THE TRIAL OF BROTHER ELUJOBA: WHEN JUSTICE REACHES A MORAL BEND

“The only people I owe my loyalty to are the ones who never made me question theirs.” – Joe Mehl 

Doesn’t Mehl’s statement capture—to any degree—why the Obafemi Awolowo University community would go all out, retire to bed and wake up to repeat the same cycle in the name of #FreeElujoba, a campaign to pursue vindication for former Acting Vice-Chancellor, Professor Anthony Elujoba?

It was (and still is) an overwhelming support by people who, quite ironically, are traditionally opposing to occupants of the office of the Vice Chancellor. Strange, even, that the leaderships of NASU, SSANU and ASUU are credited with statements that exonerate Elujoba. For example:

We believe that Professor Elujoba did not embezzle or mismanage any University fund. – Dr. Niyi Sunmonu (Caretaker Chairman, ASUU-OAU)

Professor Anthony Elujoba (Source: OAUPeeps.com)

It is perhaps the first time in the University’s fifty-five history that staff and students will cooperate to garner such collective agitations, defying odds and declaring two days lecture-free, in defense of a Vice-Chancellor facing court trial. Such emotional evangelism across media platforms represents an unusual sentiment; and I am almost minded to be buried in the same boat.

However, it is the law that gives life to a matter. Emotion alone has no profit!

Therefore, I have curated this piece into six (6) sections for proper analysis and understanding of the trial of Brother Elujoba:

 

HIS ALLEGATION: MISAPPROPRIATION, ABUSE OF OFFICE, etc.

[Between Victimization and Vindication.]

The University Council’s initial announcement of Professor Ayobami Taofeek Salami as the Vice-Chancellor on June 6, 2016 was greeted with rejection and sustained violence, which moved the Federal Government to eventually dissolve the Council and consequently eject Salami. It was against this backdrop that Brother ‘Joba was appointed as the Acting Vice-Chancellor with a mandate to “restore peace.”

This Elujoba did, and more. He brought synergy among the unions. He promoted people who were several years due for it. He remitted to the University account cheque issued in his name, with a rare argument that if he hadn’t occupied that office, the money would not have been given to him. He refused to join the Committee of Vice-Chancellors—considered a corruption-ridden godfatherist committee that imposes their ‘own’ on the University to further their agenda. He spent his personal money to get accommodations whenever he was on official duties. He paid backlog of allowances owed. These are his sins!

Again, these are Brother Elujoba’s sins: running a simple and transparent administration, and accomplishing within months what years have proven impossible. Ten years of Professors Michael Oladimeji Faborode and Bamitale Idowu Omole marked by white elephant projects, pocket-tearing increments, alleged embezzlement, inter-union and intra-union conflicts, reoccurring protests, and so on. Years utterly neglected by the choosy hands of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

To restate it, Brother Elujoba’s sin was proving that doing right is possible; his administration ran a relatively smooth academic calendar without choking the union bodies, and – unlike his predecessor who was alleged to make illegal deductions into an illegal account – he remunerated illegally-deprived entitlements.

 

BUT, WHY COURT? BUT, COURT, WHY?

Those who think the court is biased for sitting over Elujoba’s matter without doing anything regarding Omole and his cohort, must understand this: the Court only has jurisdiction on matters brought before it aside other conditions.

There has been allegations against Brother Elujoba and his case has been brought before the court. Those allegations are cause of action. And where there is a reasonable cause of action against anyone, whether true or not, it confers jurisdiction on the court to try him to determine whether or not the allegations are true.

Omole, on the other hand, can walk or even sit in court relaxed without fear throughout the proceeding because there hasn’t been any allegation against him known to Court or brought before a court of competent jurisdiction.  So if those aggrieved by this supposed injustice have real evidence, they should find a way to fish Omole to court. [As discussed under (5) below.]

 

PROCEDURAL/ADMINISTRATIVE ERROR?

It is clear that many share concerns for Professor Elujoba. But beyond emotional attachments, if he is said to be charged for misappropriation and abuse of office, it becomes illogical—nonintellectual, even—for us to center our defense only on sentiments, rather than tailor our arguments on the act. Regardless of the moral justification for his action, we must examine its conformity with proper procedure.

It was said that the EFCC purportedly acted on a petition written against the Acting VC and the University Bursar (Mrs. Josephine Akeredolu) for conniving to channel about 1.4 Billion Naira to pay certain allowances owed members of staff ‘without approval’ of the Federal Ministry of Education and the Governing Council.  It was further declared that the act was against Federal Government’s Treasury Single Account Scheme. The payment was also said to include earning allowance and an allegation that the VC paid himself Seven Million Naira for furniture allowance.

Note that all these are not yet proven!

Recalling that Professor A. A. Elujoba was appointed as an Acting VC to “restore peace,” therefore his act must be within the definition of his appointment or power.

Brother Elujoba, being informed about the lodgment of the money in an account not tied to any project and moving to save the Bursar who was already held by the aggrieved staff,  acted as necessity demanded,  which was logical and morally justified. However, such steps must be taken following proper procedure.

Notwithstanding Elujoba’s efforts to stabilizing the blood flow of the University, (regarded as internal/domestic affairs; See University of Ilorin v. Rasheedat Adesina (2014) 58 (pt.2) NSCQR 995 at pp.1018-1019), if the directive in respect of the money in question is in conflict with any necessary procedure or law either by the Federal Ministry of Education, the Governing Council or the Federal Government ‘s Treasury Single Account scheme,  then his act may amount to ‘administrative error’ or ‘abuse of office’, which the Petitioner then brought under misappropriation of funds and abuse of office—a  criminal offence.

This, the law will not shy away from, except if by the content of his appointment, it could be interpreted that he has authority to so act.  [See University of Ilorin v. Akinola (2014) 59 NSCQR 87 at p.578 &581.]

 You may ask: why should Brother Elujoba be tried since his intent was good?

Good question!

A Latin Maxim says: actus reus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea, that is, an act does not make a man guilty unless his intention is so or has guilty mind. However, ‘mens rea’ does not necessarily translate to intention to commit a crime stricto sensus, but the knowledge that one’s action or omission would cause a crime to be committed. It is also a general Common Law that ignorance (or mistake) of the law is no defense to criminal action.

I affirm that it may not be far from the truth that Elujoba’s trial has political undertones, because the existence of a good person in any society is a threat to narcissists. Thus, his emotional reactions to situations—in conflict with existing procedures—may become a weakness they can feed on.

[N.B.: – Courts have held in some cases that not all offences requires specific intent; and a misreading or wrong action or even breach of express law (even in good faith) may not excuse the criminal conduct. In this situation, the court will not only look at the act and the reason nor its accompanying morality, but the act and the law. It therefore means that a person may not be guilty of being corrupt as it were but may be guilty of breaching the law.]

 

ROLE OF THE LAWYERS

A speedy, typical adjudication of this matter is first, and largely, subject to the Bar.

The prosecution lawyer must be ready to proceed with the matter: do proper investigation, open its case as at when due, bring in all its witnesses and evidence without unnecessary application, of whatever nature in the bid to get adjournment, then close its case so that the Defense can also open its case.

If well argued, Professor Elujoba’s mandate to restore peace could be interpreted to mean he could use and/or do everything reasonable to accomplish same.

Even if he is declared guilty of abuse of office by the trial court—which is a Court of law only and must interpret the law as it is and not as it ought to be (See FBN PLC v. Maidawa (2012)  51 NSCQR 155 at p.173.)—miracle may happen at the apex Court which is not just a Court of law but also a Court of Policy. History may be made! And it should trigger optimism for his supporters.

 

WHY NOT OMOLE AND OR HIS PREDECESSORS?

Prof. Bamitale Omole

Professor Bamitale Omole (Source: Great Ife Alumni Ass.)

Importing Professor Elujoba’s predecessors into this discussion should not be considered as digression. This is why: it is alleged that the account housing the money in question was illegally opened under Professor Bamitale Omole’s administration, and when the Federal Government enforced the Treasury Single Account Scheme (during the same administration), the money was not logged in the T.S Account!

If the allegation is true, then Omole (with his cohorts and predecessor) should be standing trial. Are they any better than Professors Olusola Oyewole (Former VC, FUNAAB) and Adebiyi Daramola (Former VC, FUTA), who are now facing criminal charges currently for their act and omission while in office?

Furthermore, if truly the aggrieved unions within the University community have written petitions against Omole to no avail, and if their claims are backed with concrete evidences, they must move beyond writing petitions—which, by the way, is supposedly the first and proper step. There are at least four alternatives/complements:

The Unions can approach the court for an order of Mandamus, praying the court to compel EFCC to perform its duty as to investigating Professor Omole. For such application to be granted by the Court, there must be proof that they have informed EFCC about the matter in writing, but it refused to so act. [See Ikechukwu v. Nwoye (2014) 60 NSCQR 533 at p.571.]

Alternatively, they can come by way of “Representatives action” against Omole for illegally deducting their entitlement. [See Atungwu v. Ikechukwu (2013) 56 pt.2 NSCQR 1072 at p.1111.]

Or; since the matter is not yet in court, they can go report to Brekete Family, which is one of the most reliable ways of ensuring petitions get to the appropriate quarters in order for demands to be met and wrongs done against persons be rained with justice.

Then, there is the new Report Yourself platform—a web-based collaboration between BudgIT and the United States Diplomatic Mission to Nigeria—that help channel petitions straight to the appropriate quarters.

Difficult options? Maybe. Unattainable? No!

 

PROTEST, SOLIDARITY, CONTEMPT AND REVERSAL OF ORDER.

“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in time of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” – Dante Alighieri (Inferno, 1472).

For any person, animal or thing that has had a long relationship with Obafemi Awolowo University, the fight against injustice and oppression runs in the blood. This explains why students and their lecturers would dare do what ordinarily should have amounted to Contempt of Court with its consequences. But the ever-militant Great Ife defies the odds to compel a judge to alter his order!

OAU Senate Building

However, the overhanging consequences of the act (protests) and reversal of order on Nigeria’s judicial system calls for more concern than the joys the University community derived from it. Ordinarily, my Lord Justice David Oladimeji wasn’t pleased with the protest displayed by Elujoba’s “disciples” at Ede.

Further protests would have been reasonable if Professor Elujoba hasn’t been charged to court yet. Since he is already in the court, his supporters ought to replace protests with solidarity. As such, by seeing his supporters in court—in their numbers—he gains inner strength to say, like Abraham Lincoln: I will rather be a little nobody in the midst of great people like these than to be an evil somebody.

In the end, if found not guilty, he will be discharged and acquitted; and can thereafter proceed on a civil action against EFCC, its agent and others who were instrumental to his prosecution for Malicious Prosecution, etc. Accordingly—and possibly—the supposed tragedy may turn to blessing in Millions of Naira.

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Emmanuel Ibironke

Emmanuel Ibironke

Writer, Lawyer, etc.
Emmanuel Ibironke

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