did not act strategically by first signing this treaty before preparing a case against persons likely to be the subject of extradition, as this might alert them to government intention and possibly see them moving these stolen money, assets and their related investments out of the United Arab Emirates before any request for extradition can come from Nigeria.
While this is true, we need to be aware that there is no international law or principle that requires or obliges one country to hand over persons wanted by another country. Things like these are governed by bilateral agreements and relationships. So, this is hoping Nigeria will effectively engage other international measures against these persons wherever they go, including exploring bilateral relations with states they move to. It helps that Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates are also signatories to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.
Finally, while I appreciate what the president has done in this regard, I must say I am still very much doubtful of his motive and the overall anti-corruption strategy. I’ve noted too many structural defects, a lot deliberately put in place, to suggest that there is more to it than meets the eye. But I’m still open to be convinced. I just believe we have been taken on a ride too many a time by all sorts of military adventurers and political leaders throughout our history and Buhari himself has been firmly part of that terrible history of shenanigans. The difference today is that he has an opportunity to make amends. We, the doubtful, are watching and I for one know that I’m open to be won over. But I will not accept lies and hypocrisy as options in the fight against corruption. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.
Once again, kudos to Mr President!